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Jamie McKelvie

Best Comics of 2013: Young Avengers

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youngavengersIt’s fair to say that if you announce a new comic by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, we’re going to jump up and take notice. Unfortunately, this also means that if you announce a new comic by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, we’re going to have unrealistically stratospheric expectations for it. Unfair? Perhaps, but if you’re going to have the temerity to produce Phonogram, then that’s the curse you have to bear in return.

So, did Young Avengers live up to the burden of being a new GillenMcKelvie book? Not quite. Was it still a great comic? Yes. Was it one of the best of the year? Just about, but to which extent is largely dependent on just how much you were able to engage with the ongoing story. And if you happened not to care about Billy and Teddy’s relationship (sorry, Tumblr, but I couldn’t give a monkey’s), or couldn’t quite click with Mother as a strong enough villain for a thirteen-issue long story, then there might well have been times where this didn’t feel like the slam-dunk-brilliant series it could have been.

But a GillenMcKelvie comic is simply incapable of existing without at the very least flashes of inspired genius – and there were enough of these throughout the run that hinted at a more joyous and freewheeling series living just underneath the surface of having to set out to appeal to fans of Allan Heinberg’s original and (in this correspondent’s opinion) somewhat overrated run with the characters. Double-page spreads such as the “Being a superhero is amazing” sequence or the utterly stunning Noh-Varr “airplane diagram” gag, and other sequences like the Instagram montage, showed a writer-artist (and, come to that, colouring and production and editorial) team dedicated to pushing the envelope of comics storytelling for nothing other than the sheer joy of doing so. It was exactly the kind of exuberance we hoped for from a book called Young Avengers made by these people, and it’s only a shame there wasn’t a little more of it.

Whenever the character work was allowed to extend to the newer members of the team, however, the book felt truly on song – whether that be the Noh-Varr and Kate romance, the teasing hints into the character and background of Miss America (The Sensational Character Find of 2013? Almost definitely), or the continuation of the Journey Into Mystery-initiated Kid Loki story (surely one of the best long-form character stories in recent comics history). Any or all of these storylines could have made for a great series of their own – but in Young Avengers they found themselves jostling for attention just a little too uncomfortably.

In truth, though, it’s far easier to nitpick at something, or for it to come across as a disappointment, when you already have those unrealistically high expectations. Young Avengers was, for the most part, a thrilling, funny and energetic series, with often astonishing art from someone who’s already there or thereabouts at the top of the game but continues to get better anyway. By any normal standards it was at the high end of a very strong crop of books put out by Marvel this year – and after its imminent ending, it’ll be missed as much as the next Gillen and McKelvie project (whether that be Phonogram 3 or something else inbetween) is keenly anticipated.

Seb Patrick | 26th December, 2013

30 More Days of Comics #28: A comic that’s inspired you

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Do we need to write about Phonogram any more on this site? Probably not. Should we let that stop us? Probably not. This meme is all about personal experiences, after all, and there are few comics that could define that phrase for me more than Phonogram has over the last few years. Both for its content and for its existence as an object, it’s an especially significant comic to me, and probably always will be; and undoubtedly, there are multiple ways in which it’s influenced and inspired me and my life.

First of all, devoid of any extraneous context, Phonogram is inspirational simply as a piece of art. It’s an expression of sensations and emotions that have never really been voiced in quite so specific a way before – its central metaphor, of music as a powerful magic, is so compelling that it really is staggering that it wasn’t hackneyed and well-trodden ground by the beginning of the twenty-first century. In its first series, it was simply nice to see somebody writing a comic in which the likes of Damon Albarn and Luke Haines could make appearances. I grew up with Britpop, but not in the sense of it being a “scene” that I was part of – I’d sit in my bedroom listening to my battered Parklife and Great Escape tapes over and over, or debate Jarvis’ lyrics with friends in school, or tune in eagerly to hear Lamacq play the first single off a new Blur album for the first time. As it was largely enjoyed alone, it was a special feeling to meet someone who felt the same way – even when that music was topping the charts and it seemed everyone felt the same way – and Rue Britannia reawakened that feeling. “These guys are on my wavelength,” I thought. “They’re writing a comic for me.” Even though they quite clearly weren’t.

