Authors note: I wrote this post a few years back for my site bobthesquirrel.com. I’ve chosen to re-imagine it from a comics pespective because I think the parallels are pretty similar. Plus, I fixed a lot of the grammar. 🙂 Enjoy!
Those of you that were born in the mid-seventies like me, who were on the tail end of 8-tracks, vinyl and in the infancy of cassettes and compact discs, remember fondly the art of the mix tape.
Making a mix tape took hours… especially if you were filling a 90 minute tape (45 minutes on each side).
Before you could begin, you had to have your music selection somewhat organized; meaning that every single thing you owned containing a song wound up on your bedroom floor. Everything. All your music, along with borrowed stuff from friends and other mix tapes given to you were on that floor It was organized chaos with a only a small walking path between the tapes. It was awesome. It was intense. It was a sonic conglomerate.
Once you had all your music together, you had to decide what type of mood you were trying to set… the overall theme of the tape. I can’t begin to tell you how many tapes I made for girls I liked—filled with the most starch ridden, syrup covered, lovey-dovey tunes that I wouldn’t even think of listening to (much less admit to owning) in civilian life. Stuff like Debbie Gibson, Wilson Phillips and (gasp) Richard Marx were weapons in my hormone driven, wanting a girlfriend, adolescent existence. The tapes never worked…but making them kept my butt off the streets. I’m still debating if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
For the record, the mix tapes I made for girls were perfect. The reason why girls never fell helplessly in my arms after listening to them was because they probably never listened to them. At least that’s what I kept telling myself.
The Golden Age of Frank mix tape making truly began when I got my driver’s license. My mother had this rusty 1985 red Pontiac something…whatever model it was it was small and slow but it had a tape deck and a set of great speakers. So when I was deemed responsible enough to drive on my own, I started making theme tapes to drive to: driving fast tapes, thinking tapes, depression tapes… you name it I made it.
Around this time: late 80′s/early 90′s, I began to make the transition to compact discs. Having music on cds was so cool because instead of fast forwarding/rewinding a tape to get to a song, all you had to do was punch the number in and press play.
I guess this was when the soul began to fade. Cd burning technology was still not available cheaply to civilians, so tapes were still made. The tapes began to fluctuate in sound quality. You could always tell which songs were recorded from another cassette and those that came from a disc. The ones from the disc were ALWAYS louder… it would scare you sometimes. You’d have to turn the volume way up to hear a song from a tape— if you forgot that the next song was from a disc you’d be blown out. Those were great times.
When I got to college, I got a job in the university library… shelving books. It was a job that no one but me liked. Why? Because “stackers” as we were called were allowed to wear Walkmans. For those of you who are too lazy to click that link, a Walkman was basically an iPod the Flintstones used. That library gig was probably the best job (aside from being a cartoonist) that I ever had. No one bothered me and there were never times of boredom— because there was always a cart of books that needed re-shelving. I would make tapes to stack books to. I had tapes I’d listen to while in art class, tapes whose sole purpose was to inspire creativity, etc. I must have had at least 25-35 cassette tapes… some were so good and so worn out that I had to make backup copies of them.
I write this while my iPad is playing a tv show downloaded 10 minutes ago.
I can pull out my iPhone, pop in my earbuds and select a song out of the several thousand in my cloud.
If you wanted a song on a mix tape you had to go find it. There was bold-faced intent with each selection. If the wrong tape was in the wrong case, you had a search on your hands. Now, all you need to do is view by artist and click… if I don’t have it, I go to iTunes… as opposed to raiding all your friends music stash, waiting for the music store to open or even still…calling a radio station, requesting your desired track, then sitting by the radio with your fingers on the record and play button ready to snag it. If you were lucky, the dj would be nice enough to not talk through the intro of the song.
Today, we point, click, scroll, move and burn. A process that would once take an entire weekend now takes six to ten minutes.
I still have some of my tapes. Relics of a wonderful past. Most of the cases have been crushed, lost, thrown away or just simply lost to time. I also have an iPhone, iPad, iPod, iMac and Macbook that have DAYS of music contained on them.
I miss making those mix tapes.
What does any of this have to do with comics?
Everything and nothing at the same time.
I draw my comics on paper and scan them. I have flirted with the idea of going completely digital before. I say flirted but really it was more of a glance. To me, going completely digital would be akin to giving up making mix tapes. Let me be crystal clear here: I cast no dispersion on any cartoonist that chooses to be completely digital. I mean, if we were all the same, all the cartoons would be the same… what fun is that?
Drawing comics is like making a mix tape. You’re always searching for the right song for the right place. The progression needs to be right. The transitions need to be smooth. You are taking your reader on a journey with those songs, if the ride is too bumpy, they’ll not want to take another trip with you.
Using pencil and ink gets your hands a little more deeper in the soil. It’s like the difference between growing a tomato in a window box versus growing it in an outside garden. A digital rendered comic is the window box tomato. With it, you have control of the climate, the amount of sun it gets. You can move it and carry it and provide it with everything it needs. A pencil and ink comic is the garden tomato. You plant it in the same soil, but you have less control over things like the amount of sun it gets. In the end, the result is the same: you get a tomato. Sometimes one may be better than the other, but it’s still a tomato.
So, in this ever evolving world of more pointing , clicking and burning, take a moment every now and then to fast forward, rewind and look for that perfect song. Make the journey more incredible… because ultimately you spend more time on your way there than you do there.
Frank Page Frank Page is a cartoonist. Throughout his life, that is one thing that has never been disputed. In 2002, he created the comic strip Bob the Squirrel. The strip has been syndicated online through Universal Uclick/GoComics.com since 2004. Page has been staff cartoonist/graphic designer at the Rome Daily Sentinel, Rome,NY. He holds a BFA in illustration from Cazenovia College, Cazenovia, NY and a MFA in Visual Art with emphasis on Sequential Art from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, Montpelier, VT.
His work is enjoyed all over the world. can be seen daily at bobthesquirrel.com and squirrelosophy.com. He currently resides in Rome, NY where he can regularly be seen chasing his Jack Russell Terrier, Lucy, through the streets.