It should already be clear by now, but let’s get the formalities out of the way: This series of “Phonogram” is nothing short of brilliant. What started life as a cultish “Hellblazer”/NME mash-up has, along the way, evolved into a fantastic exploration of both music and the comics form itself. I won’t spoil why, but make no mistake: you will not read a more technically ambitious comic this month than Phonogram 2.4. It’s not quite on the same level as that fold-out “Promethea” issue, but it’s certainly heading in that direction.
However, technical experiments are meaningless if there isn’t a good story to tell as well. Luckily, this issue focuses on the club night DJs, Seth Bingo and Silent Girl, both of whom were destined to be instant favorites ever since they first appeared in the promo strip that adorns the back cover of each “Phonogram 2” issue. This is the first chance we’ve had to spend a significant amount of time with the pair, and the results are all you’d hope for — and that’s in spite the limitations placed on Gillen and McKelvie by the issue’s formalist experiment. It’s a testament to their growing ability that the pair manage to pull it off so convincingly.
Seth Bingo’s unique voice gives Gillen ample opportunity to engage his boundlessly acerbic side, and that means quotable one-liners on every other page. Meanwhile, McKelvie is tasked with turning the rigid layouts into dynamic, interesting pages, and where a lesser artist would crumble, he makes it look almost easy. Taken individually, the dialogue and art would almost be able to carry the story alone. Put them together and the results are practically (ahem) magic — particularly when you reach the story’s denouement.
As ever, the main story in “Phonogram” is supplemented by two b-side strips and a shedload of annotations and essays. In one b-side, David LaFuente turns in a dead-accurate illustration of the delirium that accompanies earworms. In the other, Charity Larrison’s airy artwork accompanies the latest installment in the “Indie Dave” arc, with some particularly impressive character design. As ever, there’s a lot to like about Phonogram. If you can make it to the end of this issue without finding something to enjoy, then frankly, there’s no hope for you.