Author Archives: Logan Dalton

Music is magic for Everyone in Phonogram: The Singles Club #7

“I used to have a special tape. Used to have my track. My one killer track that would get me flying. You got one of those.”- Buddy (Played by Jon Hamm) in Baby Driver [Aka Phonogram with cars], directed by Edgar Wright

Phonogram: The Singles Club #7

As I mentioned in my first essay about Phonogram: The Singles Club, this series is my go-to trade paperback recommendation for anyone looking into getting into the work of Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson. However, on a more micro-level, Phonogram: The Singles Club #7 is my go-to single issue for anyone wanting to get into this creative team’s work, and it’s something I’ll show to folks to demonstrate the relationship between comics and music and how cool and unique this great medium is.

The premise of The Singles Club #7 is simple, yet amazing. Up to this point in the series, Kid-with-Knife has been basically Chas from Hellblazer, but he likes Wu-Tang Clan. Sure, he loves music (especially hip hop), but he’s not a phonomancer. However, on the first page of the issue, David Kohl explains what phonomancy, and Kid realizes that’s something that he and folks do all the time whether you’re walking aimlessly through the city streets, trying to finish a homework assignment, or get that last mile in on the treadmill. Deep down, everyone has that “killer track”, “pump up jam”, or song that gets us moving or feeling inspired and hopeful, and for Kid-with-Knife, that is “Wolf Like Me” by fantastic Brooklyn indie band TV on the Radio. He listens to the song, does parkour in the streets of Bristol, chases away rude men from a couple, ducks in for a kebab, has an amazing indie night with Kohl and Emily Aster, and ends up dancing, forming a connection with, and sleeping with Penny B, who was the POV character in Phonogram: The Singles Club #1. What a night indeed!

Except for the first and final page of the comic, The Singles Club #7 is completely silent so it’s a showcase for Jamie McKelvie’s skill with motion and body language and Matthew Wilson’s color palette. It’s the antithesis of last issue’s black and white zine-inspired story; the praxis to its theory. They also both use werewolf imagery from the TV on the Radio song’s lyrics with Wilson using plenty of dark blues, reds, and giving Kid glowing yellow eyes while McKelvie puts a moon in the background in a couple of key early panels before kicking into parkour mode.

Phonogram: The Singles Club #7

And speaking of parkour, this comic cements McKelvie as a master of showing action in space, especially during the humorous four pages or so where Kid insults a group of tough looking guys and ends up on the run. (He only wanted to get them away from an all-black wearing couple.) He uses The Hatchet Inn (Which is a real place) as a kind of comedic obstacle that Kid and the three guys run around in circles with Kid getting some extra speed lines due to the adrenaline, er, magic of the song. Then, McKelvie goes back to grid mode with the guys looking around a bridge for Kid before breaking it and showing him hanging on one of those height limit signs before making a superhero landing and going into a kebab shop. The power music plus the heightened nature of McKelvie and Wilson’s storytelling has turned a “running away from a group of guys you probably shouldn’t have pissed off” situation into a chase straight out of Batman. The right track really makes you feel like you’re doing epic things, and that’s the truth.

Also, what is so great about Phonogram: The Singles Club #7 is the foreshadowing that Kieron Gillen slipped in back in issue three when Kohl told Emily Aster that Kid-with-Knife’s high energy came up from being hopped up on a TV on the Radio song. And he and McKelvie conclude the issue by showing the indie club night from his perspective featuring intense grids, speech bubbles with symbols and not words, and one beautiful splash page. Kid is so “in the zone” that his perception has become more primal than boring, old human speech, and he’s like the werewolf in the song. (See his face as he digs into that kebab.) There are no conversations: just shots, dancing, and bright lights. I think that the use of symbols instead of text in dialogue bubbles is actually an ingenious way of showing how difficult it is to have conversations at the crowded bar or dance floor area at a club as Kid starts with retelling his pre-club shenanigans, but ends up just ordering a round of shots and dancing with Kohl and Aster. McKelvie cuts together lots of panels, and it ends up being a montage of fun moments from the previous six issues.

Phonogram: The Singles Club #7

However, the conclusion of The Singles Club #7 and the miniseries as a whole is truly magical as the last bits of “Wolf Like Me” start to fade out, and Kid-with-Knife sees Penny B dancing to “Pull Shapes”. In the first issue, she had ended up dancing on her own and just enjoying her favorite song, but now Kid is in the double-page splash and offers his hand. It’s one of Jamie McKelvie’s and Matthew Wilson’s most beautiful pages as Penny is just caught up in the music with stars, precise dance moves, and frosted colors. But, then, Kid joins the dance, their energy matches each other in a rhythmic six-panel grid that erupts into them sleeping together. In a clever bit of storytelling, McKelvie syncs the sex scene to the “We’re howling forever” bit at the end of the song and frames it in the letters of the lyrics. Its passion, chemistry, and great design sense all rolled into one as Kid-with-Knife and Penny B truly become one with this great song.

The main bit of symmetry in Phonogram The Singles Club #7 is definitely the return of Penny B to a prominent role and finally finding someone to dance and have a good time with after the tribulations of the first issue. However, both The Singles Club and Rue Britannia end up with a man and woman in bed together. In Rue Britannia, it’s Beth remembering an old Manic Street Preachers song after she was unable to enjoy music for a while whereas in The Singles Club, it’s Kid-with-Knife and Penny B having a moment of reflection after connecting over the feelings that music gives them. Being a phonomancer, Penny is slightly analytical about the moment while Kid (With a sheepish grin on his face) is content to say, “I don’t know. You tell me.” Unlike Kohl, Aster, Lloyd or the other phonomancers we run into in the comic, Kid-with-Knife finds a song he like and literally runs with it for a full issue with no asides about their subtext (Although, “Wolf Like Me” is definitely about sex.), influences, or anecdote from his past about why he is super obsessed with a band.

What I love about Phonogram The Singles Club other than the masterful silent storytelling from Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson is that it opens the gates of being a phonomancer to everyone. You don’t have to be a hipster or an indie snob or make zines and grimoires, you just have to be emotionally moved by music. And this can lead to physical movement like what Kid-with-Knife got up to in the issue. This song can be in any genre: you just have to deeply connect with it. And that’s really what Phonogram The Singles Club is all about. It’s a saga of connecting or disconnecting with other folks at indie night at a club with pop and indie music as a backdrop. And, thankfully, it ends with two people finding each other via a song. Beautiful stuff, really!

