Tag Archives: Penny B

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!

Phonogram: The Singles Club #1 shows the Beauty and Agony of Dancing on Your own

Phonogram The Singles Club

“I just wanna dance all night/And I’m all messed up, I’m so out of line, yeah.”- “Dancing on my Own” by Robyn

If there’s one Kieron Gillen and/or Jamie McKelvie trade paperback volume that I recommend to folks, it’s Phonogram: The Singles Club. Technically, it’s Phonogram’s second volume, but it’s much more accessible than Rue Britannia (Unless you’re a huge Brit Pop fan). Singles Club is structured around a single night (December 23, 2006) at an indie club in Bristol, England told from the perspective of eight different phonomancers in seven comic book issues with seven accompanying songs that you can find on this playlist. (In short, a phonomancer uses music to create magic.) It’s like hipster Rashomon without murder and is a real treat for fans of character-driven writing with McKelvie and colorist Matthew Wilson bringing out unique storytelling tricks and color stories for each POV character.

Full disclosure: I wasn’t reading comic books when Phonogram: Singles Club dropped in 2009-2010 and read both it and Rue Britannia in 2014 during an arc break for The Wicked + the Divine, a comic that I covered at length during its epic 5 year run. However, it’s one of my favorite books by my favorite creative team, and I’m excited to cover it, especially during a time where the closest I can get to indie night at the club is dancing in my living room to a Bluetooth speaker so Singles Club has been a real comfort for me.

Phonogram: The Singles Club #1 focuses on the phonomancer, Penny B. She’s 19 years old, loves to dance, and has a crush on the emotionally distant Marquis, who looks like if Justin Bieber went indie instead of misappropriating Black culture. The song she really wants to dance to is “Pull Shapes” by The Pipettes, a British all-female indie pop group that had a few hits in the 2000s and were at the height of their fame around the time of this book’s setting. Basically, they’re a 1960s close harmony, girl group transported to 2006 with an all-male pop rock backing band, and “Pull Shapes” is an ode to the dance floor with everything else fading into the background. McKelvie and Wilson nail this feeling with their visuals by dropping out the background art and dropping in flat colors and polka dots (Like the outfits the Pipettes wear) so it’s just Penny and the music.

And when it comes down to it, music and dancing is all that Penny cares about, which is why she ends up dancing on her own in this final pages on the issue. There’s a real dissonance between the dialogue Kieron Gillen writes for her, and the reactions that Jamie McKelvie draws for her “friends” and fellow clubgoers. Supposedly, Laura is Penny’s best friend, but she never really talks to her except when she wants something like a gin and tonic. For example, on the bus ride to the club, Penny speaks directly to the reader/audience while Laura rolls her eyes, looks pensive, and smokes in the background. No wonder Penny has to pay for the drinks. The only time they really make eye contact and get in a conversation is when Laura says that the DJ is playing Blondie. This causes her to flip her drink to Laura as soon as she’s got it and hit the dance floor in an energetic display of McKelvie’s skill with motion and body movement as she breaks one of the rules of the night, which is “No magic”. (You can tell because her eyes go black and polka dot.)

Phonogram: The Singles Club

The throughline of ignoring people for music continues when she tries to chat up Marquis, but Gillen and McKelvie reveal no reason for there to be a connection between them except for his attractiveness. She starts to chat him up and put her hand on his arm, but then immediately she runs to the dance floor while remarking on his cuteness. Then, there’s pages of her arguing and honestly being gate-kept by the DJ (Who we later find out is named Seth Bingo) about the Pipettes. This is a sidebar from her trying to dance with Marquis, and she finally asks him and is completely and utterly rejected. Wilson uses a drab color palette while McKelvie draws Marquis from the back and doesn’t even have him make eye contact with her as he tells her, “Just not with you.” to the dance request. Penny is definitely self-centered and incredibly bad at listening, but you have to really feel for her it in this moment, mostly, because McKelvie gives her the saddest, forlorn puppy dog face ever.

Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson show Penny B spiraling into even more loneliness as Phonogram: Singles Club #1 progresses. She tries to find Laura in the restroom, but her “best friend” would rather hide behind a door than comfort her. Then, she runs into Marquis’ buddy Lloyd, who doesn’t have the social restraint of the other characters, and puts in words what they’ve all been thinking. Gillen writes cruelty really well, but he and McKelvie give Penny a way out as white musical notes fill the panels, and she realizes that Seth has relented and is playing “Pull Shapes”. It really captures the emotion of music as an escape as she doesn’t want to be in this conversation and just wants to dance to her favorite song.

Phonogram: The Singles Club

So, at the end, we get the two pages that really cemented Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matthew Wilson as a superstar collaborative team. Gillen writes one hell of a monologue for Penny as she finally realizes that she can just enjoy truly dancing by herself and enjoying her songs for the sake of it instead of running after some boy, trying to salvage a friendship beyond saving, or arguing with some hipster DJ. McKelvie’s storytelling is sharp as he cuts between Penny dancing and the other characters of Singles Club observing her. She’s truly in her own little world for a moment. The background figures disappear and are replaced by pure white sound and musical notes from McKelvie and Wilson, whose colors are truly magical in the sequence. It captures the feeling of truly being enveloped in a song that it defines you for the next three or four minutes or maybe your whole life, and Gillen, McKelvie, and Wilson explore this theme in the final issue of Singles Club. (Come back in six weeks for that.)

Before wrapping up and putting some tunes on the ol’ faithful Bluetooth, I’d like to conclude by commenting on Penny’s last words and the final words of this issue, “I knew you’d understand” as she looks directly at the reader. Even though Penny is immature and quite annoying, anyone who loves music, pop or otherwise, can definitely relate to her need to get to the dance floor. Like this conversation is lovely, but the drop for “Dance Yrself Clean” by LCD Soundsystem is about to happen, and I need to be in the action when it goes off. In some cases, this is definitely impolite or socially unacceptable, but in the words of an artist who I won’t name, “At the end of the day, music is all we got.” Penny should definitely be nicer to her friends though and get to know people she has crushes on.