This issue of Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl has been my favorite of the series yet, and I think it’s because it leans so hard into the comic it’s paying homage to, and it’s not about Emily Aster. She, the Immaterial Girl herself, is not even in the issue. For this month, McKelvie and Gillen drop us into the periphery of the coven, telling us about a formative few months in the lives and relationship of Lloyd and Laura. They relate the tenuous relationship between the two of them in the style of a Scott Pilgrim book, down to the black and white, and the incredible interest in popular culture (specifically the Long Blondes and Dexy’s Midnight Runners). They’re given a golden opportunity by Silent Girl, of all people, and they have to grab the brass ring or forever fail. There are fights, there is magic, there are disappointing second albums—this issue’s got it all.
This issue is all about the unsung heroes. Lloyd and Laura are just two phonomancers who love music and magic, but who aren’t high on the totem pole in the coven; they just want to move up the pole and become the head, to prove that they’re better than each other. Meanwhile, on the creative team, Matthew Wilson gets to really flex. The whole issue is black and white, except for when magic is being used, so there’s a great sequence where Laura Black becomes Black Laura (I have to assume that this is a reference to Frank Black/Black Francis from the Pixies, this being a Kieron Gillen book and all), and there’s a truly amazing sequence on the dance floor. Putting his work in standout single pages in a largely black and white issue means you have to sit up and notice what a massive, massive influence his work is on the world of Phonogram.
The two backups in this issue are some of the strongest there have been in the series to date. Julia Scheele’s cartooning style brings to mind the Venn diagram intersection between Charles Burns and someone like Jeremy Sorese or Rebecca Sugar, with a softer edge to their suburban squalor. And Luis Sopelana... I could live in the world of that short for an entire series. Sopelana paints with broad strokes, and it is evocative without being too wrapped up in itself.
My biggest problem with this issue is part of what I like so much about it: it doesn’t actually deal with Emily and the Immaterial Girl thread. This is a longish arc for a comic series at six issues, but in the scheme of Phonogram, it’s only a small chunk, and it’s structured to really focus on Emily. With Singles Club, the mechanism of the story was built to wander around the club and follow threads where they willed themselves; but to take an act break at the fourth issue of six with Immaterial Girl stops the momentum pretty hard. I’m still very on board with the book, and it could turn out that Lloyd and Laura are going to play a big part in the finale, so it doesn’t affect my scoring. And with this perfect score, I leave you all, to dig up some Long Blondes playlists on Spotify.
Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #4 Writer: Kieron Gillen Artists: Jamie McKelvie, Julia Scheele, Luis Sopelana Colorist: Matthew Wilson Letterer: Clayton Cowles Flatter: Dee Cunniffe Designer: Sergio Serrano Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 11/18/15 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital