I’ve been meaning to start this series for some time now, so it’s about time I got here. The first volume is an in depth look at the hip hop scene from the mid 70s to 1981, the founding years of hip hop. This is something that I know next to nothing about. So, not only did I get to read something new, I learned something, too.
This is a book published by Fantagraphic Books (Doing the Lord’s Work tm) and written and drawn by Ed Piskor (who recently did X Men Grand Design for Marvel). Not only is he a cartoonist, he’s a huge fan of hip hop, which is really quite clear. I think that’s really important to keep in mind, because a project like this (including the future volumes), requires a passion. If you care about what you’re making, someone else will care too. It’s just a thing.
So, let me say this: there’s a lot in this book. It covers a handful of years, but there is so much information. It’s not a very thick book, but it’s full of names, dates, and events that created the foundation of hip hop. This can be a little overwhelming at times, as it switches from person to person as the story goes on, then jumps back and in between. I myself was able to keep track of (mostly all) of the players in this story, but I do think that you have to stop along the way and remind yourself who’s who now and then. I’m not saying this to sound like a bad thing. I’m just saying that, if you do read this book, you have to pay attention. This is not a comic that you can skim. It’s a full on history, with a lot of moving pieces. Luckily, Piskor often labels who’s who, just look at their shirt. But, I found that he did a good job keeping people separate as he moved. It was nice to have visuals, too. If I was reading this as a Wikipedia article, I would not be able to keep it straight. But having those names go with faces helps a lot too.
OK, that went a little long. I just want you to know that, when you read this book, you have to focus. I might be playing it up a little, but there are a lot of characters. You’ve been warned.
This book was really interesting to me. As I said, I know next to nothing about the beginning of hip hop. Grand Master Flash, sure. Sugar Hill gang, OK. But how did it start? Where did it come from? These are all things that are explored in this first volume. It was intriguing to follow from the very beginning (DJ Kool Herc), and how it ballooned from there, inspiring DJs and MCs until the music gained national attention. I often find the history of artistic movements interesting. But, until this book, I hadn’t put much thought into how types of music comes into existence. This book gives you an in depth look at not only a popular style of music, but also one American in its origin. Which, if you’re an American reader like me, is a cool added bonus.
This was a very authentic book, which is one of its biggest strengths. Both the story and the art created a very real world, this real world, in which the story took place. It was very much the comic book equivalent to watching a documentary.
But now that I’ve mentioned it, we have to talk about Ed Piskor’s art. It’s pretty unique, and if you’ve seen it before, you recognize it no question. His art is all designed to look like old comics, the kind on pulpy paper. This not only helps the story to stand out, but also reinforces the old school feel of both the rappers, and the fact that it literally happened in the past. The pages are yellowed to look old as well, which I think has the biggest effect. And, while this is a nonfiction story, the art helps to lend a grandiose feeling of the tale being told. This is, I think, almost mythological in this format. It calls back to the golden age of heroes, putting that same spotlight on the rappers who would become legend.
The art, in short, is very cool.
And that’s what this book is as a whole: cool. It’s a look at hip hop that’s never been done on this scale. A big, multi volume comic? Count me in. Plus, I do feel cooler just reading Piskor’s work. Maybe, just maybe, this book will give me some street cred when I go to cons.
Probably not. But don’t let that stop you from giving it a try.