EACH TIME Ed Piskor returns to Small Press Expo in suburban Washington, he is tackling new storytelling challenges worthy of his considerable gifts.
The Pittsburgh-based creator was a rising talent in his 20s when he came to SPX in 2010 to talk about collaborating with the late comics legend Harvey Pekar on such books as that year’s “The Beats: A Graphic History.”
When Piskor appeared as a special SPX guest in 2016, his best-selling series “Hip Hop Family Tree” had picked up an Eisner Award for best reality-based work.
Ahead of his Brooklyn Book Festival appearance this weekend, Piskor is fresh off an Eisner nomination for his Marvel limited series “X-Men: Grand Design,” whose follow-up, “Second Genesis,” was released this summer. The series nods to his deep childhood fandom of writer Chris Claremont’s epic work on X-Men.
“ ‘Grand Design’ is a way to tie the first 300 issues of X-Men together into one cohesive story,” says Piskor, who will also appear at Baltimore Comic Con, which runs Sept. 28-30. “It was a thought exercise, because I reread X-Men every couple of years, and the Claremont stuff was everything.”
And “Grand Design” came about because Piskor has a strong artistic appetite for experimentation, with a resistance to settling for creative repetition.
“As soon as I won an Eisner Award for ‘Hip Hop Family Tree,’ I felt no sense of accomplishment,” Piskor recounts. “Whatever I’m chasing, I thought, this ain’t giving it to me.”
As a lark, Piskor created fan art depicting the X-Men family tree and then tweeted it out. Within an hour, he says, he heard from Marvel Comics, which was interested in letting him work in its playground of characters.
“I never thought I would work for Marvel,” says Piskor, who has published multiple books through Fantagraphics. “I cut my teeth on X-Men comics when I was a kid.”
“Grand Design” intricately weaves together the adventures of Wolverine, Charles Xavier, Jean Grey and the whole gang, with plenty of visual Easter eggs for die-hard Marvel fans.
“Grand Design” also reflects Piskor’s indie spirit. Instead of collaborating, as most Marvel and DC superhero writers and artists do, Piskor handles every phase: from scripting to penciling to inking to color separations.
That approach is born out of Piskor’s passion for every phase of comics. He spent a year learning his craft at the Kubert School (which teaches cartooning and graphic art) after deciding 15 years ago to quit his job at a call center and devote all his energies to comics. He then wrote to comics creators he admired and got his big break when Pekar asked him to illustrate some “American Splendor” comics.
Now, Piskor believes in returning to events that he believes reflects his attitude of valuing creative opportunities more than commercial considerations.
“The way SPX works is, in that room you have people who are compelled to make comics the way they want to — and not necessarily thinking about immediate financial rewards,” Piskor says. “They bust their humps making comics because they like making comics. That’s the cloth I’m cut from and the people I identify with.”
“I care about the work, and I live a spartan lifestyle,” he continues, “so any [financial] reward buys me time to make my next thing.”
This post has been updated.