phonogram: rue britannia

I’ve been reading a lot of comics lately. The Wellington City Library carries a huge range of graphic novels and collections, and it’s been good to catch up with old favourites like Ennis, Moore, and Ellis after a good ten years away from the medium.

But if all I was reading was superhero stuff I’d have to say that I haven’t missed that much. Luckily though, there are unexpected delights out there, away from the increasingly tedious bods in tights.

When I was in the library the other day a new title caught my eye: Phonogram: Rue Britannia. The cover seemed familiar; and yes, it is: a remix of an old Pulp album cover.

First collected volume of Phonogram

The story: it’s brilliant.

So, what if music itself were a thing of magic?

You know this makes sense. We all have songs that do things to us, emotionally and physically, that seem magical (like my first ever listen to Primal Scream’s Loaded)1. So, if you’re a Phonomancer that’s the magic that you use.

David Kohl is a Phonomancer. Britannia, the goddess that made him, died with Britpop years earlier. David’s current existence centres around himself and misusing his powers to pick up girls in bars, until THE Goddess finds him, curses him (with PMS!), and sends him off to find out what’s happening to dead Britannia, who is apparently being “interfered” with.

The writing is packed with brit-pop-culture references - but hopefully not enough to weigh down the experience for readers not immersed in those times. The black & white artwork is beautiful and spare; not a line out of place but capable of displaying great emotion and humanity. And also lots of hot punk chicks.

Perhaps one of my favourite parts of the story is about Beth, a former(?) obsessive Manics fan part of whom remains trapped in the era holding out for the return of Richey Manic. There’s a lovely sub-plot there about growing up and letting go that is really quite beautiful.

As one who spent a good proportion of my disposable income in the 1990s on obscure and not so obscure British music2 this book pushes all my buttons. It’s the best comic book I’ve read in years. But I must remember, as Emily Aster, another phonomancer in David’s coven, says: “Nostalgia is an emotion for people with no future”.

Even so, I’m off to the comics shop tomorrow to see if I can find a copy of Rue Britannia and the followup collection for myself.

And the rest of you: please form a orderly queue behind me.

  • Read the first part here.
  • And a much better review of the book may be found here.

  1. Hell, for me sometimes even the right chord change can bring on a numinous moment (like that change in Ride’s Moonlight Medicine–one of only two good songs on their album Carnival of Light–that I was trying to explain the goodness of to B₂ at the weekend). ↩︎

  2. A confession: I also was at Knebworth for those Oasis concerts. Which means I actually do, sadly, feature in this very comic book. ↩︎

Gathadair @dubh
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