TV Review: Euphoria Special Episode 2- Jules

Euphoria Jules

The second special episode of Euphoria that acts as a bridge between its first season and delayed (Due to Covid-19) second season focuses on Jules’ (Hunter Schafer) character, her relationship with Rue (Zendaya) and her parents as well as other things like her gender, the toughness of moving to East Highland, and how she feels like she builds stronger connections with folks online that in real life. The entire episode is framed in a therapy session that her dad, David (John Ales) wanted her to attend after she took a train and ran away from home in the final episode of season one. It blurs the lines between reality and fantasy quite a bit, and director/co-writer Sam Levinson brings a lot of Euphoria’s visual and musical trademarks into the episode with a synth-meets-sacred score from composer Labrinth and a pair of powerful needle drops from Lorde and Billie Eilish, who released a new track “Lo Vas A Olividar” with Rosalia just for this episode.

The colorful nature and the non-linear narrative that Levinson and Hunter Schafer, who is credited as a writer on “Jules” matches the titular character who wants to go to New York and study art and has amazing taste in fashion and makeup. One of the first shots of the episode is a colorful flashback montage of all of Jules’ major moments synced to “Liability” by Lorde with the poignant lyrics creating reminders of the hurt that she has been and has caused in the past year. It sets up Jules sidestepping talking about running away and instead talking about gender, and how she is tired of having it be defined by men and crafting her gender presentation to be desirable to them. She talks about going off puberty blockers and her previous fears of dysphoria and puberty’s “deepness” and “thickness” when now those things reminds her of the ocean.

Sure, the metaphor is a little cheesy, but a quick reminder that these are high school students, and it also is an opportunity for Levinson and Schafer to make a little magic in a flashback sequence. With Labrinth’s score soaring, they show us Jules at her freest frolicking in the waves at her grandmother’s house and letting them wash over her as she lies in the sand without a care in the world. This feeling is also connected to how she feels about Rue, who makes a few appearances in flashbacks, dream sequences, and one heartbreaking one in the present as she bikes over to her episode. The way that Jules talks about Rue is a real highlight of this episode as she talks about how Rue saw her real self beneath all the parts of different people that made up herself and compared to how a mother looked at a baby before that child can make any kind of memories. Levinson conveys this emotion visually through a recurring image of Rue and Jules staring into each other’s glittering eyes: Zendaya and Hunter Schafer get a lot of power out of one look. This episode is full of intimate moments between them, like Jules showing Rue how to inject her with estrogen in one scene where they’re sleeping over.

Euphoria Jules

Jules’ new therapist, Dr. Nichols (Lauren Weedman) tries to make connections out of this tangle of emotions and makes a painful, yet true one when she realizes that Jules’ fear and anger about Rue’s addiction is like her anger about her mother’s addiction. We don’t know where Amy (Pell James) is in the present, but there are some flashbacks like when Rue’s dad basically ambushes her by bringing her mom to make amends as part of an AA program. You can see the tension in John Ales’ face as he’s playing a character who wants to save the woman he loves, but doesn’t want to lose his only daughter. Amy overhears that Jules hates and doesn’t care about her so she leaves without saying goodbye, and later, we hear David on the phone about how she’s back at a psychiatric hospital after going on a bender. So, this is why Jules flinches, and Schafer’s lips quiver every time Dr. Nichols brings up her mother, especially when she’s trying to make a positive connection.

The other thread of conversation that Jules and her therapist have is about online relationships, especially her failed virtual relationship with Tyler, who turned out to be Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi), an abusive football player, who blackmailed Jules with her own nudes so he wouldn’t have to face consequences for assaulting his girlfriend in the previous season. Jules still dwells on the texts and sexts she sent to Tyler (Jayden Marcos) and talks to her therapist about the openness and vulnerability she feels in online relationships. This is shown visually during elaborate dream sequences where she fantasizes about having sex with Tyler in her fantasy New York apartment with sensual red lighting and Labrinth’s score building to a climax. But, instead, there’s a bass drop, the lights cut out, and Tyler’s face is replaced by Nate’s as she returns to reality. The relationship between Nate and Jules is one of the scariest parts of Euphoria, and his sweet, catfish texts as Tyler continue to haunt her as she thought she had a real connection with him.

The best and toughest scene in “Jules” is seeing and listening to the story of Jules and Rue’s first from her perspective. In the first season, the scene is shot from Rue’s perspective, and she initiates the kiss before backing off and running away because she didn’t know if Jules liked her like that. However, this episode reveals that Jules was already in love with Rue, and this was the first time she had ever kissed a girl so she was hesitant about making a move. The flashback drives home one of Jules’ key fears: that she will lose Rue. We see her frantically calling Rue and trying to express her feelings to her, which is mirrored in the present day by her missed calls and texts plus their quick, awkward encounter at the end of the episode. Through therapy, Jules can start to rebuild her sense of self and even have conversations about things like going off hormones and being a trans woman. However, she wonders without Rue if it’s all worth it, and the final shot of the episode with the rain pouring down on Jules’ window really captures the pain of losing a friend, and it being your fault while leaving things open ended for the upcoming season.

Although it sticks to one location just like “Rue”, “Jules” is far from lo-fi with Sam Levinson and Hunter Schafer unleashing a plethora of fantasy sequences, artsy flashbacks, and musical tracks to show Jules’ state of mind during a difficult time for her. From watching Euphoria Season One, I definitely knew why Rue loved Jules, but this episode nails how much Jules cares for her with Schafer covering her face in close-ups because she loves her so much and is afraid she is going to lose her. This episode also does a good job of finding a throughline between its Jules’ relationship with Rue and her mother and also talks about online relationships and being trans in a very nuanced way with smart writing from Levinson and Schafer.

These special episodes have shown that Euphoria has two of the most emotionally vulnerable actors on any TV show (Zendaya, Hunter Schafer) and have whetted my appetite for the upcoming season, which hopefully have the same level of insight to go with its visual and musical panache. Also, fingers crossed for a Lexi flashback!

