For three years, from 1994 to 1997, British music ruled the world. In the wake of Kurt Cobain’s tragic death and, along with it, the demise of grunge rock, bands such as Oasis, Blur, Suede and Radiohead filled the music gap as part of the next big scene, Britpop. While only lasting three years, it created some of the biggest bands, some of whom are still around today, and continues to show its influence in the plethora of popular UK music. Never, however, has a comic book really dealt with the subject matter, not until Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Phonogram: Rue Brtiannia that is. Part Hellblazer and part commentary on the Britpop scene of the ’90s, Phonogram, while certainly tailored for fans of that music scene, is still poignant and gripping in its story and a wonderful look at the idea of not wanting to let go of an old passion.
Gillen and McKelvie tell the tale of David Kohl, a Phonomancer — someone who is able to use music as a form of magic to manipulate people. Kohl discovers that someone is trying to resurrect the goddess of Britpop, Britannia. This leads into a story that delves into the nature of nostalgia and not wanting to let go of something whose time and glory have long past.
Each issue is a loving Valentine to Britpop. The cover of each issue is an homage to some great album from that period, be it Elastica’s self-titled debut, Black Grape’s It’s Great When You’re Straight…Yeah, Oasis’ now classic Definitely Maybe, Blur’s seminal Modern Life Is Rubbish, Suede’s controversial self-titled debut, or finally the Manic Street Preachers’ magnum opus, The Holy Bible. McKelvie’s rendition of each album is spot-on, and it is not difficult at all to identify each one if you are familiar with the source material. His interior art is just as beautiful. It may look simple, but behind his clean lines and lush shading, there is a lot going on.
Phonogram is really for Britpop fans. Those who were never into that music scene may feel a little overwhelmed by the amount of information that Gillen and McKelvie put into the story. Fret not, though, as the authors have been kind enough to provide a glossary at the back so that one can learn about the many bands and terms used in this tale. Nevertheless, this is an intriguing story that draws you in, and if you happen to be a Britpop fan it will leave you with a nostalgic smile on your face.
People are constantly trying to hold onto the highlights of their past. Whether it was high school, a certain style of music, or a place they once lived, people have trouble letting go of what they loved so much. Phonogram is a cautionary tale of what happens when one does that. It does not hurt to enjoy those memories, but trying to relive them and recreate them will only get you into trouble. One must learn to move on or otherwise be haunted by the ghosts of past times, which tend to look more like rotting corpses to everyone else rather than the golden gods that we have made those memories out to be.
Whether you are a fan of Britpop, stories’ involving magic, or a tale of re-living one’s youth, Phonogram: Rue Britannia is for you. Some may be scared off by the heavy use of Britpop arcana in its story, but do not be fooled, this is still a wonderful tale of nostalgia for one’s youth and a love-letter to what was one of the greatest music scenes: Britpop. So get yourself a copy, pour a pint of your favorite British beer, put on a few of your favorite Britpop albums (just no Kula Shaker, please), and let nostalgia take over one more time.