Jason: Manoman, high school. The best times and the worst times, right? There were great friends and asshole enemies; college plans and awesome parties; drugs and alcohol and stupid mistakes. And there were the girls — cute girls, sexy girls, girls who were too cool to hang out with me, girls who were my best friends, but always I had girls on my mind.
And there was also the music. Ah yeah, the music — so much a part of my teenage years. In those pre-Internet days, you had to subscribe to magazines to know what the latest cool music was, or somehow have hipper friends with great record collections that they could use to create mixtapes. You and I were in high school at just about the same time, so you probably have happy memories of listening to some of the proto-punk and new wave bands at the time. I remember the revelation of Talking Heads’s Remain in Light and the beautiful youthful intensity of the Waterboys; the uninhibited fun of the B-52’s and the grace and beauty of Split Enz; the confusion I had listening to early R.E.M. (I wouldn’t really understand them till I got into college and “matured.” (ha, you call that maturity?)
Though the new comic Mixtape is set a few years after my high school years, it may as well have been set in the same time. Things don’t change — or at least they didn’t between the early and late ’80s. My friends and I still loved to congregate for big parties where we would talk music, love, sex, movies, high school and college, and all the other stuff that kids have always talked about. I could relate to the kids in this comic because they were like me and my friends.
I was a little bit like Jim Abbott in Mixtape #1. Like him, I was a bit of a loner who had to be forced by my friends to get the hell out of my bedroom into parties. Like him, I couldn’t see the opportunities in front of me but always felt like I was chasing something better. Like him, I made my share of mistakes. And like him, I was a bit of an asshole at times.
So I liked this comic, quite a bit more than I expected to. Daniel, did Mixtape bring back a bit of your long-lost high school years, too?
Daniel: Yes, of what I can remember of them — but that’s a whole different story.
I, too, like this comic quite a bit more than I expected to and for the same reasons as you, Jason. I found myself easily immersed in the world of this book due to the music references and the friendships built around that. I made the majority of my high school friends because of music. High Schools in Dallas, Texas in the early ’80s had the propensity for being a haven for hair bands or that ubiquitous Tina Turner/Whitney Houston axis upon which daily life seemed to turn. But I hated that shit for its vapidity and its cowardice. I was the angry young man and I needed a soundtrack that reflected my (snicker) depth and angst and lofty goals. And that music was there. You just had to find it. And once you found it, you discovered that there were other people listening to it. And when you found those people, you found your home.
There’s a line in Mixtape where the character Adrienne Kennedy says of a Pixies show she saw in London, “Every song they performed was your song.” That line really stuck with me. I can’t tell you how many times growing up I thought Black Francis was singing to me directly, or Ian Curtis had been reading my mind, or Robert Smith had been hiding under my bed while I talked on the phone to that girl I was so obsessed with who wanted nothing to do with me.
On St. Patrick’s Day this year I was fortunate enough to get to see Peter Murphy perform at Yoshi’s in San Francisco. When he sang Stigmata Martyr, I was transported back to driving around suburban Dallas in my 1979 monkey-shit brown Chevy Nova, chain-smoking Marlboros and screaming along with every lyric, every yelp, every Latin prayer.
It was the music that got me through. It was the friends that I found through the music that kept me from an absolute bleakness.
But this is supposed to be a review of Mixtape the comic and not an opportunity for me to wax poetic about my teenage angst. Like I said at the outset, I enjoyed this comic more than I thought I would.
One thing I thought was great was the way the book is structured. I mean, it starts with the line “I discovered it on the morning of the funeral,” with a panel focused on a box of old cassette tapes, CDs, and magazines. The narrative then is all told in flashback, so you have this specter of death floating around somewhere, giving all of the petty moments that high school is made of a bit more of an ominous tone.
There were a few times in Mixtape where I felt like I had fallen into outtakes from a John Hughes film, but overall I liked where this seems to be going.
Jason: Yeah, I liked where this book seems to be going, too. You’re totally right about the guy looking back on his school years: that specter of death seems to haunt the book so much, but more than that for me, it also helped excuse and contextualize the John Hughes feel of the comic. Of course everything seems a bit melodramatic! Not only was high school completely full of melodrama on every level — and yeah, I had a lot of those same experiences as you — but it makes sense to look back on high school as one kind of John Hughes film, full of funny experiences and the chance to feel really free (or so it seems, 25 years later).
I think we agree: this is a really nicely written indie comic.
I also thought the art was pretty nice and fit the comic well. I liked how the people in the comic were well composed but the buildings seemed just a bit shaky — again like something you might remember dimly from the past. I also really liked how the kids in the comic really looked “of a type”, like friends I used to love to hang with, but who now I only see occasionally on Facebook.
Overall, a pretty nice comic that hit right in the part of me that still remembers high school.
Daniel: Right, except now that I’m in my forties, the part of me that still remembers high school seems to be sore more often than not.
I’m interested to see how the rest of this series pans out, how the characters develop, and what songs will be playing next in the background. I think that Abraham is writing from his own experiences, as there seems to be a great deal of heart in this story, and I think that, above anything else, will make this comic something that people can connect with.
That, and the great music.
Now I’m going to call my mom. I think I left an old box of mixtapes I made back in high school in her attic.
Daniel Elkin has been reading and commenting on comics since the mid ’70s when he used to wear a great deal of brown corduroy. Currently he lives in Northern California where brown corduroy is slowly becoming fashionable again. Daniel has worked in bars, restaurants, department stores, classrooms, and offices. He is a published poet, member of MENSA, committed father, gadfly and bon vivant. He can over-intellectualize just about anything and is known to have long Twitter conversations with himself (@DanielElkin).
P.S. He keeps a blog, Your Chicken Enemy.