ComicsAlliance's Best of 2010 list continues!


5. Phonogram: The Singles Club by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

Production delays, a printing error, and that pesky need to make a living nudged this seven-issue series into this year, when we were finally able to see the completion and collection of one of the best comics of 2009. It may be a cliché, but some things really are worth the wait. Just don't ask anyone who bought Chinese Democracy.

Phonogram: The Singles Club is among the rarest of comics: the kind that appeals to non-readers. Easily accessible but intelligent single-issue stories packaged in lovingly designed art objects that leap out from the trashy clamor of everything else on the shelf. You know. Cool. The concept of "phonomancing" – using music to perform magic – is not only an instant classic to build a comic around, it's an idea that just about everybody in the world can jive with. Everyone has a song that's magic for them. Man has been making music since developing ears, and performing magic to it in various ways, from gamelan rituals to Jimmy Page nastily infecting us with demon semen via backwards guitar solo.
Phonogram can be picked up and moved to any era, set to any soundtrack, and explained to everyone who can hear. It was doomed from the start.

In The Singles Club, the collaborative spark evident in the first volume set the house on fire. Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie are true manipulators of the form of comics, and armed with the dazzling colors of Matthew Wilson, trip through motifs and styles with alarming acumen. Sure, it helps if you know the music all these fluffy little English kids are talking about, but it's all there in the pages. The rhythm of the panels and shifts in storytelling convention evoke the reader's own internal flutters and clangs. Visual beats slice the page like a DJ.

As we discussed in our interview with Kieron Gillen, it's likely that The Singles Club represents something of a swan song for Gillen/McKelvie Productions. The comic that appeals to non-readers is often not read. Hopefully one day circumstances will permit a reunion. As great as these seven stories from one night all are, they feel like the intro for something bigger, the verse that just sets up the chorus. Only time will tell. Even Brian Wilson got to finish Smile. Even Kevin Shields got to finish...oh, wait that's a bad example. Even Pete Townsend did... Nevermind. Brian Wilson. Let's just stick with Brian Wilson.
-John Parker

4. Parker The Outfitby Darwyn Cooke

Parker: The Hunter was great. Darwyn Cooke was already well known as a master cartoonist, and his work on that adaptation of Donald Westlake's classic novel was fantastic. He stuck close to the story, breaking away from it in only minor ways, and the book was strong due to its fidelity to the source material. In Parker: The Outfit, Cooke ups the ante. He breaks away from the strict storytelling he used in The Hunter and blows the hinges off the book in the process.

The thing about The Outfit is that you know how it's going to end. Not the specifics, obviously, but you know that Parker wins in the end. The fun, then, is seeing exactly how Parker exacts his revenge. In this case, he gets some friends to join in on the fun, including one of the best characters from the novels.

There's always a danger present in adapting other works to comics. When pulling from novels, it's all too easy to just adapt the text directly onto the page. The problem with this approach is that it doesn't take advantage of the comic book format. The fact that comics integrate words and art means that you can do incredible things that other mediums can't. A paragraph describing someone's emotion or an action can be conveyed in a single panel. "A picture is worth a thousand words" is a cliché because it's true.

Thanks to Cooke's creativity, the simple act of watching a heist in comic book form is transformed into something else entirely. It's not just panel 1, panel 2, and panel 3. There are novel excerpts, a variety of art styles, and most of all, some fantastic storytelling at work in this book, and I loved every page of it. The book pops and sings with life, despite being an adaptation of a decades old tale. It feels new, and that is always something to be applauded, admired, and, perhaps most of all, purchased.

This book is one of those ones that showcases a master cartoonist at the top of his craft, and all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride. The art, the color, the lettering, the writing, and everything else is simply on point. The next book is a couple years away, but The Outfit is so good that I don't even mind waiting for the next one to see how Cooke one-ups himself again.


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