Hip Hop Family Tree Volume 1

If you’re a fan of hip hop and comics, how can you not like a comic book about hip hop’s history? Eisner Award winning Ed Piskor’s Hip Hop Family Tree has been on my radar for a while. But this first volume into his cultural epic was a nervous choice for me.

A nervous start

As the instigator of this club I made the first pick a few meetups ago. But that book was a disaster of a choice that no one really liked (Dan hated it).

The creator of Transformers vs GI Joe was Tom Scioli and we roundly berated his art and storytelling at our first meetup. Meanwhile Ed Piskor, the creator of Hip Hop Family Tree, is a contemporary of Tom Scioli. These bros share a studio together and hang out.

That was my first reason to feel nervous. The other was the subject matter. Or rather how the subject matter may not be Dan’s cup of tea. I knew that Tom and Jake are fellow hip hop fans, but I wasn’t sure of Dan’s appreciation for the genre. And he’s a picky guy.

I really tried to not worry about it. :worried:

But then I started to read it and f***!

I was struggling. I thought I had again failed to pick an enjoyable book.

Stop, evaluate and listen*

*(Yes I know it should be “collaborate and listen”)


This book needs a soundtrack to listen to while reading.


I ambled through for 3 weeks and got halfway only 2 nights before the meetup. On the final read I had a revelation. The book was about a culture predicated on music. I needed to feel the music in order to feel for this book.

I hit Google and found this YouTube playlist featuring an interview with Ed Piskor.

I could feel Piskor’s passion as he spoke of his motivations for this book. But more importantly I could feel the beats.

Up until then I wasn’t connecting with the book. It felt like an endless cycle of introducing a new MC or DJ, new party jam, new rekkid, repeat. Sometimes I’d vaguely recognise some of the characters but this was way before my time. I needed to get into the 90s which was when my love for hip hop began. Given that Piskor is spending a lot of time on the 80s though, I’ll be waiting for quite a while.

Check out this 10 hour Hip Hop Family Tree Spotify playlist.

Step into my world

Events in history can be uninteresting if you don’t realise their significance. I had an extraordinary history lesson as I read Piskor’s depiction of how the video for Blondie’s Rapture was produced.

Blondie's Rapture]

At that same moment the video came on the telly.

The saga continues

Immersing myself in the music as I was reading saved the book for me. I accept that as Piskor began this series he was finding his feet on it. The book is far better in the second half than the first.

Turns out Dan did the same thing. He too had struggled (aw no!) and had to turn to the music to feel more for it too. But he still struggled. For him the book was hard, monotonous and rigid. The panels were too fixed in the square sequences and it’s telling that it was originally a serial collected into a book. The story just goes on and on and he didn’t see these as characters, more as people for whom life just happens.


Reading this was like cramming for a GCSE on hip hop. It’s like a textbook with some pencilled in swear words. It lacks joy: I just got facts. Exhaustive and exhausting.


He felt that when there were big events they were too constrained by the tiny square panels, guessing perhaps it’s because of the real estate Piskor is given on BoingBoing. It would’ve benefited from a few more splash pages and half page panels. Frustrated Dan describes hip hop as a vibrant political, social and cultural event and it doesn’t convey that impact enough for him.

The structure also doesn’t suit the collected editions compared to other strip compendiums, where each entry has a defined beginning and end. Hip Hop Family Tree has a non-deliniated timeline that has no sense of time. It’s one long thing.

Dan admitted he lacked the passion for the subject matter, but also that he’s not a fan of real life stuff. He wants explosions, spaceships and 3-boobed alien women. He craves unreality as we all have enough of reality. This book isn’t it (sorry Dan!).

Dan was also the only one of us to read the digital version and was astonished to feel a little bit jealous when he saw the lovely hard copies the rest of us turned up with. We all loved the texture and smell of the pages.

