FCBD 2015: Free Comic Book Day book reviews, Part One

Editor’s Note: After posting my initial article on the FCBD books last week, I was preparing to begin posting reviews the very next day. Then, work and other obligations made for some very long days and no time to read and review. I hope to catch up soon. Please keep watching this space. For a guideline on how I am grading/ranking these books, please go to the Archives and read the article from Thursday, May 07, 2015.

HIP-HOP FAMILY TREE THREE-IN-ONE: FEATURING COSPLAYERS (Fantagraphics) Hip-Hop Family Tree writer/artist Ed Piskor. Cosplayers writer/artist Dash Shaw

          There is a ton of reading in the FCBD offering, a full 58 pages of material. Ed Piskor, a big fan of the hip-hop genre of music, took it upon himself to chronicle the history of this musical variation from roots and beginnings to later trends. He features many of the prominent artists and players in the development of hip-hop and most of his facial renditions are spot-on.

          While I respect the genre of hip-hop and rap, I rarely listen. I’m not a fan of this type of music and I don’t follow it. Yet, I was pulled into and enchanted by Piskor’s telling of this story – a little piece of music history. I admit that I am a big fan of rock music and all it’s spin-offs - - so there is still something to interest me here. I’m not sure any readers who don’t follow or appreciate music will enjoy this as much.

          The Cosplayers back-up features are just as interesting, giving an amusing and reverential glimpse into yet another variation on geek culture - - dressing up as super-heroes, fantasy figures and celebrities. It pokes fun at the hobby while still respecting it and not laughing. The spiritualistic comic-shop owner is not to be missed - - what a trip!


COVER APPEAL: It’s a montage of famous faces in hip-hop illustrated by Piskor. If you recognize some of them, then that is the appeal that will draw you to this book. Anyone with an interest in music who is fortunate enough to read the complimentary quotes on the back cover will be enticed to pick this up. Otherwise, I’m not sure anyone else would pick up this book based on the cover. I don’t think young readers would be attracted to it. 1.5 Points.

STORY: I was not expecting to enjoy a fact-based music history story as much as I did here. The FCBD edition reprints a story from 3 separate issues of Piskor’s Hip Hop Family Tree comic (now collected in a gift set from Fantagraphics), covering the periods of 1975-1981, 1981-1983, and 1983-1984. Piskor writes a very fluid, moving history and incorporates many asides and insights into the prominent players which helps bring them to life and make them interesting. Shaw is funny, quirky and shows us in geekdom how to laugh at ourselves without feeling inferior. Nicely done. 3 Points.

ART: Piskor employs a sweet art style featuring lots of panels that will remind many of the legendary Robert Crumb. I’ve seen Piskor’s art on some other books, and it’s different than what he does here - -- a very grand homage to Crumb and an excellent choice of methods in which to tell the story. There is a bonus feature by Piskor that pokes fun at the 1990’s Spike Lee produced commercial that starred artist Rob Liefeld (Cable, Youngblood, etc.) at the height of his popularity. It looks exactly as if Liefeld himself drew it, complete with exaggerated features and awkward leg positions. Shaw’s art is done in comic strip fashion, simplistic and effective, except when he stretches out and does a admirable full-page homage to Jack Kirby. 3 points.

YOUTH APPEAL: Whatever age young people begin to develop an interest in music these days - - that would be the target audience. Anyone younger is not going to be attracted to this book. However, if this book helps music fans of all ages gain an appreciation for how comics can tell stories about music, then I would give it an extra ½ point for that. 2 points.

NEW READER APPEAL: You don’t need to be familiar with the back-story of hip-hop or even have listened to much of it to be able to appreciate the fine story-telling. It’s all here. 3 points.

PROMOTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS: You really cannot get an idea of the diversity of books offered by Fantagraphics from reading this FCBD title. They missed an opportunity here. Also, a website address is not featured anywhere in this book where readers could go to learn more or even try to order their own copies of Hip-Hop Family Tree. Sure, we can assume that everyone knows how to look up a website address. But will they? Much safer to make it easier for them and include one.  1 point.

BONUS POINTS: WOULD I PERSONALLY RECOMMEND THIS BOOK? To fans of hip-hop? Absolutely. To music fans? Yes. To anyone interested in how comics can tell history or biography? Yes. To regular fans of standard-fare comics? No. 1.5 points.

FINAL RANKING FOR FCBD HIP-HOP FAMILY TREE:                                               15 points  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED


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