Overall Verdict: 9.2

Review: Future State: Immortal Wonder Woman #1

Future State: Immortal Wonder Woman #1

Some Future State stories have dealt with dark, dystopian futures, but the lead story in Future State: Immortal Wonder Woman #1 takes it a step further with Diana, the remaining Amazons, and an aging Superman fighting to defend Swamp Thing, the Green, and basically the symbol of life on Earth from both Darkseid and the Anti-Life Equation. Writers Becky Cloonan and Michael Conrad and spectacular artist Jen Bartel tell a story about fighting a war with love to the bitter end as Diana doesn’t want to fight for the dying Earth and instead start somewhere fresh with Swamp Thing and her sisters, but is overridden by the warlike Amazons as well as Darkseid popping in for one last chance to conquer Earth.

Cloonan and Conrad’s writing in Immortal Wonder Woman #1 can be described as truly poetic and matches the emotion-tinged visual from Bartel. The opening sequence has Diana interacting with a hologram of Batman and meditating on their relationship as part of DC’s Trinity’s with Batman telling her that she’s a true symbol of hope to rally around. However, Diana is also a realist about what’s going as she wistfully sees a star blink out of existence, and the story cuts to Apokolips where Darkseid realizes the end aka the Anti-Life Equation is near and abandons his empire, son Orion, and follower Big Barda and immediately heads to Earth. Bartel does a great job of contrasting the Amazons’ perspective of Earth with its reality using an almost beach vacation color palette for when the Amazons decide to defend the planet from an unknown threat to using a dark and rusty one for when Darkseid flies through space to the “husk”.

Jen Bartel is known for beautiful character design and capturing deep emotion out of her figures, but she can also draw one hell of a fight scene when Diana and Darkseid finally throw down with again Superman having one heroic moment and then getting flattened. She channels her inner Jack Kirby with colorful explosions and speed lines every time Darkseid lands a blow, or Diana kicks the Apokoliptian tyrant or gets a grip on him with her lasso. Bartel also uses interesting (or heartbreaking) panel shapes like when she lays one out that looks just like Darkseid’s Omega sanction and ends in a stark, panel of skulls on a stark background. On a more macro-level, Cloonan and Conrad keep the objective of the battle high, yet simple, Diana, the Amazons, and Superman have to protect Swamp Thing from Darkseid and the Anti-Life Equation for a chance at filling Earth (or maybe a new planet) with life again. The stakes of this comic are literally life and death.

The first story in Immortal Wonder Woman #1 is a Ragnarok for the DC Universe courtesy of Becky Cloonan, Michael Conrad, and Jen Bartel, who makes everyone look epic, pretty, and/or war worn while nailing the look and color palette of utter cosmic darkness too. It’s the last of the old gods battling the embodiment of utter evil with only a small chance for rebirth in the form of Swamp Thing, who is given a frail form and halting speech patterns. It’s also a masterclass in pacing with Cloonan and Conrad getting to the emotional breaking point before hitting that “To Be Continued” with literal tears streaming in the last panel that Bartel draws.

Future State: Immortal Wonder Woman #1

The second story in Immortal Woman #1 is written by LL McKinney with art from Alitha Martinez, Mark Morales, and Emilio Lopez, is set earlier in the Future State timeline, and features Nubia, an Amazon who has taken up the mantle of Wonder Woman while an off-panel Diana is queen of Themiscyra. Like the lead story, its plot has a world-ending conflict as Grail, the daughter of Darkseid, is stealing parts of an artifact connected to various gods that if put together could rip a hole in time and space. Most of this is explained in many expository text boxes by McKinney, who seems to be trying to fit a 4-6 issue miniseries in two issues.

A feeling of being overstuffed aside, “Nubia” is not without its charms. Martinez and Morales are veteran storytellers, who excel at everything from an exciting bout of close quarters combat between Grail and Nubia with a poster-worthy splash of the protagonist saying, “I am Wonder Woman” to capturing Nubia’s pained facial expressions when Aunt Nancy asks her for a favor in return for helping her solve the mystery behind these artifact thefts. Speaking of Aunt Nancy, McKinney’s background writing YA urban fantasy comes in handy with some of the little world-building touches like having her run a night club called the Ebony Web with a spider on the door and with a (quite handsome) minotaur bouncer. With her punnish name, knowledge of almost everything, and propensity for single malt whisky, Aunt Nancy has a lot of personality and would be an intriguing permanent edition to Nubia’s supporting cast, or the Wonder Woman side of the DC Universe as it’s good to see a god from West African folklore pop up. Also, I think this might be the first time that the wonderful city of Atlanta has popped up in a DC comic that I’ve read.

However, Nubia’s heroism and Aunt Nancy’s charisma don’t completely make up for a story that is mostly telling and not showing with L.L. McKinney basically undercutting the two page vision that Alitha Martinez and Mark Morales draw earlier in the story by explaining it all in a wall of text. On more of a new reader front, she also doesn’t really introduce Grail except that’s she strong (By defeating Nubia in combat.), generically evil, and wants the artifacts. If I hadn’t (unfortunately) read Geoff Johns’ Justice League run, I wouldn’t know that she was Darkseid’s daughter and basically the Anti-Life version of Wonder Woman. I mean, this is the comic book equivalent of a two episode mini Big Bad arc on a CW show so we don’t need a super deep villain, but including this context could deepen the threat against Nubia and reality. I really wanted to like the Nubia story and look forward to McKinney’s graphic novel take on the character, but it was disappointed and definitely felt like a first published comic.

Overall, Future State: Immortal Wonder Woman #1 has one strong, epic story and another story with potential that it doesn’t fully live up to that also shows the difficulty of transitioning from prose fiction to comics. However, this book is definitely worth picking up for Jen Bartel’s career best take on the final battle between good and evil in the DC Universe with punches that make galaxies trembles and facial expressions that will make you tear up while Becky Cloonan and Michael W. Conrad write a Diana, who is trying to cling onto hope in an utterly no-win situation.