Double trouble

Tom read the digital version too. He alerted me to the Fantagraphics sale on ComiXology (£6!) and I felt that if people wanted to give it a go then the sale was a good opportunity (lucky for Dan). But then Tom bought the real life book as well. Then he bought Volume 2…!

The book was also hard work for Tom but he took the appropriate step of reading it a bit at a time.

Tom's version of Hip Hop Family Tree Volume 1

Tom didn’t have more to add to what we’d already said but had a lovely anecdote of his brother once breakdancing. Then his grandad decided to breakdance too!

He also had a different edition of the book to us featuring some lovely spot varnishing.


I liked it so much I bought the next volume straight away. I had to have more of it.



Jake had researched hip hop for a documentary on music history last year so knew the story already. Jake was really impressed by Piskor’s detail. Hip Hop Family Tree excels over the biographies that he had already poured over. It caught in detail the graphics of a graphical culture.

He also liked the characterisation. Piskor sees these luminaries as superheroes but you also get a real sense of them. He sensed that Grandmaster Flash was slightly bitter and nasty. It was also amusing to hear that Russel Simmonds doesn’t speak with a lisp or have a lazy eye at all from his own research!

He forgave the flaws that we’d already touched on because he was nerding out so much. He did find it hard to read and could see that as a weekly serial it’s probably better.


I loved it from page one right to the end. A stirling job. A man embarking on an insane life of detail that can only get better. I’m jealous of Tom’s Volume 2.


Ya don’t Stop

This book has received the biggest variety of scores we’ve awarded a book so far. I’m glad that most of us enjoyed it and I am looking forward to reading more of the series as it was clear that the story was improving. Tom had indicated that volume 2 was a far better book. That’s good news given that it won Piskor an Eisner.


Daytripper is the story of Brás de Iliva Domingos’ life, told in a non-linear fashion via ten single day snippets. He is a writer, a father, a husband, a son. A friend and a lover too. Brás’ life could be considered ordinary, and part of the narrative drive is one of encouragement to reach for the extraordinary; to make something of your life rather than settle for what you have. There is also an unusual aspect to the story in that Brás dies at the end of every chapter, but is alive once more when the next chapter begins with no explanation as to why.


I really enjoyed the book. A Hauntingly Beautiful tale that is appreciated more once you have had your own Early Life Crisis and decided if you are living your life to the fullest.


It had mixed reviews from the group, though most were positive. Kelvin had not read a Vertigo comic for some time & felt it was appropriately Mature for the Mature Readers imprint. But rather than the Horror/Sex/Violence sometimes associated with such a label, it was beneficial to be the age we are (approaching/just past 40) to be able to appreciate the self-reflective part of the story. We may have suffered our own Early Life Crises before becoming the people we are now.

The fact it was Vertigo too meant a certain quality (or lack of) to the paper stock and colours of the printing. Most of the group had bought the standard TPB, though my own copy was the Deluxe Edition so we got to compare how it looked. The colours were certainly more vivid in that book. Dan felt more could have been done with the colour to emphasise the mood of the story. There were definitely changes in pallette but not to the extreme of, say, Southern Bastards which Dan described as “Sweaty”.


I am a cold and unfeeling monster to have not enjoyed this book. Realism in comics can be hard to process unless it affects you directly, and to me this was simply a fascinating technical thing.


Dan was not favourable of the art at all really, expecting to see more from Gabriel Ba rather than just covers and the four pages or so he did in Chapter 9. Personally, I loved Fabio Moon’s work and felt he brought an incredible authenticity and real feel to the locations and characters in the story. You could always tell it was Brás at the different ages he is portrayed. Secondary characters like best friend Jorge, lover Olinda & wife Ana all have distinct looks too that help them feel alive on the page. Having said that, we all felt these characters were at times too secondary, the story being so much about Brás himself.


The book was great despite its flaws, and those flaws are only there because I am well read. The narrative device of Brás’ dying could be left out and it wouldn’t matter. Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life did it better.