But with The Singles Club, the sensation became more universal, Gillen and McKelvie putting into words and shapes and pictures the sort of things that music – in all its forms – and, hell, art in all its forms, makes every one of us feel at particular times. I never really spoke about it in detail at the time – even as I was writing far, far too many words about the issue – but when issue #2 came out, I was not long out of the breakup of a long relationship – and still in that phase where just about any record I’d listened to in the preceding year (although there were one or two particular ones that especially did it – ones that I really liked, too) would be entirely off-limits, as they couldn’t help but take me mentally back to the time and place I’d been in in the time leading up to said breakup. I never had a word or phrase for that feeling, though – until Gillen showed up with the concept of the “curse song”. Bang. It’s like one of those concepts the Germans always have snappy words for, and you wonder why we don’t have one ourselves – because it’s so universal. Everybody has them, and everybody will always continue to have them. And that’s why Phonogram, purely as a comic in and of itself, is inspirational – if that’s the right word – for its ability to beautifully and succinctly express the purest and most universal of human feelings.

But there’s more to it than that. I can’t ignore the significance of Phonogram the comic-as-object, either, for what it’s represented to me over the last few years. I’ve had the honour of knowing both Kieron and Jamie on a personal level for a while now, having first met them when Phonogram was an under-heralded indie comic, loved by everyone who read it but not read by anything like enough people. Of course, it was never read by anything like enough people in the end, but it will now forever represent the point at which two significant creators made their entry proper into the field. It’s been an absolute pleasure to see the pair’s individual rises through comics, to the point where Kieron is writing Uncanny X-Men and Jamie is being personally tapped by Brian Bendis to draw Ultimate Spider-Man – and none of it would have happened without Phonogram. It’s about the most inspirational industry story you can find – an object lesson in the fact that if you create something really fucking good, even if it doesn’t seem like a success at the time, even if you have all manner of struggles just to get by while you’re making the thing happen, talent will out and you can make something truly great of yourself.

And there’s a final meaning of “inspired”, to boot, although perhaps “influenced” would be the better term in this instance. As I’ve already said, I have these barmy notions towards being A Writer Of Some Kind myself, and I’d be lying if I said reading Phonogram hasn’t directly influenced my own work over recent years. This has, of course, most obviously manifested itself in getting the chance to write a direct Phonogram tribute story for the …vs the Fans fanzine – my own little attempt to take one of those universal feelings that music can engender and express it in a piece of sequential art. At the time I wrote it, I thought I was quite neatly taking Kieron’s core philosophy and applying it to an area (the feeling you get when DJing) he hadn’t covered yet; of course, it was only a short while afterwards that issue #4, in which he did it better, was published. Nevertheless, it was a chapter in my own growth and evolution as a writer, and I’m sure that going forward the series will have an influential and inspirational effect in other (less obviously rip-offy) ways as well.

So that’s just some of why I love Phonogram. Why I’ve been inspired to write almost ten thousand words about it on this here blog. Why I’ll always look at two people who in other ways I can consider social peers and friends with just that tiny bit of awe. Why I repeatedly buy copies of it for friends and families’ birthdays, and jabber on about why they have to read it. And why it’s a comic that I’ll never, ever forget.

Seb Patrick | 20th December, 2010

“The Award-Winning Team Phonogram”

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Well, this makes us happy. At Friday night’s Eagle Awards, the UK comic industry’s premiere set of prizes, Alternate Cover Favourite Phonogram scooped not one, but two awards – Best Single Issue for The Singles Club #4, “Konichiwa Bitches”, and Best Newcomer Artist for Jamie McKelvie, who shall of course now forever be known as The Belle & Sebastian Circa 1999 Of Comics.

Some four years after the first issue of Rue Britannia hit the stands, it’s great to see the comic finally get some seriously deserved wider recognition – and while Kieron and Jamie themselves are hardly in need of attention at the moment (as the incoming writer of Uncanny X-Men and the artist of short stories in Invincible Iron Man and Ultimate Spider-Man respectively), perhaps these wins and the creators’ growing fame will lead to a few more people picking up copies of the trade than otherwise might have. It’ll never be The Biggest Thing In Comics that it so clearly deserves to be, but if a more people manage to read it as a result of this, then it’s only a good thing. Congratulations, chaps!

