Phonogram, vol. 3: The Immaterial Girl

Phonogram, vol. 3: The Immaterial GirlSummary: The creators of the award-winning THE WICKED + THE DIVINE return to their founding critical smash, PHONOGRAM with THE IMMATERIAL GIRL. In a world where music is magic, phonomancer Emily Aster sold half her personality for power. Now, after a decade of brittle perfection, the deal starts to go bad as the girl behind the screen comes looking for revenge. You’ll never look at Take On Me’s video the same ever again. Includes copious making of material.

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Phonogram, vol. 3: The Immaterial Girl, by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson and Clayton Cowles 8.0

‘Phonogram, vol. 3’ has been a really long time coming. Though volumes 1 and 2 came in relatively close succession, in 2007 and 2008, the new series only came out in 2015. In fact, due to low sales, Gillen had said that he didn’t think it would ever happen. And when I emailed with him years ago, he was pretty sure that the series was over.

But here we are with ‘The Immaterial Girl, in which we explore the power of music videos: Its premise is that it’s impossible to disassociate some songs from their videos, even when you only hear them without the images. Some videos are just so potent, stimulate the imagination in such a way, that a song will always be a video in the minds of fans.

“Thriller” is a perfect example.

In this six-part mini-series, our protagonist is Claire/Emily Aster: When young Claire was exposed to music videos and became seduced by their power; the King of Pop promised a better self in the world that music videos created. Later, in 2001, Emily banished Claire to other side of the television screen. She became, as she says, two-dimensional.

The newly “Immaterial Girl” could now be everything she was promised that she could be.

Fast forward to 2009, and the former Claire wants out – and switches places with Emily, trapping her behind the screen, in the world of music videos. Now Claire has taken over Emily’s life and plans to destroy it, piece by piece; though Claire has changed the way Emily looks to better reflect her personality, she’s seen as the same person.

Meanwhile, Claire is running from the bikers in the “Take On Me” video, getting help from a-ha’s Morten Harket. She finds a way to navigate through the videos, reaching out to her younger self in the hope of stopping this in the past. But Emily sees through her ploy and is fully intent on destroying what remains of Emily’s superficial existence.

This leads to a direct confrontation between the two.

And younger Claire.

‘Phonogram, vol. 3’ essentially follows Claire on a journey of self-acceptance: perpetually unhappy, self-destructive and mean, she decided to bury that part of herself for a more frivolous persona – but now she has to find a way to reconcile the two so that she may live. She sees the struggles that lay ahead but it’s the choice she has to make.

Large parts of the book are done in parallel with a-ha’s “Take On Me” video, which is visually-striking and the perfect analogy for the story. Clever. And it’s good fun seeing the book switch from glossy, full-colour to sketchy, monochrome – it perfectly identifies this alternate reality. The book is nicely abstract and the references were a joy.

But I didn’t get all of them. As I didn’t have cable TV as a kid, I only saw a few of the mainstream videos and was only exposed to a larger swatch in my late teens, when I started buying video compilation of my favourite artists. But, again, that means that I missed a lot of the then-contemporary videos that are referred to in this volume.

Oh well, thank goodness for the trusty Glossary at the end.

I love it. And this book.

However, I didn’t really get the point of the interlude that was Chapter 4: how did it pertain to the rest of the story? And David Kohl’s attempt to save Emily in Chapter 5, with the help of Kid With Knife, seemed contrived – though futile in the end. Both of those felt as though Gillen just wanted to revisit old characters. But it doesn’t work.

This is Emily/Claire‘s journey, not theirs.

In volume one, Gillen didn’t try to wedge too many characters in the story. It was David’s journey, and he needed to make much of that journey by himself. There was obviously no pandering to fans because it was the first mini-series and most of the characters weren’t fleshed out. I wish that they had done the same here. Chapter 4 is a real stumble.

But it’s still a great book and McKelvie, Wilson and Cowles make it looks AMAZEBALLS. The series has come such a long way from its original back and white design. Though volume 2 already looked splendid, this one’s even more ambitious. Between that and Gillen’s ingenious commentary on the power of music in our lives, this one’s another must-read.

It’s a three-dimensional story for music lovers.

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