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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!

God DAMN!

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.

12 Comments

Your story made a bigger impact on me than the issues of Phonogram that I’ve read.

I completely understand and agree with your point. Music does have that effect on people.

And when it comes to Phonogram, the writing is good and the art is mind-blowing but at the end of day I still don’t find the characters likeable and really don’t care about them.

Love this series. Such a breath of fresh air into the comic book scene. Can’t wait to finish it.

Now, everyone:

Imagine a 60-ish issues creator-owned series written by Gillen. Something along the lines (in scope and quality) of Preacher, Transmetropolitan or Y: The Last Man.

Just imagine it.

I think I’m having a hard-on.

Really cool post. I agree that music allow us to relive moments from our past and I agree that some comics are very special and are well worth all the time I spend reading them.

Billy Joel’s uncool now!? Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo *burns all his records*

I’ve heard maybe 1% of the music in Phonogram but I still love the comic. Granted, I hated the 1st issue of the first series but I gave the trade a try when it came out. Good thing I did, as I’ll keep buying Phonogram if they keep making it.

I finally gave in to your incessant pimping and bought the first trade of this before Christmas. Absolutely loved it. It’s hard to judge, as I was familiar with almost every band and song referenced, but I think the specifics are important. Yes, anyone who is or has been a big music fan (it’s the people who aren’t, who’ll never understand this, that I feel sorry for) will appreciate the evocation of the effect music can have. They’ll also get, hopefully slightly shamefacedly, the elitism, snobbery and cliquishness that’s portrayed. I just don’t think they’d appreciate the same way.

Take the treatment of Echobelly in the first book. Now replace them with an obscure metal band who achieved a similar level of brief success in a different country. I would understand the joke, but I wouldn’t get the joke. You can argue that the comic’s really about the characters, their relationships with each other and the music. All of which is universal. You’d be right, but when the only real backdrop is the shared musical landscape, then I think that not sharing that is an obstacle to fully appreciating the work.

Of course, you could just look at the pictures of pretty girls.

[…] Couple of review so far… Seb Patrick, Comics Daily: “As a whole, it’s an undeniable masterpiece, of the sort that comics rarely get any better than.” Greg Burgas, Comics Should Be Good: “Even though it’s been over a year since the first issue came out, these seven issues s… […]

Any idea when this will be out in Trade? I remember it was meant to be out in December but obviously that’s been delayed due to all the issues being delayed.

Mark: Next month, hopefully. It’s just the main stories, plus Making-Of style extras.

(Actually, quite a load of them, so we give people a reason to double-dip if they want to)

KG

I’ve cried reading a comic once before in my life and now a second time – issue 7 and the best use of the double page spread I’ve ever seen. Seriously it’s bloody beautiful, just perfect. I got exactly the same feeling as when I saw my now girlfriend for the first time across the dance floor 6 years ago at Star in Leeds, dancing to The Specials. It captured that feeling of your heart almost skipping a beat at the perfection of that person in front of you. I do care that this series isn’t selling as well as it should be – all involved deserve massive praise, but on the other hand I don’t care if people can’t see past their small mindedness when it comes to purchasing comics. All the more people for me to try convert. I’m massively burned out on comics – this series has single handedly brought me back up. Absolutely amazing work. Plus it’s turned me on to the Long Blondes and Los Campesinos!

Thanks, KG! My LCS generally has a hard time ordering back issues. As much as I’d love the individual stories (to get all the back ups), the trade will do fine as soon as it’s out. Keep us posted?

I’ve only seen the five-page preview for this issue but I can totally hear Wolf Like Me as the guy is running through the streets. Excellent song choice!

[…] Singles Club, which comes to a close this week. Greg Burgas loved this series, as he wrote about here and here, but the series has not done well commercially, and it sounds like there won’t be a […]

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