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Portrait of a Serial Hacker

[Top Shelf Productions]

Comic by Ed Piskor

Reviewed by Chris Auman


Most hackers are anarchists whether they consciously subscribe to that particular political theory of government or not. They're definitely rule breakers. And instigators. Some hackers are activists engaging in what they perceive as vigilante justice. Many hackers are motivated less by financial gain, than by the adrenaline rush of going where they’re told not to go and doing what they're told not to do. They enjoy the challenge of solving problems and gaining access and some of their victims are not very sympathetic ones in the public's eye (like Ma Bell in hacking's early days). Most hackers are too smart for their own good.

Ed Piskor's graphic novel WIZZYWIG collects his previously published installments of the life and crimes of one particular fictional phone phreaker/hacker, Kevin “Boingthump” Phenicle.

Boingthump is a composite of real-life cyber criminals like Kevin Mitnick and Kevin Poulsen. He's a bright kid from a broken home who is bullied and beaten at school. He gets little guidance from the few adults in his life and as a result his judgment is misguided as he misuses his considerable talents.

Kevin finds out an an early age how to cheat his city's bus transit system and he’s hooked. Sometimes, with the aid of an accomplice (his buddy, Winston), Kevin cheats the system out of scores of free bus rides, pizzas, and unlimited long-distance phone calls. He creates an early computer virus that earns him the ire of the gaming public.

Kevin eventually graduates to bigger crimes, which garners him the attention of the FBI. He is arrested but not charged for crimes that aren't even on the books yet. Jailed and paroled and a fugitive again, Boingthump just can't seem to lead the straight life. Hacking invariably hooks him again and again forcing him into a never-ending cycle of criminal activity.

Piskor creates an exciting tale of a techno fugitive on the lam and does so with compelling storytelling and in a likeable style: imagine the love child of Little Orphan Annie and Jughead (she of the pupil-less eyes and he of the narrow and rectangular proboscis) and that's our Protagonist. Piskor tells Boingthump's tale from different points of view; newscasts and talk shows, multi-paneled talking heads with person-on-the-street perspectives, but much of the story is told through Winston’s radio show, "Off the Rocker," where Winston pleads Kevin's case to his listeners and demands a trial or his freedom.

Piskor is a bit of a trickster in his own right, tossing in cultural references to Beastie Boys and Ramones songs and that's undoubtedly the late Harvey Pekar starring as the nice man behind the counter at Rocko's pizza parlor, soon to be duped by Boingthump. (Piskor worked with Pekar on several projects including American Splendor.) The hacking life makes for a fascinating subject and in Piskor’s hands it’s pure entertainment with a bit of a history lesson mixed in. I would recommend getting yourself WIZZYWIGGED at your earliest convenience.

READ: An interview with Ed Piskor

Reglar Wiglar

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