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Review: Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #4

PhonogramIG_04-1_362_557_s_c1I was so blown away and overwhelmed by another outstanding issue that I made a fan mix. I’m ecstatic for the return of Laura Heaven Black and Lloyd Mr Logos, two of the best characters from The Singles Club— the second volume of Phonogram. This issue’s dynamic fight scenes (the most fighty- fight scenes of any Phonogram comic) and power ranking graphics heavily reference Scott Pilgrim. Now, I’m only familiar with the Scott Pilgrim movie and haven’t read the graphic novel but I got along swimmingly reading this. However, I cannot imagine what it would be like to read this comic if you haven’t read Phonogram: The Singles Club. Drop everything. Go read it. Laura and Lloyd are two of the best characters in that collection and I am so thankful we got to revisit them here.

We get to know Lloyd even better through this issue. Lloyd with his Mod revival suit and “how the fuck do I deal with having kinky hair when the subcultures I identify with are all about straight hair?!” hair. I know. It’s really fucking hard. His combination of obsessive music research and conceptual creativity butts up against his self-loathing, turning him in to a wonderful, miserable monster that I’m 95% sure I’d get along with because we like enough of the same bands.

So while I’m not so quietly working away on my next great Phonogram magnum opus (you’ve read my first one, right) I couldn’t let this issue pass without some mention of my love.
I made a fan mix for Lloyd on Spotify

I don’t have as much of a handle on what music Laura likes other then The Long Blondes first album. I don’t really speak 90s-00s Brit-Pop. I do speak Mod, Mod Revival and associated genres. So here’s a thing I made for Lloyd who truly loves and understands Dexy’s Midnight Runners. Unfortunately, the utterly essential “How Does it Feel To Feel” by 60s mod gods The Creation is not on Spotify. But it is what Lloyd would be hearing while Laura dances. Patti Smith’s “Ask the Angels” takes its place in the playlist for channeling the right feeling but with a totally different sound.

So there you have it.
I worked hard on this fan mix. Listen to it. It is my review.

Oh and the first back-up story “I Hate Myself” with art by Julia Scheele is the best back-up yet and a mini-masterpiece.

Story: Kieron Gillen Art: Jamie McKelvie Colors: Matthew Wilson Letters: Clayton Cowles
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review, and a copy was purchased (because it’s that good).

On Phonogram and Breaking Up with Bands


We need to talk about how Emily/Claire handles her depression in Phongram: The Immaterial Girl. It is central to the whole story. Her first solution was to revel in it– black is what she wears on the outside because black is how she feels on the inside (that joke is in the actual comic, right?)  She even had a dependence on self-harm. Her later solution was to excise depression from her body– by making the deal with The King Behind the Screen to take away the vulnerable, sad part of her personality. That choice has come back to haunt her. Ok, worse, it’s come back to destroy her.

In issue 3 she uses her grimoire/fanzine to travel back in time to confront Emily and Claire debate each otherher pre-teen self. There, we finally get the debate between both halves of the character’s personality over which has the best interest of her early pubescent self at heart. Each of her halves ask her pre-teen self: would you rather have success or integrity? Brilliance or Decadence? Decadence or Tasteful Decadence? What does barely pubescent Claire decide? She blows the question out of the door. She will be something better.
On the one hand depression absolutely gets in the way of living your life the way you’d like to. It’s not glamorous. On the other hand, completely compartmentalizing yourself is generally not regarded as a healthy approach. But on the third hand– and this is my favorite hand– do we even really believe in an “authentic self” anymore? If there is no authentic self then why not get rid of the parts of yourself that aren’t serving you well.

Perhaps, Emily’s real problem is that she’s decided to be mean. Perhaps compartmentalizing her depression away isn’t actually the problem at all.

You could argue that if she doesn’t love herself (herself which includes her depression) how could she love anyone else. But who’s to say that darkness is the important part of her personality? Aren’t her wit and her enthusiasms a more important part of her personality? She can be witty and have impeccable taste in indie music while still being a good friend. She just chooses not to and that’s the problem.

