Book Of The Month – June 2012
Phonogram: The Singles Club
Written by Kieron Gillen
Illustrated by Jamie McKelvie
Back when this volume was coming out in single issues, I hadn’t yet read the first volume, Rue Britannia but decided to still pick it up on a whim. My first mistake was being so dismissive of it from the get-go. My second mistake was being vocal about my displeasure with the first issue in an online public forum, claiming it was so dense that I just didn’t get it. Sure enough, the writer Kieron Gillen also frequented said forum, came across my post, and pointed out to me that all the references and songs they talked about could conveniently be found in the back of the issue, and he apologized that I “just didn’t get it.”
Foot, meet mouth. Mouth, meet foot. Tastes like crow, but that’s partially because I stomp on ravens for a living.
Feeling like a complete and utter fool of the highest degree, and humiliated that I was called-out on my naiveté, I promptly retreated to the shadows of the internet. For the longest time I avoided reading the rest of The Singles Club, let alone Rue Britannia in fear that Kieron or Jamie were standing behind me, shaking their heads in disgust. It’s true, I didn’t give the series a chance. Instead of seeking out the first volume then working my way to the second, I did the cliché fanboy move and claimed it was garbage, not giving it a second chance, “worst comic ever,” etc. As professional as I appear (and try) to be, it was truly a low-point in my career as a reviewer, one I’m still struggling to put behind me to this day. However, I didn’t want to just proclaim that Phonogram was the best series of the century in a last-ditch attempt to save face with the creators. No, I wanted to give it the same chance every comic series I review deserves. So while at Wondercon last March, I purchased the first two volumes of Phonogram, and it totally caught me in its magical musical spell.
I do recommend reading the first volume Rue Britannia before this one, just so you’re caught up in the basics of Phonomancers; those who use music to enter magical states. The first volume focuses on the Phonomancer David Kohl and his quest to find and rescue his Britpop goddess Britannia, but in this second volume you’re introduced to several different individuals, all of them Phonomancers in their own right, and discover what their sources of musical power entail. Every chapter focuses on a different character and their own brand of magic, with each person somehow connected to the last, and eventually it all comes together in one nice little package. As long as you follow the rules of the club, 1.) No Boy Singers, 2.) You Must Dance, and 3.) No Magic, you should be all set.
One of the things I loved about this collection was that each character had their own special connection to the music. The young blond Penny B acquires her magic through dancing, her best friend Laura Evans acquires hers through song lyrics, and Seth Bingo and the Silent Girl get their kicks off of pure pop worship when DJing. We’ve already met a few of the characters from the first volume, and it’s like meeting with old friends again in this second volume. A crowd favorite, Kid-With-Knife, is back to his usual shenanigans, and coven leader Emily Aster starts to struggle with her dual-personality in one issue. A ‘dual-personality crisis,’ if you will.
Funnily enough, I first fell in love with McKelvie’s art in his creator owned series Suburban Glamour, when everyone else knows him primarily from Phonogram. Late to the party? Yes I am, and I accept that. Bottom-line is he kicks tremendous amounts of artistic ass this issue, with a little assistance from the talented Julia Scheele. The characters spring to life in their own rights, and just seeing the magic takeover and flow through each character is certainly a sight to behold. While the previous volume was in black and white, I feel that the addition of color to this second volume was a great choice, and Matthew Wilson did a superb job as colorist.
If you think about it, everyone is a Phonomancer in their own right. In high school, like many rebellious youths, my poison of choice was punk rock, and strictly punk rock. Every other genre sucked, and I felt like I was one with the music when pure anarchy was being blasted through the speakers. Later down the line I branched out slightly, and sure enough I’ll listen to anything nowadays except country. However, my main source of magic for the past few years have been musical mash-ups, specifically anything from Bootie USA. It’s a compilation of DJs who submit monthly mash-ups of the most unlikeliest of artists, and yet the results consistently causes your ears to orgasm. I highly recommend you give them a try, start out with their yearly Best Of collections and then thank me later. It’s all free! As a matter of fact, I’m listening to a mix from them as I type this.
Back to Phonogram, this is the series you just have to pick up and read right away. You’ll connect to it in one way or another, and even if you don’t understand the references, there’s an extensive glossary of terms and bands in the back of the trade, presenting you with the opportunity to track down some great bands by your own accord. I still haven’t tried Morrissey, in fears that I’ll end up like Ron Richards and never stop talking about them. It becomes obvious to the reader that these two volumes were a labor of love for Gillen and McKelvie, and they should definitely feel proud of their accomplishment. With volume three debuting this year, I eagerly raise my lighter upon high, ready to do this one more time.
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