Phonogram #4


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Phonogram #4


  • Words: Kieron Gillen
  • Art: Jamie McKelvie
  • Inks: Jamie McKelvie
  • Colors: N/A
  • Story Title: Murder Park
  • Publisher: Image Comics
  • Price: $2.99
  • Release Date: Jan 10, 2007

Nothing happens. That is the summation of Phonogram #4. I will now, in the spirit of the series, expound upon this point for 800+ words.

Writer Kieron Gillen, verbatim, in his latest postscript, calls this issue a "glorified dream sequence," and indeed it is. Admittedly, he referred to the first draft of this issue as such, but sadly, it fits the bill for this supposedly corrected version, too. If you aren’t highly into Britpop, or a fanatical true believer in music as a near-mythical force of cultural development drive, this will literally be an issue you’ll want to skip. Seriously – if you must, come back for Phonogram #5, but skip this. Believe it or not, you won’t miss a thing – not a single thing.

Phonogram #1 showed a fair level of promise; most of its plot, calculatedly, wasn’t yet accessible by its end, not even to those in the Britpop-reference-know, not even to those who didn’t need to refer to the glossary in its back. The characters, for all their boasting of being an a-hole-this and horrible-person-that, weren’t much more than blank-slate ciphers, who self-proclaimed their complexity and darkness, but held little of either (hmmm…much like Britpop groupies). Now at issue #4 – with only two issues to go – very, very little has occurred to alter these deficiencies. Four issues have passed, two plot developments have occurred: our protagonist has been charged with a mission by a goddess (issue #1), and he now, in this issue #4, looks in the very first place to fulfill said mission. Even worse, the aforementioned small dollops of event are completely indecipherable to a Britpop layman (me), though there are one-panel, quick, here’s-what-happened lines to help us out, though how this makes for a decent comic I can’t say (and therefore won’t).

Gillen claims there are three tiers to Phonogram’s structure – the story of antihero David Kohl, the autobiography of writer Kieron Gillen, and the historical chronicle of Britpop’s rise and fall – though the most important, he claims, is the story, the fiction, the tale of modern fantasy that houses the others. Sadly, this is the least cared for of the "tiers," and emphatically the least touched upon. The entirety of the comic is played out under the veneer of the "story" but all that, in fact, are played with, are the elements of the other two tiers.

To say that the fantastical story element of Phonogram (its plot) is the most important facet – or that it even should be – is like claiming a song being about a girl or about freedom or about desire is more important than the music or lyrics themselves. Gillen obviously has picked up his poetic license and sense of structure from music, with dialogue and pacing both as limited and impacting as lyrics ever are…only there’s no audio. Phonogram is a song without sound, like reading a set of lyrics without ever having heard the tune in which to place the words within – it reads more like bad poetry without purpose or place. The autobiography is there; the history is there; the story, in surface form, yes, is there; none of them are gelled; none of them are combined, merely placed one atop the other, as though records piled, layered onto a player, where only one can in fact be played at any time. The others sit uselessly, perhaps even, often, detrimentally beneath. Their existence, their construction as a stack rather than a single soundtrack, off-balances and misshapes even the record that does play, offering up, at best, an awkward, haphazard jumble of a jingle.

The art by Jamie McKelvie is polished and smooth; he’s an imminently professional artisan, though his style is somewhat misleading and disconcerting when paired with Gillen’s script. McKelvie’s aesthetic is one of indelibly clean, easily accessible, and straight-forward execution, while the actual story of Phonogram is a hodgepodge of whirlwind factoids and references and inexplicable event. It’s pretty to look at, simple to follow, and yet somehow it’s never quite clear what’s going on. Additionally (though this may have been asked for by the writer) every character appears purposelessly tough or sinister or sly, and then that’s about the gamut of expression.

I wanted to like Phonogram, I wanted to like it a lot; I don’t like Phonogram, I don’t like it at all. It’s apparently a lot of fans’ cup of tea, and I definitely enjoy that the creators have attempted such an oddity in the mainstream comic book market. I believe it to be an overall failed experiment, but a worthwhile one nonetheless. Gillen may develop into a skilled scripter, though currently he’s merely ambitious without the force to grasp and properly manipulate all the non-standard elements he ideally wishes to toss together and call a salad and serve as if something people actually want to eat. He may have such a work, in the future, worth the risk of putting it in one’s mouth and choking it down, but sadly, Phonogram isn’t it.

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