Perhaps the most joyful thing about comics is how low the entry level is – all you need is paper and a pencil to make one of your own, and with digital comics, a computer and an internet connection can lead to people across the world reading something you made in your bedroom. This punk-rock approach bleeds over into other areas as well – comics inspire cosplay, fanfiction, pin-up art and a huge variety of creative outlets, all of which have blossomed on the internet as people connect and inspire each other.
One of those channels for people to express their love for the medium is fanmixes – which take the old mixtape idea and build it around a particular comic character, team or relationship. With streaming music and the lessening importance of the traditional album, playlist curation has never been cooler, and I wanted to dive into the world of fanmixes and see how they brought together the worlds of comics and music in their own unique way.
8tracks, which is one of a number of sites that enables users to create and share playlists, has a substantial number of fanmix-makers – enough for it to warrant an active subcategory on the forums. While you can find people making mixes for everything from TV shows to The Catcher in the Rye, it was comics that I was interested. I reached out to a number of users to find out what attracted them to the idea of fanmixes, and how it coloured their experiences of both comics and music.
For most of the people I spoke to, fanmixes seemed like a natural extension of their mutual love of comics and music. Most were already the sort of people who compulsively make playlists of the music they love for different moods and occasions (a group I would count myself a part of) and once they were introduced to the idea of fanmixes, it took very little encouragement for them to make their own. As with comics, that alchemy of passion and simplicity creates an enticingly easy transition from fan to creator.
It probably wouldn’t surprise many people to know that there’s a lot of crossover between titles popular in the world of fanmixes and those that inspire a lot of devotion on sites like Tumblr. Popular characters include the Batfamily and Teen Titans for DC, and the Young Avengers, Hawkeye, Captain Marvel and various aspects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
But while reading habits may guide their choices, for most people, the process of the fanmix almost always starts with inspiration hitting during a song. “I’ve found it’s easy to start with a song instead of a character,” said 8tracks user bartonhawk. “Once you hear that first song and you think ‘Wow, this would work well for [a certain character]’, you’re already halfway there. You’ve already established a tone and theme, you just have to add to it. Beginning with a set character and searching for a song you hope will fit them is harder.”
A well-made fanmix isn’t just for existing fans either – thanks to the community built up across 8tracks and Tumblr, it’s easy for users to stumble across mixes for characters they don’t know, or might not love. User Nicole_Louann said:
“I actually started reading the Runaways because of 8tracks. I was listening to teen hero playlists and a fanmix popped up for them!”
while TheBoyWonder said,
“When looking for Jason Todd mixes, I listened to a lot of Red Hood & The Outlaws fanmixes that really gave me the push I needed to start reading the comic.”
But perhaps the greatest pleasure that fanmixes can offer is that it can transform your enjoyment of both comics and music. A well-constructed fanmix can give the next issue of your favourite title a soundtrack that plays in your head, while a song can be made anew when you listen to it in the context of a character you love.
“Mixes help me work through my interpretation of media, form more solid ideas about who and what I’m investigating through music” said littlelostsock. “Once a song is in the mix, it’s hard for me to re-interpret it, so I have to give it up completely to the mix. The song and the character or scene tend to be inseparable. But that just makes everything a bit more concrete.”
So the obvious question is, after diving into the world of fanmixes, did I feel inspired to make my own? Of course I did – an audio tribute to my one and only comics ‘ship’ of She-Hulk and Iron Fist, who I am convinced would be the funnest couple in the Marvel Universe. The mix is a blend of old-school, Sunday morning relaxation (Dusty Springfield, Elvis Costello, Stevie Wonder, De La Soul), Iron Fist’s mystical hippy inclinations (Yeasayer, Devendra Banhart, Beck), some She-Hulk ass-kicking (Beastie Boys, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen) and a little bit of straight up romance.
You can listen to it here, and while you’re on 8tracks, I’d encourage you to type a few of your own favourite characters into the search bar and see if the next time you read their adventures aren’t all the richer for it.
Many thanks to 8track users bartonhawk, caroldanvers, Jaybabs, Nicole_louann, Victoriashand , Queenllama, TheBoyWonder, amielou93, bartonsnethers, and littlelostsock for their invaluable insight and input.
Article by Tim Maytom