I’m suffering from a hangover.
A hangover induced by Phonogram – it’s actually a comic, and not the latest alcoholic beverage with an overly generous marketing budget. But a hangover is what I’ve got. My head hurts. My body hurts, and worst of all my heart hurts.
Phonogram I love you, but you’re bringing me down. (See – I can do it too, this quoting from songs thing that is at the same time pithy and affecting. This one’s LCD Soundsystem, ‘New York I Love You’)
But Phonogram. It’s the kind of thing that makes you want to simultaneously share it with the whole fucking world and keep it entirely to your self. It’s the kind of personal thing that touches you in a frankly embarrassing way, embarrassing as it reaches deep down into the bottom of that well of shame and worry and fear and brings it to the surface and swishes it around in a big old mess. A beautiful mess, but a mess, nonetheless.
It’s the kind of thing that provokes responses like this one – why the fuck am I even writing this? No one who reads this is going to learn anything actually about Phonogram except on a tenuously connected emotive level. But respond I must – I almost have no say in the matter.
So what do I say about Phonogram, as I sit here and defer eating to write this? I say that it’s Kieron Gillen’s best work (that I’ve read) and his voice reaches out from behind every page. His tone (if that’s even the right word?) is almost… didactic. Here’s your favourite big brother delivering some sage advice straight into your fucking chest.
What the fuck is this, my eyes got misty as I wrote that last sentence. Shit, I’ve never even met the dude and it’s embarrassing me that I feel about it; that I feel he’s speaking right at me.
Because I see a lot of ‘me’ in these pages. Not ‘me’ in the same way that I’m someone with the name ‘Ben Abraham’ – there’s no connection to that. And not ‘me’ in the sense that any of it was ever written ‘about’ me, or for me. I don’t know who it was written for, if it was written for anyone.
But me. I’m right there. In the page with David Kohl (who is clearly a case of Gillen writing semi-autobiographically or my last name isn’t Abraham) and with Laura Heaven, and Seth (oh fuck me, Seth! God damn – who like me doesn’t want to be Seth?) and Kid-with-Knife, and yes, even Penny (though I fucking loathe Penny and everything she stands for, naturally) and Lloyd (Ah, too close to home! Let’s not talk about Lloyd – that would be real shame right there). These are like real people.
And it’s beautiful that it’s probably the end and there’ll never be more Phonogram (barring some actual magic happening) because it… adds to the poignancy in that kind of bullshit-saccharine-romantic kind of way that I’m so fond of. That kind of faux-exclusivity that appeals to people like me (again, it’s that do-I-want-to-evangelise-this-goddamn-amazing-work-or-keep-it-secret).
I just remembered; when I was composing this thing in my head earlier I was going to open with a line about the utter shock of the completely new. Phonogram is shocking in its newness, but at the same time you recognise that it’s not like the metaphor of ‘music as magic’ hasn’t been made before (I have a Bachelor’s Degree in music; I know right? I keep forgetting) but it’s never, ever been taken to such an extreme. Nor such an attractive extreme, and attractive it really is. Can I impress that point? Everything about it I found attractive. Even, no, especially the rule at the Singles Club about ‘No Boy Singers’ – fucking hell! For an awkwardly-trying-my-best-to-be-feminist smart guy like myself that’s fucking catnip right there.
Carrying on the from the point that it’s attractive, I’ll admit that the initial appeal for me was Gillen’s input (and I only got put onto it because Fraser Allison recc’d it, so thanks for that, I guess) but the pictures are also very attractive. I’ve never been a comics appreciator before (and still probably aren’t) but I appreciate just about everything that’s gone into this series. When I read Watchmen (yes, blasphemously only after post- the Zach Snyder adaption) I was annoyed by what I felt was heavy-handed foreshadowing. But that was probably unfair of me since I already knew how it ended by virtue of the film. With Phonogram I had no such preconceptions and so every visual detail added as much as every written one. I know from the glossary at the end of The Single Club that a lot of the visual detail was specified by Gillen, too, but it’s undoubtedly a composite effort, so a hat-tip to McKelvie too.
I read them in order, in the space of about three days – Rue Brittania first, which picked me up and sold me on the world of Phonogram probably in the space of about two pages; but The Singles Club got all of me in one morning. I mainlined it like an addict after a week long hiatus. I love that it was in colour. I love that it was sexy, and full of sex. I love that it was… British, a thing I most definitely am not. But what I am notices and sees resonances in that. I’m something that’s come from that but isn’t that (won’t ever be the same as that) but which calls across the pages and across the distances between our shores and theirs and says something like ‘G’day comrade, good to see you’re having exactly the same shitty problems as us’.
I wrote a week ago that I missed Gillen as a videogames writer. Well, I still do – that hasn’t changed. But I feel better about letting him go as I know that this – this fucking stuff right here? Yeah, it’s not a waste of time. Congratulations Gillen, I’m a convert. Comics aren’t a waste (like I will totally admit I thought they were). Or at least, they don’t have to be. Like games, you know? Games don’t have to be shit (thought frequently they are) and that’s just a fact to deal with and move on.
I’m not going to become a ‘comics nerd’ as one of my friend’s (who is a comics nerd) partner suggested the other day. I’m still not that keen on them, but I’ve been converted from a non-believer into a…. an agnostic perhaps? I don’t know what I am, except that I’m writing this and it’s time to end.
That’s the thing about Phonogram though – it knows people. It knows being people involves trying; trying to be people. What was the line, “And who in God’s name are you trying to be?” (paraphrased)? It was addressed to Laura Heaven, who was trying really hard to be someone else. David Kohl almost tried to be someone else in Rue Brittania, but he couldn’t – it wasn’t worth the effort.
If my identity (games, like obv) were about to die and sublimate everything that was founded on it – just like Brittania and Kohl – if I had to change something, re-center myself on comics or face disappearing, becoming nothing? If the choice was between becoming someone else and becoming nothing (is that a metaphor for death? Possibly…)? Well, like Kohl, it simply wouldn’t be worth the effort. And that’s cool. That’s totally fine.
I’ll catch up with you later, okay Phonogram? Make some more issues and I’ll throw money at you faster than you can say ‘Damon Albarn is a slick git’. But until then, you’ll just have to settle for fucking me up a bit and letting me go.