Today I was listening to the most expensive podcast out there, Gweek, and one of their guests was the comic artist Ed Piskor. They mentioned his first solo project, Wizzywig, which sounded like an interesting rehash of ye old phone phreak and hacker lore, packed up into a rather sad and beautiful story. This piqued my interest, and what makes Gweek so expensive for me was that I did what I usually do in these cases: thumbed a search on my phone, realized the comic is available on comiXology, and bought it there and then. After the day’s hijinx I dropped in to my favourite watering hole just to read a couple of pages on my iPhone. I ended up drifting back home after one beer so I could read the comic better on an iPad screen, and finishing the whole album on one sitting. Wow.
Wizzywig is the story of Kevin “Boingthump” Phenicle and his friend Winston. The story starts from their childhoold, and without spoiling anything totally obvious, Kevin grows up to be a legendary phone phreak and a hacker, while Winston is his friend and a less proficient wingman on the hijinx, before the pair split ways when they grow older. Anybody with even a cursory knowledge of hacker lore can see that Piskor has done his homework, and Kevin’s character and life is a an amalgamation of real world hackers and their feats. There is of course added drama in the mix, but the influences are pretty clear and well executed.
It would be pretty easy to do a “let me show how much I know about the subject” type of a story about this subject, but what makes Wizzywig resonate with me is the mix of camaraderie, alienation, joy of discovery and sadness in the story. This works on both the writing and artwork, the latter of which manages to be nicely stark and threatening, with an occasional bright spot thrown in. This is a story of people, not a collection of anecdotes, which makes it moving. At the same time it does manage to be a great introduction to a certain kind of tinkerer/geek/hacker mindset and some of the bigger events in the field from the prehistory of 60’s/70’s to the modern day.
All in all, if you are even remotely interested in hacker lore, this Wizzywig is definitely worth checking out.
Never too late to continue a geeky childhood
On a personal note, this was a timely read for me: it really struck a certain note and kicked me right down the memory lane. I was one of those geek kids who got the computer at the age of nine in the early 80’s and started hammering out simple programs and later some games. I was the one who spent time in the elementary school electronics club and summers in computer programming camps, read like the world was going to run out of books and graduated from the library’s kids’ shelves to the science section pretty fast.
In the turn of the 90’s it was modems and BBSs, learning to pick locks using downloaded guides with really crappy ANSI graphic illustrations (a fucking useless skill in Finland – “we can’t stop here, this is Abloy country”). It blew my mind getting to use internet and IRC in 1989 when I was in the computer center of an university for a “get to know a job” week. I even wrote a really shitty computer virus on Amiga 500, but it could barely infect the test floppy in ideal conditions, and I had no intention of releasing it. In the junior high we got the teacher passwords to the school LAN and I guess the teachers were sort of relieved when we started running and maintaining it. One of the most impressive thing at the time was to get to follow the first net revolution, the attempted coup in Soviet Union.
Somehow most of this just petered away in my late teens, pretty much how it happens to Winston in the comic. I did a lot of programming, but it didn’t seem to get anywhere, and I just felt I was doing my stuff in a vacuum of sorts. Although I liked to be alone, wasn’t exactly a loner. I would’ve required some kind of group and chemistry to continue on the programming or tinkering stuff, a social group which was provided by other more or less geeky pursuits, such as amateur astronomy. Unfortunately I didn’t run into any demo groups at the time.
It’s been only in the last couple of years that I’ve returned to the coding/tinkering side of things properly. Of course I’ve coded some stuff for work, but that doesn’t really count. Well, there have been things like random cases of model rocketry. I didn’t find until last autumn that there was a hackerspace in Helsinki, and it was only quite recently I got to know about the existance of the whole damn maker culture (in a big part thanks to Gweek podcast). It feels like I’m finding this whole world again, and that is definitely part why Wizzywig hit me as hard as it did.
Oh well, not sure what the point was in here – perhaps the fact that I’m happy to notice that it’s never too late to continue your tech-geeky childhood. And also go and buy the comic.