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Alternate Cover Special : Phonogram Interview

Alternate Cover

Regular readers of Alternate Cover will know that just about our favourite new comics series of the last twelve months has been Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's Phonogram, a brilliant journey through music, magic and myth, and an exploration of nostalgia as seen through the eyes of someone with an inextricable tie to Britpop. Indeed, were it not for the existence of All-Star Superman (for Seb) and, oh, anything by Brian Wood (James), it would probably be unanimously our favourite series out there at the moment. Happily enough, the conclusion of the first miniseries, Rue Britannia, its forthcoming collection into a trade paperback, and the already-afoot plans for a second series, coincided nicely with this year's Bristol Comic Expo, the UK's biggest gathering of comics folk, and the 2007 Eagle Awards ceremony, for which Phonogram had been nominated in the category "Best American black-and-white series" (that's American because of the publisher, Image, despite the fact that you'd have to hunt far and wide to find a more obviously British series). Bristol is particularly close to both Kieron and Jamie's hearts - it's where much of Phonogram is set - and so it seemed like the ideal opportunity to catch up with the writer and artist for an interview.

We'd arranged over a couple of quick e-mails to grab a quick ten minutes or so with them at some point in the evening, but hadn't managed to then catch them before the awards dinner began. Mercifully, despite losing out in the ceremony to Robert Kirkman's overrated The Walking Dead, when we caught up with Jamie afterwards in the bar he was still happy to talk to us - provided we could actually find Kieron. A couple of calls to his mobile and a trek around the outside of the building later, we found him on a bench in the car park, and he and Jamie proceeded to very politely give up a valuable forty-five minutes of potential drinking time to give lengthy, informative and entertaining answers to the half-baked questions that myself and James came up with. We'd have edited it down, but frankly, Kieron - a videogames journalist of some ten years or so - is just too damned good a talker. So, barring a couple of cuts of the odd drunken (and potentially libellous) statement, and a lengthy dissection of bad fast food outlet-related puns, here's that conversation in full...

First of all, what's the critical response to the series been like?

Jamie McKelvie Much better than we thought it would be, because we didn't think anybody would understand what we were doing whatsoever in any way...

Kieron Gillen Not that we're pretending to be deep or meaningful, we just thought it was too frankly obscure... not that there's much to understand about Phonogram, but, erm...

Do you think it would've done as well if it didn't have the glossary in the back?

KG That's a really interesting question. Part of me thinks it would've done better. The problem with the glossary is that it implies to people that there's something they're missing, as in, people read the glossary and think "there's a glossary here, so there's stuff I should know". So whilst it's actually entirely possible to read the comic and get it, honestly it really is, people assume the glossary is required and that, y'know, they like the glossary, at least, some of the people do, but other people have been alienated by it.

I like seeing what you guys actually think, because obviously you can't judge your own opinions from what Kohl says, and when you read a comic about music, you generally think well, alright, what are the writers actually thinking?

JM I wouldn't know because I've never read the glossary...

KG You fucking cunt...

JM There's far too many words in it!

Is it just you that writes it, Kieron?

JM He writes it and then he sends it to me...

KG And Jamie just presses 'Yes'.

But yeah, the weird thing about the glossary, or in fact, the whole backmatter is that it was kind of accidental. When we were conceiving Phonogram, when we were pitching it, it was like, 24 pages - so we thought, that's 22 pages of comic, 2 pages of "back matter" - like, the B-side, and a very short glossary, we were thinking. And then when it came out, Image told us 32 pages, because Image fundamentally work as 32-page comics, and we were like "Oh", 'cause as two complete unknowns we felt absolutely terrible charging $3.50 for a black and white comic by two people you don't know about whatsoever and there's gonna be a load of like, ads at the back... and we're like "No, if you allow us to actually write..." So I just started writing like a maniac, and I just filled these pages at the back and it's one of those things that was an accidental part of the process.

