Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
1) No boy singers
2) You must dance
3) No magic
These are the three rules that govern indie night in The Single’s Club, the second trade of Phonogram. Written by Kieron Gillen and illustrated by Jamie McKelvie, Phonogram explores the events of a single night from the different points of view of seven British “phonomancers” – magic users who derive their powers from music. However, while the existence of magic factors into the basic premise, the comic is focused more on the personal desires of these individuals and the emotional power of music. In fact, Gillen includes a playlist at the back of the trade, which includes groups ranging from Ike & Tina Turner to Nelly Furtado, from The Pipettes to Cansei De Ser Sexy.
Each of the characters has their own unique relationship with music. Blonde bombshell Penny possesses great natural beauty and grace; she lives to dance. She loves to be the center of attention, because she has never had it any other way. Music and magic are her tools, valuable only as they contribute to her dancing. Her best friend Laura, on the other hand, desires personal validation through music knowledge. She speaks incantations by referencing and directly quoting semi-obscure bands. However, no one appreciates her wealth of knowledge, leaving her unhappy and unfulfilled. Lloyd, her male counterpart, serves as some sort of British indie Dr. Frankenstein, striving to create the perfect song from fragments of older songs whose copyrights have expired.
But Gillen does not paint a depressing, angst-ridden portrait of young adult existence. The unnamed character of the last story fully embraces music as its own almost holy entity, universally enjoyable by all humans on some deep, primal level. He feels alive with the rhythmic power of it, and lets socially constructed, rational restrictions go. He does not simply move to the music, he lets the music move him, and he lives.
McKelvie’s art is bright and energetic, his faces expressive and his figures dynamic. Gillen’s writing is witty, clever, and fun. Phonogram: The Single’s Club is an entertaining exploration of music and the concerns of modern young adults. The entire first story is available for free online.
The premise of Our Love is Real, written by Sam Humphries and illustrated by Steven Sanders, is simple and ridiculous – in a post-STI world, humans are now allowed to mate with anything and everything. However, this is not arbitrary – Our Love is intentionally absurd, as a criticism of the common “slippery slope” argument used against gay marriage (if gays can get married, then we’ll soon be marrying our pets, etcetera) and of how seriously we take ourselves in the context of political issues.
The protagonist, Jok, is a zoophile in a deeply committed relationship with a poodle. Jok often makes dog-like sounds, and one of his cop buddies has “DOG LIFE” tattooed across his chest. His canine partner is referred to as a “bitch,” because that is literally what she is, allowing Humphries to question society’s treatment of women. Jok enjoys his work as a riot cop, crushing vegisexual protestors, until he meets Brin, a mineralsexual. Brin further challenges both Jok’s and the reader’s conceptions of gender and sexuality.
Humphries purposefully portrays sexuality as ridiculous in this comic to highlight the absurdity of the slippery slope argument, but he nonetheless recognizes the capacity for love inherent in each of the characters, in order to remove the societal moral hierarchy imposed on sexuality. For instance, it’s unlikely that someone would want to love a crystal, but if they were to do so, who’s to say that they shouldn’t be allowed to?
Our Love Is Real serves as social commentary but also stands out as a highly entertaining comic. The narration is melodramatic and hilarious, the dialogue is clever and easy to read, and the characters manage to be complex and sympathetic. Sanders’s art lends life to Humphries’s imaginative world. The fight scenes are dynamic and exciting and the characters’ expressions are subtle and emotive.
The comic is hilarious and over-the-top, funny layered over serious layered over the absurd nature of human existence. It is available for download from comiXology or in print from Humphries’s website.