Ed Piskor’s Top Shelf graphic novel “Wizzywig” was another title that I picked up a few weeks ago at SPX. I first became aware of his work years ago when he collaborated on “Macedonia” with the late Harvey Pekar, and I even interviewed Pekar about that project for an article at my old job. Looking at Piskor’s work now and then, it’s easy to see why he and Pekar fit together so well (besides the elegant similarities between their names). Piskor’s illustrative style slips intelligently between fits of comic expression, burdensome human experience and detailed attention to minutiae—a skill that suits him well in this near-historical fiction tale of a hacker’s life.
“Wizzywig” follows the social and intellectual growth of a young man named Kevin Phenicle. Piskor’s take on the character, who goes by the handle “Boingthump,” is simple and brisk in its pace. The kid has a Tintin-like face in a world of slimy, unfriendly people who don’t understand his curiosities and motivations. Ultimately, the story leverages that condition to frame Kevin’s incarceration and the media-promoted fear that he inspires in the general public through his hacking. And the book winds up feeling full and balanced at the end as a result—littered with jargon and touchstones from the time, such as phreaking and bulletin board systems.
Piskor doesn’t waste a beat in “Wizzywig.” It’s not a graphic novel that cares a great deal about exploring the inner feelings and emotional connections between its cast members. Instead, the story unfolds a arms’ length from the reader, inviting questions and disgust as characters affected by Boingthump’s action sound off in panels and on TV about what they think he must be like. The whole book is set up to juxtapose Kevin’s life against that shrill chorus of the uninformed public and riled-up punditry, and it invites discussion about how Kevin should be treated or understood as a hacker.
There is certainly a Mark Zuckerberg-in-”The Social Network” quality to Kevin’s life, driven by social inadequacies to pursue other ways of relating to the world and enriching himself. Also, it brings his life to a head at the end in a way that I’ll admit caught me a little off guard, connecting his story to that of Bradley Manning and Wikileaks.
The convergence of their themes and stories makes sense. Piskor seems to be asking, after fully exploring Kevin, “Who in today’s society is facing similar treatment for rogue behavior and the invasion of secret places?” The conclusion leaves everything on a slightly off note, which is fine and unsettling, even if it does come of as a bit preachy from a book that has otherwise avoided much moralizing.
As a tour through the subject matter, a quick history lesson and long-form comic laced with Easter eggs for nerds, I think it’s safe to recommend this book. Be prepared to digest its political message, and be ready to learn a thing or two if you aren’t a regular reader of 2600, but I would think if you’re already considering giving it a look, these are all things that you would be open to.