JM And you got into it more and more as it went on, and you can tell because the writing got smaller and smaller...

KG 'Cos it was about 3000 words on the first issue and about 6000 in the final issue, but it was good because that's kind of my background. My background was as a fanzine writer when I was like 19-21, so I liked the idea of having like 10 pages of "What are you thinking, Gillen?" And that's what the pages are for, and I think when we do the second series, we can approach those pages and actually be a bit more coherent, and plan it, know what we want to do instead of randomly winging it. Although randomly winging it worked quite well!

JM That's the Phonogram way!

KG Yeah! Improvise! Team Phonogram: Useless! But yeah, that's it really, in that some people, the glossary offends them; some people really liked it...

JM Some people prefer it to the comic!

KG ...which annoys me to hell...

JM Me too! 'Cos I spent ages drawing that!

One thing that we've been wondering about is that, well - obviously us, as readers, we're British, we're in our 20s...

KG I envy you! (laughs)

so we grew up with Britpop, we know the bands, we know the cultural relevance of it all. But how has the series been received in the States? I mean, given that it's an American publisher...

JM It's been pretty good, actually. Well, I mean, it's kinda split, isn't it? There's a lot of people who say "Oh, we don't know who these bands are, there's no possible way we could understand this comic, I'm never reading it again." And you've got the people who sort of use it as a gateway - which is what we wanted anyway - to discover the music that we're talking about, and there's the people who don't really care, and I dunno, there's probably another category of people...

Kieron Gillen (l) and Jamie McKelvie (r)KG There's possibly a group of people who recognise that this is about a universal aspect, we could've written about... okay, this is the normal way I phrase this, the idea that... we joke about, if there was a film version of Phonogram, it would be about grunge, and they'd put it in America. We joke, but y'know, it would work. The point of the story isn't that it's about Britpop. That's the evidence, that's the example we use, but the same thing applies to grunge ten years on, the same could apply to acid house ten years on, the same would apply to early street, new york hip-hop ten years on, to house ten years on, punk ten years on, whatever, you know, I'm going down the list even though I got two of them the wrong way round, so forgive me. The whole point is that this is about nostalgia and these are emotions that happened to people. And some people have got it, and some people have only got it eventually, like the final issue kind of made them sort of click, and realise this is about a universal feeling. But yeah, we used Britpop because it was, one, it was sort of relevant to us, and secondly, it was a kind of relevant time, because the comic comes out and it's ten years on from Britpop, and that's quite important, because the idea of a comic being relevant in time was important for me and Jamie. But it could've been any other movement, but it was Britpop and it worked. My favourite interesting thing is people who don't listen to music at all - well, okay, everyone listens to music, but never quite the idea of music as a personality crutch - the idea that yeah, y'know, this is important to you, and they never quite got that idea, but they go "okay, this comic is why people feel like this." One of the things people quite often turn up in reviews, and correct me if I'm wrong Jamie, is the idea that this applies to comics, too - the idea that these people define their lives by comics...

JM And yeah, take their obsession...

KG Yeah, and the idea was that with Kohl, this was music, and it applies to them as well, so the idea of obsession transcends that boundary.

You were saying then about crossover appeal, and being a gateway into the music - one of the things I've noticed with my friends who are into the British music scene is that they saw Phonogram on the shelves because they're into, y'know, related things, and they went and picked it up, and a lot of them I know are waiting for the trade, but... are you happy that you're taking comics to another audience?

KG Our problem early on was that we thought our audience would be people who don't read comicbooks, which makes it a bit difficult to put out a comic book. But yeah, we wanted that, definitely. I think that there's a proportion of our readership who don't exist yet, who will never go into a comic shop, but on the other hand, the reason why we make the singles, why we try to make the singles worthwihle as an object in and of themselves is because we kind of like the idea of, y'know...we would like to redefine comics in our own image... as in, if someone really liked Phonogram, and wanted the extra material, they'll have to come into a comic shop because they can't just buy the trade.

