Note: Phonogram: The Singles Club #7 is released on Wednesday 10th February.
And so it ends. Perhaps the comic to which we’ve afforded the most reverence during this site’s life, Phonogram: The Singles Club has left an indelible mark upon those of us who’ve read it; and now it disappears into the night, leaving the question of whether or not it will actually return one day firmly unanswered. And it does so with an issue that has looked all along – at least, since we discovered that Kid-With-Knife was to be its lead character – to be more of a coda than a final issue proper. We’ve already had all sorts of conclusions – narrative, chronological, thematic, emotional – dotted throughout the series’ run – what more could KWK have to offer?
Well, as it happens, that assumption is only partially correct. For while in terms of the story there is indeed little to add (apart from a brief twist that I still can’t decide whether to label “surprising” or “obvious” – though it does simply make me say “Aw, poor Lloyd”), what Gillen’s gone and done with his final issue is to provide an effective thematic skewering of the twelve issues that have gone before. Up to this point, Phonogram has largely shown its phonomancers as active practitioners – people who set out to take the metaphorical power that music has over humanity and turn it into a more literal manifestation of “magic” (this assumes you’re going by the literal, and not metaphorical, reading of the series as a whole, by the way). But right from its first page, “Wolf Like Me” flips that on its head – just because these people think they’re the only ones touched by (or infused with) the power of music, it doesn’t mean they are. And KWK’s TV On The Radio-fuelled romp (and there’s really no other word for this issue, what with it being applicable in more ways than one) is no less valid an expression of “music as magic” than Marc’s “curse song”, or Lloyd writing Dexys-inspired grimoires, or Kohl scratching sigils into a record.
It’s a bold move, to essentially puncture your series’ core premise in one fell swoop – but KWK has always served the purpose of deflating the pretension of those around him (his backup-strip retelling of Rue Britannia remains one of the funniest things I’ve read in ages), and it becomes clear, indeed, that the “lightening up” of Kohl post-Britannia may even have something to do with the influence of his guileless chum. Once again (if not to quite the same extent as in the even-more-blatant-this-time backups), it’s hard to separate the role played by David from the ever-changing way Gillen seems to perceive himself; and it’s almost as if, having spent four or five years writing a deep and meaningful treatise on the power of music (of the sort that you half-suspect only an old-school Manics fan could ever really come up with), he now feels the need to indulge the playful, “enjoying things for their own” sake side of his character in print, too.
But we’re not here just to make presumptions about the author’s character and motivations; it’s worth looking, too, at just how well the issue stands divorced from all that context (even, given the inherently “standalone yet connected” nature of each issue, from the pure context of the ongoing story). It’s a little lightweight, it must be said – very little happens, and there’s little to no dialogue (most of the issue instead relying on a frequently hilarious substitute for actual words), which naturally makes it quicker to read and digest. If anything, it almost feels a shade like one of the backup strips, extended to full length – with the importance of its implicit commentary on the series as a whole being perhaps the thing that elevates it to “main feature” status. But that doesn’t mean it’s not fun, and as someone who’s never really clicked with KWK (too much of an indie snob to get on with his music taste, really), it’s impossible not to find oneself warming to him here.
It’s pleasing to see that, in an issue that relies heavily on the artist’s choreographic skills, McKelvie isn’t found in the slightest bit wanting – the extended sequence of sort-of-parkour that makes up most of the first half of the issue (and which I still can’t figure out whether it’s meant to be “real”, or exaggerated by KWK in the later telling) flows gloriously – and in its immaculate pacing, is perhaps the best example yet of the visuals syncing perfectly with the issue’s “theme song”. It’s perfectly possible to stick the track on and read the entire issue in four minutes and thirty-five seconds, although I’ve yet to experiment with just how the pages would line up with the slow bit. It’s also – as you’d expect by now – another showcase for the artist’s innate design skills, with a cracking bit of layout for the title page, and a brassy use of lettering as panel borders late on.
It’s a little odd having this as the last issue, though, and I do find myself wondering how deliberate that is – the backup strips aside (which include Kohl musing on the first “death” of Britannia, a lovely Becky Cloonan-drawn conclusion to the Indie Dave story, and Gillen deciding “to hell with it” and sticking a load of his mates in the last one), this simply doesn’t feel like The End, and thus it’s hard to feel like we should be writing the series’ eulogy at this point (that’ll probably come when the trade comes out). There’s still so much to say about the series – as if we haven’t said enough on here already – but for now, all that seems appropriate is to remark, once again, on what an achievement these seven issues (towering even over Rue Britannia) have turned out to be. It’s far too late for exhortations to go out and make the series a success – perhaps it was always destined to be a resolutely “cult” thing: absolutely beloved, but only by the few – but this one last time, it really does bear repeating: as a whole, it’s an undeniable masterpiece, of the sort that comics rarely get any better than. Any comics fan in their right mind must surely hope that we haven’t seen the last of it.