Rest in peace, Ed Piskor

The creator of ‘Hip Hop Family Tree’ passed away on Monday.

Ed Piskor, the creator of Hip Hop Family Tree and X-Men: Grand Design, has passed away at the age of 41.

According to the obituary posted on the Savolskis – Wasik – Glenn Funeral Home website, Piskor passed away “unexpectedly” yesterday. His sister, Justine Cleaves, confirmed her brother’s passing on Facebook.

The news followed a week of allegations against the artist for inappropriate behavior and grooming of an aspiring artist. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust  indefinitely postponed a gallery showing of Piskor’s artwork as a result of the allegations, and his longtime podcast partner Jim Rugg announced he was ending his working relationship with Piskor. Piskor posted an apparent suicide note on social media yesterday several hours before it was revealed he had died.

After studying at the Joe Kubert School of Art, Piskor’s career in comics began in the 2000s when he began collaborating with Harvey Pekar. Together they’d work on Pekar’s autobiographical comic American Splendor, as well as on the graphic novel Macedonia and the anthology The Beats.

Piskor would go on to create Wizzywig, a comic strip posted online before being collected by Top Shelf in 2012. That would be followed by Piskor’s most famous comics work, Hip Hop Family Tree, which also appeared online, on Boing Boing, before being collected by Fantagraphics into several volumes, a 12-issue comic book and an eventual omnibus. The historical strip recounted the early days of hip hop, starting in the 1970s and going through the mid-1980s. Hip Hop Family Tree won an Eisner award in 2015 for best reality-based work.

Hip Hop Family Tree‘s success led Piskor to a high-profile project at Marvel — X-Men: Grand Design, a retelling of the history of the X-Men starting with the first issue and covering about 280 issues worth of mutant lore.

I interviewed Piskor about the project after it was announced at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2017 for I asked Piskor about some of his earliest X-Men memories, and he cited issue #157 as the first issue he remembers reading.

“I think my dad was excited for me to be born because, even though we weren’t well off by any means, he still did what he could to spoil me, and there were always toys and comics around during my very first memories,” Piskor told me. “That issue of X-Men is also responsible in a major part for me becoming a cartoonist because the credits box on the first page let me know that there are actual human beings behind these comic books. That became my goal from age 4, probably. I never flip-flopped. Never wanted to be a fireman or an astronaut. Always a cartoonist, and if I got to make X-Men comics, well then, that’s just icing on the cake.”

Piskor and his friend/cohost Jim Rugg launched Cartoonist Kayfabe about four years ago. The YouTube channel played host to the two creators talking about comics art and their process, as well as interviewing other creators about their work. Their final video together was posted about nine days ago.

Piskor’s Red Room launched in 2021, first on his Patreon and then as a comic series from Fantagraphics. “Red Room is a cyberpunk, outlaw, splatterpunk comic that you can’t unsee once you feast your eyes on the mayhem,” Piskor said in the book’s press release. “Think of Red Room as modern day E.C. Comics, infused with the dream of Black Mirror. These are subversive, stand alone stories that are all part of a larger, twisted narrative.”

The comic proved controversial, not only for the violent and gory content, but also when a series of variant covers parodying other independent titles led to Rugg drawing a Maus “homage” that many found offensive when it was revealed. Fantagraphics did not publish the cover, and both creators apologized for it.

Prior to his death, Piskor was working on a new strip, Switchblade Shorties, which he was posting online with plans to eventually collect it.

“Ed was a giant personality in the cultish arena of comics, endlessly curious about the history and lore of comics, an infectious proselytizer on behalf of the medium that he loved so much, and a contributor himself to that history,” Fantagraphics Publisher Gary Groth told The Comics Journal. “We had a warm personal and professional relationship and it was always fun to work with him. This is a terrible tragedy and I extend as much compassion as I’m capable of to his family, whose grief has to be unimaginable.”

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, call or text 988 or chat You can also visit the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline website.

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