September 20, 2013

Real Talk -- MIXTAPE #3

Some comics are too big, hypeworthy or insane for one reviewer to cover. Which is why we have Real Talk, an outlet for a group of reviewers to tackle a comic together and either come to a consensus or verbally arm wrestle until there's nothing left to say.

Daniel Elkin: 4.5 stars!
Jason Sacks: 4 stars!
Daniel Elkin: So, let's talk about Brad Abraham's Mixtape #3.
Jason Sacks: Let's go back to the college town that seemed so exotic and try to recapture that freedom!
Elkin: Alas, Sacks, you can never go home again.
Sacks: Look homeward, angel. Don't you wish you could be that innocent again?
Elkin: I just wish I could muster up that kind of enthusiasm for things (other than spending time with my girlfriend) again. Oh, and then there is all that being carefree and stuff.
Sacks: You know I always have plenty of enthusiasm for things. I just wish I could be carefree. Now that I think about it, I actually think at times that I'm growing more carefree, but that may just be the gin talking.
Elkin: Heh. OK, Mixtape #3 from Brad Abraham with art by Marco Gervasio and Jok. The road trip from the small town to the city to see a show. Two friends, at the end of one thing, about to embark upon something else, joined by music, insecurity, and ummmm..... life?
Sacks: It was interesting how the boys literally went a long way from their small town to the college town. The story begins with them driving through the woods before hitting the city. How symbolic is that?
Elkin: Truly. It is in that journey that we understand character -- Terry and Noel reveal themselves through their words and actions, setting the stage for what is to come. We are (to use a phrase favored by our friend Justin Giampaoli) in a liminal space -- November 1990 -- a phone in the car -- a CD player instead of a tape deck. Change is coming.
Sacks: Nice observation. These boys are in all kinds of transition, though to be fair, that likely would have been the case in any time frame - technology marches on.
Elkin: Dare I say they are transitioning from Boyz to Men?

