FanCon Recon 2016: Jamie McKelvie

By: Mandy J Watson
Posted: 4 May 2016
Category: Features Comments View Comments


British artist Jamie McKelvie's creator-owned comics, most of which were also produced in collaboration with writer Kieron Gillen, require as much praise and recognition as his work on titles such as Young Avengers. Here's a primer to introduce comics fans to the magical worlds he's created, which will particularly be of use to fans attending this year's FanCon, where he is a special guest.

Jamie McKelvie is a British illustrator and comics artist (and occasional comics writer) who is probably best known for his run on Young Avengers with Kieron Gillen but for this roundup I want to focus on his creator-owned work, which I will also be doing when I examine work by FanCon's other two international guests, Ian Churchill and Jason Aaron, later this week.

FanCon Recon 2016: Jamie McKelvie

These guides are for those going to FanCon, so they know a bit more about comics that will be discussed on the weekend; those who can't make FanCon, so they know what to look out for at their local comic shops; and, next week, those who went to FanCon but missed some of what happened due to comics overload.

Over the past few months I have gathered as much as of the guests' creator-owned work as I could find that I didn't already own (there are a few items that are now unavailable, expensively unattainable, or wouldn't arrive in time for me to read them) so that I could immerse myself in their worlds and get a sense of their careers and their passion projects that sit outside of the superhero-related work that all three creators are better known for. From this you not only see a progression of their work but you get an idea of what topics fascinate and inspire them and motivate them to create.

In the case of Jamie McKelvie it's music and magic.

Jamie McKelvie's art is generally clean lined and uncluttered yet somehow, especially when it's paired with a skilled colourist, it still manages to depict a richness of environment, especially in his later work. He is particularly skilled at drawing subtle facial expressions that say everything in a glance, as well as conveying emotion through body language.

His work is also noteworthy for not being male-gaze art. All of his creator-owned projects feature strong female characters and they are respectfully rendered as humans, not sex objects. This is probably one of the reasons why, in 2012, he was tasked with redesigning the superhero costume of Carol Danvers, who was transitioned from being Ms Marvel to the new Captain Marvel, and this required a more practical, less ridiculous outfit.

The roundup spans 11 years of work and looks at his most popular series, Phonogram and The Wicked + The Divine, as well as a few smaller works that new fans may not be aware of. What's missing here are the anthologies Four Letter Worlds (2005) (the story Loss, with Amber Benson) [,, ] and This Is A Souvenir: The Songs Of Spearmint & Shirley Lee (2009) (the story Sweeping The Nation, with Kieron Gillen) [,, ].

Long Hot Summer

FanCon Recon 2016: Jamie McKelvieIn 2005 Jamie McKelvie collaborated with writer Eric Stephenson on Long Hot Summer, a one off 96-page black-and-white comic, published by Image Comics, that's set in Los Angeles in (according to the back cover) 1988. The characters are all a bunch of twenty somethings who are part of the California mod revival scene of the 1980s, so scooters, obscure vinyl record collecting, vintage clothes, and mod hairstyles set the background and tone for the story, in which Ken, a completely petulant, mooching loser, manages to find himself a girlfriend, Ashley, who falls for his best (only?) friend Steve. The attraction is mutual and this leaves Steve in a bit of a dilemma.

Unfortunately the story doesn't explore the situation in any depth. It builds slowly and then suddenly gets messy but the resolution, such that it is, isn't particularly satisfying, mainly because you're not emotionally invested in any of the characters. The reason for this is because most of them, male and female alike, are really unsympathetic and unlikeable so it's hard to care about what happens to any of them. Towards the end someone remarks that "all of you guys seem like narcissistic drama queens", which is the best moment in the whole book and really sums up the personalities in this story. The only character who remotely engenders goodwill is Steve due to his passionate defense and tolerance of Ken's mooching and personality but even he squanders this as he begins to make bad decisions.

This book is interesting to examine to see the progression of Jamie McKelvie's art as I think he worked on this project just before the first volume of Phonogram (see below). Both projects feature black-and-white line art and much is conveyed through subtle facial expressions and body language. I did struggle with Long Hot Summer, however, as many of the characters look identical bar a slight difference in hair style or nose shape. The three main characters stand out but there are peripheral characters who show up unexpectedly and can be mistaken for them so sometimes I had to backtrack by a few panels to figure out who was who.