Seb Patrick | 1st November, 2010

30 Days of Comics #23: One of your favourite covers

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I’m not a huge fan of contemporary comic covers (in the US industry, at least). Even since I started reading comics around 15 years ago, this potentially deep and nuanced aspect has been incrementally streamlined to the point where covers are now so generic, you could swap them between issues and no-one would notice. It’s almost as if being gripped in an orthodoxy that hasn’t really been challenged in any noticeable way since the 60s wasn’t enough of a bind for them – but that’s a rant for another time. Instead, let’s concentrate on the subject at hand: one of my favourite covers, the one found on issue 1 of Jamie McKelvie’s authorial debut, Suburban Glamour.

McKelvie’s covers first caught my attention when the previews for Phonogram #1 were released in 2006. I was sold on the series from the moment I read the first page (the 4th panel, in fact) but without its cover [visible here] I might not have even clicked through to the interior preview in the first place. When I see a comic referencing Elastica and the Manic Street Preachers on its cover, you’d better believe I want to see what’s inside it.

As much as I loved Phonogram‘s album-parody covers, it’s fair to say that they weren’t that different, conceptually, from any other books on the shelf. Even the concept of parody/tribute covers on comics is a well-worn one. For that reason, I was doubly blown away a year later when Suburban Glamour #1 hit the shelves looking like it did. Like something from the future, not the past.

See, the average comic cover is a mix of familiar elements – generic action shots or character poses, all dipped in a digital oil-slick of colour with barcodes and a logo slapped on top like censoring. They mostly look a complete mess. This was anything but. With a restrained, pastel-based pallette, a logo apparently integrated into the cover design from the start, liberal use of negative space and – shock! – design features that had no relation to the story. It even dared to be pink. Pink! In an industry as male-dominated as comics. That actually qualifies as a substantial risk (indeed, when Phonogram 2 #1 did a similar thing, I actually saw people saying they hadn’t bought it because of the cover.)

Suburban Glamour #1’s cover truly felt as though it had been built from scratch, guided by modern design conventions rather than industry tradition. If a book ever wanted to prove that it was different from its contemporaries, that was the way to do it. Even if I hadn’t already been looking forward to the series, there’s no question that I would have picked up a book with that cover to look inside – and to a certain extent, curiosity is probably the one thing a cover needs to inspire in its audience. It’s just a shame so few of them manage to do so.

James Hunt | 24th October, 2010

Ba! Moon! McKelvie! Together at last!

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Well, this looks like a corker. The devastatingly talented Brazilian twin brothers who confusingly have different surnames and are either jointly or separately responsible for drawing Casanova, Umbrella Academy and Daytripper, Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá, are going to be appearing at the Southbank Centre in London on 5th July, as part of the Brazilian Words at London Literature Festival, (which is itself “part of Festival Brazil sponsored by HSBC”, apparently). Presumably, they’re going to be doing that thing that creative pros often do at such events, i.e. sitting on a stage chatting about their careers before answering a few questions from the audience. Most interestingly, the host-slash-compere for this event is none other than… Jamie McKelvie. No, really, that Jamie McKelvie. Tickets are £12.50, and I imagine it’s something that will be very worth attending.

And if you’re still not reading Daytripper yet, you bloody should be.

Seb Patrick | 31st March, 2010

Phonogram: The Singles Club is in shops now. Buy it.

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Yes, we’ve talked about Phonogram a LOT on this site. And we’re not finished, either – we’ve still got this trade to review (you may be pleased to hear, though, that I’ve said more than my fair share about the series, and it’ll instead be James doing the honours) shortly. But in the meantime, we just wanted to make readers aware that it’s now available in all good comic shops and online book ordering establishments. It looks like this:

singlesclubtradeforpreviewstb… and we know we’ve said it over and over and over again, but if you didn’t catch the singles, then if you have any sort of taste in comics you need to make damned well sure you get your hands on this. It’s missing the backup strips, which is a shame, but it does contain lots of lovely DVD extra-style “making of” material instead (and a typically excellent Gillen glossary). And if you happen to live in London, and are able to swing by Gosh!, you could even get your hands on a copy containing a rather lovely signed bookplate.

No excuses, now.

Seb Patrick | 26th March, 2010

Phonogram: The Singles Club #7


pgsc7Note: 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.

