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Phonogram vol 1: Rue Britannia

Phonogram vol 1: Rue Britannia back

Kieron Gillen & Jamie Mckelvie


Page 45 Review by Alex Sarll

Music is magic. Unless you're dead inside, you know this. The way that guitar line or synth sound or beat seems to take your heart with it, changes the whole complexion of your day - we've all been there. But how does that work? And how far can it go? That's where PHONOGRAM comes in.

Phonomancers are the magicians of music, and the phonomancer we follow through this cunning tale is one David Kohl. A magician, a charmer and a right bastard; if you think in terms of the younger, less angsty John Constantine you won't be too far wrong. Except cocky Mr Kohl is about to have his self-possession shaken; someone's messing with Britannia, the dead goddess of Britpop, and since Britpop was when Kohl came to phonomancy, that means they're also messing with his past.

A word about that Britpop business: you don't *need* to know anything about Britpop to enjoy PHONOGRAM, just like you don't need to get every reference in SANDMAN or LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, just like I read and loved David Peace's The Damned Utd even though I know nothing about football except that I hate it. Everything you need to know is in the pages of the story, either explicitly or explained by context. There's no big reveals which fall totally flat should you fail to recognise the bassist from Sleeper. Plus, there's a brief glossary anyway. But...if you know why the idea of recognising the bassist from Sleeper is funny, trust me, you're going to love this comic.

PHONOGRAM has a lot to say about music, and about magic, and about memory and growing up and self-reinvention. It says it with wit and verve and, surprisingly often, with the sort of perfect precision that makes you think, bloody Hell, I knew that deep down but I'd never quite pulled the strands together into that thought, so I'm glad somebody's done it for me. And all this is done with clear lines and expressive faces by young Jamie McKelvie, an artist whose gift for drawing hot yet plausible people is unlikely to hold him back in his career.

[Original PHONOGRAM preview by Stephen below - ed.]

Music made magic, and one of the most original new series of 2006, or at least one that combined a few of my favourite things: music, comics and British social commentary. The extensive back-notes felt a little bit too much like a lecture at times, but at least you could drink and smoke whilst reading them - and indeed play the music, if you had it - plus there was no end-of-year examination.

"Enjoying the music?"
"No. It makes me embarrassed enough to tear out my womb."
"I think I love you. I must buy you a drink."
"I don't drink. But if you're hitting on me, I'd steal a cigarette."
"Smart. I'm strictly sober too. Only time for two stupid drugs in my life: cigs and pop music."
"Your triple vodka coke, sir."
"I thought you didn't drink."
"I was lying... Oh, I am sorry. You did realise I'm a man, yes?"

Disclaimer: I know Jamie McKelvie. Well, I knew Jamie McKelvie and it's not impossible that from time to time we still have interneticourse.

Regardless of that, I wasn't exactly radiant about his art in LONG HOT SUMMER, so I think you can trust me when I write that Jamie has just found the perfect vehicle for his unique brand of crisply defined artwork. It's gone from stiff to hip in one little hop, and just in time too, for this is a knowingly cool pop comic in more senses than one.

Its inspiration and indeed decoration lie in the loving arms of music, and this is an ode to its magic - to the way in which individual tunes can profoundly affect your spiritual health. Sometimes it happens unsolicited (a track just hits you in the guts and swells your heart or makes it bleed) and often we do it to ourselves deliberately (how often have you thought to yourself, "This'll make me feel better" or even, "Okay, it's time for a self-pitying wallow"?) and on occasion we do it to others (have you never put on a tune with the deliberate aim of seduction?!). Kieron takes that surely universal truth and pops a pentangle round it to form sonic sorcery: manipulating people through the power of music. Neat.

David Kohl is a dickhead. His saving grace is that he's aware of it ("Toxic and male. Utterly noxious. Totally perfect.") - well, partly! He's a cocky little prick in search of pussy. His target: Ladyfest, the music festival for the fey male and feisty female ("what early nineties Riot-Grrl grew up into"). It's the ultimate honey trap, and it's about to sprung... on David.

Gender politics, mythology and nineties indie music: its strengths for some will be its weaknesses for other. If Kenickie, Le Tigre etc. leave you cold (or the names mean nothing to you at all), this runs the risk of doing so too. I happen to love them, and applaud the lack of compromise as well as the passion evident in the writing. I also applaud the comic's success as an act of seduction in itself: one look at the cover, and I simply had to put that Elastica album back on.

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