This is a light story that's quick to read and, unfortunately, doesn't present any new thoughts or push any boundaries but if you're a McKelvie fan it's worth picking up to see some of his early work.

Long Hot Summer: Image Comics

Phonogram Volume 1: Rue Britannia

FanCon Recon 2016: Jamie McKelviePhonogram, an original-series collaboration between Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, with Matthew Wilson (colours from the second series), is divided into three separate arcs, completed over nearly 10 years, that share a universe and characters but are each stand-alone storylines that allow the arcs to be read in any order.

The first, Phonogram: Rue Britannia, is a six-issue story that was published between August 2006 and May 2007. In this world "music is magic" and phonomancers are people who are able to have transcendent experiences through their immersion in music, often sacrificing parts of their personalities in the process.

The protagonist is phonomancer David Kohl, whose personality is intimately wrapped up in Britpop, even though the story is set in approximately 2006 (I don't think it's ever expressly stated but that's my estimate based on the other books), 10 years after Britpop has had its heyday.

David is sent on a quest to find the dead goddess Britannia, who is being resurrected to try and bring the Britpop movement back, which will lessen its original impact and meaning, but in the process he struggles with the concept of the loss of his own identity that may result if she doesn't return. It is hard to separate much of this part of the story from what is possibly meant to be more literal (or, conversely, knowing what is metaphor) and I think that's where a lot of readers - including myself - get lost.

FanCon Recon 2016: Jamie McKelvie

There's a primer to the Britpop references at the back of the book but you can understand most of what's going on, without knowing viscerally, via the context. Most people have been immersed in some sort of music movement or genre in their formative years so it's easy enough to understand on a superficial level, even if you don't catch the references, because it's really about the context and the feelings it evokes, not the specific piece of music or band being talked about.

However, I do feel that those intimately familiar with Britpop will get more out of the book than anyone else. I know Britpop more in passing so I am aware of the bigger names and tracks but the details are on another level that escapes me. The third book (see below), which is similar in tone and scope to the first, references music and imagery I'm more familiar with and that was one of the reasons I enjoyed it a lot more.

I struggled with sections of it and in some places felt bogged down by some of the references, as well as what appears to be a vision quest in the middle of the story and, in general, David's pretentiousness and sense of superiority, but I think the latter is part of the experience. You're not supposed to like him; he's supposed to remind you of that acquaintance everyone has who is, as commenters in more than one place online have described him, "an elitist asshole". He is completely wrapped up in this one moment in music and the story makes a point of contrasting this with an ex of his from those years who's grown up and now has a home, a partner, a proper job, and only a peripheral interest in music.

David is stuck, while everyone else has moved on, and he's trapped by his identity and unwilling to make changes as he'll lose who he is.

Gillen has noted that Phonogram is literary fiction in contrast to The Wicked + The Divine (see below), which is genre fiction. This was also his first big comic project after having collaborated with Jamie McKelvie on a strip for PlayStation Official Magazine - UK so it's not surprising that there are moments in which it slips into pretension even when it doesn't mean to. This is a very personal, autobiographical work so at times it comes across as the creators being self-indulgent and elitist about their in-depth knowledge of music but this isn't the intention at all.

Jamie McKelvie's black-and-white art, while suitable for the story, could do with some colour if only to make certain parts clearer but on the whole he captures David's personality well just in the way he draws his expressions.

FanCon Recon 2016: Jamie McKelvie

Unfortunately the trade paperback doesn't include what I believe were helpful annotations at the back of the single issues - there's just the Britpop glossary - so if you're really wanting the full experience it might be best to try and track them down. (They are all listed on the Image Comics web site.) Whether you have the single issues or the trade paperback it probably will take a few readings to get the most out of Phonogram: Rue Britannia and really understand the work. I'm still not there but I keep getting closer and each moment in which more clicks into place feels like a revelation.

Shop online Shop Online: Phonogram Volume 1: Rue Britannia:,, iTunes US,, Readers Den Comic Shop

Suburban Glamour

FanCon Recon 2016: Jamie McKelvieSuburban Glamour is a four-issue miniseries that was completely created by Jamie McKelvie (story, art, and lettering), with colours by Matthew Wilson. (To complete the credits, issue one's colours were by Guy Major and issue two's lettering was by Drew Gill.) The series was published by Image Comics from October 2007 to April 2008 and the trade paperback came out in May 2008.

