Thursday, July 30, 2009

Trade Waiting - Phonogram: Rue Britannia

Phonogram is a great twist on an often used concept, magic. The conceit behind the book is that music is magic. Now, I know that some people might think that it would make the book incredibly inaccessible but it is not. Besides, how much of the magic that is used by characters like Dr. Strange, Dr. Doom or Dr. Fate do most readers actually understand anyway? What makes Phonogram work is that Kieron Gillen, the writer, explains everything you need to know in the story, how it all works, but instead of using demons, ancient mysticism and all of that good stuff he uses music. In fact, the concept works because you could replace music with, say, comics books, or anything else really, and still get the same end result. So, what about the story itself? Hit the jump for my review and find out.

Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie
Collects Phonogram #1-6

Rue Britannia is about David Kohl, a Phonomancer and, well, asshole, who is sent on a quest, basically, after getting into some trouble. He goes to a music show, called Ladyfest, in order to meet a friend of his, Lady Vox, but, in reality, he has been lured into a trap by The Goddess who wants him to find out what is happening to one of her aspects, Britannia. Why Kohl, who is a self admitted, unrepentant asshole? Because Kohl is "rooted" in Britannia, which makes him him and is the source of his abilities so he has the proper motivation.

I am horribly oversimplifying it, but Gillen does a wonderful job of explaining it in the book, which is what makes the concept work. Gillen actually does a good job of giving the basics of a concept when he introduces it and then slowly adds to it through out the story, which is something I liked. He also does in a way that works organically within the story but he is not just having characters blather on and on about stuff that needs to be told to the readers in a way that ruins the flow of the story. Gillen gets all of the info you need out there but he does in a way that makes the story better.

The basic story of Rue Britannia is a mystery. Kohl has to figure out what is going on with Britannia with very little in the way of clues. Early on in the story though he encounters a "ghost" of one of his still living ex-girlfriends which helps to set him on his way. Gillen does a good job with his plotting and pacing so the story feels like its the perfect length at six issues long. The plot itself is pretty basic with the requisite twists and turns but there is are no really major surprises or anything like that. The real focus, and the best parts of the story, are the characters and the world that Gillen and McKelvie create.

Although David Kohl is an asshole, he is a very interesting one, which makes the story enjoyable. Though he is self absorbed and generally only looking out for himself he does occasionally does something selfless, but it does not feel forced since Gillen does a good job making him a three dimensional character. Gillen also makes him a good narrator which helps to guide the readers through his adventure. Most of the other characters, who are all supporting characters, are solid as well even if they don't get a lot page time. Two real stand out characters, Kid-With-Knife and Emily Aster, are pretty interesting in their own right and I wouldn't mind reading more about them.

Surprisingly, for me, the real draw, and what makes Phonogram truly great, is how well it draws you into its world. Now, I have no interest in music in general and definitely not in any of the music that is the focus in Phonogram, which is Britpop, but Gillen does a fantastic job of, as mentioned before, making it completely accessible to readers like myself.

In addition, he also does a wonderful job of making his particular form of magic incredibly engaging since he actually goes about setting the ground rules for it and explaining how it works, which is the foundation for making magic work in comics. A particular great example of this the memory kingdome that Kohl visits in issue #4.

The art by Jamie McKelvie is equally as great as the writing. His work reminds of the Luna's Brothers work a little in the sense that it has a lot of the same simple elegance and a kind of "softness" to it. There is also a cartoon-ish edge to it which I enjoy. It's more akin to something like Terry Dodson's work rather than Darwyn Cooke's art though. His art is also incredibly emotive and expressive which allows him tell the story as much as Gillen's script does at times. He is also a wonderful story teller which further supports Gillen's work.

Verdict - Must Read. Despite the fact that Phonogram might look inaccessible to most people, it is a wonderful tale and truly great comic that can be enjoyed by anyone, in addition to being one of the most unique and inventive comic from the past few years.

Like this review? Interested in this books? Purchase Phonogram: Rue Britannia from and help support The Weekly Crisis.

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Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who thought this was a good Hellblazer rip off? There was even a scene where he started thinking about dead girlfriends and character who basically Chas. It's still worth reading, even if you're not into british music.

Eric Rupe said...

Anonymous - I wouldn't know, I've never read any of Hellblazer for one reason or another.

Matthew said...

I loved this comic. That is all.

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