There are few things that can entice a certain type of comics reader like a Pixies lyric or a Smiths reference. From 2006’s “Phonogram” to Poseur Ink’s “Side A” & “Side B” anthologies, even “Scott Pilgrim,” the relationship between indie music and indie comics has been as strong as ever in recent years. That makes “Mixtape” #1 by Brad Abraham, Marco Gervasio and Jok, a comic that’s well-placed to find an audience.
Set in the early 1990s (in flashback), “Mixtape” is a story about Jim Abbot, an introverted and somewhat lovelorn student entering his final year of high school. His affections are split between two girls: Adrienne, who likes the same music he does and Siobhan, an unrequited love, both of whom return to town after an absence. Teenage longing plays no small part in the story, which is decorated with indie music references and justifiably so: it is at that age when music arguably finds its greatest relevance (or, at least, it did back then.)
What stops this being a simple ’90s period piece is the framing device, which obliquely references an event that hangs over the rest of the story. We know something bad is coming, but we don’t know how or when. It gives the characters’ decidedly teenage concerns — things that feel all-important at the time — a sense of innocence and perspective that they might otherwise lack. Some of the characters are bratty and difficult, but the knowledge we have of their future makes these qualities easier to forgive in the short term.
As with all comics based on music, it’s debatable whether the material succeeds if you don’t understand the references. In this case, it gets away with it, but largely because the music (though diegetic) is used as a counterpoint to the narrative, rather than as an integral part of it. You can still understand the character’s love for a band or the relevance of the lyrics even if you don’t know the tune. It also helps that the songs used are all revered as classics today, so you can successfully argue anyone likely to be enticed by a title like “Mixtape” is going to be familiar with them anyway.
The comic is in black and white and the artwork from Gervasio and Jok has more than a hint of early Jim Mahfood to it, with stylised, if not excessively cartoonish characters populating a detailed and realistic world. It’s a good look, and while it’s probably not intentional, the results actively recall the indie comics of the 90s adding a feel of authenticity to the material.
There are things about “Mixtape” that make it look like a first (or at least, early) effort. Some sequences are excessively wordy and on several occasions, the art hasn’t left space for the dialogue, forcing balloons beyond their natural panel boundaries. Also, as a Brit, I feel obliged to point out that no-one would say they saw the Pixies “at Old Trout” — it’s a pub, so we (and anyone who had lived in London for any length of time) would say “at the Old Trout”.
In general, however, this is a strong debut from the creative team and one clearly packed with love for its subject. It’s impossible not to be charmed by that, even if some of the edges are rough. To be honest, if you’re the audience for this comic you’ll have known from the moment you read the title. The best thing we can say about it is, quite simply, that it is everything you’re hoping it will be.