Tag Team Review: 'Mixtape' #5 Gets Daniel and Jason Thinking About Mortality and Music
Brad Abraham, Marco Gevasio, and Jok have recently released Mixtape #5, the last issue of the first arc of this series. To mark this occasion, Jason Sacks and Daniel Elkin engage in another free wheeling conversation about the comic, the concept of identity, the fragility of life, and, most importantly, what song they want played at their funeral.
Jason Sacks: Well, Daniel, here we find ourselves again, on the crux of yet another transition in the lives of our characters presented by our trusty guide Brad Abraham and his happy artistic companions Marco Gervasio and Jok. Our friends Jim, Lorelei, Noel, Terry and Siobhan, whose complicated search for identity and connection we've followed avidly in the previous four issues of this wonderful series, are forced to confront the worst thing any teenager can face: their own mortality. And in facing their own morality they illuminate some important insights into their own lives that also illuminate our own.
Daniel Elkin: Yeah, Sacks, the tone of issue five certainly was darker than the previous four, and Abraham, in his exploration of these characters, brings up some of the larger and more relevant philosophical questions in this book.
Sacks: That's certainly true, but before we get too deep into this story and its ideas, I wanted to ask you something I've been meaning to ask since we started reading this series: as a high school teacher, how well do you think Abraham captures the ways that adolescents think and act? The confusion and complex emotions that these kids express in this issue seem very typical to me of sensitive kids of that age, but that may be looking back over way too many years and imagining what my reactions would have been to an incident like this.
Elkin:You assume that I pay attention to how my students think...
But seriously, the characters in Mixtape are seniors in high school, that makes them, what, 17/18 years old? I spend 7 to 8 hours a day with 17/18 year olds. My experience is that these "kids" are on the cusp of their future and are totally aware of that fact. Like all of us, they can be enormously thoughtful, enormously cruel, enormously kind, and enormously complex. Only so much more so. Everything is intense, in the moment – full and rich and NOW!
Like you said, Sacks, we are far removed from that emotional intensity, what being old farts and all, but my experience with kids both as a teacher and a father still gives me some insight. I think Abraham has done a great job of capturing the "voice" of his characters.
Don't you remember, Sacks, when you were 17/18 years old -- everything was Gigantic (a big big love). Let's have a ball.
Sacks: Yeah. Everything was Gigantic (though, my love for the Pixies came during college).
But yeah, exactly, everything was operatic and grandiose. Friendships were so important, young romance so all encompassing, that certain phone call or certain record or certain event so full of meaning.
Elkin: It seemed so important and would last forever, didn't it? Nothing could ever be that intense and nobody else could understand.... and yet... and yet..
Sacks: Well, sure, from our perspective now, none of it meant anything in the long run, but at the same time it meant everything.
Which is why the reaction to Todd Gorham's death in Mixtape #5 is so interesting.
Todd went to our kids' school but he wasn't part of their clique - not at all - and they looked down at this jock, in the way that high school kids do, and were a bit annoyed by the... apathy, I guess is the word... of their reactions.
Elkin: As the central motif, death certainly makes a statement. We've been talking liminal states throughout this series, and, as this arc draws to an end and the kids are about the graduate, I think Abraham's choice of focusing on death was the perfect choice.
It inevitably stirs questions of permanence, of importance, of identity, and self.
Sacks: In a dramatically different way than Siobhan's trip abroad in issue #4 did.
Elkin: Yea, this is a moment of reflection outside the self. Like how one of the characters starts ruminating about all the people they've met in their lives, how many more they are going to meet, and which one's stick and why do they stick? All those faces, fewer names, even fewer friendships – and how even those connections come and go, sometimes just fade away for no reason at all.
Sacks: Man, those kinds of scenes just kill me.
Elkin: Because you and I are at the age when, as we reflect, we see it as true. And if that wasn't enough, suddenly Abraham gets all Keatsian on us with his "He's always going to be 18" / “It will always be 1991 for Todd” speech.
"For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!” “Thou, silent form! dost tease us out of thought As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!"
Sacks: I gotta say, I found that speech so profoundly moving.
Elkin: Yea -- it's things we know on a deep level, but don't like to confront. It takes the honesty of youth, sometimes, to say the things we all are thinking.
And for kids who act like and think themselves immortal, an experience with death can be unnerving.
Sacks: But really, in a way, they all will be frozen in time to each other. In the pre-social networking era, moving away meant exile and disconnection. And in some ways, as in issue three when the boys visit college, it's exciting. In other ways, though, it's like a death -- a death of your previous self. It's a chance for reinvention and growth.
Elkin: True, and that brings up another central point of this issue, I think -- how we are defined by others, by the experience they have with us. Tiny moments can make all the difference in how others view us. That the kids each had their own sense of Todd through their interactions, they were each differently affected by his death. Was Todd a decent, giving kid? Was he troubled and motivated to make his life better? Was he a bully? Was he a dumb jock? Was he a good friend?
What is the "self"? I guess this is the larger question.
Sacks: "I knew him ever since Junior High. He was always nice to me." What does this really mean?
In a way, that's the way we perceive a lot of people that we know.
Still,"What is the self"? Are you going to get Aristotelian now?
Elkin: I'll try not to, as it can leave a rash.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that reading Mixtape #5 brought up these issues.