Story: Becky Cloonan, Michael W. Conrad, L.L. McKinney
Art: Jen Bartel, Alitha Martinez with Mark Morales
Colors: Jen Bartel, Emilio Lopez
Letterer: Pat Brosseau, Becca Carey
Story: 8.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.4 Recommendation: Buy

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Criticism and Fandom Duel it Out in Phonogram: The Singles Club #6

Phonogram: The Singles Club #6

From what we’ve seen in Phonogram: The Singles Club so far, Lloyd is more concerned with telling various phonomancers about his “plan” to show pop music’s dark, hypocritical subtext by combining new public domain melodies with “hyper-lewd post-spank-rock sex lyrics”. He’s more critic than an artist or even fan (Except for the Dexys Midnight Runners.) in those five issues. So it’s fitting that Phonogram: The Singles Club #6, Lloyd’s comic, is in zine form and takes place after the revelries are over in his bedroom where he writes about them in his grimoire, er, zine.

In the past, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson show that Lloyd is all about theory, not praxis as evidenced by his awkwardness around dancing and wanting to fanboy over David Kohl instead of having drinking and having a good time at the club. Now we get to see these events from his POV, and it shows that he definitely is all about analysis calling music “sublimated emotion” and his grimoire “sublimated thought”. Lloyd has all these ideas about music, bands, and even people, and he uses writing to basically exorcise them and get them out in the open from his thoughts on David Kohl’s mortality (Their chat was chat was apparently an “interview”) to an essay on why Dexys Midnight Runners means so much to him and finally a poem about Penny on the dance floor.

The Dexys essay really brings out that push and pull between fandom and criticism as Lloyd puts on their single “Plan B” to help him calm down after a very emotional car ride. McKelvie does a fantastic job of showing his pain on the first place as he wrinkles his eyes and puts his fist on the door before throwing a vase of flowers, a classic symbol of love and devotion. However, once Lloyd gets to his room he’s all business, putting on a record, and then pulling out his typewriter and getting to work on his grimoire. I can definitely connect to him finding comfort through putting his thoughts about a certain topic in order, and it’s something I have done myself after a tough breakup or a tough emotional bit. Like, I’m taking a break from that part of my brain and going to use the other one.

I get that kind of analytical vibe from Lloyd as he basically reports on events of Phonogram: The Singles Club usually mainly prose, but also collage and even a really fun comic to illustrate his “master plan”, which honestly works more effectively than the multiple times he told folks about it. It’s also interesting that the three people in the band look like stick figure versions of him, Penny, and Laura Heaven. And Lloyd totally still wants Penny to be the frontwoman as he does an extra little ritual before writing out her response to his plan as well as the aforementioned poem. Gillen captures Lloyd’s eloquence in describing how Penny dances to “Pull Shapes” with some killer lines like “My mocking words are turned to chalk and dust by her every step…” It’s the perfect verbal companion to the splash page at the end of The Singles Club #1, and it’s nice that Lloyd got to enjoy that moment too. In theory, never in practice although that will change by the end of this issue.

Phonogram: The Singles Club #6

On the other end of the spectrum is Lloyd’s relationship with Laura Heaven. (And, no, we haven’t seen the last of it.) Gillen and McKelvie truly understand the tragedy of a missed emotional and intellectual connection with someone as Lloyd waxes poetic about he and Laura are on on the same page about his plan, but then she leaves the cab, and then he starts ripping up the zine page. They have a kind of chemistry, and it’s all dashed to pieces as Lloyd falls on the band surrounded by sigils with McKelvie giving him an aimless stare. Wilson keeps the color palette a neutral sepia because it’s a little bit of a flashback as Lloyd is thinking back to last night, but mostly, he’s not feeling super magical.

But the magic returns in the final four pages of Phonogram: The Singles Club #6 as Gillen, McKelvie, and Wilson capture the euphoric feeling of listening to a song by a new band for the first time. (A band that you will probably fall in love with.) They kick it off with a tight, six-panel flashback of David Kohl basically nudging Lloyd to expand his horizons beyond Dexys and suggesting Los Campesinos!, who had just started during the events of this story, released two albums before the publication of The Singles Clubs, and are considered indie legends today. Instead of overanalyzing his personality, Kohl and Lloyd have a nice chat about music, and it leads to Lloyd going on MySpace (So much nostalgia!) and streaming “We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives”.

Phonogram: The Singles Club #6

What follows is a love story in motion as Lloyd dances all around his bedroom to the track, only moving to headphones when he gets a noise complaint, and his new grimoire is inspired by them. McKelvie shows the progression of his interest in the artist as he clicks on the song, starts moving his hands around and makes a comment about the lyrics, and then finally goes into full dance mode. In a single panel, Lloyd demonstrates more vigor and physical energy than in the previous five issues, and it’s redemptive for him as he’s genuinely a fan of good indie and pop music and not just a critic stuck in a niche, or worse, a rut. He had a rough night, but now he has some new tunes and a new lease on life and his grimoires/zines. As a comics critic, it’s the equivalent of stepping outside of your usual beat and creators and enjoying some new kind of work.

Phonogram: The Singles Club #6 is all about how a new artist and/or song can be quite refreshing, especially if you’re prone to overanalysis like poor Lloyd. (I was probably a little too hard on him last article.) Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson also craft a homage to fanzines and the power of putting passion into words and images like Lloyd does in this issue before burning it all down to be consumed by a new song. And the dancing at the end is really a nice transition to the final and arguably best issue of Phonogram The Singles Club even though Lloyd and Kid-with-Knife are polar opposites.

Review: Future State: Kara Zor-El Superwoman #1

Future State: Kara Zor-El Superwoman #1

Although she made an appearance in Future State: Superman of Metropolis’ lead story, Future State: Kara Zor-El Superwoman #1 checks in on the titular character’s new status quo. Kara is currently the pacifistic protector of Earth’s Moon where she protects outsiders and the disenfranchised, who have fled that violent planet for a new start. She is also estranged from the new Superman, Jonathan Kent, as well as the original one, Clark Kent. In this comic, writer Marguerite Bennett and artist Marguerite Sauvage show Kara mentoring Lynari, a metahuman with great abilities. They have speed, super-strength, shape-shifting, and power-draining powers that are displayed in a visually stunning way by Sauvage and are on the run from family members, who want the jewel that gives these abilities.

