Sunday, July 12, 2009

PROPAGANDA Reviews - Phonogram The Singles Club Issue 2

Phonogram - The Singles Club - issue 2 (of 7)

by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

b-sides artwork by Emma Vieceli and Daniel Heard

So, when last we spoke about Phonogram, back in the review of the first issue, I decided that it was practically the perfect distillation of the magical act of listening to just the right piece of music. The magic in the real world is an emotional thing, catching something inside your mind and changing the way you think, the way you feel and the way you behave. But the magic in Phonogram is a genuine, real magic, transforming people’s lives in remarkable ways. I said back in the review of issue 1 of The Singles Club that:

I loved the first series of Phonogram (see the review here) and thought Gillen and McKelvie’s black and white comic was a fantastic debut series. Quite amazingly good. But this second series confidently, effortlessly and quite breathtakingly blows away that first series with just this first issue.

And I’m delighted to say that issue 2 proves it beyond any doubt. Whereas last issue was all about the magic of music and dance, this issue we’re onto the thorny subject of “curse songs”, a phrase Gillen coins in this issue, but it’s so powerfully descriptive of the ability of a song to attach itself to one particular moment forever that you’ll be using this phrase from this point onwards. Curse songs are those songs that, as soon as you hear them, no matter what they are, will explode inside your heart and mind and leave you in pieces. maybe it’s a song you heard when the love of your life walked out of your life years ago, maybe it’s something on the radio when you realised that the most important person in your life was never going to be around again. It doesn’t matter what the song is, it could be anything; just as likely to be something tragically uncool from a teenage disco (personally - T’Pau, China In Your Hand) as something classic and fitting (again, for me - This Mortal Coil, You And Your Sister from their great album Blood). The important thing isn’t what the song is, it’s what it does to you. Every time I hear either of those songs they have the potential to leave me drained, depressed and weeping. They are curse songs.

Kieren Gillen understands exactly what power music has and has used it throughout these issues to create a comic of such intensely personal impact that the actual literal story almost doesn’t matter. It’s not about any one event taking place in the comic, it’s about the magical intensity of the moment caused by the curse song. This issue we have the tale of Marc and spend most of this issue inside his head after one particular curse song sends him spiralling into a hallucination of a particularly painful night with an ex. Whether the curse song is having this effect just through the power of music or because the ex was a phonomancer and placed a curse on him is never really revealed - and that’s all part of the greatness of Phonogram - the story is as open or as literal as you want it to be, and maybe that’s the point. Great writing, like great music can accommodate whatever meaning you want to ascribe to it.

(Still thinking about her? Oh yes. And here’s an entire comic to prove it…)

Like Gillen explained in issue 1, he’s attempting to create a mythology in Phonogram, a world of moments, all taking place inside a club on one night, all from a different character’s perspective. And so far he’s making it work so well that you begin to believe he’s going to pull off the promise he made of creating a comic of single moments that builds up to create a single, multifaceted story. Two issues in and this may already be the comic of the year.

(And there’s the actual moment that Marc hears his curse song and is sent into an issue long memory of lost love. Beautiful art from McKelvie.)

And McKelvie’s artwork, just like I said last time, is spectacular. Simple, expressive, flowing and capturing all of the emotional intensity of Marc’s memories. There’s a lovely effect McKelvie uses in the flashback/memory/hallucination sequence that you can see in the last panel above where he changes his colour palette subtlety and completely changes the tone of his storytelling. Simple technique, beautifully done.

(And here’s the cause of all of Marc’s troubles, the reason for his curse song. Art by McKelvie.)

But it’s not just McKelvie here. The Phonogram comic also has a series of B-Sides in each issue that aren’t going to be collected with the main story; a sweetener to try and get you to buy these single issues and a very worthwhile sweetener at that. This issue the B-Sides feature Emma Vieceli and Daniel Heard illustrating stories, both mini bits of greatness, by Gillen. Wuthering Heights by Vieceli with a “romantic, feminine line” that Gillen talks about needing for this illustration of Kate Bush’s song is almost wordless, but says so much, so well in just 4 issues, expertly detailing a moment, an emotion, the invocation of a mood through music.

(Emma Vieceli’s art for “Wuthering Heights” from Phonogram issue 2.)

And the other B-Side; The Singer is a 2 pager on Diamanda Galas. If you’ve never heard of her - go to You Tube right now to see what she’s like. But suffice it to say that, in just two pages, Gillen and his artist, Daniel Heard, nail it perfectly.

(Diamanda Galas, in a perfect visualisation from Daniel Heard in one of the B-Sides in Phonogram issue 2.)

Phonogram 2 issue 2 should be available at all good comic shops. If it’s not on the shelves demand to know why not. New issues are available for pre-order at the FPI comic store here. The collection of Phonogram Volume 1 is available here.

As is usual in these things, all concerned are online: Phonogram blog (with sample pages and more on future contributors to the B-sides, Gillen’s blog, McKelvie’s blog, Emma Vieceli’s blog, Daniel Heard’s blog.

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