But as I said in my last review, I can’t talk about Phonogram without talking about my personal relationship to music because that’s what the comic is about.

Anyway, this scene above, of Emily/Claire ending her friendship with Indie Dave, and The Immaterial Girl #3 in general, reminds me of when I stopped listening to Leonard Cohen going in to my senior year of college. His music made me sad. I had too many sad associations with his songs. I also stopped listening to The Smiths not long after that. Before that The Smiths had been VERY important to me.

The first time I played The Smiths again in years and years was when I was first started dating my husband. We spent an inordinate amount of time teaching each other our music. Still do. I hadn’t played The Smiths in a lifetime but it was my responsibility to his cultural education in the ways of goth and indie that he get to hear them. So I put on the tape (yes, tape) and I sang along. And to quote Lou Reed “it was aaaalright.”

Today, on those rare occasions when I’m not pushing for full cock-rock-bombast I’ll sing a few songs by The Smiths songs at karaoke. I’m really good at them and it doesn’t make me sad anymore. It makes other people happy because I’m A. good and B. they remember being a teenager. But I still don’t listen to Leonard Cohen. In both cases I made the right choice. It didn’t require any surgery though. Just pruning my music collection. And spending less time with depressing people and more time with people that make me happy.

Anyway I’ll be back with a new essay about Phonogram probably right around when it concludes. Here’s my earlier piece covering issue 1 and 2 with nods to the earlier series. I promise that essay is waaay less introspective and way more informative.

PS: I’m that jerk who doesn’t like Total Eclipse of the Heart. Except when it’s a joke in The Mighty Boosh. I love that bit. But I won’t begrudge you playing it. I know that I’m the one that’s wrong.

(Oh, hey, it’s Spiral from X-Men! Because I made jokes about having three hands! Also Spiral is the best!)

Also, I was googling for a definition of “Authentic Self” to link to for those unfamiliar with psychology. Don’t google it. The internet is dark and full of new wave horrors. Just visit Spiral’s Body Shoppe. What could possssibly go wrong?


Phonogram the Immaterial Girl: Ready to Start a Coven About It

PHONOGRAM THE IMMATERIAL GIRL #1Everyone who loves music needs to buy Phonogram. Even if the music you love isn’t Brit Pop. Even if it’s not pop. Even if everyone hates the music you love.

Remember being a little kid and your first time falling in love with music that was truly your own, rather than just listening to whatever your parents were playing? It is a formative moment in shaping your identity. You probably wrote in your journal something like “music is magic!” and maybe you drew ornate hearts and stars around it.

No? I doubt that Kid Elana was the only one, especially when the title page of this very comic, by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie also says “Music is magic.”

That’s the central conceit of Phonogram: that music actually IS magic. Phonomancers use music to do powerful magic that shapes their lives and sometimes shapes reality beyond them. They certainly use phonomancy to shape the cultural consensus around music.

Gillen and McKelvie are masters at building fantastical metaphors for growing up and developing your sense of self. Their metaphors feel more real than any more “realistic” or literal narrative could ever be.

The new (and sadly final) story arc in this episodic series focuses on Emily Aster and how the too cool to be kind, all angles and snark, queen bee of the London coven got that way. Earlier in the series we’d seen that Emily used to be Claire –vulnerable, depressive and listening to The Smiths. Who ever went through a phase like that? (Cough, a lot of us, cough). Claire used magic to excise away the soft, sad, part of her personality emerging as Emily Aster a self-described “obsidian swan with wings of flame”. In issue 1 of The Immaterial Girl we learn that she did this by making a deal with “The King Behind the Screen”, a deity made of TV static and a Michael Jackson glove. With this deal she exiled her depressed teenage psyche to the netherverse beyond the mirror/monitor.