So the backmatter won't be in the trade?

JM No.


Will there be any?

KG There'll be a short glossary, and there'll be an intro by Luke Haines... but there's a second series of Phonogram, which we've been told we can do, and there'll be even less of the backmatter in the trade. It's very much like EPs to albums, and that's the way we visualise it - because we're two complete nobodies, why would anyone buy our fucking comic?

I've got a lot of friends who are mildly obsessive Luke Haines fans, and as soon as that Luke Haines issue came out I said seriously, I don't care if you're interested in comics or not, go and read this... Did you contact him about the intro, or what?

JM It popped up on his webpage and he e-mailed Kieron...

KGNo, actually, I contacted him, and y'know...Mr Haines - Mr Haines, by the way, I think is a man who demands a Mr - he wrote us this fantastic intro which I... I've got no idea whether he actually likes the comic or not from the intro, but he's definitely very, very much Luke Haines. Which is...crazy.

So have you considered advertising the comic in the music press, or anything?

KG The thing is, it's one of those things, as you say, there's a variety of music people have been given the issue to...

JM Spin did a write up on it...

KG Yeah, Spin did an article on it, Plan B did a little article on it, but it's the sort of thing which, as you say, for the general audience... when there's a trade it'll be a lot easier for them, because, y'know, here's a link to Amazon, you can buy this comic from Borders, there's that level of accessibility which frankly we don't have. But I would like to transform some of that readership, who aren't into comics, and y'know, I've had some of my music friends write me e-mails about how annoyed they are that they've gone into a comic shop, and "Oh, this very horrible-looking man demanded what do I want from this shop, and me in my horrific Belle and Sebastian suit..." and I'd like to transform that. You know, we both love Deadline, and that idea, that confluence of pop music and comics which led, eventually, to Gorillaz down the line, and that's 'cos they're both counter-cultural mediums and the idea of actually mixing it appeals to us. We'd like to sell as many as possible, of course!

JM And we like to cause Image headaches...

KG Yeah, we reeeally like to make Image hurt...

Yeah, I wondered what Image thought of it from a publisher's point of view...

JM They love it!

KG Yeah, they love it.

JM It helps that Eric Stephenson [Executive Director of Image] is a really big Anglophile, and I'd already done a book with him, but he's really into it, and what he says goes anyway. But no, they're all really into it. We've made some really good friends at Image because they've all been behind our book. They, nowadays, like taking a lot more risks than they used to.

KG The reason why we went to Image, in fact, because we were planning on pitching to somebody else, but what Image were doing, like with that Belle and Sebastian book [Put The Book Back On The Shelf], Fell was heading towards, and we knew Casanova was coming out, Image was just like a really cool place to be. There was a sense of a scene, and that felt great. The idea with Image, that image could put out Ant, and us, these weirdly polar opposite books, and they come out under the one banner, which is...that's how comics should always just be. Comics should serve all audiences. What interest us is not what interests the readers of Ant, but, Ant should exist because people love Ant. Image is how comics should be, which is why we like them.

Kieron, what brought you into writing comics? Obviously you've got an underlying interest in them, but you've got quite a varied background in terms of your journalism and your games stuff, so what brought you towards the comics industry?

KG It's a deeply disreputable medium. Give me underdogs. I mean, what sort of cunt would write a novel? They've won. Write a novel, what does that mean? You write a decent comic, it changes the world, and that's always what interests me.

So, did you guys know each other already and think 'okay, let's write a comic' or...?

KG No! Okay, Jamie, you tell the story...

JM Er, I came to Bristol...four years keeps changing, it's either four or five...

KG Yeah, as time progresses...

JM I haven't quite grasped that concept yet. I keep getting older. Anyway, I went to Bristol, was just wondering around with some artwork that I'd done because Roger Mason had convinced me to show some artwork to people, which I wasn't really into at that point. You were sharing a table with Alistair Pulling...