Suburban Glamour is the story of Astrid, a teen growing up in Lanbern in England who is dealing with the usual complications of school, boys, parents, and growing up wanting to be someone else when suddenly two of her childhood imaginary friends show up, followed later by monsters and faeries.

The fantasy element is not very accomplished, unfortunately. Instead its back story is unnecessarily convoluted, especially for an ending that plays out quite weakly, and it suffers from moments of heavy exposition that really slow down the pace. In contrast the "real world" angsty-teen storyline is much more relatable and well realised, with situations that people can identify with, such as a spiked drink at a party, self-important teachers, and a guidance counsellor who is useless at providing guidance.

Astrid has a knack for getting herself into situations and her best friend Dave is sweetly protective without ulterior motives - their friendship is a core part of the story and is one of my favourite parts. The end message - the importance of freedom and self-determination - is also great.

FanCon Recon 2016: Jamie McKelvie

Once again Jamie McKelvie's ability to convey characters' emotions and reactions without complicating the art is very evident yet there's still a certain sense of place and time in the backgrounds and fashion choices due to a subtle level of detail that doesn't overpower the characters but still provides substance.

FanCon Recon 2016: Jamie McKelvie

So far this is Jamie McKelvie's only solo project, which I think is a shame because, bar a group of asshole jocks whose actions add a darkness to the plot that, sadly, wasn't explored as much as I would have liked, the characters and the friendships are lovely and there's a lightness and a happiness to the work that doesn't exist in the other creator-owned projects that he has worked on due to their more complicated stories and selection of characters who are frequently narcissistic, arrogant, or self-involved. In contrast there's a sweetness and kindness to the characters in Suburban Glamour that's refreshing and adds to a sense of delight that's often hard to find in comics. I'd love to see more.

Suburban Glamour: Image Comics
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Phonogram Volume 2: The Singles Club

FanCon Recon 2016: Jamie McKelvieThe Singles Club arc is seven one-shot issues, each concerning a different phonomancer and his or her evening spent in a club in Bristol on 23 December 2006. The stories intersect so the reader gets different perspectives on events that happen during the course of the evening, which results in a complex, fascinating snapshot in time that's built out of the seven far less complicated individual tales.

The issues were published between December 2008 and February 2010 and then collected in Phonogram: The Singles Club later in 2010. The single issues contain extra material that wasn't included in the trade paperback, including "B sides", which are short stories set in the Phonogram universe that were drawn by other artists. I, unfortunately, haven't read any of them but I believe they add an extra richness to the world as they explore relevant topics and characters in short form. I'm hoping they will one day be collected in their own trade paperback as I'm quite disappointed that they aren't here. The Phonogram universe is complicated and any extra material that helps with insight is welcome.

The trade paperback does, however, include Kieron Gillen's initial character planning notes from 2007, mistakes included, and it's fascinating to see what was removed, what remained, and what some of the thinking was behind each of them. There's also the obligatory glossary, a selection of reference photos, screenshots of the 3D model that Jamie McKelvie built of the club to help him keep track of people's movements throughout the night, behind-the-scenes photos and commentary that give a little more insight into the production of the comic, a sample of script to pencils to inks to flats to colours to give an idea of how a page is produced, and a gallery showcasing the covers of the individual issues.

The start of this arc is where Phonogram first receives colour, by Matthew Wilson, and his work really adds depth to Jamie McKelvie's art, especially in the shadows and highlights on the characters. The result is beautiful. Once again we've got McKelvie's expressive lines working magic in the panels and his skill is particularly noticeable in the fourth issue, Konichiwa Bitches, whose 16 pages are almost all divided into six panels that each focus directly on the DJ booth from the same angle to tell the story of the DJs Seth Bingo and Silent Girl. Wilson's colours masterfully differentiate between the pre- and post-party scenes and the moments that take place during the night's revelries by using a restricted palette for each period (a technique he also uses in other issues to differentiate between past and present), but here it's McKelvie's moment to shine. The fixed focal point means the artistry is all in the two characters' facial expressions, body language, and gestures. Many of the panels don't even have text - Gillen trusts McKelvie to convey the moment solo.

