Welcome to this week’s edition of Bin Fodder. Today I’m spotlighting a personal favorite of mine (as opposed to the previous installments, hah!) called Phonogram. It was originally sold as individual issues but I picked it up in trade form at a convention at one of those “50% Off All Trades” booths. You are no doubt familiar with them. It was probably the best random ComiCon purchase aside from all twelve issues of this gem. But I digress, Phonogram.
It’s a tale of music and magic and how they are intertwined. The story follows a “phonomancer” named David Kohl. Since no one in the whole of Internetdom has taken the time to define and explain what a phonomancer is I will do so here. A phonomancer is a person whom, through magic, engenders power to music. That’s possibly the most complicated definition ever, but it’s the simplest.
The world of Phonogram is England with much of the story focusing on the lost state of Britpop (which is curiously a real word…never would have figured that). Phonogram was written by well-known English writer Kieron Gillen, who is possibly the most worthy writer I’ve spotlighted to be called a Geek. The artist Jamie McKelvie is less well-known but not for lack of talent. His style is solid and his shading in this black & white comic is outstanding. It was not uncommon for me to lose myself in the art as I was reading the story.
So what is the story about? I’m glad you asked. It’s a philosophical exploration of how music can impact the lives of everyone who listen to it. It all starts when a very powerful phonomancer witch named The Goddess tricks Kohl into attending a club event geared towards women, knowing that a wealth of musically challenged, indie-loving, singer/songwriter chicks would be too much for him to pass up. She attacks and subsequently curses Kohl. setting him on a quest to discover who is messing with Britannia. Britannia is an idea. She is rooted in Britpop in its two most well-received formats, the sixties and the nineties. She also was the phonomancer who created Kohl. I don’t want to give too much away but I do want to give some insight into the story and character of Kohl.
Phonomancers use magic in different ways throughout the story. For instance, a basic ability that every phonomancer seems to have is to be able to sense the band that any person loves most of all. Kohl uses this power on more than one occasion to score with a pretty young thing. He isn’t a bad guy…or, well ok, he kind of is a prick as is emblematic in this excerpt right from the first page of the story:
I look in the mirror and I like what I see. Sure, image is the first dogma of the Faustian process – but I’m all too at home with that. Buzzcut like a squaddie on the town. Glasses like an existentialist poet. Black. Black. More black. Still thin enough, just. And a tough extra, especially for this evening’s festivities. A bootleg pop-icon t-shirt [black and silver Superman] I picked up on a festival site because it was too damn cold. Plastic coat packed with silver fluid. Artificial enough to make you think it’s filled with Chernobyl waste. Toxic and make. Utterly noxious. Totally perfect. This evening I’m not a man. I’m a mutation. A genetic dead-end. I’m a monster with a tumour hanging between its thighs. I’m a white man in clitoris palace. I’m…such a cock.
Before you outright decide to hate the character he does redeem himself throughout the story through acts that may appear at first to be selfless but are really quite selfish. So where does the redemption come in? That I’ll let you find out for yourself, but it’s there. Buried deep in the undertones of the story. Another version of a phonomancer is a “retromancer”. A retromancer is someone who uses “classic” music, usually within a club setting, to feed off the memories that the music envokes within the people involved in the setting. The retromancer gains power, youth, and vitality through magic. There is a moment where David, who truly despises the retromancer culture, counters the spells of one such phonomancer whilst in a club causing the retromancer to wither.
I recommend this title highly because it’s an extremely smart book, which is saying something in the comics industry. It gives you insight into a world most Americans aren’t at all familiar with and manages to do so without an overbearing amount of jargon too often found in British titles. You may be wondering, however silently or loudly, why should I be interested in a story set in England dealing with crazy magic and crazy music references? To quote someone I can’t remember, the question is the answer.
Music is an extremely powerful entity and this story explores the possibility of people actually using music to sculpt the world. How cool is that!? As you read through this potent story you are bombarded with references to bands and songs you may not have ever heard of much less understand or be able to define. Never fear; the writer doesn’t leave you hanging. The trade contains a comprehensive list of the bands and songs referenced, each with a brief synopsis of the band or a depiction of the importance of the specific song.
Take it from me, Phonogram is very much worth your dollars and time to read.
So, my friends, go Bin Diving and find this and other gems!
Until next time,
This is Bin Fodder Guru Tim Blacksmith signing off!