Wednesday March 08th 2006, 6:29 am
Filed under: Phonogram: Rue Britannia

[I wrote this on my workblog when Image confirmed to sort of officially announce it. It’s a good ground-level entry into Phonogram.]

Okay. This one’s been squatting in my hindbrain for so long that I’ve accumulated a good few dozen ways to introduce people to it. Ask me about it and you’ll probably notices a half-second freeze as my brain searches through the various options to decide which is bestin this situation.

And now when it comes to actually introducing it in a public “I can properly talk about this now” kind of way, it’s even more so. So much to say, so little space to say it in.

Let’s try my own wonky take on pyramid style, eh?

Jamie “Long Hot Summer/Suburban Glamour” McKelvie
and I are doing a six part mini-series for Image comics, coming out in 2006. It’s called PHONOGRAM: RUE BRITANNIA. It looks like this:

Click through to see to see a larger image, to admire the carefully wrought architectural image of Jamie and the overwrought words of yours truly.

Phonogram is my first real comic and an awkward little fuck of a book to describe. Essentially, in high-concept speak which doesn’t really get most of its point, it’s “Hellblazer meets Blue Monday”. That is, a modern dark-fantasy comic, focused around a spiteful social-group of pop-obsessives.

As high-concepts go, it covers an acceptable fraction, but misses a lot. Phonogram is, to be immodest for a second, nothing if not idea-dense. It’s Jamie and me over-reaching terribly, which as far as we’re concerned is the only way to do this. Most comics by new creators are failures. At the absolute worst, even if McKelvie fails to get the postured pop-stylings and I fail to make the ideas cohere into narrative, it’ll be aninteresting failure. That’ll do for us.

Conversely, if it all works…

Put it like this. Walking home from the station yesterday, I was suddenly crippled with anxiety when a speeding car swerved slightly towards the pavement. Normally, I’m at peace with dying. Life’s been interesting. Sure, there’s been stuff I’ll like to do, but if this thirty years is all I’m going to get, I’m fine. However last night, it was different as big letters loomed up inside my head “I can’t die: I HAVE TO FINISH PHONOGRAM”. Thanks to this, I’m living in fear.

Okay – let’s quote from the overview section of my pitch:
“Music is Magic.

You know this already. You’ve known this from the first time a record sent a divine shiver down your spine or when a band changed the way you dressed forever. How does something that’s just noises arranged in sequence do that? No-one knows. It’s just… magic.

Everyone knows that. It’s just that some realise that it’s more than metaphor.“

The people in question are the Phonomancers, these urban-pop-obssessive magicians who channel and exploit this magic to achieve their desires. The DJ parasitizing from his retro-club’s crowd to achieve immortality. The girl rewriting her personality with a mix-tape. The boy selling out what a Goddess trapped in plastic told him to get an easy lay. And so on, through memory kingdoms, Faustian pop-pacts and a general avalanche of concepts.

This six issue series is subtitled “Rue Britannia”. While it stands alone, I’d like to return to the world and cast if it’s vaguely successful. The plot centres around one David Kohl (that’s him in the panel) trying to keep hold of his memories and identity as reality is rewritten by an opposing phonomancer cabal. Cue misadventures as he rushes from contact to contact, trying find a solution before being drawn to a final, desperate encounter beneath Primrose Hill.

It gets messy.

Pop music is magic: Phonogram

That’s all the text. The subtext of Phonogram is that it’s all real. The magic isn’t just posture, but an expression of my theories of how Pop music works. The metaphysics of its world are what I believe. Another standard way of me describing Phonogram is “Imagine Promethea if Moore cared more about the yeah-yeah-yeahs in Martha Reeves and the Vandella’s “Heatwave” than the deified sock-puppet he keeps in the bathroom”. It’strue . It’s music-journalism by other means, with its elements constructed not just because they look good or seem cool to us – which they do – but because they describethis is what music does to people.

It’s this which makes the whole thing the hardest thing I’ve ever written. If I was just doing it as entertainment, easy. If I was just doing it as theory, likewise. But it’s both, andhas to be both or it’s worthless. To express the magic of music, it has to be magic in and of itself – and that means the emotional connection of art. While people who like a dark-fantasy story will enjoy even if they don’t empathise or understand the buried elements, those who’lllove it are those who once put on a record and found themselves altered, forever.

And that’s what Phonogram is. It’s my love letter to music. It’s an honest letter – I’ve been shacked up with her for long enough to know that she’s a bitch with a cruel tongue and will happily destroy people on a whim – but it’s still hopelessly in love with her. Songs have made me kinder, crueller, smarter, dumber, funnier, happier, sadder, better and worse, and Phonogram is me and McKelvie telling you all about it.

Enough hyperbole.

