In this first issue of Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl, we return to the world of an indie favorite. Is it good?
Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl (Image Comics)
The book opens with a simple statement: “Music is magic.” In this world, some people have the power to harness magic from music, calling themselves phonomancers. This story focuses on one of these phonomancers: Emily.
When we catch up with her in 2001, we learn that Emily sold half herself, pulled in by the power in music videos.
A coven of phonomancers is forming in Brighton and Emily is at the core, surrounded by the beautiful and powerful. A decade later, Emily is in charge of the coven and working to solidify her power. But her past and other half have other plans.
Is It Good?
I have a confession: I am completely new to the world of Phonogram. While I’m a huge fan of Kieran Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matt Wilson, having followed them here from their spectacular runs on Young Avengers and The Wicked + The Divine, I’ve never actually read any previous Phonogram.
To be fair, back when Gillen announced this new run, I asked him on Tumblr if I needed to read any of the original Phonograms to understand this new book and here is how he replied:
Every Phonogram arc works like an album. The idea being, you can pick them up and have them work as a singular aesthetic object. In fact, we normally recommend people read the second one first.
There is a continuing cast, but we treat each one like its own thing.
It’s my own fault that I did not take his advice and read up. From my research, I know that both characters David and Emily are from previous incarnations of the story, but I don’t know much more than that. So take the rest of this review with a grain of salt.
I have to admit that I am a bit lost. While I get the basic idea that music is magic, I’m not sure HOW it all works. What kind of power music gives you, how you use that power, etc. Once the story moves forward in time to London, the coven is obviously using their power to run some kind of business, but I’m not clear on what. I did appreciate the glossary at the end of the book; very helpful, especially for all the references to musicians I’ve sadly never heard of before. But not knowing the characters really hurt, especially in the two mini-comics at the end of the issue.
Despite the confusion, I am intrigued by this world. The idea of the power in music is something that Gillen and McKelvie have explored in different ways in their various other works, most thoroughly in The Wicked + The Divine. Phonogram feels like a flip side of W+D; there, the gods incarnate as rock stars, with worship as performance. In Phonogram, the music itself is the source of the power.
I also like the fairytale theme they introduce here, with Emily selling half of herself to gain power, while her other half lives on. There’s something so classic and elemental about that idea; the split self, whether sold or cursed, appearing in many traditional folk and fairy tales.
As usual, McKelvie’s art completes the story. I love how his art is both realistic but still very comic book, especially his action sequences.
He’s fantastic at framing and layout, knowing precisely how to move from a crowd pan to pull in for a closeup. His style is very cinematic, which suits the story perfectly.
Colorists often get overlooked, but none of these books would be as effective without Matt Wilson’s coloring. He knows when to punch the moment with color, and I love his use of light and shadow. A great example is when we go from saturated full color dance floor of 2001 to the sterile bland whiteness of the coven office in 2009. We get half the story right there.
I think if I’m going to continue with this book, I’m going to have to go back and read at least “The Singles Club”, as Gillen suggested. While he was right, and I’m getting enough to enjoy this book on the surface, I think you have to have the backstory of these characters and the intro to the world to really get the full experience. I have a month, so I better get reading.
You can find this comic on comic book shelves August 12th!