The final issue, Wolf Like Me, gives the work of McKelvie and Wilson another chance to grab a moment in the spotlight in a different way. Unlike the other stories in the arc that are centred in the club, this one largely takes place outside of it, which allowed McKelvie, with the help of Google Street View, to add architectural detail of real world locations scouted and photographed by Gillen. This gives the series more of an anchored sense of place in Bristol.

FanCon Recon 2016: Jamie McKelvie

This is not to say that the art of the other stories in the series is of lesser quality - quite the contrary. The vapid, self-involved, yet sweet Penny, the star of the first story, is a phonomancer whose ability lies in creating moments on the dance floor that are pure immersive, escapist magic - for herself, not others. There is a lightness and a brightness about her and this is conveyed primarily through the body language in the art. The same is true of Marc, the focus of the second story, who, in contrast, is haunted by memories of a girl he loved and is suffering through feelings of loss, and wanting, and despair.

Kieron Gillen recommends that new readers start with this volume and I have to agree as it's a much more accessible way into the Phonogram world, as is The Immaterial Girl arc, which I'll get to later in this roundup. The final story, in particular, concerns a character who doesn't consider himself to be a phonomancer and the storytelling of his discovery that he also has some magical abilities is very helpful in understanding what a phonomancer actually is, which is, in fact, part of the aim of the entire The Singles Club arc. It's to teach us that everyone has had a magical experience connected to music. Although some people will become immersed in a movement in their formative years to the point where their personalities can't really be separated from it even those who don't will still have memories and feelings connected to specific songs. When they hear those songs again the memories are evoked and for a brief period of time the listener is transported back to that moment even though it's long gone. That, in and of itself, is a special kind of magic.

FanCon Recon 2016: Jamie McKelvie

Phonomancing (phonomancery?) is also about what's created in the present and that's what The Singles Club is all about. The entire story arc is fantastic and, therefore unsurprisingly, it's my favourite of the three.

Shop online Shop Online: Phonogram Volume 2: The Singles Club:,,, Readers Den

The Superhero Interlude

(This is for those who want a bit more of an understanding of Jamie McKelvie's career timeline.)

While finishing Phonogram: The Singles Club Jamie McKelvie partnered with Kieron Gillen to write a four-page short story, Sweeping The Nation, for the anthology This Is A Souvenir: The Songs Of Spearmint & Shirley Lee. They then collaborated on a Thor one shot for Marvel, as well as few issues of X-Men. McKelvie also worked on a number of other Marvel projects (and a few DC ones too) with writers such as Matt Fraction, Brian Michael Bendis, and Warren Ellis and redesigned Carol Danvers' Captain Marvel uniform before collaborating once again with Kieron Gillen on a two year run on Young Avengers that won a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comic Book. (The run is collected as Young Avengers Volume 1: Style > Substance, Young Avengers Volume 2: Alternative Cultures, and Young Avengers Volume 3: Mic-Drop At The Edge Of Time And Space.)

After 15 issues they wrapped up their work on the series and stepped away from traditional superheroes in order to pursue other projects, the most important of which was The Wicked + The Divine.

The Wicked + The Divine Volume 1: The Faust Act

FanCon Recon 2016: Jamie McKelvieEvery 90 years (or "saeculum", if you want to get fancy) 12 gods known as the Pantheon reincarnate by each merging with a young human, which gives the humans supernatural powers. The gods will all die within two years before possibly being reincarnated again in 90 years and this cycle is known as the Recurrence. There are more gods than the 12 positions in the Pantheon so the same gods may not reincarnate in every cycle. The Pantheon is overseen by Ananke, a former god who sits outside of the cycles who does not die. Instead she looks after the gods and guides them through the process. Each Recurrence brings inspiration into the world, which furthers the progress of civilisation, and Ananke's role, therefore, is to ensure that the cycles continue.

In 2014, in Britain, the cycle reboots again.

In The Faust Act we are introduced to the first of the gods, who are all musical superstars who are able to create transcendent experiences for their audiences, which has resulted in a mass following that has quickly materialised as the gods have been revealed (some are still to come later in the series). One of these fangirls is 17-year-old Laura, who operates as the reader's point of view, but we also meet journalist Cassandra, who doesn't believe in the gods and thinks this is all a giant scam, thereby offering a counter opinion for readers who aren't convinced.

