On Things I’ve Been Reading

Phonogram: The Singles Club #1
Image Comics
Written by Kieran Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie & Others

A year and a half ago Image Comics published an interesting six-issue series entitled Phonogram. The story of David Kohl, a phonomancer (that is, a magician that works through music), Phonogram could perhaps be best described as Hellblazer by way of Nick Hornby. The artwork, rendered in stark black and white, evoked an interesting mood of shadows and darkness, while the musically literate story (it came with notes explaining the musical references) explored the way in which the soundtracks we choose for our lives defines the way in which we remember the past. Collected in trade about a year ago (though, without the extensive notes), Phonogram is one of those comic stories I would recommend to practically anyone.

A few weeks ago the first issue of the follow-up series, Phonogram: The Singles Club came out. The Singles Club is stylistically a lot different. David Kohl appears for all of one panel; this isn’t his story. Each issue is to be a one-and-done, all set on a single night in a Bristol dance club, Never On A Sunday. And it’s in full-color. So, instantly, this is a different comic than the first Phonogram.

The first page introduces us to Penny, a seventeen year-old blond who has a best friend, likes boys, and really wants to dance. The story is told in a remarkable fashion — you, the reader, are a character in the story. Penny talks to you, directly to you. You follow her up stairs. You follow her on the dance floor. And when she has an emotional moment in the restroom, you’re there. It’s not that Penny is talking to the camera; it’s that Penny is talking to you.

If the black-and-white artwork worked in the first series, the color artwork makes The Singles Club sing. The artwork isn’t as dark and moody. There’s a vibrancy here that’s compelling. The characters are all distinct.

What about the story? Well, it’s the basic Girl likes Boy, Boy doesn’t like Girl story, and it doesn’t end with Boy likes Girl. Penny stays shallow throughout, doesn’t understand what people are telling her, and when she gets what she wants (which really isn’t the Boy) she’s happy. This doesn’t make Penny uninteresting, it just makes her real; she has reasons for her behavior, she doesn’t see the wider implications of her choices, and she makes her own happiness and unhappiness. The issue is, essentially, a character study.

I’m curious to see what stories and characters we meet in the next six issues, how characters crisscross, and how a larger story of the events this one night in Never On A Sunday is formed. One advantage to this type of storytelling — the one-and-done format — is that if one issue isn’t to your taste, then another issue is going to be different and, hopefully, more to your liking.

In addition to the main story, there are two short back-ups. One involves the spirit of music haunting a young man, while the other is about an irritated guy on the dance floor at Never On A Sunday.

Some of the musical references were completely beyond me, and fortunately there’s an essay in the back explaining them. At the very least, you’ll get an education in music. :)

So, Phonogram: The Singles Club #1. I liked it. It’s not Hellblazer meets High Fidelity like the first series. This is likely to be more of a slice-of-life sort of thing. If you think of it musically, it’s a different album. You don’t want the same album over and over again; otherwise, you turn into Snow Patrol, who have resorted to self-pastichery. I’ll be back for more. :)

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