The self-invented Emily Aster that emerged from the deal didn’t just listening to pop music (gasp!) but rigorously espouses the doctrine of poptimism while (ironically enough) mercilessly mocking people who don’t get with her program. Meanwhile, Claire, her old goth self is coming back to haunt her. By making a “full faustian” deal with the devil Emily/Claire made herself her own worst enemy.

phonogram scan Emily is grabbedIssue 1 ended with Claire, her sad old self, dragging Emily through the screen of her TV into a-ha’s “Take On Me” video . Mirrors or screens are used to signify the division between this plane and the other-worldly going back to Lewis Carroll and to Surrealists like Jean Cocteau. Phonogram packs layers upon layers and references galore, but if you don’t catch some each issue ends with a thoughtful glossary. You can look up any band in the series on Spotify if you choose. Not required. But it’s really part of the fun.

In issue #2 Claire is finally out in the real world and trying to destroy the life Emily invented for herself. Meanwhile Emily is still trapped in the dark world behind the video screen. She’s chased by the iconic a-ha video’s animated pencil sketched thugs. She eludes them only to be slowly consumed by the tuxedoed dance corps[e] of Madonna’s “Material Girl,” some wearing the faces of her friends. Interestingly both Claire and Emily like Madonna. 80’s Madonna is one of music’s great unifiers. She’s a baseline consensus of quality music even if you (like me) don’t care for the lesser pop she inspired.

McKelvie’s art directly references the 80’s music videos that Claire/Emily fell in love with before she made herself who she is today. The cover of issue 1 is an homage to the work of 80’s pop artist Nagel. Nagel is famous for his art deco inspired, utterly flat graphic art of beautiful black-haired women often with cold or distant expressions. Expressions like Emily’s. You probably recognize Nagel’s art from the cover of Duran Duran’s album Rio.

McKelvie’s art, especially his clean line work and graphic faces already bares strong similarity to Nagel’s style so this explicit homage means something more. There’s an overall flatness to both Nagel and McKelvie’s style that acts symbolically here. Emily is a mask. Becoming a two-dimensional person was a choice she made to reduce the pain of being imperfect and misunderstood. But you know what else would help ease that pain? The togetherness of a shared musical experience. Fandom. That’s why we are teen goths together, not teen goths alone.

Gillen has said that Phonogram IS music criticism. As such it’s hard for comics critics like me, to write about Phonogram without talking about their own personal relationship and history with music.

Whenever I write a review in which I include my personal stories I get self-conscious about whether or not readers are actually going read them or just bail on me before reading the full review.

But I realize now that it is impossible to write about Phonogram without talking about one’s personal relationship to music.

Phonogram is about our personal relationship to music. You really can’t talk about Phonogram without talking about yourself.

And I think that is one of the strengths of the book. I think it’s why we love it so much. That and the beautiful art.

In fact, Phonogram may be causing some actual magic in real life. Honest to god this happened:

I was walking down the street explaining the series to my Husband. I suddenly heard a bell tolling a few times. I figured it was the church near by. But then a familiar, crunchy guitar riff began “dunuh dunuh duuuuh” and I asked “is someone playing For Whom the Bell Tolls?” Ask not For Whom the Bell Tolls, because it tolls from my iPhone. It had spontaneously started playing the 3rd track off Metallica’s 2nd best album, Ride the Lighting. It was as if the song was conjured by the “God of Thunder” and rock and rolllll to remind me that what I listen to is as much a part of the story as what is contained in the pages of Phonogram.

Characters within the text debating what music is good, what music is relevant, and where music should be going is a constant in the series. Even though David Kohl, ends Rue Britannia telling the next generation it’s ok to like what they like, even if they like The Libertines. The conversation never ends with that.

“Being an indie kid is a little like Catholicism. You never quite get over it” said David Kohl. It’s true. Even if the first music you fell in love with never called itself indie.

