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“Wizzywig” creator Ed Piskor talks hacking, hip hop, and his fascinating new graphic novel

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With a nickname like “Boingthump,” the main character of Ed Piskor’s graphic novel Wizzywig isn’t the typical comic book hero, but he’s a guy you can’t help rooting for all the same — even if he is one of the nation’s most-wanted fugitives.

The recently published graphic novel chronicles the life of Kevin “Boingthump” Phenicle, a fictional computer hacker whose story is culled from the real-life experiences of famous hackers, scammers, and digital pirates. From his early days as a kid trying to get a few extra turns on Pac-Man and his discovery that perfect pitch could mean free pay-phone calls, through the years he spent on the run from the government (including an appearance on “America’s Most Wanted”), Wizzywig is the story of a man who saw the loopholes in every system, and rarely shied away from using them.

What’s more, Wizzywig is also one of the year’s best graphic novels, combining a thrilling, dramatic tale of curiosity, risk, and consequence, with a fascinating study of what can happen when technology and the ways we use it evolve faster than the government’s understanding of it.

IFC spoke with Piskor about the new, hardcover collection of Wizzywig that presents the amalgam of real-world stories that make up Kevin Phenicle’s fascinating, fictional life.

IFC: Right at the start, I have to tell you that even though it clearly states that Wizzywig is “inspired by the incredible stories of real-life hackers,” I kept having to remind myself that it’s not actually a biography of a real person…

ED PISKOR: [Laughs] Yeah, it is a biography to a certain extent — in that it’s a biography of like nine different guys crammed into one book.

IFC: Who are some of the real-life hackers whose stories found their way into the book in one form or another?

PISKOR: Well, there’s this guy named Kevin Mitnick, and trailing just behind him is Kevin Poulsen. Both of these men were able to evade capture for years and years by the weird, verboten knowledge they had. They were able to game the system and create false identities and just stay under the radar. My thesis is that the only reason they were captured was because they simply got tired of running. The idea of disappearing and not being ble to have contact with your closest family and loved ones, that has to be kind of daunting after a few years.

There were other people the book was inspired by, too — like this blind phone-phreaker named Joe Engressia. He changed his name to “Joybubbles.” He wanted to game the White Pages because there were no one-word names, like “Madonna.” So he wanted his name to be “Joybubbles” and they still couldn’t put a one-word name into the paper, so they put it down as first name “Joy,” last name “Bubbles.” That was a big victory for him.

IFC: Where did your connection with this subject begin? How did you get interested in hacking and the lives of hackers?

PISKOR: I was working on a book with Harvey Pekar called Macedonia, and there was a lot of labor involved in that one. It took me 14 months to put the book together, and it was right when podcasting was kind of new, which was perfect, because it’s hard for me to keep myself in the drawing chair. For whatever reason, I put in the word “hacker” or “hacking” into one of those podcast aggregators, and this archive of a radio show called “Off The Hook” came up. There was a 25-year archive of this radio show which broadcasts from WBAI in Manhattan. The host of the show is also the publisher of a hacker magazine called 2600. I had some knowledge of different events — like stuff that happened with Kevin Mitnick — but the information I had on these subjects was all presented by major media outlets, so I just started listening to that audio archive from the first show, which was back in the ’80s, close to 1990.

I listened to the entire archive, and what happened is that it really built on all of these dramas that developed in the hacker community. Sometimes they would interview someone for weeks on end, and then suddenly that person isn’t there. And the host would get on to say that the person you got to know throughout the last few shows is now in jail and facing litigation. All of these dramas played out throughout the show.

IFC: That makes a lot of sense, because there’s a character in Wizzywig who’s a radio host, and he sort of leads the crusade to shed light on the main character’s treatment…

PISKOR: Yeah, the host of the real-life broadcast and the publisher of 2600, his nom de plume is Emmanuel Goldstein, which was the fictional antagonist to Big Brother in the book 1984. And because I’m not original in any way, that radio-host character in Wizzywig is named Winston smith, who’s the actual main character of 1984. The book is full of these little call-outs and geeky little tidbits that somebody who’s into this scene will get and understand and appreciate, but it doesn’t take away from the actual story if you don’t catch them. It’s just icing on the cake for people who are legitimately into this world.

IFC: So this radio show had a lot to do with your inspiration for Wizzywig, it seems…

PISKOR: Yeah, the show covered not only the history of hacking, but the history of high-tech and how the government was very slow and very draconian at first to understand and legislate against people who do weird things on the computer. There were a lot of weird cases where people were getting put in jail for years and labeled felons for very benign things that today you’d only receive a slap on the wrist for, if anything.

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Very NSFW

The Brockmire Premiere Is All Truth

Watch The First Episode of Brockmire Right Now for Free

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At long last, the Brockmire pre-premiere has arrived. Which means you can watch it right now—on IFC.com, at Funny Or Die, on IFC’s Apple TV and mobile apps, on Youtube, on Facebook, on the AMC apps, and right here. So grab some headphones and get watching.

No seriously, get headphones.