Sacks: You know, the biggest thing I remember from being 18 was the sense that my generation was going to take over the world. We had the best music, the best comics, the best cars, the girls were the cutest and sexiest...
Elkin: Yea.... what the hell happened with all that? Did we take over and you guys forgot to tell me? Or, did it all just end up being, as Noel says in this book, "a blip of a memory"?
Art from Mixtape
Sacks: I don't know, I mean, how the hell did it happen? I sang "I'm Not Commodity" with R.E.M., and now... I'm a commodity.
Elkin: You will always be more than a commodity to me, Sacks.
Sacks: That's the nicest thing you've ever said to me, Elkin.
Elkin: I'm sure there will be more. Heh. I wonder if there is a certain irony that these boys are making this journey through the woods to go see a show by the band The Pursuit of Happiness -- whose only song I remember is, "I'm An Adult Now":
Maybe irony is not the right word.
Sacks: That was their only popular song, I think. And ironically I played them on my college radio station back in the day. But you should know if irony is the right word, English teacher!
Elkin: I'll go with irony, then. Brad Abraham is working all the voodoo on this issue -- I see the master's hand behind all his choices.
Sacks: There are so many elements to this story that work on more than one level, without the book ever feeling pedantic or overwritten. It's an artful juggling act that Brad has done before in the earlier issues of this series.
Elkin: Yea, but he's doing it even better in issue number three. The great thing is that we've really gotten to watch him develop as a writer over the course of these three issues.
Sacks: Each one has been a major step up.
Elkin: Indeed.
Sacks: Though we liked the book from the "go." Of course we're exactly the right age for it. I mean, Paul's Boutique?Amirite?
Art from Mixtape
Elkin: Oh yea! Hey, Sacks, do you agree with what Noel says in this book? Is Paul's Boutique really the Beastie's Sgt.Pepper?
Sacks: Yeah, except that when Sgt. Pepper came out everyone believed it was genius. It took people awhile to come around on Paul's Boutique.
Elkin: Yea. Oh, and by the way, just so you know, if you disagreed I would never have talked to you again.
Now that we got that cleared up, back to the idea of transition. This may be pulling ideas out of my ass, but I thought it was interesting that Terry was so anxious to get the album POD from the Breeders at the record store they visit. The Breeders were, of course, Kim Deal's band after she left the Pixies... so … yea, more liminal space.
Art from Mixtape
Sacks: Either it's one of those convenient accidents or a smart decision... but you know that it's about what we find rather than what he creates. I mean, Rattle and Hum isn't really a transition.
Elkin: I think, at this point, we can both agree that Brad Abraham knows what he's doing though, and accidents aren't really accidents at all. Although I would say that while not a transition (although the case could be made that it was)Rattle and Hum was a horrible horrible accident.
Sacks: Maybe it has more to do with the trusted record store guy rejecting Terry's trusting view of the world. Just because Spin Magazine likes it, doesn't mean it's actually good. "Stop trusting authority and make your own decisions."
Elkin: Yea, but in that transition time, young men and women are constantly searching for voices to echo in order to make sense of their own identity. It always sucks when two sources you look to contradict each other though. But I think we can all agree that the band Superchunk sucked, yes?
Sacks: Some things are just facts, right?
Elkin: Right.
Sacks: Back to the idea of conflicting opinions, I literally had that with my deep, deep passion for music and for comics - people contradicting each other forced me to expand myself. Which wasn't that different from my parents contradicting each other, right?
Elkin: I'll need you to expand on that before I agree, Sacks.
Sacks: Well, I always thought of myself as a freethinking person as a kid. I wasn't someone who listened to my parents much. I always found my own way - though I of course was shaped by the way I was brought up. And so I really made up my own mind about college and my major and stuff like that. My existential doubts were all tied to music and comics. Was the Simple Minds album that came out after "Don't You (Forget About Me)" a sellout?
Is Fables of the Reconstruction genius or crap?
Is Dark Knight good comics or brilliant pandering?
These questions used to literally keep me up at night (along with "why can't I talk that cute girl into bed with me?").
Elkin: Aaaah yes.... transitions. I think that is why we keep coming back to this series. Abraham is doing some fine, fine work capturing all that uncertainty that we, given our social station, went through as we transitioned away from home and into life. I can easily see either of us in the car with Terry and Noel driving through the forest to that show, worried about our future, worried about our present, wondering if our past is really behind us. A matter of fact, as I was reading this book, I saw Terry and Noel being two aspects of that conversation that would go on and on in my head when I was transitioning.
I'd be wandering around with a head full of things. The responsibilities of our parent's expectations for us combating with our passion for our own particular identity (for which we had a killer soundtrack, by the way), mingled with our fears and insecurities; it made for a big steaming cup of teenage angst, let me tell you.
Sacks: I was so angsty when I was 18. I had no idea what real stress and pain were...
Elkin: Oh yea. And, as a high school teacher, I still see THE KIDS TODAY struggling with this same thing -- issues of identity, craving for freedom, fear of losing security, all that stuff. It's amazing any of us make it out of that transition.
Sacks: You see the pattern repeating? That's reassuring somehow.
Elkin: Yea. It's almost inevitable. Especially since we, as a culture, have so few transitioning ceremonies to mark the changes in our lives. Sure we get our drivers licenses; sure we leave home (and, for some, go to college). But there is little ritual involved to help us make sense of these transitions. I guess we all have to hit a few snow banks along the way to help us understand the process and appreciate what we have in front of us.
Sacks: That's a beautiful analogy, isn't it? You need a small trauma to shake you up, sometimes
Elkin: Yea, as I said, Abraham knows what he's doing here, I think. You know, Sacks, since you are better versed in the lingo than I, would you like to comment at all about Gervasio and Jok's work on this book?
Art from Mixtape
Sacks: Hmmmm... the word I keep coming back to is "loose", but that sounds like an insult.
Elkin: Then explain what you mean.
Sacks: It's very human, very focused on the reality of the characters. At first I was concerned that Gervasio and Jok were going to draw the characters differently in each panel. But when they drew them in a consistent way, I realized the style was a conscious creative choice. Everything is a bit used, a bit folded, a bit of a feeling of the DIY mentality that these boys want to embrace. It feels somehow youthful, like a visual representation of the way that the boys deal with the world. The city looks almost dreamlike, with no straight lines on the buildings or printing on the signs. That gives the story a universal feel.
Elkin: That doesn't sound "loose" at all, my friend. The more abstract the art, the more iconic it is and thus it becomes more universal.
Sacks: I mean, I kept wondering where these boys are. They could have been Spokane boys visiting the UDub in Seattle, or boys from rural Michigan visiting U of Michigan.
Elkin: Or even boys from North Dallas driving downtown (minus, of course, the snow). And the trees.
Sacks: Well, you were in Texas when you were this age, and I was in California, and we could both empathize.
Elkin: Thus the universal nature of what they got going on in this book. It's really a pretty amazing accomplishment. As I wrote earlier, I really think this series is getting better and better with each issue.
Sacks: I'd like to think your students could read this and see themselves in it, too.
Elkin: Yea. I think so. You just have to be or have been a teenager to understand, I guess.
Sacks: My daughter (now 20) talks about getting her music online and that being a similar experience. But yea, I did love Mixtape #2 but Mixtape #3 is a level up.
Elkin: I also like how Abraham dedicated this issue to Adam Yauch. I thought that was kind of a classy move. I've got some final words, but I wanted to give you the opportunity to go first. Actually, they aren't my words at all.
I'm looking forward to Mixtape #4!

Check out our earlier reviews of Mixtape #1 and Mixtape #2.
Mixtape #3 is available from IndyPlanet, and issue #4 is due to be released at NYCC, with #5 following shortly after at Christmas. A trade paperback containing the first arc will be released in 2014. Check out more of Brad's work at his website.

Jason Sacks thinks that Rattle & Hum isn't quite as bad as some people think it is, though he thinks the best song the band recorded during that time was Woody Guthrie's "Jesus Christ". He can be found on Twitter (@JasonSacks) and also writes a lot of stuff here on Comics Bulletin.

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