KG Yeah, I was doing Hit and he was doing Never Mind The Comics...

JM Yeah, which I'd done a story in, which was absolutely awful, and I'm really glad no copies exist anymore, I think I burnt all of the ones I could find.

KG I've never actually seen that issue...

JM It's AWFUL. The rest of it's fine, just my bit is the worst thing I've ever seen in my entire life. Anyway, so I showed you some artwork, and I think you saw the early promise and you said "I've got a comic that I want you to draw" and that was it - exchanged e-mail addresses, and you sent me the test script, and it went from there really.

So the gaming strip you do, Save Point, did that come after that?

KG Yeah, the editor of OPM2 [Official PlayStation 2 Magazine] just came to me and said "I would like to do a strip" and I talked it over with him and said "Okay, I've got an idea for 12 months of strips, I can probably do 12 months of this, there's clearly no more ideas after that" and of course, 4 years later we're still doing it.

JM Episode 45...

KG Still not funny.

JM You'd think they'd figure it out by this point.

KG There was probably a period between 17 and 21 we were funny, but I was working with McKelvie, and just, fuck it, I wanted to get McKelvie some work.

JM 'Cos the money was nice.

Phonogram : Rue Britannia trade paperback coverKG So it was just because I knew him. And the fact that McKelvie's developed so much as an artist, even in like the 6 issues of Phonogram you can see....cover your ears, I'm gonna compliment you...y'know, you can see him grow as a human being. You see, the first issue, McKelvie has his basic storytelling techniques fine, but there are things that he did that basically a lot of comics don't do, and he did things like fashion well, he understood how people looked, and it's a comic about youth culture...that's the sort of thing that made me go "fucking hell, you're the man for it." And...I don't have to explain why a certain Kenickie b-side means something to him. He understands the concept of music and why music is important which is what attracted him to me. I don't remember asking him to do the comic with me. In my head, he showed me the art, and I was like 'this guy's good' and I sort of seduced him over a period of months, and I eventually showed him a script, and sort of lured him in, and it was eventually like 'Oh, do you mind if I do some art?' 'Oh, of course you can!' Whereas apparently, it was just the first thing I said to him!

JM Your inside and outside voices got confused.

KG Yeah, it's a bit confusing. Point being, he's awesome. It was just a really lucky coincidence and it worries me to think "what if we never met?"

Just on the subject of your artwork, Jamie, one of the things that struck me upon reading the first issue was how clean, and precise, your art is. Have you always drawn like that?

JM Yeah! But it kind of started because I couldn't draw any other way. My style developed because I just didn't know how to do cross hatching and all that stuff, and then I just started leaving it out... and the other thing is that then I was really being influenced by Andi Watson, I don't know if you've read his early stuff, but you progress and see how he drops out the lines he doesn't need, and he's really developed into a simple style... I say simple, but..

KG It's pure. It has a platonic resonance.

JM Each line means something, and he knows what he's doing with it, and that's something I was really attracted to. The other thing as well was that I was reading Sandman, which is what started me drawing comics because I was reading it and really enjoying it, and then I go to The Kindly Ones, with artwork by Marc Hempel, and I was like, I didn't realise comic book artwork could be like this.

I remember reading in The Sandman Companion, P. Craig Russell said about Hempel's artwork, "Fans think that if you draw every leaf on a tree, you're god... but what really impresses me is being able to suggest every leaf on a tree with a single line."

JM Yeah, exactly, I didn't realise that people could do that in comics and get paid for it, and stuff, and I was like "Oh, okay, maybe I'll give this a go."

KG I've never thought of Sandman that way, you're right, in the way it introduces people, that's great, it's really clever.

JM Yeah, it's great, you should read it sometime!

KG No, I've read it, but the idea of it as a gazette of comics forms, that's really clever, that's useful! I'll think about that some more.

