Review: graphical hacker book

When I was a kid, I loved reading comics- the likes of Tintin, Westerns, and Commando comics. Apparently, comics have grown up too. As the list of Popular Graphic Novels Books shows, graphic books are now very evolved from the comics of my childhood. So, casually browsing my local library, when I saw Wizzywig- Portrait of a Serial Hacker by Ed Piskor, I had to pick it up.

It’s the fictional story of Kevin “BoingThump” Phenicle, who is an amalgamation of various real life hackers like Robert Morris, published a couple of months ago. The best description of what the book is about is on its jacket, “Inspired by the incredible stories of real-life hackers, Wizzygig is the thrilling tale of a master manipulator – his journey from precocious child scammer to federally-wanted fugitive, and beyond. In a world transformed by social networks and data leaks, Ed Piskor’s debut graphic novel reminds us how much power can rest in the hands of an audacious kid with a keyboard.”

Despite the somewhat sympathetic “audacious kid with a keyboard” description, Kevin is a bad guy. Not evil, but bad. He starts from phone phreaking and graduates to bootlegging the early computer games. From there it’s viruses and worms. Ultimately, it’s about a life on the run from the FBI, with some false identities and money-making scams thrown in. It’s the police, jail authorities, and reporters chasing stories who are really the evil characters. The book ends with the plight of Bradley Manning as another example of keeping people in jail without trial.

The use of a graphic novel rather than prose to tell the story makes the book stand out. I greatly enjoyed the use of images to convey rich connections that words alone cannot provide. The use of single panels on a page to provide multiple angles to the story is an example of evocative and imaginative storytelling.

If you haven’t yet discovered, or perhaps re-discovered, the world of graphic novels, this book will set you down the path of wanting more. But don’t expect the goodness of Tintin or the good-guy-wins of Westerns. If anything, the details of jail life and the lot of hackers in Wizzygig is, well, graphic.

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