The gods in The Wicked + The Divine are inspired by contemporary music idols, most being a blend of more than one, and the storyline is heavily immersed in pop culture, which is why Gillen has described this as genre fiction, in contrast to Phonogram, which he considers to be literary fiction. Many themes are similar but far more accessible and there's a sense of wonder, excitement, and drama in the characters in this series (even though it's actually about death) that takes the place of the pretentiousness and introspection in Phonogram.

The series, which debuted in 2014 with Image Comics and is ongoing, brings together the team of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie with Matthew Wilson, and adds Clayton Cowles as the letterer. The four would later go on to collaborate on the final arc of Phonogram in 2015 (see below).

The Faust Act spans the first five issues of the series and is very much a murder mystery - Lucifer (or Luci, who is partly based on Bowie in his Thin White Duke phase) is framed for murder (or is she?) and Laura tries to unravel what's going on and find a way to prove Luci's innocence, which leads Laura deeper into the Pantheon.

Those worried that the team is blithely appropriating culture will be glad to know that the series is perfectly self aware - "I see a provincial girl who doesn't understand how cosplaying a shinto god is problematic at best and offensive at worst," Cassandra snarls at Amaterasu in the first issue, and "Look at Woden and his cheerily racist army of ethnic mono-cultured valkyrie fuck buddies," Luci observes to Laura in the second issue - and the mix of gender and sexual identities are also respectfully handled.

The art is incredible. The team of McKelvie on line work and Wilson on colours just brings the world to life. Some of the double-page spreads in particular are just masterful. McKelvie also devised great iconography for all the gods that the readers are generally left to figure out for themselves but once you do it helps you to keep track of who is alive, who isn't, and what's still to come as interstitial pages peppered throughout the issues display dates and the icons of the gods who are still alive.

Each god, of course, also has a particular physical look and style that has to evoke the team's inspirations enough that you can get it without necessarily knowing who the real-world musical references actually are and this is married with details from the god's mythology.

FanCon Recon 2016: Jamie McKelvie

As usual the work also plays to McKelvie's strengths, with much often being said in the look in a character's eyes. There's a lot of communication going on in the story so the art primarily focusses on the characters, with the colours serving to enhance the backgrounds, which leaves a few special panels to have beautiful backgrounds and more detail, usually to work as establishing shots but occasionally just to take your breath away.

The Wicked + The Divine won the Best Comic award at the 2014 British Comic Awards and was nominated for Best New Series, Best Cover Artist (McKelvie/Wilson), and Best Coloring (Wilson) at the 2015 Eisner Awards although it, unfortunately, didn't win any of those categories. It's been deservedly recognised by both the industry and fans and it just gets better from here as it continues to explore, and massacre, the cult of celebrity using contemporary themes and icons.

Shop online Shop Online: The Wicked + The Divine Volume 1: The Faust Act:,, iTunes US,, Readers Den Comic Shop

The Wicked + The Divine Volume 2: Fandemonium

FanCon Recon 2016: Jamie McKelvieAn unexpectedly dramatic moment ends The Faust Act but not before a plot twist teases the reader into the second arc of The Wicked + The Divine, Fandemonium, which runs from issue six to eleven. The issues were published between December 2014 and June 2015 and the trade paperback came out in July 2015.

Once again the team of Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson, and Clayton Cowles produces great work as the world building from the first arc is fleshed out in the second. Clayton Cowles, especially, gets to play with fonts and colour as more of the gods in this issue have a specific lettering design for their speech.

In this arc Laura has become even more of a god groupie while she continues to try to solve one of the mysteries from the first arc - who tried to assassinate the gods - while also trying to discover if she may be one of the remaining gods who is still to be revealed during this Recurrence. She's had moments that have made her believe that she may have powers and a more divine purpose, plus her association with Lucifer has elevated her to celebrity status and she feels as if she might have a destiny within the Pantheon. At the same time she's still just a teenager trying to navigate the world and the usual teenage issues and angst that comes with that.

FanCon Recon 2016: Jamie McKelvie

This arc introduces us, to among others, Innana, who is loosely based on Prince (which, as with Lucifer's Bowie, is an even more poignant creation now), and Dionysus, whose issue offers some very interesting colour work and panel layouts (that, I have to say, confused me as I initially wasn't sure if you were supposed to read them as spreads or single pages because of how the pages interspersed with them flow; there's a note at the back of the book that hints at how the team struggled to put all the panels together so I'm not surprised that it ended up being a bit convoluted to read).