Because whether he’s giving a play-by-play or ruminating on the world around him, Jim Brockmire calls it like he sees it. And how he sees it is very NSFW. His take on life is actually quite refreshing, even to the point of being profoundly sage. For proof just look at these pearls of unconventional wisdom from the premiere…

Brockmire On The Internet

“If I need porn I just buy a nudie mag, like my father and his father before him.”

Brockmire On Sex-Ed

“Kids, a strap-on is a belt with d— on it that mommies use to f— daddies.”
Brockmire-Strap-On

Brockmire On The Perfect High

“Somewhere between 10 cups of coffee and very low-grade cocaine.”
Brockmire-Perfect-High

Brockmire On The Tardiness of Spring

“Old man winter’s reaching his hand inside your coat to give that thing one more squeeze.”

Brockmire On Keeping Perspective

“I thought I hit rock bottom in a handicap restroom in Bangkok where a Thai lady-boy snorted crank off my johnson while a sunburnt German watched us on the toilet”
Brockmire-grain-salt

Brockmire On Humanity

“If you want to look directly into the gaping maw of oblivion, don’t look up to the heavens. Just look in the mirror.”
Jules-never-seen

See these nuggets and more in the first episode of Brockmire, and see the whole season beginning April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Thank Azaria

Best. Characters. Ever.

Our favorite Hank Azaria characters.

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Hank Azaria may well be the most prolific voice and character actor of our time. The work he’s done for The Simpsons alone has earned him a permanent place in the pop culture zeitgeist. And now he’s bringing another character to the mainstream: a washed-up sports announcer named Jim Brockmire, in the aptly titled new series Brockmire.

We’re looking forward to it. So much so that we want to look backward, too, with a short-but-sweet retrospective of some of Azaria’s important characters. Shall we begin?

Half The Recurring Simpsons Characters

He’s Comic Book Guy. He’s Chief Wiggum. He’s Apu. He’s Cletus. He’s Snake. He’s Superintendent Chalmers. He’s the Sea Captain. He’s Kurt “Can I Borrow A Feeling” Van Houten. He’s Professor Frink. He’s Carl. And he’s many more. But most importantly he’s Moe Szyslak, the staple character Azaria has voiced since his very first audition for The Simpsons.

Oh, and He’s Frank Grimes

For all the regular Simpsons characters Azaria has played over the years, his most brilliant performance may have been a one-off: Frank Grimes, the scrappy bootstrapper who worked tirelessly all his life for honest, incremental, and easily-undermined success. Azaria’s portrayal of this character was nuanced, emotional, and simply magical.

Patches O’Houlihan

Dodgeball is a “sport of violence, exclusion and degradation.” as Hank Azaria generously points out in his brief but crucial cameo in Dodgeball. That’s sage wisdom. Try applying his “five D’s” to your life on and off the court and enjoy the results.

Harold Zoid

Of Futurama fame. The crazy uncle of Dr. Zoidberg, Harold Zoid was once a lion (or lobster) of the silver screen until Smell-o-vision forced him into retirement.

Agador

The Birdcage was significant for many reasons, and the comic genius of Hank Azaria’s character “Agador” sits somewhere towards the top of that list. If you haven’t seen this movie, shame on you.

Gargamel

Nobody else could make a live-action Gargamel possible.

Ed Cochran

From Ray Donovan. Great character, great last name [editorial note: the author of this article may be bias].

Kahmunra, The Thinker, Abe Lincoln

All in the Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian, a file that let Azaria flex his voice acting and live-action muscles in one fell swoop.

The Blue Raja

Mystery Men has everything, including a fatal case of Smash Mouth. Azaria’s iconic superhero makes the shortlist of redeemable qualities, though.

Dr. Huff

Huff put Azaria in a leading role, and it was good. So good that there is no good gif of it. Internet? More like Inter-not.

Learn more about Hank Azaria’s newest claim to fame right here, and don’t miss the premiere of Brockmire April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Flame Out

Brockmire and Other Public Implosions

Brockmire Premieres April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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There’s less than a month until the Brockmire premiere, and to say we’re excited would be an insulting understatement. It’s not just that it stars Hank Azaria, who can do no wrong (and yes, that’s including Mystery Men, which is only cringeworthy because of Smash Mouth). It’s that the whole backstory of the titular character, Jim Brockmire, is the stuff of legends. A one-time iconic sportscaster who won the hearts of fans and players alike, he fell from grace after an unfortunate personal event triggered a seriously public meltdown. See for yourself in the NSFW Funny or Die digital short that spawned the IFC series:

See? NSFW and spectacularly catastrophic in a way that could almost be real. Which got us thinking: What are some real-life sports fails that have nothing to do with botched athletics and everything to do with going tragically off script? The internet is a dark and dirty place, friends, but these three examples are pretty special and mostly safe for work…

Disgruntled Sports Reporter

His co-anchor went offsides and he called it like he saw it.

Jim Rome vs Jim “Not Chris” Everett

You just don’t heckle a professional athlete when you’re within striking distance. Common sense.

Carl Lewis’s National Anthem

He killed it! As in murdered. It’s dead.

To see more moments just like these, we recommend spending a day in your pajamas combing through the muckiness of the internet. But to see something that’s Brockmire-level funny without having to clear your browser history, check out the sneak peeks and extras here.

Don’t miss the premiere of Brockmire April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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