JM I am a useful person, dunno if you've noticed. So, yes, that's me in a nutshell.

Yeah, I think the first thing I ever saw of yours was in an Image anthology, Four Letter Worlds, with Amber Benson. How did that come about?

JM Well, I'd been friends with her for a few years, and basically, by that point Eric Stephenson had decided he wanted to do Long Hot Summer with me, but the script wasn't finished and she was at San Diego 'cos she does signings and whatever at these things...

KG She was in Buffy, you know!

JM She was, yeah! I brought her over to the Image table to meet everybody and she'd started writing stuff for comics. I think at that point she'd done the Willow and Tara issue for Buffy, and Eric suggested we do something for Four Letter Worlds, so we did!

KG Ironically that was one of the things that influenced me - in issue #4 of Phonogram where it's in the memory kingdom, when I saw how McKelvie did the enormous wall and the buildings, it made me think, because he draws such a clean style, trying to work out how to do something more surrealistic, was like, "Okay, what can I ask for that he can pull off?" That strip was very much the inspiration for the entire memory kingdom section.

Coming back to Phonogram, then, do you think you achieved everything you wanted to do with it?

JM The one thing more than anything was that we wanted to start building the world - it wasn't just about David Kohl, it was starting the Phonogram world, I think.

KG I think we did everything we wanted to do, but everything we wanted to do wasn't necessarily a clever thing to do. Does that make sense?

JM Everything we wanted to do was not get cancelled by the end of it, so we managed that...

KG It was a bit like, y'know, we knew what we were doing, but we made a lot of really dumb decisions. And some decisions were just dumb, but some decisions were dumb but necessary, which I think was quite important.'s a weird comic which deliberately does stuff which is a bit stupid and that frankly makes us not sell, but if you compromise on that, the integrity of the entire project would fall apart. So yeah, we did everything, some of it was right, some of it was wrong. It feels like a first project, and it is what it is, if you show us any page of Phonogram, both of us will whine about something on that page, but on the other hand, people have gone through their entire careers of fifty, sixty years and never had a chance to do something as personal as Phonogram, so in some ways we feel honoured to make the mistakes.

So when we come to series two, is it going to be less about Kohl?

KG Well, series two is set in a single nightclub, on a single night, seven issues, each one is from the perspective of a different person. Kohl isn't any one of those people, though Kohl is in the nightclub. [Emily] Aster's one, Kid-with-knife is one, but the other five are new characters. So it's absolutely the opposite [of the first series] - Kohl is a useful mouthpiece, and he says a lot of interesting things, but he's not the world. The idea is, after this series, if we went back to the fourteenth century, and did a story about folk music in Romania, it'd be okay... this series is about essentially saying "Okay, you know what this is, this is what it's not." Okay, it's a bit too risky, we'll probably lose a lot of people, but we hope enough people will go along with us, so when they pick up Phonogram, there's just this input, the interest in pop music, and you won't really know anything else apart from the fact that it's me and McKelvie, and how we view the world. But... we could screw up. We'll see where it goes. It could very easily be cancelled after the next series...

What's the plan with the art for the next series?

JM Well, the plan is for a 16-page main story per issue, which is the continuing story but from different points of view, and then the backmatter, which we're going to develop now...

KG Yeah, ten pages. I told you that the backmatter [for series one] was essentially improvised - this time we're attempting to plan it. There's going to be about ten pages of essays and whatever, but they may not all be by me, we're trying to get some interviews with bands, I've already got one TV On The Radio interview which I want to run, but there's lots of other bands - it's essentially taken from Deadline, the idea of merging them together. And then we'll have a six-page backup strip...

JM ...drawn by somebody else. Each issue will be drawn by different people.

KG Yeah, and that might even be a main story and a secondary two-page with someone else. We've been approaching friends and people we admire, and trying to talk them into doing this...

JM Fraser Irving said he's doing one, Chyna Cluggston said she'd do one...

