Sunday, December 14, 2008

Phonogram #1

"Pull Shapes"
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist, letterer: Jamie McKelvie
Colourist: Matthew Wilson

"She Who Bleeds for Your Entertainment"
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Laurenn McCubbin

"The Power of Love"
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Marc Ellerby

Ah, something to be enthusiastic about.

The original Phonogram series came out in 2006/7, and was something of a cult success. The high concept, if you don't know, is pop music as magic. This is a brilliant idea, and it's amazing nobody did it sooner. Comics fans have always had a certain tolerance for the likes of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison droning on about the joys of amateur magic. But what they're basically talking about is the power of meditation, drugs, philosophy, whatever, to alter your reality by altering the way you see the world. And frankly, pop music illustrates that idea much better, much more effectively, and much more relevantly.

Phonogram is, I suppose, a sort of celebration of the power of pop music and the way it can mean more to you than it rationally ought to. The previous series drew mainly on nineties Britpop, because that's what the lead character was all about. With series two, "The Singles Club", Gillen and McKelvie are changing out most of the cast, and going for something else.

From the look of it, this is a Rashomon-style series, each issue showing the same night in the same club from a different perspective. For maximum range of musical references, Never on a Sunday will play anything as long as it doesn't have boys singing. First up is Penny B, the spirit of dance, who might not be the brightest character in the room, and might not be entirely brilliant at talking to anyone else, but is here to tell us (often to camera) all about the non-specific celebratory joy of dancing.

This being Phonogram, her chosen song is "Pull Shapes" by the Pipettes (number 26 in 2006, fact-fans). They're a sort of sixties-retro act who've always struck me as a bit heavy on the theory for pure pop abandon, but then Penny may not be focussing on that side of them. Judge for yourself.

Her interactions with the rest of the cast are, at times, a bit obscure, but then we'll see it all from their perspective later in the series. Taken on its own, though, it's a great sixteen pages about, simply, dancing.

Jamie McKelvie continues to get better and better. There's an elegant simplicity in his work, and he actually makes the dancing sequences work - harder than you'd think, in static images. The bold colouring by Matthew Wilson helps give the book its unique look, adding depth without any of that fiddly cross-hatching nonsense.

The series is also running some short back-up strips, with guest artists. "She Who Bleeds for Your Entertainment", with Laurenn McCubbin, is a resigned lament for the overused "suffering woman" archetype (off-the-shelf depth for songwriters everywhere), while Marc Ellerby gives the club DJs their own two-pager as they reluctantly play to a crowd of normal people at a wedding.

This is a great series. It's unique; it's well done; it's got passion for the material; and it convinces you that music is everything it claims to be. Go buy it.

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