Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Ed Piskor is dead. What happened?

It’s been confirmed by multiple sources that Ed Piskor is dead at 41. Piskor, whose most notable creation was probably Hip Hop Family Tree, also did X-Men: Grand Design for Marvel, as well as Wizzywig and Red Room, the latter a very detailed and often disturbing look at internet murder sites. Allegedly, he died from suicide, but it does not seem that’s official yet. So, Piskor is dead, and that’s a shame.

However … it’s the circumstances that led to his death that are controversial, and why many (male) comic creators are tweeting about it. I didn’t know Piskor, so I don’t feel the tragedy of it all – I’ve often said that I don’t get the emotional outpouring that accompanies the deaths of people we don’t know and who have very little real impact on our lives – but I get why so many people who did know him are distraught, especially if it is, in fact, suicide. Last week, Piskor was a darling of the indie comics scene. Then, allegations of sexual impropriety surfaced over the weekend, and now, he’s dead. A cartoonist accused him of grooming her when she was 17 (she’s 21 now), then another said he asked for a blowjob in exchange for his agent’s phone number. Jim Rugg made a statement that they would no longer be doing their YouTube videos together. Then Piskor posted a long “suicide note” on Facebook. It is certainly something to read. Piskor defends himself a bit, turns his baleful eye on several creators who he believes had it out for him, and bemoans his fate. He says he was “murdered by Internet bullies,” among other things. It’s a tough read.

This is a complex situation, made more so by the anger on both sides. As usual, things are difficult to parse, but the internet forces everyone into an either/or position, with nuance left on the side of the road. If this is really a suicide, as seems likely, then it’s clear there was a lot more wrong in Piskor’s head than just this. Men have been accused of this kind of behavior for many years now, and even if it’s true, most of them manage to not kill themselves. Piskor’s note is written by someone who is obviously depressed, and I can’t imagine his family didn’t know he was suicidal even before this. I’m not saying that it’s partly “their fault,” but it’s clear from his note that this is something stemming at least from the COVID year, if not earlier. Piskor was, it seems, clinically depressed, and these accusations might have pushed him over the edge, but it doesn’t seem like it was all that difficult to get him there. It’s awful, but it’s clear that he was not all right, even before this happened.

Many people are angry about the “mob mentality” that “killed” Piskor. Yes, a “mob mentality” is awful, and mobs do horrible things. This stuff came so quickly that I haven’t seen much in the way of calling for Piskor’s head, even if it happened. I don’t spend hours on the internet looking for this kind of stuff. An art exhibition of his work in Pittsburgh (near where he lived) was canceled after the allegations came out, and according to Piskor, he was about to sign a lucrative deal with Abrams, which also evaporated. So that sucks for him, of course. But … he doesn’t really deny the allegations, does he? Well, the blowjob-for-favors thing he denies, claiming he would never do it, and he says the woman who made them initiated sex with him twice, but that was the extent of their relationship. It’s definitely he said/she said, and Piskor is correct in saying that women are capable of lying about this kind of stuff. But with the other stuff … he doesn’t deny it, just claims it was innocent. He says it was during COVID and he was lonely, and he was goofing around with her. But … he found out she was 17 and kept communicating with her, and as someone who has used the internet a lot, he should know that tone is very hard to translate across instant messages. I don’t understand how younger people, who have been using the internet for half (or more) of their lives still don’t understand its pitfalls. There are things you just don’t do, and Piskor – even if he was depressed because it was COVID and he was isolated – should have known that. He can claim “innocence” in his intentions even if he admits to writing the things he did, but that’s a tough thing to sell. On the other hand … is the girl herself completely innocent? Yes, she was 17, but 17 in 2020 is a lot different than 17 in, say, 1950, and she engaged with Piskor, presumably knowing who he was and how old he was. The minute he became “creepy,” why didn’t she disengage? I’m not saying she’s at fault, any more than Piskor’s family is at fault for not knowing he was suicidal, but if she didn’t like what Piskor was saying to her, she had the option of not communicating with him. I know it’s not that easy. I know, first-hand, how the trauma of sexual harassment can mess with a young woman’s psyche. But it’s not like she couldn’t avoid Piskor. She certainly could. And it also does not seem that Piskor ever actually met her. Internet harassment is a strange beast, because nothing Piskor did seemed to rise to any criminal level, and his defenders will argue it didn’t even rise to “harassment” level. Still, he was being creepy. He probably should have known better.

This is the horrible power of the internet. It connects us, sure, but it also gives rise to this kind of behavior, and it’s hard to disengage. If Piskor was clinically depressed and introverted, as it seems he was, the internet would have been a place where he could connect without being too vulnerable, which is a valuable thing. However, it’s far too easy to “joke” on-line and have it come off very poorly, if indeed you are joking. Also, Piskor writes in his note about his life being ruined, but it seems that he could have stopped going on-line for a while and everything would have blown over – this kind of thing does, especially if there’s no outright criminal behavior and the dude is just being creepy. But that seems like it wasn’t an option because of his own neuroses, which got wrapped up in an internet culture that is not terribly well-equipped to deal with shades of gray. People are calling Piskor a “predator,” which seems a bit extreme. His defenders are claiming he did nothing wrong, which also seems extreme. All I know is that a troubled and talented cartoonist is dead, and a young woman he made feel very uncomfortable might feel guilty about it and might become a target herself of the “mob mentality” – a different mob, to be sure, but with the same intent. Nothing good comes from this.