KG Aaaand, that's all the people I'm safely saying, because not everyone else has promised they can do it. But that sort of artist. Similar sort of aesthetic space, people who think the same way we do. It's supposed to give a different viewpoint, especially since we're talking about world building. These short stories will be stand-alone stuff. You know, we can jump around and do a six-page Daft Punk story, or four pages about the Klaxons, or whatever. And the idea is that you pick up the singles, and it's like a magazine - again, Deadline was our major influence - you pick up the singles, they're a single object, but when we come to the next trade, it's just the lead stories. Not the backup stories. Maybe like five years down the line we'll do a collection of them...

Like, Absolute Phonogram?

KG Yeah, well, it's like the Smiths album, Hatful of Hollows, y'know - b-sides and rarities. We'll do a b-sides and rarities when we've got enough. To be honest, if you collected the back stories with the main story, you'd actually ruin the main story. The main story has to be a singular object. If you're reading it on a monthly basis that's one thing, because the idea is that you're reading it as a magazine, and that's a feature of the magazine. If you have a trade where you have these seven single stories and they're meant to interlock, then you've got some extra stuff, that distorts the importance of the main story. So it has to be presented as a single object.

JM Plus my ego wouldn't let anyone else be in the trade...

KG Yeah, exactly, McKelvie might scribble over their art and draw enormous phalluses.

So if you're taking this more magazine-style approach, with more material and so on, does that put more pressure on the series to be more regular? I mean, with comics distribution being what it is... that could be tricky.

JM Yeah, we're planning ahead. We made a lot of mistakes this time.

KG We've learnt a lot from our experiences on series one. There've been unfortunate delays, what was it, nine months to make six issues?

Could be worse...

KG It could be worse, but it could be a lot fucking better. Three months better!

JM Yeah, a lot of things happened. I don't really understand what happens, it appears on Diamond shipping lists, and then it disappears, and then it comes out the next week, or whatever...

KG I think a 1 week delay is acceptable. There were delays in Phonogram which were because of us, not just because of Diamond. It's not like those three months appeared because of them, there was stuff that we take entirely on our own back. And, you know, that we'll be better next time is our only hope, because we know what we're doing. On the other hand, trying to organise dozens of artists at the same time is gonna be hard. Honestly, we'd like to be quite a unique object on the shelf, you know, we don't want to just be another fucking comic. Even though we love comics.

Have you got any plans beyond Phonogram?

JM Yes! Suburban Glamour, a four-issue series starting in September, coming from Image. It's gonna be in colour, which is nice.

Are you colouring it?

JM I'm not gonna be colouring it, no. I'd like to, but just from a time point of view, it helps to get somebody else to do it.

Do you colour your covers?

JM Yep. Pretty much everything you see in terms of covers and art pages in Phonogram is all me. Drew Gill at Image does all the in-between stuff, and the backmatter and everything...

KG Charity [Larrison] did the end of issue three psyche image, the optical illusion...

JM Yeah, the thing that makes your eyes burn was Charity.

KG I was pleased with that.

JM So yeah, Suburban Glamour is written by me as well, so I've got no-one else to blame if it's crap. Er...I'm terrible at describing these things.

KG OK! It's a coming-of-age sort of thing, based on two teens, pop music kids in a really fucking dead end town in the Midlands. The idea that they've got absolutely no fucking way out and suddenly...

JM Something happens! Something big happens. But I don't wanna say any more than that.

KG Urban Fantasy.

So it does have a fantasy slant as well, then?

JM Yes.

KG Fairies.

JM Suburban Glamour. A lot of people don't pick up on the "glamour" thing.

KG They really don't, do they?

JM I was quite proud of that, when I thought up that title

KG It's actually almost too subtle, that's the problem, isn't it? It's a bit too clever.

Just quickly, which "dead-end town in the Midlands"?

