Phonogram: The Singles Club #4 Features the Character Find of 2009: Silent Girl
For the most part, Phonogram: The Singles Club is the comic book equivalent of a TV bottle episode with most of the action happening on a single night in a single location: a night club in Bristol. However, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson make the location/format constraints even tighter and tell the entire story from the POV of Seth Bingo and Silent Girl’s DJ booth using only six panel grids in Phonogram: The Singles Club #4. It features their commentary on the songs they’re playing, the incidents of the first three issues, and a relationship that is close, yet strained. Also, Gillen and McKelvie craft Singles Club and maybe Phonogram‘s breakout character in Silent Girl using the power of poptimism and body language as she is very skilled at rebuffing Seth’s snobbishness and getting back to the point of this night: enjoying music with female vocalists for the hell of it with no magic, grimoires, or overanalysis needed.
In a way, Phonogram: The Singles Club #4 is very metafictional. Seth Bingo and Silent Girl craft a musical experience for the club-goers with built-in restraints just like Gillen, McKelvie, and Wilson craft a comic reading experience within the six-panel grid until they literally pull away the gutter for a double-page spread featuring all the characters we’ve met. This is complete with the gold color tone that Wilson uses for the Blondie record, “Atomic”, that Silent Girl picks from her record collection like a nuclear technician extracting uranium from the core, or whatever the hell Homer did in The Simpsons. McKelvie’s linework fades out into flat colors as Silent Girl retrieves the record, and the next page is just Seth and Silent Girl dancing to this absolute banger behind the DJ booth with choreography that would put Tik Tok to shame. To get back to the metafiction, it’s a character beat landing perfectly, a visual that conveys emotion without the need for a block of text, or to move to another medium, it’s a needle drop that makes a scene in a film or television stick in your mind. It’s a peek behind the curtain that leads to Penny B’s energy in The Singles Club #1 (She makes a word balloon cameo in this issue.) and Emily Aster, David Kohl, and Kid with Knife’s group dance in the previous issue.
Metaphors for creation and curation aside (This would later be a major theme in The Wicked + the Divine.), Phonogram: The Singles Club #4 is actually a pretty funny comic thanks to the interplay between Seth Bingo and Silent Girl. It’s overreaction versus underraction at its finest, and lot of the humor comes from McKelvie drawing Silent Girl’s reactions, which make her one of the most endearing Phonogram characters. For example, she’s actual friends with Kohl and plays a record by short-lived British indie duo Johnny Boy and goes through the motions of putting the record on while Seth wildly gestures. (At least, he doesn’t have steam over his head or spit coming out of his mouth like in other panels where McKelvie uses these classic comics idioms.) It’s a relationship in miniature and is compounded as Silent Girl gently smiles during the Johnny Boy track while Seth holds his head and channels Pitchfork’s review of the album. (Apparently, it only merited a 5.2) The smile turns into a shit-eating grin as Seth throws a tantrum, and the scene segues into Penny B requesting The Pipettes. Of course, Silent Girl likes them.
Towards the end of the comic, Silent Girl provides much needed perspective on the indie night and breaks Seth out of his holier-than-thou tastemaker/phonomancer doldrums when the worst thing happens: the record skips. And it’s a good one, “Who’s That Girl” by Robyn, a rare artist beloved by both DJs (And yours truly.) as evidenced by them playing the whole Robyn album at a previous gig. What starts out with Seth and Silent Girl dancing to the track a la “Atomic” turns into quick, ninja-like moments as they get the record off the turntable before the dancers demand a refund. Seth lights into a long monologue about being hexed by Emily Aster, and McKelvie draws him with downcast posture. However, Silent Girl gives him simple, yet wise advice to enjoy the great music they’re playing as Gillen and McKelvie break the rhythm of the six panel grid and introduce a little negative space to the page with a slightly overhead shot of Seth and Silent Girl at the DJ booth saying “No magic. Just music.”
The great facial expressions for Silent Girl and their indie DJ/comedy team routine makes Phonogram: The Singles Club #4 very entertaining as well as proving a kind of bird’s eye view of this infamous night of revelry. Characters who we think we know from previous comics turn up in a different light like Kohl going from being the star of Rue Britannia to lugging Seth’s crate of records under the harsh house lights. (Mathew Wilson nails that jarring feeling of the lights coming on after a club night.) The Singles Club #4 also has a really hopeful, if slightly saccharine message of enjoying music for it’s own sake and not using it to talk shit to other people or lord over them like Seth Bingo has done this entire miniseries. Silent Girl definitely embodies that poptimistic outlook, and she and Seth are at the nexus of that final double page spread bringing enjoyment and inspiration to all of the denizens of the dance floor, or what Gillen calls “magic enough”.
A DJ mixing in bangers that you know with some enjoyable new tunes as well as being generous, yet not overwhelmed by requests is truly magical and also something that can still happen in an age of closed venues and clubs thanks to the magic of streaming music and Zoom.