Seb Patrick | 9th February, 2010

Phonogram: The Singles Club #6


pgsc6Note: Phonogram: The Singles Club #6 is released on Wednesday 9th December

Phonogram‘s always done a nice job of surprising us, but I knew a long time ago that issue #6 of The Singles Club was going to be one to look forward to, based on the hints about Lloyd and his character seen dotted throughout earlier chapters. Sure enough, it doesn’t disappoint, offering one of the most satisfying experiences the series has offered so far – taking a character with whom it’s all too easy to identify (although, thankfully, from the distance of no longer being a late-teenager wrapped up in his own thoughts and emotions) and showing us a pivotal moment in their progression towards emotional maturity. And, of course, it’s music that provides the catalyst.

That’s not to say that, just because “Ready to Heartbroken” (and I still love that title) is as good as I was expecting, it can’t still surprise. While Gillen and McKelvie have shown a willingness to play with form throughout this run, it’s experimentation that drives this particular issue like no other. Indeed, while most of us talk about the personal or emotional reactions the comic instils when reviewing it (it’s just that sort of book), it’s all-too-easy to forget that it is a comic, and to bypass appraising it on that level. But it’s a point that bears repeating – this is comics made by people with an innate understanding of the medium, and sufficient ability and confidence to snap its form in half if they so desire, safe in the knowledge that they’re skilled enough to put it back together again. And so here, following a Morrisonian moment of metafiction (and one of those glorious ones that only comics are able to achieve), the lines between fanzine and comic are blurred more than ever before.

And yet at the same time as the issue is flouting tradition – even so far as to be the first issue whose “present” is set after the nightclub closes, returning to it only in flashback – it positions itself firmly as The Singles Club‘s most obvious tie (notwithstanding the fact that we’ve had an entire issue about Aster, of course) to the world and themes established by Rue Britannia. Magic in the more ostensibly literal sense returns to the fore, as Lloyd is the first of this series’ phonomancers to actually mess around with grimoires and symbols and that sort of thing. It’s appropriate, of course, given the intense seriousness of his character – of course he takes the whole magic thing more seriously than some of his peers. Yet it’s magic of a very different kind that informs the latter half of the issue’s events – to say much more would risk spoiling a wonderful moment of surprise, but it’s utterly inspiring stuff, casting David Kohl in the unexpected role of a benign, Obi-Wan Kenobi-esque figure before leading to a sequence of pure joy, choreographed perfectly by McKelvie. And admittedly, while the experience is universal, it’s one of those rare Phonogram moments made richer by knowing the reference involved – as you wonder why you didn’t see it coming, so natural and obvious (both in relation to the character, and to Gillen’s own tastes) it is, and so conspicuous by its absence up to this point.

It’s also an issue that seems to cater more specifically to McKelvie’s strengths – he’s required to employ his singular skill with emotions across a range of Lloyd’s moods, from uncontained fury to unabashed joy; and it has to be said that his design sense is actually as much of a talent as his art itself, and the unique format employed for much of this issue allows him to play with that much more than usual. Gillen, meanwhile, is just enjoying filling in the pieces left out of earlier Singles Club issues – and credit is due for, despite it always having been obvious that Lloyd’s words to Penny in issue #1 had more to them than it seemed on the surface, still making something a bit tragic and heartbreaking out of the moment of revelation.

Backed up as ever by classy short stories (although there’s a hint of disappointment that Indie Dave seems to have disappeared, and the backups now revolve largely around what seem to be real-life Gillen experiences that he’s transposed onto Kohl, the first one is still a strong little tale, while the second features Adam Cadwell, an artist who – if he keeps this sort of thing up – might just start to get called “the next Jamie McKelvie”), Phonogram remains about as essential a purchase as any comic gets at the moment. Regular readers will be tired of hearing us say it, I’m sure, but if you’re not reading it, then one has to wonder just what you expect from the medium.

Seb Patrick | 8th December, 2009

Phonogram: The Singles Club #5


phonogram5Note: Phonogram: The Singles Club #5 is released on Wednesday 11th November.