FanCon Recon 2016: Jamie McKelvie

Again there are specific panels that are just magical, including a moment in which Innana materialises through sparkles and star dust (into a morgue, which is a beautiful, amusing contrast that plays on the comic's themes of life and death) and an aerial view of the Ragnarock festival that is taking place in Hyde Park. Notes at the back of the trade paperback actually go into some detail as to how these pages were created by the team.

FanCon Recon 2016: Jamie McKelvie

This arc ends on one hell of a punch - it's fantastically played out and completely stops you in your tracks - and the cliffhanger was extra excruciating because the third trade paperback hadn't yet been published when I read this arc. However, as we'll soon see, once that book came out it didn't help to resolve the absolute bomb that was dropped to conclude The Wicked + The Divine Volume 2: Fandemonium.

Shop online Shop Online: The Wicked + The Divine Volume 2: Fandemonium:,,, Readers Den Comic Shop

The Wicked + The Divine Volume 3: Commercial Suicide

FanCon Recon 2016: Jamie McKelvieThe third story arc, Commercial Suicide, runs from issues 12 to 17 and was published from July 2015 to December 2015. Jamie McKelvie spent most of this time working on Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl (see below) so guests artists - Kate Brown (issue 12), Tula Lotay (issue 13), Stephanie Hans (issue 15), Leila del Duca (issue 16), and Brandon Graham (issue 17) - stood in on all but one of the issues, with McKelvie just creating the covers and a "videogram" per issue (which are all thankfully collected in the trade paperback, unlike the absent B sides from Phonogram) that is a one page story told through the lens of a camera (hence the "videogram") that just adds a little more depth to the The Wicked + The Divine universe.

I found the switch of styles between each issue very jarring - it really emphasises how important a specific artist can be to storytelling in comics - and because of this after the first reading there was a lot I couldn't remember about the arc. I think it's also because the second arc once again finishes on this amazing cliffhanger yet the third arc doesn't address it all. It just jumps to other parts of the story for six issues and you're left wondering - for far too long - what the hell happened. It also fills in the back story for some of the gods so there's very little forward progression of the main plot.

We learn a lot more about the mysterious Tara (in issue 13, drawn by Tula Lotay), who probably has the most tragic story of all the gods. She really just wants to be appreciated for her music - her actual music from her former life - not the facade and the show that she becomes as Tara, where she is treated as a piece of meat by the fans. She is targetted by misogynistic Twitter hoards and is abused by the "fanbase". It's poignant and scary for anyone who's encountered Internet toxicity, as well as so perfectly contemporary, and consequently it's one of the best stories in the book.

FanCon Recon 2016: Jamie McKelvie

Issue 14 is notable because it's a remix work. The team went through all the art from issues one to eleven and constructed a new story by almost completely reusing panels and art snippets from these previous issues, with McKelvie just adding a few new pieces of art here and there and Wilson making changes to the colours where necessary. The story is told from Wōden's perspective and adds a whole lot of extra information to past story moments so as to reveal new mysteries as well as provide readers with some answers to long-standing questions that deserved some closure.

The other issues serve to explore Beth, who has taken Cassandra's place as the antagonistic journalist pursuing the gods; Amaterasu; The Morrigan and Baphomet; and Sakhmet.

Commercial Suicide largely works to close a number of storylines from the previous issues but in doing so it also opens up a whole new collection of questions that presumably will be played with in future issues. Its biggest failing is straying from the main plot for too long and it becomes frustrating because of how dramatically the previous arc ended. Issue 18, which came out last month, looks to be returning to the main plot so hopefully the pace will pick up again. I'm all for back stories and fleshing out characters but this isn't nearly as deftly handled as, say, Jason Aaron's work in Scalped.

Nevertheless this volume is, of course, crucial to the world of The Wicked + The Divine and the visual exploration of the characters by other artists becomes a lot more interesting after repeated readings once you've digested the story the first time and given yourself some space to think about it.

Shop online Shop Online: The Wicked + The Divine Volume 1: Commercial Suicide:,, iTunes US,, Readers Den Comic Shop

Phonogram Volume 3: The Immaterial Girl

FanCon Recon 2016: Jamie McKelvie"And once again we return to this."