Claire probably scoffs at mainstream taste. Emily scoffs at indie. I’m not sure if Claire/Emily’s Rockist vs Poptimist debate is a legitimate intellectual argument these days but perhaps the future holds a reconciliation of both instincts. Throughout the series characters reconcile the stories they tell themselves about the music they enjoy with the reality of the music they do enjoy — which doesn’t always match their professed philosophy or what they want to be seen as loving. I’m a leftist but most of my musical taste is pale, male, belligerent and before my time. I’m all off-message. So I understand their struggle.

phonogram scan seth bingo punchIt is so hard to break from the “us vs them” attitude of pop cultural affiliations, but it’s an important part of growing up (which is something else this series is about). In The Immaterial Girl #1 we go back in time to see The Myth, their coven leader (a character I really enjoy) lead their very first coven meeting. He preaches being accepting of other people’s taste and accepting that it’s ok to love the music that speaks to you whether it is mainstream, hip or obscure. He says he tried to hate The White Stripes but he couldn’t. If it makes you feel magic it’s good.

Dear DJ Seth Bingo: after reading issue #1 I tried listening to the Sugababes. I found them dull even for Top 40’s, but then I’m not the audience. Don’t try to punch me like I’m Indie Dave. I’m not Indie Dave. I just listened to Black Sabbath. They wrote some of the catchiest, heaviest hooks of all time and so if music is magic I’m pretty sure I can take you out with my right hook (in a drop C# tuning).

PS: The backup stories in each issue featuring other artists make Phonogram feel like a fanzine in all the best ways. The story about Mr. Logos in the back of issue 1 just kills me. I’ll never understand why he gets stuck on a Taylor Swift song but I understand the concept of getting caught in a “curse song”. I’ve been there.

PPS: I totally respect that we can’t listen to Sabbath at your weekly dance party. The “only songs with girl singers allowed” rule you enforce is pretty radical. I’ll try it. I will. It’s how to stay young.

Story: Kieron Gillen Art: Jamie McKelvie
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy it. Buy the whole damn series.

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #1

PhonogramIG01_CoverEveryone who loves music needs to buy Phonogram. Even if the music you love isn’t Brit Pop.

The central conceit of Phonogram is that music actually IS magic. Phonomancers use music to do powerful magic that shapes their lives and sometimes shapes reality beyond them. The new and final story arc in this episodic series tells the story of Emily Aster and how the too cool to be kind, all angles and snark queen bee of the local coven got that way. Her past is now literally catching up with her.

The series began in 2006 and was the first major collaboration between Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, the team behind beloved series The Young Avengers and The Wicked + The Divine. The first two volumes of Phonogram are among the most emotionally resonant and beautiful to behold comics I own. You should go and get them right now.

The first issue of volume 3 is coming out on Wednesday and I while it benefits from your reading the earlier two books I don’t think you’d be completely lost starting from here if you absolutely need to.

The cover harks back to the work of 80’s pop artist Nagel, famous for his art deco inspired, utterly flat graphic art of sexy black haired women often with cold or distant expressions. You probably recognize his art from the cover of Duran Duran’s album Rio.

McKelvie’s art bares similarity to Nagel’s style already so the reference has been there all along. For the first time the series also has two back-up shorts from guest artists. In the first issue they are Sarah Gordon and then Clayton Cowles. It’s a real treat to see additional artists creating comics in the Phonogram world.

It’s a world I’d like to spend more time in. I’ll have an essay taking a deeper look at the series coming out soon.

Story: Kieron Gillen Art: Jamie McKelvie Color: Clayton Cowles
Additional Art: Sarah Gordon and Clayton Cowles
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation Buy!

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Phonogram’s return is music to readers’ ears

Writer Kieron Gillen, artist Jamie McKelvie, and colorist Matt Wilson, return to Phonogram to finish what they started with Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #1.

Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl is the story of Emily Aster, who sold half her personality for the power to rule a coven of phonomancers. It’s worked for nearly a decade. Clearly nothing could go wrong now, and the girl behind the screen won’t come back for what’s been taken from her. In a world where Music is Magic, a song can save or ruin your life. In Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl we discover what a video can do. And you will never listen to A-ha‘s “Take On Me” in the same way ever again.

Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #1 (Diamond Code: JUN150532) will be available on Wednesday, August 12th. The final order cutoff for retailers is Monday, July 20th.


Image Expo 2015

image expoImage Comics had a banner year in 2014, launching numerous high-profile, well received, projects from some of the industry’s top creators. Today’s Image Expo was not just a look back at was, but what will be coming, as the publisher attempts to take its momentum and capture even more of the market share.

General Announcements:

  • The publisher has introduced $9.99 Volume Ones that create an easy and cheap access point for those interested in exploring any of these series
  • Image Has been awarded the Diamond Comics’ Publisher of the Year Gem Award for the second year in a row
  • Image finished the year with a double-digit market share
  • Image has announced a $2.99 price point
  • They reported a double digit year-to-year growth from 2013
  • Image had a 16.48% market share for graphic novels in the book market in 2014

New series:

  • Savior  asks what if the most dangerous man on Earth was also the one trying to do the most good? Announced by Todd McFarlane, by Brian Holguin.
  • Paul Jenkins has been announced as the new writer for Spawn.
  • James Robninson and Phillip Tan announce a new sci-fi series where humans go to war with God called Heaven.
  • Starve is announced by Brian Wood, Danijel Zezelj, and Dave Stewart
  • Black Road is announced by Brian Wood and Gary Brown.
  • 8House is mentioned, it’s created by Brandon Graham with art by Marion Churchland, Emma Rios, Hwei Lim and more. This series has been mentioned at previous events.
  • Brandon Graham announces Island, a new comics magazine.
  • Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios’ series Pretty Deadly will return with a second arc set during World War I.
  • Emi Lenox‘s travelogue graphic novel set in Japan Tadaima was announced.
  • Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire will bring us A.D. After Death.
  • Jeff Lemire also has Plutona with Emi Lenox and Jordie Bellaire about a group of kids who find a dead super hero in the woods.
  • We Stand on Guard by Brian K. Vaughan and Scott Skrooce has “giant fucking robots”
  • Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda bring us Monstrous
  • Brian Buccellato and Tony Infante team up for Son of the Devil
  • Eric Canete and Jon Tsuei announce Run Love Kill
  • Kieron Gillen, and David LaFuente are blessing us with The Ludocrats
  • No Mercy by Alex DeCampi, Carla McNeil, and Jenn Manley Lee is announced
  • Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie‘s The Wicked + The Divine will have guest artists focusing on individual gods.
  • Chip Zdarsky and Kagan McLeod have Kaptara coming, which he calls a “gay Saga,” a sci-fi comedy series where they can do “whatever (they) want”
  • Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie will bring us Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl which will be a final statement to those characters
  • Darwyn Cooke returns to Image with Revengeance
  • Skottie Young‘s I Hate Fairyland has been announced
  • Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang will bring us Paper Girls where four 12-year-old girls experience something very strange the day after Halloween

We’ll provide more information as it is released.

Graphic Policy Radio with Guest Kieron Gillen this Tuesday at 5PM!

Wicked+Divine01_CoverAThis Tuesday at 5 PM ET, join us for a very special LIVE episode of Graphic Policy Radio with guest Kieron Gillen. Gillen got his start writing for numerous publications and was the founder of the PC Gaming site Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Now Gillen writes some of the most iconic characters out there which are socially astute, funny, and full of #feels as his definitive iteration of Kid Loki might say.

Kieron’s work in comics is varied and impressive, from Phonogram to Three, X-Men, Thor, Iron Man, Journey Into Mystery, Young Avengers, his latest creator owned series The Wicked + The Divine, and so much more.

We’ll be talking to Kieron, about a lot of these series, and more! We want to hear your questions, Tweet them to us @graphicpolicy.

Join us, and listen in live!

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