Today, we sit down with Brad Abraham, creator and writer for the comic book Mixtape, published by Ardden Entertainment. The first issue shipped a few months ago and the second and third issues are currently available for pre-order.
Brad, thank you so much for joining us today to talk about Mixtape.
Q: What can you tell us about Mixtape the series, the first issue and what's to come in issues two and three?
A: Mixtape tells the story of the Alt-rock explosion of the 1990s as witnessed by five friends coming of age against its backdrop. The first issue introduced us to our main characters, but in particular Jim Abbot, a high school senior who finds his growing attraction to one girl threatened by the return of "the one who got away". His decision sets the series in motion really, though we don't follow Jim as a protagonist immediately thereafter. Mixtape #2 tells of what happens when Lorelei Cross takes an internship at the local radio station, and what happens when she discovers this store room containing every album she's ever dreamed of owning. #3 is about a road-trip with Terry Alison and Noel Dunlop travelling to a nearby college town to see this hot new band play, and in the process discover just how much they've begun to drift apart.
A: Absolutely! Mixtape doesn't employ the typical "arc" like a lot of comics do. Each story is self-contained, with callbacks to events in other issues. You can read them out of order; you can read them in sequence but still have the same experience. One of our five main characters takes "the lead" in each story with the others playing supporting roles, if they appear at all. But despite the "contained" nature of Mixtape there is an overall story arc that will become more apparent the deeper we move through the story.
Q: What are the long-term plans for the book?
A: It's kind of hard to make long-term plans at this point – the book is just getting started. Ideally I'd like to take this story and these characters through those crucial 5 years from senior year of high school, through college and into adulthood. I have their lives pretty much mapped out up to adulthood – including one who doesn't survive to the present day – and look forward to showing how their lives unfold. Under normal circumstances that would mean something like 60 issues, but with the market changing so rapidly and the fact we're still a small indie book, we may attack it in a different way. Time will tell.
Q: Is there a specific end point you see ahead that you are driving towards?
A: There is, and it's already written – but I'm not ready to divulge what happens just yet. The story has to conclude at some point, otherwise what's the point? I've never been a fan of the open-ended, continuous story. For a story to have some staying power you need a conclusion, and there's a definite conclusion to Mixtape.
Q: What is the inspiration for the book?
Four years ago I was in the basement of my house in Canada, packing for my big move to NYC. I was sorting through old boxes, and unearthed one that contained piles of cassette tapes and old mix-tapes. These were tapes I'd made back in High School, and tapes people had made for me. I hadn't listened to some of them in close to 15 years, so I dug out my old boom-box, popped them in and started listening to them while I was packing. And pretty soon I was just engrossed in these tapes and the songs on them. I started thinking about that time in everyone's life where your friends and the music you listen to together is as important as it ever will be, and how fleeting that time in your life is. You think you'll love that music and those people forever, but in a relatively short time you find you've lost touch with those friends and stopped listening to that music. Given that I write for a living I'm always on the lookout for a new idea, and realized that there was a story in that experience, I just didn't know how to tell it. Fortunately along with the mix-tapes I unearthed boxes of comic books ...
Q: How did you come up with the characters, their personalities and their tastes?
A: I knew I wanted a mix of guys to girls, and I knew I wanted each of them to typify a certain "type" of music. Jim is into bands like The Pixies, R.E.M., college rock types; Lorelei is a fan of The Cure and The Smiths and The Replacements; Noel is more mainstream – bands like U2, The Beastie Boys, New Order; Siobhan, just back from Europe is more European in taste, so bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain, Stone Roses, Happy Mondays. And Terry is a fan of bands you haven't heard of but will in a year's time, and by then he's moved on to something else. Some people have compared them to "The Breakfast Club" which was completely unintentional, though it did give us the idea for our "Grunge Breakfast Club" cover to #1.
But they couldn't just be archetypes – they had to be real people, and that's why they're based in part on people I knew back in High School and College, but mostly they're based on me – all of them – on different aspects of my personality. Jim is, like me, a dreamer, always focused on what could be just around the corner when he really should be focused on the here and now. Lorelei is the "ugly duckling" type, though much more together than I think she realizes. Siobhan is the girl who seems to have it all, and wonders if she does have it all why she feels so out of place. Noel fears the stability he has in his life will disappear at one point and is more content than any of them to live in the past. Terry? He's the part of me that just geeks out over music, or comics, or movies, or whatever, but a lot smarter than people give him credit for
Q: How did the collaboration come about with Jok and Gervasio for the art duties?
A: Brendan [Deneen] my editor and publisher put me in touch with them through Space Goat Productions, who rep international artists. And Space Goat pitched Jok and Gervasio to me. At first I wasn't sure – they're based in Buenos Aires, and I didn't know if that "experience" of record shops and road-trips and just hanging out at friends' places was as universal an experience as it turns out it is. But before I could make those concerns known they'd sent over some character sketches and thumbnails showing the look and approach they specialized in, and all it took was one look to know they were the right guys for the job. I like collaborating with people who bring their own ideas to the table, and subsequent to teaming up I found the writing of Mixtape has become considerably easier – whereas before I was very specific in description, now I'm more hands off about it. Mixtape wouldn't be nearly as successful as it is without them.
