A phonomancer whose power comes from a living embodiment of Britpop learns that something is wrong with his patron. A different aspect of the same goddess tasks him with finding out what has happened to Britannia and fixing the problem. The longer this goes on, though, the more his memories and perception blur and change.
If that sounds bonkers, that may be because Phonogram can be esoteric—especially if you have no working knowledge of Britpop, in which case you’re going to have to rely on a good deal of context to make sense of Gillen’s story. You can make your way through it that way, though—I certainly did. Its treatment of fandom applies well beyond music. Fans of comics, video games, cartoons, and anything else are just as guilty of wrapping their perceptions of themselves up in their insistence that their preferred media is somehow the best and most pure. It focuses on the area between nostalgia and popular culture, that place where people say, “Nothing will compare to this,” out of tribal loyalty instead of fond memories or interest in what’s new.
While Gillen’s story can be intimidating, McKelvie’s art helps to ground Phonogram and keep it accessible. Clean, precise panelwork provides useful context, and easily distinguishable faces make it easy to keep everyone straight as new characters consistently show up. I am all for more stylized art—and McKelvie does get to play a little more as the arc goes on—but keeping this story visually grounded is a smart call.
One thought stuck with me as I read Phonogram: I want this team to tackle John Constantine. That’s the kind of smarmy, know-it-all jerk that David Kohl is, and in a lot of ways, the story has the requisite strangeness and self-destruction that a good Constantine book would. If you’re a fan of other work by Gillen and McKelvie, you’ll see a number of similarities—especially to The Wicked + The Divine. If you enjoy that book and are game for a more esoteric exploration of similar ideas, then you might enjoy Phonogram.
- Phonogram, Vol. 1: Rue Britannia (#1-6)
- The Complete Phonogram (#1-6; Phonogram: Singles Club #1-7, Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #1-6)
Writer: Kieron Gillen | Artist: Jamie McKelvie | Letterers: Jamie McKelvie (1-2, 4-6), Drew Gill | Designer: Drew Gill