Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

Review: Phonogram

Okay, a twofer today, having just finished a TRoOBier story than most. Today's topic is the mini-series (soon to be graphic novel) Phonogram: Rue Britannia.

Phonogram is pretty hard to describe. It arose from a writer and artist musing on the mixing of magic and music. That's not a terribly original combination, but as Kieran (the writer) puts it, most stories talk about how music affect magic; this is about how magic affects music. That is, most such stories are fairly typical fantasies that are *about* magic. This one isn't: at its heart, it is all about music, and is just using the magic to tell a story in metaphor.

David Kohl is a Phonomancer, a magician whose power comes from and is entirely about music, and this comic is likewise focused. It's an exploration of the Britpop era of music, and what happens when you can't let go of your past. David gets in way over his head as the idea of the goddess Britannia (patroness of Britpop) gets hijacked by a shadowy group for their own purposes, and they more or less accidentally wind up hijacking David's soul in the process, since he had defined himself in terms of Britpop.

If the previous paragraph doesn't make it clear, this book is thick with metaphor, which makes it both interesting and a tad pretentious. It's all about the flowering of Britpop for a couple of years, and what happened to it afterwards -- the slow decline into self-parody as people couldn't let go of it. A musical moment is anthropomorphized into a goddess, and a music critic morphed into a wizard, but ultimately it's a eulogy for that music and a scathing critique of those who wallow in it. Relieving the pretentiousness is the fact that it *knows* that it's pretentious: indeed, the protagonist spends a fair amount of time wrestling with the question of whether any of this really matters.

It's fun stuff, but not an easy read, especially if you don't know this particular musical scene well. Those who have read stories like From Hell will understand what it means to read a comic that needs a couple of pages of footnotes at the end to really understand what's going on. But it's fresh and unusual, with a style that I can only compare to the Jerry Cornelius stories of Michael Moorcock in its depth of Sheer British Weirdness. It's kind of what I've always wanted Hellblazer to be: magic that feels strange and unseen and deeply tied into the mind and soul, rather than wrapped up in sword-and-sorcery demons.

Not bad -- a good B-level story. I can't say it's for everyone, but if you like stories that are half-metaphor (along the lines of Alan Moore's Promethea), you may want to check it out. While the comic is planned to continue, Rue Britannia stands quite well on its own as a novel, a good chunk to see if you like the series...
Tags: comics, reviews

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