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TRoOB: Phonogram -- The Singles Club
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jducoeur
It's Christmas Eve Eve, 2006; if you're lucky enough to have had an invitation foisted on you, Seth Bingo and The Silent Girl are running their dance club, Never on a Sunday. The club has three simple rules:
  • No Boy Singers

  • You Must Dance

  • No Magic!
Because this is The Singles Club, the just-finished miniseries set in the Phonogram universe, and there is just a *bit* of magic in the world. Music is sort of magic-in-potential, albeit mostly the subtle magic of the mind and heart and soul -- a metaphor wrapped in the literal wrapped in a metaphor. Other than that, it is quite exactly our world.

The first Phonogram tale was Rue Brittania a few years back, and told the story of phonomancer David Kohl tracking down the killers of Brittania, the Goddess of Britpop. It was a good start, but with The Singles Club we get real magic on the printed page. Its seven issues tell seven separate but tightly interlocked stories, of a bunch of friends and their night at the club. Each issue tells the same story from a different viewpoint, not so much contradicting each other as filling in each others' gaps, so that the stories considered together are very different from individually. Each takes a different viewpoint character; for example:
  • There is Emily Aster, the ultra-cool girl who got the way she was by casting her original messed-up identity and soul into Limbo. But just because Claire isn't around any more doesn't mean she can't mess with Emily.

  • There's Lloyd, aka "Mr. Logos", who is certain that he can change the world -- if only someone will pay attention to his ideas.

  • Laura Heaven is the nominal villainess of the piece -- and yet, is so easy to identify with, when you read it all from her viewpoint.

  • And of course, there is Penny. She's the beautiful and sweet one, living white magic on the dance floor, and is having the worst evening of her life: as far as she can tell, all her friends have turned against her. Of course, that's not true: they're just all living their own stories.
In clumsier hands, the conceit would be precious and tritsy, but this is a wonder. Each story and character is achingly real, wrapped up in the magic of their lives as only a 20-year-old can be.

Kieron Gillen, the author, has a passion for his subject that borders on obsession. Each issue comes with a page or two of footnotes, detailing the musical references in the stories; between that and the structural intricacy, the result would make Alan Moore proud. (Why can't American authors write this well?) I'm keeping the series out as reference material for the next time I want to do an online musical trawl: I want to dig around and learn more about these characters by learning more about their musical tastes.

All of this is complemented by Jamie McKelvie's beautiful, elegant clean-line artwork. Imagine what John Byrne might look like if he had some visual imagination and the ability to draw more than one face. Actually, that's unfair -- on his best day, Byrne's art has never been this pristine. Even Matthew Wilson's coloring contributes crucially to the story, literally providing it with the subtle tones it needs.

The series has been running for a good while now, not even remotely monthly. With any luck, Image will be smart enough to come out with a collection promptly, and will include all of the backmatter that adds even more depth to the whole thing.

Recommended unreservedly: this may well be the best comics story of 2010, the sort of thing that snaps the chains of genre that so often wrap and limit comics. If you like music or magic or comics, this is worth a try; if you like all three, it's a must-have...

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This reminds me that there's a 12 part special series you had recommended to me once, that I'm going nuts trying to remember. I think it was about a year ago, maybe less, and it was 2 or 3 issues in by the time I found out about it. It's driving me nuts, because I can't remember any identifying details whatsoever. Do you have any memory of this?

Author, passing through on a googlealert chariot.

I believe you're thinking about LOCAL by Ryan Kelly and Brian Wood. Brilliant stuff, and well worth getting.

Oh - Justin. Thanks for writing it. I glad it worked for you.

KG

Happy to -- the series is an absolute delight...

Oh - I meant to say, the trade should be out next month. It's not including any of the B-side stories, but it'll have its own glossary, plus a load of "Making of" style material.

KG

Excellent! I suspect I will buy several copies for gifts...

We are trying to make ourselves as pretty-gift-perfect as we can. The cover, btw...



KG

Alright, now I have to check this out. Been meaning to for a while, as I'm a fan of KG's game industry writing, but just hadn't gotten around to it.

Sorry -- I get *so* many comics that that's not really enough to start from. Possibly you can come over sometime and take a dig through my now-finished pile, and that'll serve as a reminder...

I wish I could "Like" this post, a la Facebook.

After my most recent re-read of Rue Brittania I spent a day utilizing my @DJEthylCannes Twitter feed to inflict all my favorite 90's music on my dozen-plus followers, which was just ridiculously fun. Gillen's Phonogram writing is eerily timely for me on a personal level, with all the thoughts I've been having about music as a religion/path towards numinous experience, so I look forward to each issue on a pretty intense level.

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