(Reposted from my blog
Let me get this out of the way: I love comic books. I've got a list as long as my arm of comics that stand up against any other form of storytelling, and beats most others into the dirt. Stand the two version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen up against each other and tell me which one is art. I dare you.
But as much as I love comic books, once I've read them, they usually just gather dust on my bookshelf, to be taken down and shown love on rare occasions. There are too many stories out there to settle on just a few.
So finishing a trade, only to start over from the first page without pause, and then to read it again twice more the same day is simply unprecedented.
But that's what happened when I bought Phonogram: Rue Britannia
. And then I read it again the next day.
The book can be summed up as a love-letter to Britpop which owes as much to fellow brit creations Hellblazer and The Invisibles as it does to The Buzzcocks. And I say that without degrading either one of those seminal comic book creations with yet another worn-out comparison. I say that as someone who doesn't know Kula Shaker from a hole in the ground, and didn't recognize half the references the Phonogram makes. What I <em>did</em> recognize was a sublime piece of storytelling that pulls you in, draws you along and deposits you at the end of the journey with a pat on the back and a "now that wasn't so bad, was it" while you gasp for air and try to stand on legs made of jelly.
It starts thus: David Kohl is a phonomancer, a magician attuned to music. More specifically, he is attuned to Britpop. His domain is that of Kenickie, Arctic Monkeys and Manic Street Preachers. But Britannia, the incarnation of Britpop, has been dead for almost a decade. So it comes as quite a shock to Kohl when he is lured into a trap by The Godess herself and told that someone is tampering with her Britpop aspect - and he will fix it, or else. And so we follow him into the world of phonomancers as he tries to make sense of it all. Who would try to manipulate a dead godess? How could anyone do so?
Someone ought to give Gillen a job writing Hellblazer. It wouldn't be a difficult transition, as Kohl is essentially an NME-hating John Constantine, if only a little less bitter and a little more witty. (You'd be bitter too if you had "all your friends die" as a comic book theme for 230+ issues. But I digress.)
The Invisibles comparison shows up later on in the comic, when things really get going. Without spoiling the moment too much, Kohl takes a trip into the realm of Britpop, and it's that seamless jump from real to fantastical, made perfect by Jamie McKelvie's art, that makes the comparison a positive one.
But let's move away from kissing buttocks and offer what criticism we can. I've always been a firm believer in always finding something to complain about.
McKelvie's art is rough in some places; the character Kid-With-Knife specifically looks a bit off, and there are a few minor niggles throughout the book that I feel could have been better. However, that's as far as I'm willing to take it, as McKelvie has bucketloads of talent and just about everything else looks great - especially by the climax, which looks fantastic.
This is an ambitious book, and Gillen and McKelvie pull it off wonderfully. It's easy enough to sum up my feelings on this book: Phonogram is quite easily the best comic I've read this year. And you should too.