We have the private self and the public self -- which one is real, which one is important, which one, ultimately, matters in the time that we have in this world among others?
And who defines each? What role do we have in the creation of the self? Or is it something, ultimately, we are forced to abdicate to others?
Sacks: In some ways we have every possible role in the creation of the self. In other ways we have no role in the creation of self. We can control our actions, dress and look and speak and act in the way that we want to, but we can't control how others perceive us, and we can't control the way the we connect to people.
Elkin: Uh oh. It's happening again -- I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.
Or rather, given the time period of Mixtape, You be me for awhile, and I'll be you.
Sacks: It's like in this issue what Noel says during the memorial assembly at school, "They act like they knew the guy! And I'm not gonna sit here and hold hands and pray like you know they're going to make us."
Elkin: Yea, Identity is a slippery slope, especially for teens on the cusp of leaving the familiar and entering into the new world of work/college/whatever
Sacks: I don't want to get too deep into my major family issue in a public form, but suffice it to say that perception versus reality in the mind of a post-adolescent seems a slipper slope than we ever could have expected.
Elkin: Sometimes it's harder for some more than others. And yet most of us survive, we figure it out to some degree, get comfortable in a sense, and yet our idea of self is constantly shifting with new experience, new knowledge, new people in our lives. I guess death ends the struggle for self-realization. It does punctuate the question. But in ending the conversation, it provides few answers.
When we were young and our hearts were an open book...
Sacks: When I was young a full of grace, and spirited, a rattlesnake.
When I was young and fever fell, my spirit - I will not tell.
But look at us, look at us, look at us now (actually I think that's a Dr. Seuss quote, a little anachronistic for this time frame). Here we are referring back our experiences when we were in high school, and some of them are so vivid to us. I think this event, Todd's death, that the kids kind of brush off will be something that they always remember. And yes, it may only be when they look at an old yearbook, but it will help them carry around a sense of their own morality like the kids just a few years later who mourned the death of Kurt Cobain.
Elkin: And I think that is alluded to in this book. I think Abraham has done a pretty amazing job with this series -- really capturing all the nuances and struggles of kids.
Finally, this issue does raise probably the most profound question of identity ever asked, "What song do you want them to play at your funeral?"
Sacks: "I'm Free" by the Soup Dragons, of course.
Elkin: No way....
Sacks: Are we being serious?
Elkin: Isn't that what we do? Are we not serious people?
Sacks: Then I would have to choose most beautiful song ever performed in the English language: "Visions of Johanna" by Bob Dylan, the acoustic version from his album Biograph.
Elkin: Nice choice.
Sacks: Thanks. Whenever I'm filled with despair about humanity, lines from that song go through my head and remind me of the primacy and power of great Art.
I hope that's not too pretentious to say
Elkin: You're a sensitive soul, Sacks.
Sacks: Hopefully not too emo?
Elkin: You're a sensitive soul. No emo.
What's your choice, Daniel?
Elkin: After reading Mixtape #5, I gave this question some serious thought – the comic kind of demands that you do.
At first I thought I would go with a classic, Sinatra's version of "Summer Wind" -- then I thought maybe something more celebratory, like Elvis' "Clambake" -- but finally I decided to be myself and chose Bauhaus' "Antonin Artaud" because I'll be dead and fuck all y'all and THOSE INDIANS WANK ON HIS BONES!
Sacks: Oh Elkin, my Elkin.
Why aren't we out at the bar all the time drinking together?
Elkin: Because we'd get nothing accomplished and what would people think -- then what sort of legacy would we leave? Who were Jason Sacks and Daniel Elkin? Just pages in a rain-soaked book.
Sacks: All we are is dust in the wind.
Elkin: Or sandwiches in the snow. Oh. Hey. We haven't really talked about the contributions made by Marco Gevasio and Jok to Mixtape #5 Anything you want to say about the artwork in this issue?
Sacks: I loved the artistic asides, the memories that the kids shared and how those were rendered in a simpler, more cartoony style.
The contrast gave the book some real life.
Elkin: And some of the choices of perspective -- what to leave in, what to leave out -- were first rate. The artists here really showed themselves to be great storytellers.
Hey Sacks, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think I remember Abraham saying that this issue was the end of the first arc of his larger story.
Sacks: I think you're exactly right.
And doesn't this arc feel like it has a tremendous amount of foreshadowing?
Elkin: I'm having a hard time recalling how the series started (I'm not as young as I once was), but the ending of issue 5 seems to hark back to something therein -- and then leads to something in the future -- "Time to say goodbye" is pretty fucking ominous.
I guess I'll trade wait to make sense of the larger narrative going on.
Sacks: Overall, though, I've been delighted with reading this series. It's helped to illuminate my life and helped me appreciate my own past. And Abraham has done so in a very insightful way.
We're talking about the life and legacy of Bill Watterson in another review we are writing together and what it means to create Art. One of the definitions we've been throwing around is that art is that which illuminates peoples' lives.
Elkin: Yea, I agree, Mixtape fits the bill -- a wholly satisfying experience from its execution to its resonance to allowing me to reminisce with you about WHEN MUSIC REALLY MATTERED!
AND WAS GOOD!
AND WE RULED!
Sacks: We still rule, Daniel.
My identity demands that to be true.
Elkin: Sweet. Let's go with that then...
You can pick up a copy of Mixtape #5 through IndyPlanet here.