Phonogram : The Singles Club 07
I guess I may have touched lightly upon the wonderful Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie series ´Phonogram’ and its sequel, ‘The Singles Club’ a few months ago in a post I wrote about MSP’S ‘The Holy Bible’. Now, and as I re-read both volumes in their entirety, I cannot help but feel awed by the sheer brilliance that is issue 07 of ‘The Singles Club’, called ‘Wolf Like Me’.
Now, one of the things that I have always looked for in a comic is a way to actually work songs into the story, without it sounding and looking way too contrived. Rather than adapting a song into story form, I was looking for stories that took something from a song, and then ran with it. Maybe, and I’m not too sure here, the earliest examples of this was way back in the ‘80’s, in the Grant Morrison penned ‘Animal Man’, wherein I recognized a lot of stuff from the likes of Peter Murphy, and others. ‘Sandman’, too, used the power of music to add to the story. So it comes as no surprise whatsoever that most of my musings include music in some form – ’36 songs’ was a prime example of that, as was ‘How it ends’, though they were, at their core, prose efforts only. I had an inkling of an idea, very early on, that the story that would become ‘How it ends’, when it was still called something else that for the life of me I can´t rightly what – though ‘Two more years’ sound very likely –, would work best as a visual story , but that never came through, for whatever reason. I then tinkered a bit with the idea of commissioning some illustrations from some folk I know, but that went nowhere, too.
Hell, even now, as I write my Untitled Ghost Story, I find myself interweaving lots of stuff from my Metal Years into the story – and it increasingly looks like the story’s name itself will come from that darker side as well.
But fuck, whenever I read P:TSC 07 now, I just want to a) not write anymore or b) write even more so I can achieve this level of mastery over the visual part of storytelling. It varies, really – I’ve read it some ten times alone today, and It always affects me in a different way. So the reason why I’ve read it so many times today alone is quite simply – it’s a largely visual issue, with sparse dialogue, and at that only in the first and last couple of pages. What words there are besides those, though, are pictorial and/or pertinent to the title track that lends its name to the story, ‘Wolf Like Me’ from TV on The Radio. All the rest – the words, the images, and the spaces in between, well… they are nothing short of a storytelling tour de force. On the one hand, you have Gillen, who for my money is one of the most gifted new writers – he always makes me wanting to read more of his stuff – ,and who’s someone who clearly knows what works visually and what doesn’t. For my part, thinking visually does not come easily, and a writer that does so with such aplomb, is always worthy of praise. But all those virtues are as naught if you’re paired with (or impaired by) a less than apt artist, with nothing less than a complete mastery of the storytelling techniques required to make a largely silent story work, and work so well.
Fortunately, though, he had McKelvie, who delivers all that in spades. Not only does he pull off the wonderful feat of making the characters seem all too real – especially during Kid With Knife’s altercation with the chavs – he also wields with such precision the skill to endow each character with his or her own specific nuances; their faces and expressions so finely formed and honed, their physical language, the way they are themselves beyond the shadow of any doubt… it’s staggering, really.
See, what it is really, is that comics amount to a combination of different languages to form a whole : on one hand, you have what´s written, and therein you find what´s written for the artist to interpret and what´s written for you to read. Artwise, there is the language of story-telling, and the physicality of making 2D characters come to life, and when those two languages come together, something else is born, something not bound or constrained by budget limitations or by the whims of an actor/director – you get an unique art form that does, and especially when done well, what no other form of art can do.
And even though what Gillen and McKelvie do here is no strictly **re-inventing** the silent story format, or coming up with a clever way of making it work, they excel in combining their skills with the idea of music – insofar as the intent was that selfsame, and the outcome, and for me at least, was the presence of the songs right inside my mind just as I read the issues. And `Wolf Like Me’, the song and the story, what they managed to do is nothing short of laudable – to imbue the spirit of the song in the story they crafted, to make it come to life in such a way as to make both song and story nigh on indivisible from each other, that´s the work of a master right there.
I mean, reading the story, and following the path that Kid With Knife chose that night, and seeing that look on his eyes – that primal, visceral, sexual look that my very eyes had so many times before – easily you can see why the song becomes the story, literally and figuratively.
Each of the sixteen pages that make up for the story are perfectly plotted, illustrated, and when they need to, dialogued as well. Every beat is pitch perfect, every picture spot on, and that conspires to give you the ultimate entertainment. As Kid With Knife himself answered the question he was being asked, - ‘Was… was that some kind of magic?’ – ‘I don´t know. You tell me.’