You can probably construct your own Comics Daily Phonogram review by now. You know we think Gillen chronicles the shared experiences of “us” kind of people like no-one else out there. You know we worship the art-related ground that McKelvie walks on, and the stuff that Matt Wilson colours it in with. You know this is about as important to us as comics get (with the possible exception of Scott Pilgrim), and that every time a new issue is released we will exhort people to buy it. So what else can we possibly have left to say?
Well, “We Share Our Mother’s Health” may not strike exactly the same personal chord with me as issue #2 did, but that doesn’t stop it from being yet another compelling, resonant, deeply human tale. Structurally, we reach an interesting point in the series – the previous two issues have established the style, tone and “feel” of The Singles Club
, so now it’s time to throw some characters familiar from volume one into the mix. Enter Emily Aster. In a genuinely surprising turn, the somewhat one-dimensional (if entertaining) foil of Rue Britannia is given a backstory, and it’s one with which we can all – to varying extents, sure, but still – relate. This is an instance where I don’t really want to go into too much detail (I’m wary that I did that rather too much in my last review), except to say that it’s a tribute to the depth of Gillen’s nous with character that I still don’t know whether I feel sympathetic for the girl, or actively dislike her.
Despite the dark edge to Aster’s story, though, there’s still – as ever – room for plenty of trademark excellent Phonogram moments. Kohl’s presence in the series has actually started to become something of a joy – relieved of the burden of being the main character, he’s become a likeable and entertaining touchstone throughout. Seth Bingo and Aster’s bitch-fest, meanwhile, is a particular highlight – with each appearance of the outstandingly vituperative DJ heightening anticipation for his and the Silent Girl’s starring role in issue #4. It’s tremendous fun seeing the seeds planted for future issues, too – we’ve now seen both the bookends for what will presumably be a pivotal conversation between Laura and Aster in issue #5, while the trick that Kohl pulls on K-W-K will surely have relevance to #7. And of course, yes, it looks as fantastic as ever – and if McKelvie perhaps cheats a little by giving Aster and Claire that distinctive chin, his magnificent character work is nevertheless a tool by which the entire conceit of the issue lives or dies.
Backup-wise, Leigh Gallagher provides some suitably Hellblazer-ish art (with elements of his background in 2000AD) for one of the funniest bloody things I’ve read in ages – saying any more would yet again spoil the surprise, but suffice to say that it’s one for people who’ve read volume one, and an unashamed piece of self-satire on Gillen’s part that somehow avoids coming off as self-indulgent. Indie Dave, meanwhile, occupies the two-pager, a witty little gag (and pastiche) with lovely work from Lee O’Connor.
I’d almost suggest it’s got tiresome talking about how good Phonogram is – but it hasn’t. Because every time it arrives, I take unabashed joy in its existence, and I have no compunction in sharing that in whatever way I can. And although it’s undeniable that its surface trappings are incredibly niche (it’s just a niche some of us happen to engage rather emphatically with), I’ll argue until I’m blue in the face that if you strip off the surface, the human experiences each issue explores are pretty damned universal – and so it should be entirely accessible to any reader with anything resembling a heart. Put simply, if you don’t want to read comics this good, why are you even reading them at all?