Q: What aspect of the artwork stands out to you that captures your vision? Is it a specific character, the time period or something else?
A: When the guys were getting down to work and asked what kind of style I envisioned I probably said something pretentious like "I want it to look like Nevermind sounds"; and to my surprise they nailed it – that early 90s DIY 'Zine look, lots of thick lines and deep shadows, like the book was printed on a photocopier. It's incredibly detailed, and there's lots of stuff you wouldn't notice the first read-through. A fine example of that is in #1 when Jim is in his room talking to Terry on the phone. Across from him is a bookshelf, and way up at the top is a football and football helmet, both caked with cobwebs. That was something Jok added and it's brilliant; we've all had those gifts that ended up sitting on some shelf gathering dust. Maybe some uncle gave them to Jim and he never used them, maybe Jim used to play football but lost interest in it. It's a nice added touch that doesn't figure into the story at all, but gives a sense that this is a real person. I just love looking at what they do with rock posters, and the overall "look" of the period. Mixtape #3 takes us to a cool record store and that was a lot of fun too.
Q: Finally, let's talk about the music a little bit. How do you go about selecting the soundtrack for the issues?
A: Well it gets back to that day in my basement listening to these old mix tapes. It made sense, at least for the writing of these stories, to get into the head of the character whose story it is, and what better way than to have "them" put together a mix tape? It depends on whose story it is and what's happening to them in that story. I try to pick music that reflects their personality and that usually helps me find their voice. Once I figure out what they're listening to during the events of the story, writing it's much easier. When we do the eventual trade collection of the first Mixtape arc, we'll print the playlists for each story so people can at least hear what songs were in my (and the characters') head.
Q: Are there songs that you personally would like to include that don't really fit with the story or the characters?
A: There are songs I think would be perfect for a story that I can't use because they weren't contemporary to the story. There's a Juliana Hatfield song that would be a perfect fit for Mixtape #4, but the song dropped in 1993 and we're in December 1990 in the Mixtape storyline so I couldn't use it (though I ended up finding a much better one). I've also had to avoid going too obscure – yes, Nirvana was around in 1990 but weren't as well known as they would be, and it would be less likely a bunch of High Schoolers in 1990 would be talking about all this cool music coming out of Seattle. It's also part of the overall arc for Mixtape. When we meet these characters the underground/alternative scene is still very much underground. Their graduation from High School and heading (for the most part) off to College coincides with the first Lollapalooza tour and the release of Nevermind, and that arc will mirror the rise and fall of the Alternative era.
Q: Do you find yourself spending more time writing the book or picking the right songs for the book?
A: Writing, definitely. The songs are usually in my head when writing, but depending on the story demands, often I'll have it written before I've started thinking about the music. It's the same with a movie or a TV episode I'm writing – sometimes the characters are speaking to you, sometimes the story is humming along … and sometimes you need to jump-start the old grey matter. Mixtape #4 was tough to write for example, but when I settled on the song that the story takes its title from, that snapped it into focus for me. Now it's probably my favorite story so far.
Q: Can you reveal the song and title of the issue or are we keeping that a secret?
A: It's a song by The Jesus and Mary Chain … but you'll have to wait until #4 to see which one.
Rapid Fire Round:
Q: First comic book?
A: Marvel's Godzilla – first issue of the 70s series. SHIELD was in it.
Q: Favorite individual comic (the one you wore out reading and re-reading)?
A: That same Godzilla comic.
Q: First song that really stuck to you?
A: "Modern Love" by David Bowie
Q: Favorite song?
A: "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Joy Division
Q: Favorite album?
A: Bossanova by The Pixies
Q: Character you most identify with (any medium)?
A: Indiana Jones, because like me he's just making this up as he goes.
Q: If the movie is made about your life who is the actor cast to play you?
A: Depends on what part of my life is worth being dramatized. But given he's eternally youthful while being older than me, I'll say John Cusack, because why not?
Q: Do you have appearances planned in the coming months to promote the book?
A: I'll be at NYCC this October with Mixtape. We'll have #2 there, and maybe even an early chance to get your hands on #3. We're also looking at producing some snazzy looking T-shirts with the MIXTAPE logo, and will be launching a crowd-funding campaign this fall to finance Mixtape 4, 5, and 6. I know it seems EVERYONE is doing this, but it's a great way to raise funds for your books and engage with the fans and supporters. We have an ace up our sleeve with some really cool rewards – some of which I don't think have ever been done before. So if you're a fan of the book you'll definitely want to be involved.
Q: Tell us how we can get our hands on issue #1 and the upcoming issues.
A: MIXTAPE #2 drops in October 2012 (Diamond Code AUG120816) with #3 coming in November. If you own an iPad or Android phone, Mixtape #1 is available through the Comics Plus App by iVerse, and I believe hard copies are still available through our publisher Ardden Entertainment. Any small book needs big support so we're hoping people who've become fans of Mixtape continue to support us. You can join our Facebook group (www.facebook.com/MixtapeComic ) for all the latest details, contests and more.
Q: Any final thoughts?
Thanks for your time Brad and we wish you the very best with the book. So far, it's been an amazing first two issues and I can't wait for more!.