We’re past the point with Phonogram where it can really be judged by any sort of normal critical standard. There won’t be an issue of this series – I’m confident of that now, I really am – that is anything less than exquisite, and even before The Singles Club is complete it stands among the comics medium’s finest achievements of the second half of this decade. What the individual issues start to come down to, then, is personal preference – it’s known already that #2 struck a particularly personal chord with me, while I found #4 to be by far the most enjoyable, inspirational and downright accurate issue so far. Yet others will have their own preferences – I know how much James, for example, was struck by Emily Aster’s story in #3.

So #5 isn’t necessarily my favourite issue, because it deals with a character I don’t particularly like (and that, I suspect, someone like myself was never really meant to) – but there are those who will identify more closely with Laura, and I’m sure that this issue will therefore be their heartbreaker. Me, I’m just amazed that a story can go so far towards helping you understand a person and still allow you to maintain that disdainful distance. After reading Laura admit the reasoning behind her living so vicariously through Long Blondes songs, I’m sympathetic towards her – and yet I still can’t help but agree with Aster’s devastatingly accurate (if mildly hypocritical) sudden skewering, which essentially amounts to “PRETENTION. YR DOIN IT WRONG”. And yet that bathroom conversation between them – glimpsed in part throughout the series, only realised in full now – is sort of touching, as Aster looks directly at someone who reminds her so much of herself, and can’t help but feel moved to protect her.

I also can’t help but wonder if Laura’s is the first story that could, in fact, just as easily be about something other than music. Penny dances, Marc hears, Seth and Silent play. Emily’s personality could have been shaped by something else, except that her “original” self can’t be anything other than a Manics fan. But Laura is someone who models herself on pop culture iconography – and while in this instance it happens to be Dorian and Kate, she (or someone just like her) could just as easily be trying to be, say, a film star (indeed, littered throughout the many – and highly amusingly annotated – Long Blondes quotations she deliberately lifts a gag form from Airplane). And there’s a notable moment where she makes the sort of music-misidentification-mistake (sneering at the wrong Police song) that you wouldn’t suspect Phonomancers to be capable of. Is she really in it for the music at all, then, or just for something – anything – to latch onto?

Rather more centred around a particular type of music is the issue’s backup strip (only one this time – no Indie Dave, sadly) – and you have to admit that for the “pretentious indie hipster posers” reputation that Phonogram has attracted in some quarters, its world has already proven to be a surprisingly broad church, at least in the backup strips. Last issue we saw Kohl unable to shift Outkast from his head, and here he’s part of a troupe that venture to a specific club on a specific night with the express purpose of doing “the Madness dance” en masse to “One Step Beyond”. If you’ve ever done the same thing, then the strip’s two splashes (one of the group skanking, and an entirely gratuitous yet brilliant use of two pages containing nothing but the song’s titular shout to arms) will prove an absolute joy – and Dan Boultwood’s cartoony, angular, energetic style is a perfect fit.

The fact that this might not be my personal favourite issue of the series (or that it might be the least effective at telling a self-contained story, working instead as more of a mood and character piece, centred around Laura’s internal and external observations rather than what actually happens to her) shouldn’t, of course, detract from its quality – this is Phonogram, a series in which Gillen demonstrates an utterly devastating knack for just getting human beings; in which McKelvie captures personality in the way that most artists with twice his amount of experience still struggle to, and allies it with a wonderful design sense – and finds the perfect partner in colourist Matt Wilson, to boot. And if its momentum has been hurt slightly by the production problems that have caused its delay, then perhaps there’s some consolation in knowing that it’s drawn out the glorious experience of getting new issues of the thing that bit longer.

Seb Patrick | 10th November, 2009

Phonogram: The Singles Club #4

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phonogramsinglesclub4Note: Phonogram: The Singles Club #4 is released on Wednesday 22nd July.

Of course, I made the mistake of assuming that The Singles Club had reached its peak with issue #2 – that it would be impossible to top that tale of love, lust, loss and longing. But I hadn’t reckoned on Seth Bingo and the Silent Girl. Alright, so any issue that thrusts this brilliant pair to the foreground was always going to be great, but the surprise here is that Gillen actually sidesteps away (eventually) from the pure, bitter cynicism that you might expect, and instead provides yet another absolutely compelling deconstruction of the way that music, in its different forms, affects people.

