Graphic Novel Review: Phonogram, Vol. 2: The Singles Club

Phonogram, Vol. 2: The Singles ClubPhonogram, Vol. 2: The Singles Club
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art & Letters by Jamie McKelvie
Art Assitance by Julia Scheele
Colors by Matthew Wilson
Cover by Jamie McKelvie

$14.99 / 160 Pages / Color / Softcover

Image Comics

 

Before I get into my review of Phonogram, Vol. 2: The Singles Club, which hits stores today, a brief story.

Last year (the year before?) after the last night of New York Comic Con, I found myself at a bar with a bunch of people from the con. An  impromptu afterparty at sprung up. I found myself sitting with artist Mike Norton and we were discussing Jamie McKelvie’s work and how much we loved it. At one point the conversation went something like this:

 


Me
My biggest problem with McKelvie’s art is that I fall in love with all of his female characters.

Norton
Yeah…
(beat)
You know those are all real girls?

Me
What!

Norton
He showed me pictures once. All those girls he draws are his friends.

Me
That’s… that’s not fair.

Norton
Yeah…

(We might have been a little bit drunk at this point)

Phonogram, Vol. 2: The Singles Club ArtI’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t really get Phonogram, the original mini-series from writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie. It was steeped in magic and Britpop and I got lost after the first few issues. I kept on with the series and even got the trade collection just because I adore McKelvie’s art so much.

I had no such problems with their follow-up mini-series, Phonogram, Vol. 2: The Singles Club.

Set in one night in a dance club in Bristol, England, the story here is much more penetrable and the large cast of characters that we follow around in a Robert Altman-esque fashion are much more relatable. Is pretty much everyone in the book a practitioner of magic? Yes. Is there a lot of talk about music, primarily of the Britpop variety? Yes. Does any of it matter? No, not really. The trappings that so weighed down the first volume are almost incidental this time around. Here, the story is all about the people. Nothing encapsulates this idea better than the second chapter, “Wine and Bed and More and Again,” which was my favorite of the entire book. Marc is still nursing a broken heart after being dumped and is only very reluctantly hanging out at the club. Everywhere he looks, every song he hears, every person he talks to triggers a memory of him and his ex at the club together. Gillen perfectly captures the mixed emotions that go along with being constantly reminded of an ex that you’re still not over. It’s painful, yes. But some of those memories are good ones. We’ve all been there, and this chapter was a rough read in the very best of ways.

I hesitate to call this series a character study because there is a thread of a story that runs through the book, even if, at times, it’s just in the background. To be completely honest, I need to reread the entire thing so I can get better grasp of the overall narrative, but in the end it didn’t matter. The character studies were so interesting and so painfully true to life (or my life, anyway) that it wouldn’t matter to me if I never fully followed the story thread because this was all about some masterful character work.

That and Jamie McKelvie’s gorgeous art.

Phonogram, Vol. 2: The Singles Club Back MatterWhat more can be said about Jamie McKelvie that we haven’t already beaten into the ground on our various shows? The man is quite simply one of the best artists working in comics. If I was an eccentric billionaire I would hire him to draw comics just for me. There isn’t a lot of dynamic action in these books, it’s mostly talking heads, and that’s where McKelvie shines. He excels at getting his characters to act and act convincingly. And in an era when otherwise great artists seem to only have one male body type and face to go along with one female body type and face, all wearing clothes that don’t resemble anything real people wear, McKelvie’s characters are unique people. No two look or dress alike. And they all seem real and vital. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Matthew Wilson's fantastic colors. HIs work really makes McKelvie's art pop and when I become that accentric billionaire, no one else will ever be allowed to color McKelvie's work.

If you're a fan of backmatter or the behind the scenes process of making comics, this volume has a pretty weighty backmatter section. It's got everything from a glossary, the orignal character ideas and sketches that Gillen and McKelvie hashed out at BristolCon 2007, photo references, a page showing the art from sketch to finished piece, the 3D models of the club, McKelvie's Wall of Insanity, the zine cover, all of the issue covers… there' s lot to love in the backmatter section.

Phonogram, Vol. 2: The Singles Club ended up being one of my favorite books of 2009 and I'm so glad to finally have it on my bookshelf.

 

Comments

  1. Glad to hear you liked this Conor, i was just on my way out to go pick it up!

  2. I bought this and singles and am anxiously waiting to pick up the trade this afternoon. Phonogram will go down as one of my favorite series of all time. Thank you to both Gillen and McKelvie for creating 1 and 2.

  3. Should be getting mine tomorrow, feels like it’s been a long time coming.  I wish there were more of McKelvie’s style of women in comics.  There’s nothing photorealistic about them, yet they still look like people I see on the street every day.  He needs more work that befits his undeniable skills.

  4. I bought all the issues and multiples of some. Loved this series, the original was ok. The color added a lot too, although Mckelvie’s art stands on his own. He should be a super star soon.

  5. I just reread all the singles, it’s a great read all at once. I’ll be getting mine bound soon.

  6. This is the book I give to friends when they ask about what I’m reading and has changed my perspective on comics completely.  

    San Francisco bars can be so much like this book.  I see people that walk around in the Mission looking just like this.  It certainly helped with the realism.  I also loved that it took me 2 hours to read a few of these issues with the back matter included.

  7. I can’t wait to pick this up! Phonogram Vol 1 is the series responsible for getting me into comics. I enjoyed and related to the Singles Club a little more, but both volumes are high on my list of favorites.

  8. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Have the issues, but I just picked up the trade. Too beautiful a collection to pass up. 

  9. It’s a little strange that the culmination of the series is a dude banging one of those hot chicks.

    It’s kind of like Gillian was alone in a room wrote a little bit of wish fulfillment down

  10. and wrote

  11. I loved the issues, and I’m looking forward to picking up the trade sometime soon.  Awesome stuff.

  12. I appreciate that you iFanguys have started sporadically adding more graphic novel reviews (in addition to "book of the month").  Danke.

  13. This has interested me enough to make be buy both volumes.

  14. I look forward to picking this up soon. The Single’s Club was the comic I always anticipated most last year; each issue always brought something wholly new and felt completely different.