Here’s one of the stories about the allegations, and here’s a story about his death, which includes a link to his suicide note. It’s a tough read, if you do head on over there. This whole situation sucks, doesn’t it?


  1. daniel

    Whoa, that’s crazy. Never read any of his comics, I think (maybe I gave Hip Hop Family Tree a try when it was a webcomic), but I just subscribed to his YouTube podcast and listened to an episode last weekend. I wasn’t aware of any of the allegations, I just heard about the show some time ago, and I thought I’ll give it a shot. He seemed like a nice guy.

    1. Greg Burgas

      I hope you didn’t mean that you thought I was pulling an April Fools’ joke, because I really don’t do that, and if I did, it certainly wouldn’t have been about something as awful as this!!!

      1. conrad1970

        No, not all. I had seen it previously online and my first thought was ‘yeah ok, I’m not falling for that’ then I read your post.
        The thing I really don’t get about it all is that if young ladies have allegations to make then why not do it the right way and report it to the police first.
        Social media is getting way out of hand.

        1. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

          What would they tell the police about?

          Cameron Stewart wasn’t committing any crimes in the province of Ontario when he repeatedly targeted, I mean “dated” 16-20 year old girls throughout his 30s.

          It’s awful that Piskor decided to kill himself, but the fact that it’s not illegal for a freelancer to be a huge creep isn’t a shield from moral opprobrium.

          1. daniel

            I also have a problem with those allegations.

            I don’t want to be judgmental, enough people came out with accusations against Piskor to suggest that there had to be some issues with his behavior. But they were done via Instagram and Twitter, and are no longer viewable or have been deleted (probably to not be harassed, which is kinda understandable).

            I saw what the first girl shared secondhand on The Comics Beat, so maybe I haven’t seen the whole thing:


            There they posted screenshots of her phone with snippets of Piskor’s DMs, and her accusations pasted on them. And I do kinda think his DMs look like they could just be goofy banter. Nothing against that girl, it’s a fucked up situation, but I do wish she would have shown those DMs unedited and with more context.

          2. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

            I’m hard pressed to think of a single good reason for a 38 year old man to be engaging in “goofy banter” with a 17 year old girl.

            And just to reiterate on the whole “police” thing, if Piskor had bought her a bus ticket to Pittsburgh, and they’d slept together, he would have done nothing illegal.

            Obviously the outcome here was horrible…but I’d argue that situations like these are the precise sort of thing that social media callouts should be used for.

          3. daniel

            Yeah, I agree with you on the whole police thing.

            And I half agree on the using social media for this sort of thing thing.

            It’s just that if social media was used for making this callout, I’d be nice to look back at them and come away with an impression that the guy was a total creep, and not for most of the posts to be deleted and what’s left to look like not much of a thing. Especially if the outcome was this tragic.

          4. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

            I’m definitely with Greg that must have been a lot more going on with Piskor’s head than this brouhaha…which is certainly icky but doesn’t look like it even reaches Warren Ellis levels of creepiness.

            At the same time, lines like the one in his note about the cosplayer who he pestered about drawing nude don’t exactly incline me to give him the benefit of the doubt.

          5. daniel

            Sure, fair point on him probably not being altogether, mental health wise, and on the girl he wanted to draw nude.

            I’d like to know a bit more about the situation with that podcaster/cosplayer, but yeah, that doesn’t make him look good.

  2. Peter

    It’s a deeply messed-up, disturbing, and sad turn of events. I think most level-headed people agree that whatever Piskor did or didn’t do, it was not worth ending his life over. I also think most reasonable people were just going to not buy Piskor’s comics or watch his channel when allegations came to light, but I’m sure there was a minority that he couldn’t block out calling for something like this. He was definitely unwise and possibly unethical in some of his conduct but this is such a sad and sadly final conclusion to everything.

    I saw something similar happen in my (very, very small) local music scene when someone accused a musician of grooming her. I think the guy in question definitely did something unethical or questionable (he was almost 40 and was dating someone; the girl in question was 20 and he flirted with her repeatedly online although didn’t send explicit content) but the rush to judgment of not only him but anyone who stayed friends with him was frightening. He said he was feeling suicidal almost instantly and I’m glad that he actually did have some friends who stuck by him and reminded him he had good in him even if he did a bad or questionable thing. The “mob” (even if it’s a small number of people without concern for nuance) really can be frightening and sad.

  3. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

    Yeah, my reaction last week was “Ed Piskor’s a creep? That sucks.” Then I went on with my day.

    Really fucking sad that this happened.

    I will add that while today’s 17 year olds might be savvier than those of yesteryear, they’re still kids, and kids are dumb – even the smart ones.

    I fully understand a kid who was ages 17-19 through COVID not clocking Piskor as a creep at the time, but having it click recently.

    21 year olds are still dumb, but most have been (semi-)independent long enough that they’re infinitely smarter than 17 year olds.

    (Then there’s the fact that he didn’t even try to deny creeping on that podcaster, and the language he used in that line was fucking gross and misogynistic in a note that was otherwise trying to make him look like a hero/victim.)

    Anyway, I’m sorry he’s gone – talented guy…and it’s not like this was Cam Stewart shit.

    He was absolutely going to be able to come back from this, if he had chosen to put in the work.

  4. it’s quite common for women not to realize something inappropriate is going on if the person creeping on them/assaulting them is respectable/nice/a friend. The idea that people who commit inappropriate sexual shit are freaky outcasts/psychos leaping out of bushes is deeply ingrained in our culture; it takes a while to say “Yes, he’s a respected person I look up to but that was way wrong.”

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