Future State: Kara Zor-El Superwoman #1 has many good factors. First, it’s nice to see a hero, like Kara, dedicated to non-violence and using her abilities to help make life easier for the Moon colonist, or in a last resort, for self-defense. (Of course, this rule is broken on the final page when Lynari is nabbed by her evil relatives.) Also, non-binary superheroes are rare in mainstream comics, and it’s cool to see one get to have an arc unrelated to their gender identities and also do flat out cool things like use their shapeshifting to sprout multiple arms and move rocks to make a lake for water, recreation, and other fun stuff. Finally, Sauvage has a gorgeous art style that is rooted in Magical Girl manga/anime as much as traditional superheroes, and she uses beautiful full or double-page compositions to show Lynari training with Kara and building a relationship with her.

Marguerite Sauvage’s color palette also conveys strong emotion like deep reds and blues when Lynari is sad that they weren’t praised by the inhabitants of the Moon for setting up the lake. This leads to a tense conversation with Kara where Lynari says some hurtful things about Kara not being accepted by Earth or her blood family as vertical grids of a “fly and talk” erupt into a full page energy blast. Lynari has obviously been through some tough times in their life and needs a literal safe space as their relatives are on the prowl. Sauvage uses different layouts and palettes depending on the sequence going for rigid and pastels when Lynari and Kara are enjoying each other’s company and flying around the moon and going to the grid and darker shades when there’s any kind of tension. Add her detailed backgrounds with the people on the moon having very different reactions than Lynari and Kara and creativity with Lynari’s powers (The sihouette of a dragon and Kara flying is very charming.) , and this is a story that you could follow without reading the plethora of caption boxes and dialogue.

Future State: Kara Zor-El Superwoman #1

Because, yes, Kara Zor-El Superwoman is a comic that is a little bit overwritten despite Marguerite Bennett’s simple premise of Kara being in exile from Earth on the Moon and Lynari being a metahuman on the run. A lot of Bennett’s dialogue is didactic, and she includes one or two cliches about revenge, kindness, and helping others when showing Lynari helping out Kara around the Moon would get the point across. The monologue and text-heavy nature of the comic is evident from the first page when she eulogizes her deceased dog, Krypto. The fact that one of my favorite comic book canines had passed away already tugged at my heart strings, but Kara goes into great details about the moral lessons she learned from him. They are good, but basic ones like “Be kind”.

Bennett mixes these sayings with actual character-relevant captions dialogue for Kara in Kara Zor-El Superwoman as she discusses about how she was passed over for the mantle of Superman by a relative newcomer, (At least, in comics time.) and how she tries to honor the legacy of the House of El. This creates overt similarities and a natural bond between her and Lynari, who also has a destiny and long heritage that is explained in a page of exposition. Mentoring and diversifying heroes seems to be a throughline in Future State so far, either in the actual stories or in the way they’re marketed, and Kara Zor-El Superwoman #1 fits this mold, especially when Lynari and Kara are training together or having tough conversations about Kara’s non-violence with Lynari’s relatives on the way. (A shock of heat vision is the answer to that.)

When Marguerite Bennett is connecting the larger themes of Kara Zor-El Superwoman to specific incidents in characters’ lives or journeys, her writing sparkles and complements Marguerite Sauvage’s magical visuals that can occasionally be dark or playful depending on the tone of the story. However, when she’s in monologue about good deeds and virtues mode, the book loses steam and feels more like beautifully drawn and colored lecture and superhero comic. However, I love how Bennett and Sauvage craft the character of Lynari, and I hope they have staying power beyond Future State with their cool powers and emotional openness although their backstory is derivative of several characters already in the DC Universe like Amethyst of Gemworld.

Story: Marguerite Bennett Art: Marguerite Sauvage Letterer: Wes Abbott
Story: 6.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 7.0 Recommendation: Read

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Phonogram: The Singles Club #5 shows the emptiness of referentiality

Phonogram: The Singles Club #5

“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.)

Phonogram: The Singles Club #5

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”.

Phonogram: The Singles Club #5

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.

Review: Future State Swamp Thing #1

Future State: Swamp Thing #1

“Who killed the world?”- Mad Max: Fury Road

Ram V, Mike Perkins, and June Chung turn in a very post-apocalyptic take on DC Comics’ famous (and often critically acclaimed) swamp creature in Future State: Swamp Thing #1. True to its iconic cover, the book feels a lot like a more botanical version of Planet of the Apes. V saves the overarching conflict of the two-issue miniseries for the final page of the comic and instead spends most of its running time showing the relationship between Swamp Thing (Called simply “Green”) and his children, Calla, Indigo, Vruk, and his “firstborn”, Heather, who he created after the end of the world. Swamp Thing’s mission is to find humanity, but that mission is controversial and leads to jealousy from his people, who think that he cares more about humans than them.

In the past, I’ve really enjoyed Mike Perkins’ art on action-driven superhero stories like Captain America and Iron Fist. However, he really get to flex his storytelling range in Future State: Swamp Thing #1 as he gets to work on both a Biblical scale in his double page spread that shows the DC Universe falling prey to violence and basically being to destroyed and a more intimate one in the interactions between Swamp Thing, his people, and later a human survivor. Perkins and colorist June Chung definitely fall back on the superhero idiom in some sequences like a glorious full page image of Swamp Thing encircling his roots around a falling building in the ruins of New York. But he definitely looks more like a monster with a huge, gnarly hand covering his people and mayhem in his wake in a similar manner to the subterranean monster on the cover of Fantastic Four #1. However, Heather and the other folks are beaming and treat him like a savior figure. You can definitely tell that this is a world bereft of heroes, and it may have even been screwed up by their actions although this is outside the scope of Ram V’s script, and the story he and Perkins are trying to tell.

My favorite visual flourish in Future State: Swamp Thing #1, and that extra piece that makes it go beyond a dystopian disaster story with a side of vegetation, is the bits of narration and art that Ram V and Mike Perkins provide showing Swamp Thing’s process of creation. Perkins draws these panels like images in early modern anatomy textbooks with Chung giving its colors that faded out feel compared to the more detailed rendering on his other linework. V’s narration uses purple prose a la classic Swamp Thing while providing insight into how characters like Heather and Indigo feel and interact with their environment. For example, their emotions come from pheromones, but they don’t have any feelings that didn’t already originate with Swamp Thing.