Due to the lacklustre sales of the first two story arcs the team decided to call it quits on Phonogram but in 2012, after a change of heart due to a sense of the series being unfinished, they announced that a third arc would be produced, Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl. Jamie McKelvie did some initial work on the pages at this time but then other projects got in the way, notably Gillen and McKelvie's work on Young Avengers and then their new monthly creator-owned series The Wicked + The Divine, and it was only in 2015 that the team were able to get back to it. McKelvie stopped work on The Wicked + The Divine in order to concentrate on The Immaterial Girl, which is why Commercial Suicide (see above) features guest artists for most of the issues.

The Immaterial Girl, which was eventually released as six issues from August 2015 to January 2016, with the trade paperback launching in March this year, focusses on coven leader Emily Aster, who, in 2001, sacrificed half her personality for the power that she now wields and a self-reinvention that is hinted at in the third issue of The Singles Club. Nearly 10 years later Claire, the other, self-destructive, half of her personality, wants out from behind the screens and mirrors in which she is trapped and Emily is pulled from the real world into Claire's place, where she now has to find a way back before Claire destroys everything Emily has built in the real world.

This is all, of course, a metaphor but the visual references that are woven into the story - such as the particularly genius use of music videos that include A-ha's Take On Me and Madonna's Material Girl - are much more accessible to a wider audience.

FanCon Recon 2016: Jamie McKelvie

The story jumps around in time to tell Emily's story, with sections that are similar to Rue Britannia, which helps to draw parallels for those who were confused by the first arc. Many of the same characters, such as David Kohl and Indie Dave, make appearances as supporting players and we learn more about the founding and aims of the coven, which was another plot point from the first arc that didn't comes across very well. In this arc we also see that magic can be much more of a physical manifestation and can affect the real world, which helps to define it better as in the other arcs it can be difficult to determine what is supposed to be real and what is metaphor (besides everything being metaphor).

The weaving of music videos into the plot as Emily tries to escape what is referred to as "behind the screen" is just fantastic. Jamie McKelvie does an amazing job of recreating scenes from the videos in which Emily is now immersed and it's fun to look them up (I haven't watched the Eighties videos in decades) and compare his work to see exactly which sections and visuals he referenced. They're my favourite visual parts of the story along with what I believe was a painstakingly researched spread of Times Square in New York.

Certain sections are in black and white (in one instance it's partly during an homage to Scott Pilgrim), which requires McKelvie's art to stand alone, but elsewhere Matthew Wilson's colour work, once again using restricted palettes to set specific tones, continues to enhance the line work and bring extra magic to the pages.

FanCon Recon 2016: Jamie McKelvie

As with The Singles Club, the single issues that comprise The Immaterial Girl also include "B sides", stand-alone short stories set in the Phonogram universe that are illustrated by other people. Sadly, once again, they are not included in the trade paperback. This is because the creators feel that they would mess up the pacing but it's frustrating not being able to read them so I would recommend getting the single issues if you want a wider experience of the world. The trade paperback does include the traditional glossary, the original 2012 teaser that was a little premature, a playlist per issue of songs that Gillen was listening to as he wrote and rewrote the issues sporadically in 2011/2012/2015, plus email exchanges as members of the creative team tried to figure out a style of the Ceefax lettering that appears as the captions when Emily is behind the screen (noteworthy lettering work, throughout this arc, by Clayton Cowles).

Lack of B sides aside, this arc really does end the series well and helps to flesh out aspects that were convoluted in the first arc. It also beautifully pulls together a lot of plot threads, suitably ending some characters' stories while beginning others, and it really emphasises the cyclical nature of life.

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The Future

The Wicked + The Divine is in full swing, with issue 19 out today, so that project will likely take up a lot of Jamie McKelvie's time. The series has been well received - and hopefully is selling well too - so it's expected to run to just over 40 issues; Kieron Gillen has planned out that much material and, naturally, knows the conclusion, he just has to get the story there.

Phonogram, I think, is done. Although there is a huge world that can be explored it certainly feels as if it is complete as The Immaterial Girl is a fitting end to the story that began a decade ago. However, as with The Wicked + The Divine, the story does hint at cycles... so who knows?

Jamie McKelvie is a special guest of the inaugural FanCon Cape Town Comic Con, which is being held at The Lookout at the V&A Waterfront from 7 to 8 May 2016.

Tags: #books, #comics, #horror, #lgbti, #speculative_fiction

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