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Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie: Phonogram: Rue Britannia (2007) September 12, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Music.
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Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie: Phonogram: Rue Britannia

Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie: Phonogram: Rue Britannia

Sleeper. Echobelly. Elastica. Blur. Suede. Kula Shaker. Oasis. Ash. The Boo Radleys. The more of these names you recognize, the better this book — an omnibus collection of a comic book miniseries — will work for you. (If you don’t recognize many of them, there’s a few pages at the back of the book devoted to explaining who all these people are.)

Phonogram: Rue Britannia is the first collection of Phonogram comics by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. It’s been described as Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity crossed with John Constantine, Hellblazer — in other words, tendentious and opinionated music fandom meets British supernatural horror in comic book form.

Rue Britannia is about the Britpop moment in the mid-’90s and is full of references to bands from that scene, the good, the bad, and the mediocre. The main character, an arrogant magician who’s something of a John Constantine knockoff, defines himself so much by his musical taste that he knows something is going badly wrong when he starts feeling mildly charitable towards some of the lesser lights of the Britpop scene. It’s an amusing conceit and helps make it clear that this isn’t just a lower budget version of Hellblazer.

The musical references are not only essential to the plot; for some readers, the musical commentary may prove the most entertaining aspect of the book. I think I may be one of them, because Gillen spends more time on making sure you know what the protagonist, phonomancer David Kohl, thinks about music than he does on making sure you get how the magic and the pantheon of gods and goddesses work.

The art is clean and clear, and the original covers of the individual issues are based on Britpop album covers.

Anyone who reads comics and remembers Britpop may find this worth a look. I have a feeling I’m going to find the next one, currently being produced in individual comic form, more up my alley, as Kohl’s not the main character and it’s about more recent UK pop, like the Pipettes and Long Blondes. I trust Gillen’s new phonomancers like the right bands. The one mistake Kohl makes is to class Echobelly among the mediocre rather than the good.

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