Phonogram, vol. 1: Rue Britannia

Phonogram 1Summary: Britannia is ten years dead. Phonomancer David Kohl hadn’t spared his old patron a thought for almost as long… at which point his mind starts to unravel. Can he discover what’s happened to the Mod-Goddess of Britpop while there’s still something of himself left? Dark modern-fantasy in a world where music is magic, where a song can save your life or end it.


Phonogram, vol. 1: Rue Britannia, by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie 7.75

I was never into the Britpop of the ’90s. I not only had my attention pulled in a different direction at the time, but the little bit that I’ve heard really didn’t do much for me. I mean, I (sort of) enjoyed Oasis in moderation, but Blur, Elastica, Pulp, Suede, The Verve, …etc.? What little I heard of them has thus far left me cold.

But there are people who reveled in Britpop. When I hosted my community radio show, there was this other host whose only focus was Britpop. She was so cool; I was a bit starry-eyed around her, though I couldn’t relate to her musical tastes. And the same could be said about Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s ‘Phonogram’.

I don’t fully get it. But, man, do I ever go gaga over it.

Originally published in 2006, “Rue Britannia” was a 6-part Image Comics mini-series that took the authors’ love of Britpop to a completely different level: It follows David Kohl, a Phonomancer who is tasked by the Goddess with finding Britannia, the deification of Britpop, who has long been presumed dead but who may only be in hiding.

Essentially, the book sets us in the world of hipster clubs and it taps into the power of music. Because, in “Rue Britannia”, music is power: Phonomancers are keenly attuned to the power of music and the playing/performing of music can hold influence over others. And they themselves have supernatural powers of various degree.

Kohl is a jerk. He’s a night owl who stalks the London club scene with a purposefulness and ego that is offensive. He has the perfect clothes, the perfect hair, the perfect moves, and the perfect words: He can seduce impressionable young women by connecting with them through the intellectual dissection of any cool artist or song.

Kohl is a snob. He longs for the days when DJs would play the latest seven inches, not just the oldies that the audience wants to hear. In fact, he frowns upon Retromancers, these sell-out DJs who don’t explore the present and future of music, who don’t push their audiences’ expectations further. To him, this is unacceptable.

But Kohl is changing. While a mysterious individual is rewriting Britpop’s place in pop culture, Kohl’s recollections are being reshaped to reflect this new history. He not only has to fulfill the Goddess’s mission, he has to get to the bottom of that mystery before he loses sight of himself. And the changes are coming fast.

The book is rife with Britpop references, equally in its art as in its words: The covers of each issue are inspired by classic Britpop albums, Britpop icons make cameos, and posters and albums litter the landscape. And the name-dropping is extensive (there are plenty of band references!), including a select amount of quoted lyrics.

It’s a real treat for fans of the genre.

But what makes “Rue Britannia” a delight is that it gives the impression of being led into a cool underground reality, one that you weren’t once aware of or privy to. And you are one of the chosen ones. Even if you don’t understand the extensive references, just imagining that there is a mystical otherworld to the music scene makes it cool.

And if you really want to know, there’s a handy glossary at the end of the book.

All hail ‘Rue Britannia’!


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