JM Malvern, in Worcester. It won't be called that, obviously

KG Series four of Phonogram will be in the Midlands, if we ever get that far.

JM The point is, is that there are towns like this all over the country...

KG It's a universal no-town. It's like Busted Wonder, my webcomic that I do with Charity Larrison, I deliberately set it in this no-town in America, because, you know, it's universal. Everyone wants to escape.

JM It's like...I wanted to be in a rock band and my careers counsellor told me I should be a policeman, sort of thing.

KG YOU should be a policeman?

JM Yeah, That's what they said!

KG Punk rock law!

JM Basically, it's about what you want to do as a teenager, and everyone else telling you you can't do that, and how you deal with that.

KG Emancipation and escape.

One thing I've got to ask, because we both love Lauren [Laverne] as well... have you sent her a copy?

KG No, we're actually scared of her seeing it. I've met Lauren a couple of times...

JM I've met Lauren too, though as a fan so she probably wouldn't remember.

KG I used to run Kenickie's website, well, Kenickie's biggest unofficial website, back when I was a dodgy zine kid. Kenickie Fried Chicken it was called... but yeah, we fear what Lauren would make of it. We know what Luke Haines makes of it.

JM Yeah, Luke Haines thinks it's okay.

KG Actually, we don't know Luke Haines thinks it's okay. We know Luke Haines thinks Luke Haines is okay. (laughs)

I wonder about the Manics...

KG Actually, I really... I worry about the Manics. Obviously, both of us are enormous Manics fans, but we're pretty fucking hard on the Manics, you know what I mean?

I'd be more scared of the fans...

Jamie McKelvie(l) and Kieron Gillen (r)KG I was a Manics fan! We both were, but as I said in the backmatter, hero worship doesn't mean whitewashing. Richey was a cunt, he really fucking was, and what he did was really brutal, and if you think about what he did to those people... step outside what he meant to you, that was a really broken action. Of course, it could've been done for any number of reasons, but under very cold reason, what Richey argued, in The Holy Bible was absolutely puritanical disgust for humanity's excesses so if you accept The Holy Bible as a great album, you've got to reject Richey. I'll...I'll stop, I've said what I meant to. But... I really fucking worry, because y'know, the Manics read comics, they're big 2000AD fans.

Yeah, I remember being quite pleased by that when I read it in Simon Price's biography...

KG Yeah, I remember telling Simon Price, when I met him at some quiz, I explained to him the lyrics from PCP, "Be Pure, Be Vigilant, Behave". He never knew that was from Torquemada, that was from 2000AD. Simon Price is good, and I worry about him as well actually, I wonder if he'll hate it.

I doubt that Damon Albarn would ever see a copy...

KG I worry about Damon Albarn. Can he sue us? I don't think he can sue us.

JM I didn't draw him well enough, you can only tell it's him in about 1 panel. Some people couldn't at all, they were like "it doesn't look anything like him!"

I think that's one of the things that works about the art's stylisation, because it's not insanely detailed, there's enough of a suggestion of who people are... I've got to be honest, Luke Haines I didn't get straight away but that's because I'm not a huge fan...

KG Luke Haines is obscure, yeah...

JM Part of it is deliberate, the other part of it is if you try and do a Google picture search for anyone from Britain in the '90s you get these tiny little pictures, about four of them...

KG Resolutions were smaller!

JM '90s Britain doesn't exist to Google, so that makes it kind of difficult to do the picture research and everything. Obviously, Damon Albarn is still around, Luke Haines is still around, looks quite different, Jarvis Cocker basically hasn't changed, in the last 30 years...

KG I would like to know what Cocker would've made of it, because Cocker, of course, is barely mentioned in it, and part of the story is that we can't mention him more, because that's part of the story, that we think Pulp's under-appreciated.

Also, the best cover of the entire series, the trade cover...

KG Yeah, it's gorgeous!

JM Nah, it's rubbish!

