REVIEW: Phonogram 2.5 – "Lust Etc"

The inevitable wait between issues of Phonogram: The Singles Club means that actually finally buying the comic has become a ritual. Don’t peek at the comic until safely home, pick some appropriate music, and squeeze every single possible piece of goodness that I can out of those 32 pages. Have a glorious half-hour, bathe in the after-glow a little… and be immediately hungry for more.

It’s hardly a criticism to say a comic left you wanting more, but given that Phonogram mk2 was always going to be my favourite/most important comic of ’09, there’s something almost infuriating about the tiny 16 page stories told in the pages of The Singles Club. Almost. Each vignette falls very comfortably into the realms of small-but-perfectly-formed, and every time my (musical) worldview is subtly changed, and every time I find myself thinking ‘I wish I’d thought of that’. But there’s just not enough time to invest myself in these characters.

Case in point is this issue’s main character (not the protagonist, as is very much the point): Laura Heaven. I’ve loved her since her very first appearance in the first pages of the first issue- Long Blondes fan; self-consciously quoting; awesome beret. The kind of character I’d populate the entirety of fiction with, if only they let me had my wicked way. To only get this glimpse and confirm- yeah, she’s my kind of character- it’s difficult.

Meanwhile, in the actual issue, Gillen continues to weave between the lives of half-a-dozen loosely-related characters, playing off moments of mystery or tension from previous issues and, no doubt, setting up for what’s to come. McKelvie draws some lovely people- just real enough, with a pinch of idealism, like the writing. Wilson drops the kind of bright colouring around deep mellow shadows that makes it surprising that the Phonogram universe was ever black and white.

Meanwhile, in my head, Laura continues to taunt me like, I guess, a great character should. I suspect a lot of the weight I put to her is my own- we’ve shared maybe 30 pages, an hours’ reading time tops. But, though in the backmatter Gillen talks of her as perhaps the villain of the piece, the effect is like one of those friends you don’t see often enough.

The comic features some of the best music-journalism-disguised-as-rhetoric we’ve seen this series (the classic Kenickie rant from Rue Britannia, the first series, still echoes in my head when I defend that band), though I slightly disagree with Laura’s analysis of the Long Blondes. The acknowledged quotations is a beautiful way of messing with the form, marking this issue apart and mixing comics and music. Every reread produces a little more understanding (a couple of lines’ meanings are a bit smudgy- the “feeling him out” one in particular). The back-up strip (a effectively silent series of words and pictures, you’ll note) managed, largely through its stunning use of a splash page, to get a song stuck in my head for 24 hours. So, the usual.

I’m sure Laura will be returned to. But I’ve formed an attachment and want more. At the same time, I don’t want less of another character… I was meant to be moaning and I’ve ended up gushing. There’s no closure to the story. Which is fine; loads of the best short stories leave your head to untangle beyond the point. But I need it, to be able to get the character out of my head. For now, though, I’ll just obsessively check the blog, and every interview I can get and reread all the issues. I’ll wait patiently.
After all, I’ve waited ages for this glimpse. Another six months won’t make a difference to me now.*

*The Long Blondes, Only Lovers Left Alive

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