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.