It's funny, though, you talk about getting people to buy the singles instead of the trade and then put the best cover on the trade!

KG It was improvised, actually, that came to us quite late.

JM We wanted to do a Pulp one.

It does suit the storyline as a whole better than any individual issue...

JM Yeah, issue five was originally going to be a Pulp single, and then we felt that we couldn't really do a single after the rest of them were albums, and then we moved things around a bit...

KG The Suede cover was originally gonna be issue two, we knocked it back for reasons of...fear of homophobia, to issue five...

JM Yeah, we wanted to have people more than halfway through the series before that, and then they couldn't stop ordering it and buying it.

I love the thought that people might get offended by the cover, not realising that it was based on an album cover that attracted exactly the same type of furore fifteen years ago...

JM Absolutely.

KG Yeah, and it's the same guy kissing himself, it's narcisissm, not homosexuality.

JM It's funny, if we'd had two girls kissing, no-one would've batted an eye.

KG That's one of the major reasons why we did it, the whole fucking sapphic comic cover, fuck, it annoys the shit out of me. It's like issue one of Phonogram where we had the sex scene with Aster and the nameless girl, it's a scene that works but that annoys me, because it's pandering, so that's one of the reasons I wanted to do the fifth cover, because I wanted to have male on male action. 'Cos the first issue wasn't about...I don't want anyone to jerk off over that scene. I mean, I really like people having sex, masturbating over my characters, that's fine, that's cool...

JM Somebody bought that page.

KG Did they masturbate over it?

JM I don't know. I've never asked them. They bought it, that's where the transaction ended.

KG Point being, we're a sexually progressive comic in that way, we don't want that idea in comics that girls getting on girls is fine, but blokes are beyond the pale, and that's one of the reasons I really wanted to do that cover, it was me paying my penance for the first issue, 'cos whilst there's a reason we did it, I'm also aware that there's something ethically iffy about the way we did that, and I didn't really realise at the time because I was too busy writing.

I did notice, from the dates, it looks like you completed the scripts quite far in advance of the series...

KG It depends what you mean by completed... I mean, I can't stop fiddling with a script until...

JM Until I'm like ripping it from his hands! I didn't start on it until he'd finished a first draft of every issue, but between that draft and what the last draft was...

KG Issue four I rewrote from scratch...

JM Even the other issues where you just redrafted them, though, were significantly different. If I'd drawn from that first draft then the dialogue and everything wouldn't have worked at all from the later drafts.

KG Abstractly, if I died, you could've drawn the comic. It was abstractly finished in a structural way, but it was a work of obsession. It's one reason I haven't pitched anything else since. Until Phonogram was completely and utterly finished, I couldn't concentrate on anything else.

JM That was the reason, if we can talk splits... a lot of Image comics, people would split it 30% writer, 70% artist with profits and whatever, but we did it 50/50, mostly because Kieron spent so long and put so much into this I wouldn't have felt right taking any more.

KG It's a weird comic for me, McKelvie's worked his fucking arse off, but it's broken my tiny little mind, and if I died tomorrow it'd be alright because I've done Phonogram. It really is that simple. Which is really scary.

You can read more about Kieron's writing, and archives of his and Jamie's excellent gaming strip Save Point, at Jamie's portfolio site, where you can also buy original artwork from him, is here. Read more about Phonogram at the official site. The "Rue Britannia" trade paperback is due out from Image Comics... soon. And the individual issues are (mostly) still available at any thoroughly disreputable comic shop. BUY THEM.

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I can't believe you left out Kent's Tuck In Fried Chicken!

By Jamie McKelvie
May 20, 2007 @ 11:39 pm

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Awesome interview. This was so fun to read guys.

By chris
May 21, 2007 @ 8:17 pm

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One of the most pretentious comics I've ever read. The obsessively self congratulatory back matter just tops it off. Nice art though.

By Anonymous
May 21, 2007 @ 9:57 pm

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