“Wizzywig Volume 1: Phreak”, by Ed Piskor

I mentioned Ed Piskor’s graphic novel, “Wizzywig” on the podcast. My copy of the first volume arrived last week and I promptly devoured it in about two days.

I subscribed to Ed’s RSS feed after completing the first volume and placing my order for the second. I noticed that in his writing, he is concerned with getting hacker culture and history right. I don’t think he needs to worry, even if some the details may be off, and I don’t think they were, he clearly gets the hacker spirit.

The book is short, just over a hundred pages, but part of a four part series. The first two are available now. The page layout is a simple, four-panel square and Piskor’s drawings are somehow at once spare and richly textured. I likened the online samples I saw to Maus and I think that comparison holds up well after reading the first volume. The narrative construction is similar though Piskor favors a more detailed, almost caricatured approach to his characters.

The book itself lacks an ISBN and looks like a high end print-on-demand. My copy had a hand drawn picture of the main character and a few words from the author. If he is printing these himself through a small press or on-demand, it is no detraction whatsoever. The personal touch goes a long way to cementing its charm. I wonder if he does that for each copy he sends out?

The protagonist, Kevin “Boingthump” Phenicle, is clearly an amalgam of several notable hackers but is also a distillation of the intense curiosity that motivates those persons on whom he is based. I was captivated by the seamless progression of his interests from one to the next. Piskor contrasts this nicely with his sole cohort, Winston, who is much more clearly based on 2600’s Emmanuel Goldstein. Winston is always interested in the political angle while Kevin is only interested in a puzzle as long as it takes for him to solve it.

Phenicle is also plagued with the crushing social awkwardness that seems to bedevil many genius techies. Piskor works in the pathos of dealing with that particular flaw quite deftly. While the volume closes with the necessary set up for the second installment, Hacker, the high point for me was Kevin’s fight-or-flight moment just a few pages prior.

In short, the first volume lived up to its promise. I think this is an excellent book to provide to anyone, technically literate or not, you think needs a better grasp of what it means to be a hacker. I am pleased that the book is also appropriate for a younger audience. My two sons take a lot of technology for granted, I intend to share Piskor’s series with them to provide a launching off point to discuss in a bit more depth some of these technologies and the more interesting questions they beg.

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