Phonogram: The Singles Club #5 shows the emptiness of referentiality
“The boys wanna be her. The girls wanna be her. I wanna be her.”- “Boys Wanna Be Her” by Peaches
Laura Heaven is terribly pretentious and a terrible person, and after dropping hints about her throughout Phonogram: The Singles Club, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson give her center stage in issue five. To quickly sum her up, she is the female equivalent of that Harvard grad student that gets spit roasted by Matt Damon’s character in Good Will Hunting , but with pop music instead of colonial American history. Nearly every line of dialogue or narrative caption for her is a reference to something else whether that’s a lyric by her obsession du jour the 2000s English indie rock band The Long Blondes or a really hacked out quote from Airplane that causes the equally referential Lloyd (Never Logos) to go Arthur fist in the next panel. It’s also why Phonogram: The Singles Club #5 comes across as the wordiest of the series so far even though I haven’t done any actual analysis on it.
In Phonogram: The Singles Club #5, Laura Heaven has to critique and commentate on everyone and everything, and of course, there’s footnotes. This because it’s her entire personality, and she can’t come up with anything original. You could even call her a parasite, and her interactions with Lloyd along with the black eyes McKelvie draws her with seem to back this up. For example, in previous issues, there’s been zero lingering on the simple act of getting drinks at the bar. It’s just something you do at a club night, everyone has their go-to libation, no harm, no foul. However, Laura creates an entire backstory for the bartender based on one panel of her disdainfully serving Marc a drink. Almost like a screenplay, she talks about how she’s a symbol of overall coolness thanks to her tattoo sleeve and piercing, and how she wants to be and be with her. (Laura gives off total frustrated bisexual vibes, especially around Penny B.)
This methodical, yet erotically charged stream of consciousness is just how Laura views the world, and Jamie McKelvie does an excellent job of matching facial expression to whatever she’s thinking at the time. He and Kieron Gillen create layers of subtext as Laura balances being both critical and jealous. The scene where she smokes a cigarette while dressed in her get-up that’s basically Kate Jackson (The frontwoman of Long Blondes) cosplay while looking dolefully at Penny B and Marc is a textbook example of that. She misreads (He’s still hung up over an ex.) that Marc is interested in Penny not her, and her captions on why she likes the Long Blonde and how Kate Jackson is basically a BDSM switch act as a half-baked distraction from her feelings. McKelvie draws a close-up of Penny’s hand on Marc’s back while she talks about how Long Blondes’ references to other bands and general intertextuality has made her feel and connected her to new/old music when she really wants to connect with another human being and be wanted.
And the emphasis is on “wanted” and desire and not on any kind of healthy, two-way relationship, hence, the issue’s title “Lust Etc.”. (Of course, this is a Long Blondes song title.) She has huge crushes on both Penny B and Marc that are exposed through her angry expression while they chat at the club, and later on when she chats with Emily Aster in the bathroom. What starts as a condescending “bless your heart” kind of moment where Emily teases Laura for her love of Long Blondes and unoriginality turns into the closest Phonogram: The Singles Club #5 gets to heart to heart throughout the entire issue. (I almost jumped in the ocean.) From a quick glance, Emily understands what Laura is trying to be and adjusts her beret while nailing her character in one sentence, “You’re a bad person. That’s not so bad.” There’s also the context of issue three that makes it seem like Emily sees a lot of her previous self (The self-harming, indie girl in the mirror.) in Laura, and that she needs a bit of a nudge to break out of her “chrysalis”.
This not as bad side comes out in the conclusion of the issue when the night ends, and Laura (As one of the “dregs”) shares a taxi with Lloyd, who gets another screenplay-esque play by play just like the bartender. Gillen and McKelvie reveal that Laura’s loathing for Lloyd comes from her seeing a lot of her worst qualities in him. (See The Smiths quote/flirt along when they get in the taxi.) And speaking of The Smiths, Gillen, McKelvie, and Wilson, who brings a dark palette to play, show that having a passion for a certain kind of music isn’t the formula for a meet cute and do a nihilist spin on the mid-2000s indie romantic comedy. McKelvie draws Laura’s body posture as flirtatious, and there’s even an “almost kiss” panel. However, it’s Laura knowing that she won’t be Kate Jackson or the femme fatale in Lloyd’s painfully misogynistic pop project so she decides to verbally castrate him instead and concludes by jumping out of the taxi and butchering one of The Smiths’ best lyrics, “It takes guts to be gentle and kind” while running into the night. The last few pages of Phonogram: The Singles Club #5 truly are an evisceration of the toxicity of the indie scene, and by extension any passionate fandom, as Laura and Lloyd substitute emotional openness with empty referentiality as deep down, they’re the only ones they care about.
Circling back to the beginning of the article, Laura Heaven could be a one-note indie poseur/parody character that other more developed characters make fun of or just to push to the background. However, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson treat her with both sympathy and contempt. McKelvie gives her these longing, earnest looks, like the lyrics in The Smiths’ best choruses, and I really empathize with her a lot when she’s watching Penny have a good time on the dance floor or realizing how much cooler Emily Aster is than her.
Despite her pretentiousness (Read: acting like a total asshole.), Laura is a relatable character to me as she uses her interests as a shield in tough, emotionally fraught situations or even to avoid small talk. Also, I could definitely apply the aforementioned captions about why she likes the Long Blondes to the music I discovered or rediscovered while reading Phonogram Rue Britannia and The Singles Club. For example, I didn’t know my Manic Street from my Preachers and had only been to one gay bar in a small college town at the time so Robyn was also a foreign concept to me. I did know Crystal Castles because one day I randomly looked up their music because they had the same name as an arcade game I liked as a kid.
However, Laura also uses her passion and propensity for quoting her favorite songs during untimely moments to mask that she’s a little bit of a terrible person and incapable of having a good time as she snarks and snipes at her so-called “friend” Penny B at the club. And there’s of course the bit with Lloyd at the end. If she continues with her interest in vintage music and fashion and maybe branches out a little bit, Laura Heaven could definitely end up being a “terrible person with great taste in records”, and this is why it’s so awesome that Gillen, McKelvie, and Wilson explore what happened to her, Lloyd, and the rest of the Singles Club crew in the arguably the best issue of Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl.
But, for now, she’s a lonely young woman with “the records and books that [she] own[s” running into the darkness in a sequence that is the antithesis of Penny B dancing in heavenly light to “Pull Shapes” in Phonogram: The Singles Club #1.