This is why Indigo is so angry and skeptical while Heather is full of determination and leadership qualities while still being deferential to her “creator”. These special panels also connect smoothly to the ongoing narrative like V and Perkins’ description of their vocal organs coinciding with Swamp Thing talking to the “child” Calla. Or their description of their transpiratory (Think respiratory for humans.) systems being literally sandwiched between two panels showing a journey through the show. It’s an added layer of verbal and visual commentary on these characters and a corner of the nearly post-human world that Ram V and Mike Perkins have crafted as Swamp Thing and his people behave in very human ways although their equivalent of first aid is sunlight, water, and keeping roots planted in a bit.

Future State: Swamp Thing #1

However, Future State: Swamp Thing #1 doesn’t shy away from showing their differences compared to the human they run into with them being unable to communicate with him until he eats a bit of fruit, which is a wonderful (and much less erotic) riff on the classic Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, and John Totleben story. However, you don’t have to be familiar with this 36 year old comic to understand Swamp Thing trying to find common ground through the breaking of bread even though Indigo and Heather want to take the human out for killing one of their people in self-defense. Communication versus violence is a throughline in this comic with a nice chat or a story revealing more context about this very strange world in contrast with tree limb on tree limb contact, which is why it’s fitting that Swamp Thing #1 is bookended by a pair of visually interesting flashbacks. On a pure aesthetic level, I love how Mike Perkins and June Chung depict snow and whites, which is set against (G)reen and trees.

Ram V, Mike Perkins, and June Chung use Swamp Thing’s immortality, sub-creator instincts, and preference for communication over fisticuffs to tell a wonderful post-apocalyptic yarn in Future State: Swamp Thing #1. V’s prose is beautiful, and you really get to know the dynamic between Swamp Thing and his people throughout the book. Perkins gets to experiment with different kinds of layouts, including powerful spreads and interesting grids, to keep things lively and weird while Chung’s colors tell a story of green, or life, trying to flourish in an inhospitable environment as Swamp Thing and his people move farther North. Future State: Swamp Thing #1 is a smart take on one of DC’s most beloved characters as well as being a holistic take on the “dark future” genre, and it even adds a touch of mystery at the end.

Story: Ram V Art: Mike Perkins
Colors: June Chung Letters: Aditya Bidikar

Story: 8.2 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.6 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review


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Phonogram: The Singles Club #4 Features the Character Find of 2009: Silent Girl

PHONOGRAM: THE SINGLES CLUB #4

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.

Phonogram: The Singles Club

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.”

Phonogram: The Singles Club

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.

Logan’s Favorite Comics of 2020

2020 definitely felt like a year where I embraced comics in all their different formats and genres from the convenient, satisfying graphic novella to the series of loosely connected and curated one shots and even the door stopper of an omnibus/hardcover or that charming webcomic that comes out one or twice a week on Instagram. This was partially due to the Covid-19 pandemic that shut down comics’ traditional direct market for a bit so I started reviewing webcomics, trade paperbacks, graphic novels and nonfiction even after this supply chain re-opened. I also co-hosted and edited two seasons of a podcast about indie comics where we basically read either a trade every week for discussion, and that definitely meant spending more time with that format. However, floppy fans should still be happy because I do have a traditional ongoing series on my list as well as some minis.

Without further ado, here are my favorite comics of 2020.

Marvels Snapshots: X-Men #1 – But Why Tho? A Geek Community

10. Marvels Snapshots (Marvel)

Curated by original Marvels writer Kurt Busiek and with cover art by original Marvels artist Alex Ross, Marvels Snapshots collects seven perspectives on on the “major” events of the Marvel Universe from the perspectives of ordinary people from The Golden Age of the 1940s to 2006’s Civil War. It’s cool to get a more character-driven and human POV on the ol’ corporate IP toy box from Alan Brennert and Jerry Ordway exploring Namor the Submariner’s PTSD to Evan Dorkin, Sarah Dyer, and Benjamin Dewey showing the real reason behind Johnny Storm’s airhead celebrity act. There’s also Mark Russell and Ramon Perez’s take on the classic Captain America “Madbomb” storyline, Barbara Kesel’s and Staz Johnson’s sweet, Bronze Age-era romance between two first responders as the Avengers battle a threat against the city, and Saladin Ahmed and Ryan Kelly add nuance to the superhuman Civil War by showing how the Registration Act affects a Cape-Killer agent as well as a young elemental protector of Toledo, Ohio, who just wants to help his community and do things like purify water. However, the main reason Marvels Snapshots made my “favorite” list was Jay Edidin and Tom Reilly‘s character-defining work showing the pre-X-Men life of Cyclops as he struggles with orphan life, is inspired by heroes like Reed Richards, and lays the groundwork for the strategist, leader, and even revolutionary that appears in later comics.

9. Fangs (Tapas)

Fangs is cartoonist Sarah Andersen’s entry into the Gothic romance genre and was a light, funny, and occasionally sexy series that got me through a difficult year. Simply put, it follows the relationship of a vampire named Elsie and a werewolf named Jimmy, both how they met and their life together. Andersen plays with vampire and werewolf fiction tropes and sets up humorous situations like a date night featuring a bloody rare steak and a glass of blood instead of wine, Jimmy having an unspoken animosity against mail carriers, and just generally working around things like lycanthropy every 28 days and an aversion to sunlight. As well as being hilarious and cute, Fangs shows Sarah Andersen leveling up as an artist as she works with deep blacks, different eye shapes and textures, and more detailed backgrounds to match the tone of her story while not skimping on the relatable content that made Sarah’s Scribbles an online phenomenon.

