Inside Look: Phonogram 2 #1 - Part 2

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Phonogram scribe Kieron Gillen continues his commentary on the first issue of Phonogram 2: The Singles club. In this second part, he discusses pages six and four, as well as the B-Side pages.

Read part 1


This is probably the page which shows me trying to paint Penny in the best possible light most. She's just given money to her friend, Laura, and is now just explaining why she likes dancing so much. The important thing, at least for the story, is what she doesn't say. She does a fairly convincing explanation why she does what she does. But, for my purposes, she's missing one key point by talking about dancing as interaction. This is set up for the denouement. She's missing a small thing, but - for dancing – it's the most important thing.

I keep this to the eight-panel grid. We like grids on Phonogram, for metronomic reasons, and the eight panel is my preferred one. The nine-panel always seems somewhat artificial to me – that high and narrow thing, which just isn't how we see the world. The eight-wide panels are really natural for me, and I always had a terrible Stray-Bullets-invoked crush on them. I turn to the six-panel a few times – all of issue 4 is in the six panel, for example – but, really, the eight panel is my natural state. It's just really useful.

In this case, its width means there's plenty of room to follow two parallel strands. As well as Penny's explanation on the left, we have Laura's actions on the right. So as Penny guilelessly tries to explain herself, her apparent best-friend buys herself doubles with Penny's money, mocks her by not admitting the fact she's quoting Wilde and then covers up her crime by distracting Penny with the one thing which will always distract Penny – that is, a really great pop record.

In other words, while Penny is genuine, her friend is treacherous. It's a classic way to engender sympathy to a character with questionable traits – drop 'em in a world where everyone is even worse. Rather than going for the Dexter-effect – i.e. If I was a Serial Killer I'd Want To Be That Guy – I try and invoke a certain protectiveness through dramatic irony. We know that Penny is being backstabbed. It's funny, yes, but there's a lingering sense that she probably doesn't deserve this.

So we leave the page with Penny goofily spilling her drink to rush off to the dancefloor.  The next thing she does is go off and fills an empty dancefloor by dancing by herself: commitment and exuberance, putting what she's talked about into action. And, yes, this is mind-control manipulation of a crowd of people. Yes, it's functionally turning people into drones. But we know she doesn't mean anything by it. Her manipulation is the manipulation of sunshine – it just makes people good. Is that such a bad thing?

In most comics, yeah. But not in this one.


Penny/Laura interaction is also a place where I'm setting up the room for complexity in future issues. Go back a couple of pages to 4, as Penny's coming into the club. Watch what Laura is doing in every panel. What's she thinking? Why is she the way she is? We can't really know, but we can certainly speculate. I mean, what's that in Panel 2? It looks like open resentment to me. When Laura scenes come up in future issues – and most importantly in issue 5, were she's the lead – we're going to call back to these moments and understand.

One of the major ideas of The Singles Club is trying to build up this almost holographic image of a few hours in a club through the seven viewpoints. We're not going for something as crass as “And then you realise what really happened” but rather trying to say something about the complexity of subjective experience.

Oh – one final thing here: that final panel on 4. Compare the deliberate posture of Laura to the falling-over-herself excitement of Penny. Jamie's did a fantastic job on Laura making her the less-attractive-friend – not unattractive, but not the one anyone's going to be paid much attention to as long as she's with Penny. And while Penny could be vain, she's not the one who's posing.

I love her little clenched fists here. Bless Penny. She's a sweetie. See – it even works on me.

Let's talk about the B-sides: Here's the first page of both.


You can see, they're both coming from different places. Laurenn McCubbin's doing a Phonogram-take at a horror story. Hell, it's even the perennial opening – an Igor-like figure, the first series hermit Indie Dave, at a door with a lamp on a rainy night. Lightning Flash! Except we've reversed the cliché, and have the person that's come a-knocking be the monstrous figure. Conversely, Marc stars two new characters – Seth Bingo and the Silent Girl, the DJs of The Singles Club – and is clearly a comedy strip. Even if the vivid-cartooning didn't give it away, we're appropriating the talking-heads set up of the archetypal newspaper strip for most of the page.

While in the main comic we see Seth Bingo and the Silent Girl's interaction through the eyes of Penny - who views them as a particularly intimidating judgmental threat – here we see their internal interaction. One reviewer of the series has compared the pair to Wallace and Gromit, which – y'know – I can totally see, in a "Oh no! It's The Wrong Records, Gromit!” way. And, in their way, both Seth and Wallace are big fans of cheese.

Laurenn's story – which grew from an observation she gave me, and the much-quoted “emosogynist” later in the story is hers – is actually a lot closer in tone to the original series of Phonogram than the main SINGLES CLUB story. And obviously Marc's story is miles away from either. That's kind of the idea. After the first series, we were aware that people thought of Phonogram as a britpop-hellblazer. Which is fine – Phonogram: Rue Britannia totally was a Britpop-Hellblazer (with so many knobs on it ended up looking like it was covered in genital warts).

But we knew that's not what we wanted to do with the comic – it was about music and magic. So by every issue of this new series including multiple radically different interpretations of the same theme, we're detonating that expectation. Or, at least, reducing our sales figures to rubble.

We also always wanted to be in Deadline and since that's long dead, we figured making a mini-Deadline of our own. And there's also an almost curator-esque element to it. Jamie came into comics as an adult via a girlfriend's copies of Sandman. Just by reading it, and all the enormously different styles herein, he was exposed to all sorts of comic art.

At the end of that run, he understood that comics could be anything. In our own minor way, we like creating a forum where photo-realists and cartoonists and trad-action and painters and manga artists can all share a stage. Because if Phonogram is about all the potential of music, the best way to show that was to tap the potential of comics. It gives the whole thing a celebratory flavour, if you see what I mean.

Well, that's part of it. Mainly it's just fun to bully all our friends and peers into doing a comic with us. We are bad people.

Phonogram: The Singles club #1 is on sale now from Image Comics.


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