I recently opted to review some very unusual books -- Ed Piskor ‘s "Wizzywig" comics Volume 1: Phreak and Volume 2: Hacker. Volumes 3: Fugitive and 4: Inmate are coming along later. As you might guess by the titles, these books form a storyline loosely based on the real-life stories of Kevin Mitnik and Kevin Poulson. Piskor goes to the trouble of adding a few frame-by-frame comments at the end of the first volume showing how he based his fiction on actual events.
Though only eight by eight inches in size with four frames on each of the 110 pages, the story is quite well developed in a straightforward narrative style. Many visual and textual jokes and social commentaries appear throughout each chapter or adventure, each with its own subtitle and cast of supporting characters. Visually, the drawing style is straight pen and ink with normal perspective and a slightly sardonic twist to the faces and bodies reminiscent of R. Crumb's underground style.
Our "hero" in this novel series is a nerdy, unusually bright and orphaned teenager living in the custody of his grandmother in the fictional "Steeltown." Kevin “BoingThump” Phenicle, is curious, nerdy and has problems fitting in.
Not surprisingly, he's the victim of school bullies and winds up being the one who gets suspended for fighting (that couldn't happen, now, could it?). He capitalizes on the free time the suspension provides to study and, as I see it, turn to the dark side as his lack of better status among his “peers” leads him to develop a very flexible set of ethics. For me, this is a familiar outcome. My husband’s grandfather was also something of an amateur chemist, making poisons and explosives in the basement of his house in Philly. With a club-foot deformity, he too was an outsider, bending the rules (though he went to school quite dutifully) and according to family legend, designed the first telephone bugs at Bell Labs back in the thirties.
BoingThump ends up hacking just about everything in sight – from bus transfers to pizza stands, while still coming across as an appealing, good-natured kid. I couldn’t help but admire him for his curiosity and persistence. A mind is a terrible thing to waste and all that.
I recall seeing my first hacker on the Merv Griffin Show, many years ago, taking the host's credit card and, in a one minute phone call, doubling his available balance while on live TV. Phone freaks vs. the Ma Bell monopoly seemed to some a game or a victimless crime while others saw it as that slippery slope that would lead to the end of civilization. Piskor uses a lot of frames to explore these swirling opinions of that time and provides a good starting point for a modern exploration of the internet and cyber-crime in general. White hat vs. black hat hacking is going to be with us for a long time and these two (or four) comics could make good history as well as unusual entertainment with all of its points of view in stark relief.
You can find out more about these wonderfully different books, check out the links below.
Piskor, a Pittsburgh cartoonist well known for his work with cranky comic god Harvey Pekar, self publishes the books and would be happy to introduce you to a side of hacking that you’re not likely to find in the more traditional security textbooks.