8. Heavy #1-3 (Vault)

I really got into Vault Comics this year. (I retroactively make These Savage Shores my favorite comic of 2019.) As far as prose, I mainly read SF, and Vault nicely fills that niche in the comics landscape and features talented, idiosyncratic creative teams. Heavy is no exception as Max Bemis, Eryk Donovan, and Cris Peter tell the story of Bill, who was gunned down by some mobsters, and now is separated from his wife in a place called “The Wait” where he has to set right enough multiversal wrongs via violence to be reunited with her in Heaven. This series is a glorious grab bag of hyperviolence, psychological examinations of toxic masculinity, and moral philosophy. Heavy also has a filthy and non-heteronormative sense of humor. Donovan and Peter bring a high level of chaotic energy to the book’s visuals and are game for both tenderhearted flashbacks as well as brawls with literal cum monsters. In addition to all this, Bemis and Donovan aren’t afraid to play with and deconstruct their series’ premise, which is what makes Heavy my ongoing monthly comic.

Amazon.com: Maids eBook: Skelly, Katie, Skelly, Katie: Kindle Store

7. Maids (Fantagraphics)

Writer/artist Katie Skelly puts her own spin on the true crime genre in Maids, a highly stylized account of Christine and Lea Papin murdering their employers in France during the 1930s. Skelly’s linework and eye popping colors expertly convey the trauma and isolation that the Papins go through as they are at the beck and call of the family they work almost 24/7. Flashbacks add depth and context to Christine and Lea’s characters and provide fuel to the fire of the class warfare that they end up engaging in. Skelly’s simple, yet iconic approach character design really allowed me to connect with the Papins and empathize with them during the build-up from a new job to murder and mayhem. Maids is truly a showcase for a gifted cartoonist and not just a summary of historical events.

6. Grind Like A Girl (Gumroad/Instagram)

In her webcomic Grind Like A Girl, cartoonist Veronica Casson tells the story of growing up trans in 1990s New Jersey. The memoir recently came to a beautiful conclusion with Casson showing her first forays into New York, meeting other trans women, and finding a sense of community with them that was almost the polar opposite of her experiences in high school. I’ve really enjoyed seeing the evolution of Veronica Casson’s art style during different periods of her life from an almost Peanuts vibe for her childhood to using more flowing lines, bright colors, and ambitious panel layouts as an older teen and finally an adult. She also does a good job using the Instagram platform to give readers a true “guided view” experience and point out certain details before putting it all together in a single page so one can appreciate the comic at both a macro/micro levels. All in all, Grind Like A Girl is a personal and stylish coming of age memoir from Veronica Casson, and I look forward to seeing more of her work.

5. Papaya Salad (Dark Horse)

Thai/Italian cartoonist Elisa Macellari tells an unconventional World War II story in Papaya Salad, a recently translated history comic about her great uncle Sompong, who just wanted to see the world. However, he ended up serving with the Thai diplomatic corps in Italy, Germany, and Austria during World War II. Macellari uses a recipe for her great uncle’s favorite dish, papaya salad, to structure the comic, and her work has a warm, dreamlike quality to go with the reality of the places that Sampong visits and works at. Also, it’s very refreshing to get a non-American or British perspective on this time in history as Sampong grapples with the shifting status of Thailand during the war as well as the racism of American soldiers, who celebrate the atomic bomb and lump him and his colleagues with the Japanese officers, and are not shown in a very positive light. However, deep down, Papaya Salad is a love story filled with small human moments that make life worth living, like appetizing meals, jokes during dark times, and faith in something beyond ourselves. It’s a real showcase of the comics medium’s ability to tell stories from a unique point of view.

4. Pulp (Image)

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (with colorist Jacob Phillips) are two creators whose work has graced my “favorite comics” list many times. And this time they really outdid themselves with the graphic novella Pulp about the final days of Max Winters, a gunslinger-turned-Western dime novelist. It’s a character study peppered with flashbacks as Phillips and Phillips use changes in body posture and color palette to show Max getting older while his passion for resisting those who would exploit others is still intact. Basically, he can shoot and rob fascists just like he shot and robbed cattle barons back in the day. Brubaker and Phillips understand that genre fiction doesn’t exist in a vacuum and is informed by the historical context around it, which is what makes Pulp such a compelling read. If you like your explorations of the banality of evil and creeping specter of fascism with heists, gun battles, and plenty of introspection, then this is the comic for you.

3. My Riot (Oni Press)

Music is my next favorite interest after comics so My Riot was an easy pick for my favorite comics list. The book is a coming of age story filtered through 1990s riot girl music from writer Rick Spears and artist Emmett Helen. It follows the life of Valerie, who goes from doing ballet and living a fairly conservative suburban life to being the frontwoman and songwriter for a cult riot girl band. Much of this transformation happens through Helen’s art and colors as his palette comes to life just as Valerie does when she successfully calls out some audience members/her boyfriend for being sexist and patronizing. The comic itself also takes on a much more DIY quality with its layouts and storytelling design as well as how the characters look and act. My Riot is about the power of music to find one’s identify and true self and build a community like The Proper Ladies do throughout the book. Valerie’s arc is definitely empowering and relatable for any queer kid, who was forced to conform to way of life and thinking that wasn’t their own.

2. Getting It Together #1-3 (Image)

I’ll let you in on a little secret: slice of life is my all-time favorite comic book genre. So, I was overjoyed when writers Sina Grace and Omar Spahi, artist Jenny D. Fine, and colorist Mx. Struble announced that they were doing a monthly slice of life comic about a brother, sister, and their best friend/ex-boyfriend (respectively) set in San Francisco that also touched on the gay and indie music scene. And Getting It Together definitely has lifted up to my pre-release hype as Grace and Spahi have fleshed out a complex web of relationships and drama with gorgeous and occasionally hilarious art by Fine and Struble. There are gay and bisexual characters all over the book with different personalities and approaches to life, dating, and relationships, which is refreshing too. Grace, Spahi, and Fine also take some time away from the drama to let us know about the ensemble cast’s passions and struggles like indie musician Lauren’s lifelong love for songwriting even if her band has a joke name (Nipslip), or her ex-boyfriend Sam’s issues with mental health. I would definitely love to spend more than four issues with these folks.

