The age of digital music has stolen some pretty special things from music lovers, such as vinyl that’s not special-packaging, over-priced collector’s nonsense. Digital has destroyed an era when there was still some romance and mystery to our idols. A time when 'alternative' meant exactly that. It hadn’t yet been molested into a bad word by marketing scum. Out of all of that, digital technology has stolen the mix tape, which is most heartbreaking. Don’t speak to me of CD mixes or playlists; they don’t even hold a candle to the love and time it took to make a great mix tape.
Apparently, I’m not alone in this idea. Comic book writer Brad Abraham, along with artists Jok and Marco Gervasio, have released Mix Tape, a stunning look at an age when music mattered a hell of a lot more than it does now. Set in the '90s, each of Mix Tape's four issues tells the story of a loosely connected group of high school kids all experiencing some kind of growing pains. Through it all though, they have the music.
Issue #1 centers on Jim Abbot, a high school junior about to enter his senior year. It’s an 'end of the year' bash, and Jim is saddled with taking ugly duckling Adrienne Kennedy to the party. Catch is, Adrienne has not only lost weight and become incredibly cute, she’s also got killer music taste. To make it all so much sweeter, she’s got a thing for Jim. It looks like this could be the best time in our hero’s life. Until Sibohan, a girl Jim has carried a long unrequited torch for, returns from abroad. The situation culminates in a decision for Jim, one that could change his life forever. Naturally, he makes the wrong choice.
The next installment deals with Lorelei Cross, a young girl of seventeen who is anxious to get into radio. Remember, this is the '90s, so radio was still important. Lorelei gets an internship at a radio station that plays pretty much all the music she hates. Upon arriving there, Lorelei is tasked with cleaning up a back storeroom. There she stumbles upon some incredible treasures. Walls and walls of amazing records, ones the radio doesn’t play anymore. Temptation sets in and Lorelei begins borrowing albums to tape. With such access, she quickly becomes the popular girl who can get you anything you want, musically. The newfound celebrity becomes infectious, and almost costs Lorelei everything.
Mix Tape #3 brings us into the world of Noel Dunlop and Terry Harrison. The two were seen briefly in issue #1, but now they’re front and center. The two boys head out for a long drive to see a band. During the trip, the cracks in their friendship begin to show. One wants to have fun and chase girls. The other wants to collect records and see live music. The differences lead to embarrassment, disdain, and that moment when you realize you and a good friend have grown apart.
Sibohan makes a return for issue #4. More than just the one-dimensional pretty girl from issue #1, Sibohan spends much of the story suffering through an identity crisis. Returning from overseas, Sibohan finds herself at odds with the town she grew up in, the people she thought she knew, and a sister who takes rebellion to a new level. By the end, Sibohan finds her story woven into the tapestry of the other characters and, as always, there is the music.
Mix Tape is a wonderful slice of life, especially for those of us who remember the '90s with great fondness. Brad Abraham has a knack for realistic dialogue, and for allowing situations to unfold naturally. Writing these types of stories can be a hard hustle. Too much and they become unrealistic, too little and they are boring. Abraham concocts the perfect elixir of nostalgia, teen angst and great jams. While Mix Tape does have the trappings of a period piece, Abrahams writing is strong enough to allow it to appeal to anyone who loves music with their whole heart.
The art is crude, but effective. Jok and Gervasio’s heavy inks and skittish pencil style give a documentary feel to Mix Tape. Instead of bland, perfect art, or disturbingly flat computer flash, They allow the art to be imperfect like the characters. It’s all hand drawn, with a lot of love and passion involved. It may not be on a Sean Murphy level, but their black and white work is a strong breath of fresh air.
Mix Tape, the comic, is much like the real thing – a collection of strong elements that come together to be bigger than the whole. I highly suggest picking this up.
(5 Story, 3 Art)