Not that it doesn’t have fun for a while first, of course. We’ve got the entire evening at our fingertips, and this leaves many, many pages in which Gillen cuts loose and auditions for the sitcom that he clearly wants for Bingo, perhaps the finest comedic creation in comics since Wallace Wells. As the two DJs take (or, rather reject) requests, grumble about others’ tastes and haircuts and ruminate on which members of Girls Aloud they’d be friends with, the whole thing is simply an unadulterated joy of one-liner after epithet after scathing put-down. It’s not just that the lines are funny, either, but the care and construction that goes into Bingo’s speech patterns (“It is inconceivable that we will play this ‘The Pixies’ pop combo”) – and it makes for a machine-gun-esque barrage of scenes that you simply don’t want to end.

But with the end of the night comes Gillen’s unquenchable desire for there to be a point to it all, and it’s with this that the issue veers dangerously close to perfection yet again. Maybe it’s a personal thing, but particularly considering the short shrift given to the “retromancer” in Rue Britannia, it’s nice to see a little credit given to the role of the humble record-spinner (I’d use the term “DJ”, but that has a wider meaning far removed from what I’m referring to – I’m talking about DJs that transmit, not create), and an exploration of the simultaneous self-gratification and selfless attuning to the needs of the populace (after all, nothing that occurs in The Singles Club would do so without the DJs’ choice of records). And it’s a deconstruction of the series itself, to the extent that you almost wonder why it’s not the final issue – in Greek chorus fashion, our hosts comment on stories both that we’ve seen play out, and that we’ve yet to encounter. Perhaps it’s deliberate that it should come at the halfway point, a chance to stop and breathe and consider what the series is all about (after all, while every other issue pushes the  “magic” angle, Seth and Silent take the opposing view – it’s not magic, it’s simply music), but in many ways it can’t help but feel like a beautiful capstone.

Using the word “beautiful”, of course, makes for an entirely accidental segue into discussing the art, and it has to be said that given his limited opportunity to explore a variety of gorgeous characters interacting with one-another, this is somehow McKelvie’s finest hour on the series so far. Of the sixteen pages of “main” story, every single one – with the exception of a double-page spread – is given over to exactly the same six-panel grid, with exactly the same angled shot of the DJ booth. And yet, from a storytelling point of view, it’s a masterpiece – from the pacing (and there’s as much wit in some of the moment-to-moment storytelling as there is in the dialogue) to the expressive character work. Bound by what is essentially an issue of talking heads, McKelvie breaks free and explores nuance to a breathtaking degree. It’s not just in facial expression, either, but in little details, such as Seth tapping a beer bottle on the glass while sulking, or the exquisite timing of the “Atomic” sequence (incidentally, that might be the one occasion in the series so far where you’ll need to know the song in order to get the true joy of the moment. But it’s “Atomic”, so every bugger will know it anyway). And then there’s that aforementioned double-pager, a truly breathtaking sequence that somehow sums up an entire series in two pages – and which, thanks to yet more magnificent work from Matt Wilson, positively glows off the page.

Away from the bright lights of Bristol, meanwhile, another of Gillen’s longtime collaborators, Charity Larrison, makes an appearance for what is becoming known as “the Indie Dave section” of backup strip land. With the possible exception of Marc Ellerby’s strip, this story has an art style that is perhaps the least characteristic of the series so far; but while I’m not sure it’s entirely right for the character, the design work on “Theory” and “Practice” is superb – and the story itself is a nice little progression of the loose “arc” Indie has found himself in the middle of. Elsewhere, colouring comes to the fore once again with David Lafuente’s pages effectively rendering the jarring, brain-hammering terror of an earworm (in this case, Outkast’s “Roses”), and the way the song’s lyrics “bleed” into the artwork is inspired.

As Phonogram rolls on, it becomes increasingly clear (even when its cast aren’t saying it explicitly) that when it talks of “magic”, it’s a far more ethereal and symbolic concept than you’d expect from the Constantineisms that first brought us into the book’s world. But more than that, the word “magical” doesn’t just refer to the purported antics of Kohl and Aster and Lloyd and Indie and the rest – but the very series itself. It’s an experience for the reader, triggering the same emotions and memories and experiences that the characters in its pages feel when they hear the Pipettes, or CSS, or Kenickie. “No magic”? Stuff yer rules, Seth.

Seb Patrick | 20th July, 2009