1. The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott (Avery Hill)

My favorite comic of 2020 was The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott , a debut graphic novel by cartoonist Zoe Thorogood. The premise of the comic is that Billie is an artist who is going blind in two weeks, and she must come up with some paintings for her debut gallery show during that time period. The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott boasts an adorably idiosyncratic cast of characters that Thorogood lovingly brings to life with warm visuals and naturalistic dialogue as Billie goes from making art alone in her room to making connections with the people around her, especially Rachel, a passionate folk punk musician. The book also acts as a powerful advocate for the inspirational quality of art and the act of creation. Zoe Thorogood even creates “art within the art” and concludes the story with the different portraits that Billie painted throughout her travels. The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott was the hopeful comic that I needed in a dark year and one I will cherish for quite some time as I ooh and aah over Thorogood’s skill with everything from drawing different hair styles to crafting horrific dream sequences featuring eyeballs.

Phonogram: The Singles Club #3 shows the impossibility of Escaping Past Insecurities

“Oh, make me over! I’m all I want to be. A walking study in demonology.”- “Celebrity Skin” by Hole

Content warning: self-harm mentions

PHONOGRAM: THE SINGLES CLUB #3

Asymmetrical haircut, perfect quip at the ready, timeless sense of fashion, and an air of superiority. Emily Aster is the epitome of “cool girl”, and she even makes inhaling carcinogens indoors look cool. She rules the roost in Phonogram: The Singles Club #3 where Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson show an indie night at a club in Bristol from her perspective. The story begins with her admiring her “reflection” in the mirror (We later learn that, like a vampire, she doesn’t have one.) and wraps up with her having mindless casual sex with Kid-with-Knife, who would much rather be dancing to Wu-Tang Clan than Elastica. Along the way, she imposes her ego on every person she comes into contact with at indie night from frenemy David Kohl to the DJs Seth Bingo and Silent Girl plus Laura Heaven in one panel, and most spectacularly, an old friend from high school, who knew her as a self-harming sad girl named Clair, who was more into The Smiths than taking over a dance floor.

Thematically, Gillen and McKelvie follow a similar throughline in Phonogram: The Singles Club #3 as the previous issue with Emily Aster, like Marc, being haunted by a specter of her past. However, Emily’s specter is herself. It’s not until page ten until we find out that she doesn’t have a reflection, but Gillen and McKelvie hint at the reveal through dialogue and art placement. Emily basically breaks the fourth wall and shows the audience’s perception of herself. She immediately switches to second person in her narrative captions, and McKelvie draws her from different angles and never straight on like looking in a mirror. Gillen’s writing exudes confidence until we get a close-up and a “Get out of my head, right now”, which is a recurring theme as Emily tries to run away from Claire as quickly as possible.

If you have to say you’re not insecure, you probably are. (Sorry, them’s the breaks.)

In her mind, Emily has no past just a present and future. This is why she scoffs at the whole concept of “indie night” and being into music from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s like David Kohl, and especially, Indie Dave, who really hasn’t moved beyond Joy Division and the Manchester sound of that time and appeared in the previous volume as well as The Singles Club‘s B-sides. Later, in the issue, Emily starts energetically dancing to an Elastica song with Matthew Wilson’s palette capturing the glow of nostalgia. But, in the very next panel, she sees the reflection of Claire, there’s a repetition of “get out of my head”, and she leaves to do the most un-Claire thing possible: have a one night stand with Kid-with-Knife. Even though Emily’s dialogue is full of punch and ego and her posture is self-assured, everything she does is to piss off her past self. She might think that she has put that behind her, but her near-photographic memory of events that happened when she was a teenager shows that it still matters to her.

Phonogram: The Singles Club #3

And speaking of near-photographic memory, Emily’s most devastating and sadistic moment happens in the bathroom just before Penny B enters it to cry about Marc not dancing with her. Even though Emily denies knowing her, she runs into a high school classmate, who knew her as Claire the self-harmer. (In a bit of dark, deadpan humor, Jamie McKelvie draws Claire showing the scars on her arm.) Emily starts serious with metaphors for self-harm helping her transform into the woman she is today before reeling off an eight-panel monologue about the classmate’s car accident that took her brother’s life. McKelvie draws Claire casually re-applying lipstick and even includes a beat panel to show her pursing her lips to see if it looks good. However, Gillen’s dialogue is anything but casual and is utterly cruel as Emily forces this woman from her past to relive the saddest moment of her life in a club bathroom sandwiched between remarks about 1990s hip hop one-hit wonders. She really is a bad person with great taste in records, and this bathroom encounter with Claire/high school acquaintance ends up being the engine of the story that is Phonogram: Immaterial Girl where Emily totally loses control over her current self-identity.

In the end, Emily doesn’t have a good night at the club as her egotism (What she hypocritically accuses Seth Bingo of being.), casual cruelty, and fixation on past insecurities ruin the one song she wanted to dance to (And this issue’s song/cover): “We Share Our Mother’s Health” by The Knife. There is a fluidity to Emily’s movements when she’s having a good time with Kohl and Kid-with-Knife for exactly one panel, but McKelvie draws her a little more rigidly when The Knife track comes on and Wilson uses shadowy colors instead of the intense (or ethereal) ones he uses for most dancing scenes. This is because Emily is “… living proof that sometimes friends are mean” and is too busy being smug and showing how much she has changed since the indie nights of the past to have a good time. Of course, she blames Kohl for the night sucking and turns her back on him, but from her actions throughout the comic, we know it’s her fault.

Phonogram: The Singles Club #3

As someone who has has played around with different identities, personas, and occasionally even looks, (See Emo Nite 2018) I can relate to Emily Aster (Uh oh!) and empathize with her even though she’s really a terrible person and crossed all the lines in her bathroom chat/monologue. I hate talking about and thinking about my past self and live in fear of running into someone I knew from high school now that I’ve moved back to that area thanks to a great career opportunity. So, I understand the deep insecurity that is connected to “coming home” (Even if “home” was never actually home), and by extension, Emily’s perspective in Phonogram: The Singles Club #3. I hate to say it, but I agree with Seth Bingo that she’s “the most evil woman in the world”.

However, he really doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on. Honestly, Kieron Gillen via Emily Aster put it best when he wrote “Everyone I know is a bad person with great taste in records”. This is an apt descriptor for basically the entire cast of Phonogram, who definitely introduced me to some great tunes (I owe my standom of Manic Street Preachers and Robyn to the series.), but is chockfull with some interpersonal toxicity as illustrated in my past, present, and future essays on Phonogram: The Singles Club.

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