PHONOGRAM by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie (Image / collected)
You ever hear a song for the first time and felt it changed you? As if somehow that song was magic that changed your life forever, for better or worse? In the world of writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie’s Phonogram, music is literally magic, and in this world, music can truly change your life. And the nightlife in Phonogram has plenty of opportunities to be taken away by the music.
The characters of Phonogram are “Phonomancers”, who are people who can literally create magic through music. They pretty much exist in the nightlife of England, enjoy a good time at a party, and it’s where they can put their skills to use. It’s hard to talk about Phonogram as a plot oriented comic, because in some ways, it doesn’t rely on the traditional “good guy vs. bad guy” motif of other comic books (at least the first volume tries to follow that motif). But it’s all about people hanging out and living life, with the occasional magic spell and kickin’ tune to add an extra bit of zest for the night.
And really, the first volume, Rue Britannia, is probably the most plot oriented of the two volumes available. There’s a investigation by one such Phonomancer, David Kohl, into a conspiracy to resurrect a Goddess of Brit-Pop, which could lead to some apocalyptic stuff. As much as this plot pushes Rue Britannia along, it’s really a book that introduces readers to the world Gillen and McKelvie have brought to life. It’s fun, often music referential (and if half the references go over your head, the paperbacks are nice enough to leave a handy glossary so you can not feel lost), and sometimes poignant, in its black and white artwork.
The second volume, The Singles Club, is where Gillen and McKelvie go off the rails in a wonderful way. Graduating from B&W to color, the story is made up of several characters (including Kohl) as we follow their travails through one night. They intersect each other in various ways, but each character’s story is kept in separate chapters, and in a fun twist, shown in almost different storytelling ways. We get one story told entirely from a DJ duo’s perspective, one told from a character who gets rejected after the big party, and one almost completely wordless (excluding some visual emojis to explain certain things).
As to this point, Singles Club has been the last gasp of this series, baring a promo for a third series, The Immaterial Girl, for 2012 (and still has not arrived on bookshelves). But Phonogram‘s creators have kept busy, with Gillen writing everything from X-Men and Iron Man, and together working on Marvel’s Young Avengers and currently, another creator-owned series, The Wicked and the Divine. It’s a shame we haven’t had a return to the world of Phonogram since the last volume, because like a great song, is one worth getting into over and over again. And of course like any song, has its own singular magic.
NEXT ISSUE (Coming soon, I swear): We look at an assassin who you can buy to kill someone and then die (and the adventures he has when he decides not to die) in Rob Schrab’s manic SCUD, THE DISPOSABLE ASSASSIN!