For the next 13 weeks, I’ll be counting down my 13 favourite comic series or graphic novels of all time. This week, & coming in at number 13, is Phonogram by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie.
For music lovers, songs have always held a certain amount of power. They have the ability to move us– physically, emotionally and spiritually. Some songs take us away into fantasy, some have the ability to ground us in reality. What if we could take that raw power that music holds and channel it into magic? This is exactly what Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie manage to accomplish in Phonogram.
Phonogram consists of two stand alone but connected volumes: Rue Britannia and The Singles Club. Both volumes are about those people who can turn music into magic. These unique people (who all seem to be young and pretty) are called phonomancers.
Rue Brittania follows one such phonomancer, David Kohl, as he seeks to prevent the resurrection of Britannia, goddess of Britpop. In order to get it done, Kohl has to face a slightly crazy ex, a retromancer who feeds off nostalgia, and enter a crazy dream world. The story is fast paced, but every now and then it stops to smell the flowers. The one problem (if it is indeed a problem) I have with the book is its density. It’s so thick with storytelling, so packed with music references that it can be a heavy read at times. Not Sandman heavy, but heavy enough to notice.
Volume 2– The Singles Club, is very different to Rue Brittania. It follows on directly, but while the first volume is good, Volume 2 is better. Where Volume 1 was dense, Volume 2 is light and easy to read. Where volume 1 was epic in it’s scope, volume 2 is far more intimate, taking place in a night club over the course of a single night. The night club enforces three rules: 1) No boy singers 2) You must dance 3) No magic. Each issue is told from the perspective of a different character– some phonomancers, some not.
There are some returning characters – David Khol makes an appearance, as well as a few others from Volume 1 – but the book stands on it’s own. You don’t need to read Rue Britannia to understand and enjoy The Singles Club. Issue 7, the final issue, is almost completely silent, and is one of my favorite single issues in comics.
Jamie McKelvie’s pop art style suits the book really well. His lines are crisp, the characters unique and the story flows through the visuals. Volume one is in black and white, with some great halftone shading effects. Volume 2 is in glorious colour, which matches the far lighter mood of the book.
What makes Phonogram great is that it takes something we all have experienced – that moment when we’ve been moved by a song, or felt the raw power of a riff coursing through our veins – and turns it into a rich, engaging narrative. Gillen’s own musical influences come out strong, and can sometimes overpower the story. There is an unnecessary amount of Kineckie love. Having said that, the book is easy enough to follow without knowledge of who the bands they reference are. If you’re a music fan, you’ll definitely want to check it out. Rue Britannia scores 3.5 stars, The Singles Club gets 4.5.