For now, anyway – at least seven months until release means you can expect a lot more in this timbre, about various aspects. Next “thing” to expect to see if one of the B-side pieces. Little one-page narrative pieces which introduce one of the cast in a tiny narrative vignette inspired by a pop song. Written most of them already, and they should hopefully showcase the variety of tones in Phonogram.

I’m terribly excited by this and more than a little scared. You may be able to tell.

14 Comments so far
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I’m not sure if this is something I could get into, but the art is pretty.

I think I’ll see how it goes first, though, so I can develop a better opinion.

Comment by Philip 03.08.06 @ 11:56 am

Wow. This is basically how i believe the world works. Thanks for this.

Comment by Christian B 03.09.06 @ 6:19 pm

I really fancied finding something to read on the internet this evening, I’ve gone via rllmukforum, thetriforce and kierongillen.com to here. And what a wonderful journey it is, this is a fascinating project and it’s great to see it embarked upon not as a whim or a piece of entertainment but as something that you feel MUST be done and pushed to the appropriate level. Bookmarked.

Comment by Cheeko 04.20.06 @ 3:34 pm

You’re my Guitar Hero, Cheeko.


Comment by kieron.gillen 04.22.06 @ 9:30 am

Looks cool - I got a postcard handed to me at Bristol at the weekend and it looks great.

I may have to make sure my local shop orders this. Since it’s Travelling Man in Bristol I will expect that they’re ordering a few anyway…

Comment by Alan MacLean 05.17.06 @ 5:02 am

Could you be slightly less tangentially descriptive in your above explanation, and maybe a little more directly theoretical / concrete as to what questions have driven your work? I suppose I should just read Phonogram, but I’m worried that it might assume too much of its reader as does the explanation above.

Comment by Obiter 08.14.06 @ 11:46 am

Ah no worries, one of the reviews explained things pretty well.

Comment by Obiter 08.14.06 @ 11:53 am

Hi Obiter

God bless reviewers.

I’d also point you at some of the interviews. Pretty much everyone has asked us that, and we’ve tried to be as transparent as possible.


Comment by kieron.gillen 08.14.06 @ 12:05 pm

Looks groovy! only a few more hours..

Comment by Sean Gallagher 08.15.06 @ 7:44 pm

Your opening to issue 1# was great, set the tone and introduced nick kohl perfectly. comparisons to constantine, albeit younger & hornier, are warranted. Great read, i’ll be watching with interest.

Kudos for all :D

Comment by Matt Nugent 10.14.06 @ 11:24 pm

Apologies on previous post, realised i mixed up the names about ten seconds after i submited it :S

Comment by Matt Nugent 10.14.06 @ 11:29 pm

No worries. If I was going to go around being annoyed about Typos, it would be the absolute height of Hypocracy.

I’m just glad you dug it.


Comment by Kieron Gillen 10.15.06 @ 4:01 am


I like the description of Phonogram as Hellblazer meets Blue Monday. However, I do think that the characters of Blue Monday are much more likeable even when they are being vicious to one another. It some sense the description of Phonogram as Hellblazer reminds me of the issue #7 of Planetary where Warren Ellis morphs his John Constantine/Jack Carter into Spider Jerusalem/Dr. Hunter S Thompson. The eighties are over, time to become something else in the 90’s. That someone else could be a spin doctor, a gonzo journalist, black bloc anti capitalist, zine writer publisher, webdesigner, or appropriately for this work, a Phonomancer.

Anyways, I just got #3 and enjoyed it and the commentaries. At the end of this chapter, when David enters the club, the stenciled shirt caught my eye and I didn’t know why. Then I did a search on the MSP and had an AHA! moment when I located a picture of Richey and Nicky with oddly stenciled shirts. Also, I enjoy your writings on the history and culture of Britpop. I have become interested in Brit pop lately (I always find things ten years late, I should take Mark Twain’s advice and move to Cincinnati so I will be ahead of the game) with my evolving interest in vintage scooters. Many of the folks in the scooter scene are into Britpop so I hear Parklife often spinning at Scooter Rallies.

One other thing that I was wondering about. You mentioned that Britpop are modernists, is the clean and sparse style of your
drawings designed to evoke that ethos?

Looking forward to the next issues. And no I don’t read two pages and put it on the shelf.


P.S. So, is Indie Boy supposed to be Richey?

Comment by charles 11.14.06 @ 8:54 pm

Charles: I don’t normally comment on speculation, but I’ll say that Indie Dave is definitely not Richey. I have other things to say about Richey.

And, yes, the look of the whole comic was meant to be very Britpop. Obviously, with McKelvie’s style it could never be anything *but* like that, but it’s something we’re trying to do. When we do magic, we try and make it look… well, *sharp*.


Comment by Kieron Gillen 11.16.06 @ 2:49 pm

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