Phonogram: The Singles Club #7 and the joy of comics
The final issue of Phonogram: The Singles Club comes out tomorrow. I wasn’t going to bring it up early, but Kieron Gillen sent me the issue through the electronic mail, so I figured I would. Deal with it!
I’ll probably give this a better review when I actually buy it and have it in my hands. Also, as I’ve mentioned before, I have found it harder and harder to remain objective about this series (if I ever remain objective about anything I review, that is). Is this a good issue? I’d say of course it is. Kid-With-Knife talks for a page about what makes a phonomancer, from what David Kohl told him, and then does it. Kohl tells him to find a track that’s meaningful to him, and then says, “Close your eyes. And listen hard. Focus. Just feel the song. Let it sweep over you. Breathe it in. Let it possess you. And when you can feel it filling every single cell in your body … Just ride it as long as you can.” Kid-With-Knife laughs and says what you might say in that situation: That’s it? Everyone does that. And then he proceeds to prove it, over 13 (or maybe 14) almost wordless pages (with some random pictograms thrown in). I feel bad about quoting Gillen here, because those are almost all the words in the comic. McKelvie and colorist Matthew Wilson are the stars in this comic, giving us page after page of our hero running through the streets having a grand time, high on the power of music. Then he reaches the club, and we loop back around to the first issue of this marvelous series, with a double-page spread that is simply stunning. And then it’s over. Even though it’s been over a year since the first issue came out, these seven issues still feel ephemeral, like the magic of music itself.
But that’s the point. Some people here have said they don’t like Phonogram, and some have even said they don’t like it because of the music Gillen references. But the music is ultimately beside the point completely, because, as Kohl points out, any music will do. Gillen might be an elitist ass, Kohl might be an elitist ass, Seth Bingo might be an elitist ass, but who really cares about their taste in music? All that matters is how you make it magical. I’ll tell you a story, because this is my post and who the hell’s going to stop me? I own the Horse Flies’ Gravity Dance, which came out in 1991. Now I have it on CD, but back then I owned the tape. In 1992 I took it to Australia with me on my five-month study abroad sojourn. I also took it along when I visited Tasmania (with three young ladies, whoo-hoo! … okay, we were just friends, are you happy now?) for a few days. We drove all over the island, ending up in Hobart. When we arrived in Hobart my friends wanted to take a nap because we had been traveling non-stop for four days, and they were tired. I figured I’d never get a chance to get back to Hobart and I could sleep when I returned to Melbourne. So I drove to the top of Mt. Wellington, the mountain right outside of the city. It was pretty keen, and I got some great views of the city and the surrounding countryside. I had brought along my copy of Gravity Dance, and I listened to it as I drove down the mountain. On my left was the mountain, and on my right were the red roofs of the houses of Hobart. The sun was high, the temperature was fantastic, and it was a brilliant moment in my life. Whenever I listen to Gravity Dance, I’m returned to that moment, and it’s a wonderful feeling. Whenever I hear “Love’s Recovery” by the Indigo Girls, I think of my wedding and what a happy day it was. I know this is just memory, but the point is that music, among other things, act as markers in our lives, and that’s a kind of magic. I’m the least fanciful person I know, as I don’t believe in anything supernatural or otherworldly, but the idea of music as something that can transport us to someplace else or even inspire us to things we wouldn’t (which is the case in Phonogram #7) isn’t supernatural, it’s just the rhythms of the music getting under our skins and synching with the rhythms in our bodies. That’s why music is so popular, after all. It doesn’t have to be the Pipettes, for crying out loud. It can be something as uncool as Billy Joel or Barry Manilow. If it moves you, it can inspire you. I can understand not liking Phonogram because you don’t like the writing or the art (well, no I can’t, as I’m hardly objective about it, as I pointed out above), but not liking it because you’ve never heard of the bands Gillen uses isn’t a good excuse.
What does this have to do with the joy of comics, you might ask? Well, I mentioned back on New Year’s Day that I feel bad for those people who are burned out on comics. Bill Reed, fellow Comics Should Be Good! blogger, is one of those people. One reason I don’t get burned out on comics is because of stuff like Phonogram. Now, I might have more disposable income than some people and I might buy more comics than some (I don’t know if I do or if I don’t, hence the use of “might”), and I understand people not taking a chance on something that might suck. I buy comics I want to read, and usually I’m entertained by them, but I also read a lot of comics that don’t really have much of an impact on me. I might re-read them and still be entertained, but they won’t make me stop and think about things. Some comics do, however, and those are the ones that make everything else worth it. Phonogram is one of those comics. I read this thing last night and actually got angry at Gillen and McKelvie for being able to do this in such a brief space. Who the hell do they think they are? I get such joy out of each issue, each page, each panel, and even though the main story of this comic is shorter than most and features far fewer words than almost anything this side of Marvel’s “silent” issues, it’s still something that takes a while to read, because you want to gaze at each gorgeous panel and see how McKelvie tells the story so precisely. Much like the music these characters use to change the world, Gillen, McKelvie, and Wilson (we shouldn’t forget the gorgeous colors in this series) create something that moves something deep inside us, which in turn brings joy to our lives. I read comics like this every once in a while, and every time I do, I’m thrilled that I don’t give up on the medium. You can bitch about the latest big event from the Big Two all you want (unless you’re Gillen, who’s writing some parts of it). I’ll be perfectly happy sitting here, lingering over the pages of Phonogram, thinking about all the brilliance in comics. But I may just be a weirdo.