The narrative device of having Brás die at the end of each chapter was grating to most of us. Jake thought they were superfluous, Dan felt it became like an episode of Casualty where you were just waiting to see how he would die this time. The youngest death (11, by electrocution) was particularly cheap as it was one of the most authentic parts of the story, showing large family gatherings. Jake referred us to the book Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, which used the device more sucessfully. He felt the writers got out of their depth as the book went on and into the later parts of Brás’ life.


An extremely well wrought piece. Slick artwork and an incredible authenticity of place. I was searching for an explanation for the deaths. Was it connected to his job as an obituary writer? Was he always dead since he was a ‘little miracle’ for surviving his difficult birth?


Since reading the book I have listened to an interview with Gabriel & Fabio where they say the concept came from living a block away from a neighbourhood where gunshots could often be heard, and the feeling of just how easily their lives could be ended by a stray bullet. We all die in one way or another, so they decided their character would continue to die each issue. We all felt the best chapter was the one in which Brás did not appear at all, focussing instead on wife Ana and son Miguel. It pulled hard on the heartstrings to see the family’s reaction to his death.

The best thing about this club is when your friends enjoy your pick. I wasn’t sure if this would be too long at 220 pages, but Jake read it in a day. I would recommend it to anyone interested in reading beyond the fantastical stories that tend to fill the pages of comics in the American market.

The Yellow M

This month’s host, Jake Hayes, has written a great review of The Yellow M over on his wonderful blog. But you also get a quick recap here.


“It sent me back to my Tintin books.”



“It made me want to go camping in France and read some weird comic books with my daughter.”



“It’s not quite Tintin”



“Although Blake and Mortimer wasn’t quite the successor to Tintin that I’d been hoping for, it was fascinating to see another example in this beautiful style. For all its faults I will be looking out for more from Blake and Mortimer.”


Read more of what we thought of The Yellow M on Jake’s blog.

The Auteur

For the second meetup of The Comic Book Club we took on something with a bit of edge. It was my choice this time round and after the insanity of Transformers vs GI Joe I wanted to choose a book with gravitas, a book with a serious message, a highbrow work of comic literature.

Then I thought “F**k it!” and chose The Auteur instead.

The Auteur had been receiving rave reviews across the board, with reviewers claiming it was the craziest, most insane comic book experience around. I thought it might be a divisive choice…


“It’s Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas meets Naked Lunch. I really like it”



“The court room scene was genius”

“Found the gore a bit much at times”



“It’s a love story - I got Scott Pilgrim vibes. That’s a good thing!”

“Love all the cinematic references”



“Punky, skate-y & a bit like a strip from Thrasher magazine”

“Uber-violence made me bit queasy. Then again, I am a total wuss”


I think we can safely say that we rated The Auteur.

The guys really enjoyed an art style that jerks spasmodically between high detail and broad caricature. The colouring makes me sweat and want to take a long bath. The writing delivers some real belly laughs before crushing that with some drawn-out graphic nastiness.

Oh, and it had Edward Penishands in it :-)

Transformers vs GI Joe Volume 1

The first meetup of The Comic Book Club was hosted by me and we got together to discuss Transformers vs GI Joe.

I came across the book in this Top Comics of 2014 listing by AV Club (HT @itspaulmcgroovy) and had it on my wishlist for a while. Being featured by AV Club has got to mean it’s good right? Well…

Here are the reviews by The Comic Book Club members with quotes selected by me.


“In summary, I hated this”.

@dandineen - font geek.


“Bad: Text didn’t look right. Good: Kinda childish but in a good way”.

Hon Dineen - making Dan proud by complaining about the typography.


“I guess I enjoyed it”.

@tomwe - loves Transformers so much that he brought some of his TF collection along to the pub to show us.


“It’s too aware of it’s own coolness. They didn’t pull it off”.

@tygertale - a far better blogger than me.


“I felt really conflicted over this. But I know I’ll never read it again”.

@chao_xian - glad to have an excuse to buy graphic novels and talk about it with other geeks.