I wanted very much to enjoy Phonogram #3. I really enjoyed issue #2 with its unique take on ghosts and interesting musical vibe. Unfortunately, for me this issue is a bit of a frustrating bore.
I think part of the problem is with David Kohl’s obsessions. Ten years before this issue, David was very into a musical movement called Britpop. In fact, David still kind of obsesses about the music from that era, thinking of it as, as one character puts it, “a crowning achievement of nineties culture.” He spends a tremendous amount of his time thinking about the music from that time period, constantly reassessing his opinions of certain songs and certain singers from that group of musicians. In one especially awkward scene, David asks his friend, “And Kid – did I ever… like Echobelly?” as if that question was vitally important in his life.
Tied to that obsession is a lost relationship David had with a woman called Britannia who had passed away several years perviously. In issue #2, she appears as a ghost to David and his friend, possibly because David is a sort of phonomancer, a person very similar to a necromancer I suppose, that has a mysical connection to music.
All of this adds up to the fact that David just has never moved on from the things he was passionate about ten years ago. He lives in a sort of perpetual twilight, reliving old obsessions and revisiting old friends. To me, this all adds up to David being at a crossroads between the lives that two characters in this issue represent.
On one pole is Beth, a woman who was part of the music scene at the same time as David. David stops by Beth’s house for a chat, but the conversation goes poorly. David still cares about his old obsessions, but Beth is cold. She’s moved on. As David puts it, Beth “used to break [her] nails hanging on the crash-bar at every gig” but now was settled down to a nice middle-class suburban life. When Beth asserts that she’s moved on with her life, barely listening to the radio, it’s like a betrayal to David of everything they believed in. “Settled down, works for the civil service. Will marry her boyfriend. Or someone exactly like him,” David sums up her life with obvious disappointment.
On the other pole is a man called Indie, who lives in an isolated hovel in the middle of nowhere, obsessively listening to and discussing old Joy Division records while burning 7″ records by Blur to stay warm. Indie has stayed obsessed with his old passions, has never moved on from the things he cares about. Indie is also something of a mysic, talking about “memory kingdoms” that “are the consensus memory of a time, a pure idea distilled from a million perceptions. … I spend much time holidaying in the old realms. The present offers me little.” For all his mystical energy, Indie seems a lost soul, a man stuck in his own past and completely unable to live in today’s world. He is literally stuck in the past, and the past has made him small, poor and alone.
David’s life is at a crossroads between these two characters. On one hand, he seems completely obsessed with the past and some sort of quasi-mystical experience he perceives in his past. On the other, he can take his friends’ advice and just move on, holding the past as simply a memory. It seems the last few pages might give a clue of what direction David might go, and the ending just underlines David’s lack of connection to the present.
Jamie McKelvie’s relatively unadorned art style provides an adequate counterpart for the story. His characters look consistent throughout the issue, and there’s a lot of attention paid to the way people look. But there are also several scenes that are awkward looking. For instance, there’s a scene with David and his friend on the road in which I can’t figure out just what’s going on.
By the end of this issue I just wanted to grab David and tell him to get on with his life. The past is gone. Make new friends, create new memories. Don’t live the rest of your life in the past. His obsessions with the past feel overwhelming, and he seems to have little