This post was a long time coming. The moment that “One More Time” teaser came out in 2012, it was just a matter of when the swan song would begin playing in my head. I wasn’t entirely sure how I’d play it, but now that Phonogram will play silent forever, I think it’s time I put this out. This is more of a last serenade, just a friendly tune of an attempt in showing my appreciation for the work Gillen/McKelvie and others have done. So, time to put the needle on the vinyl, get this LP going.
Now What You’ve Done, Beetlebum, Get Nothing Done
Months before I started reading Phonogram I had medical issues that destroyed my writing habits. Before that I had a good amount of comic scripts and short story scraps that I were worth exploring, but my brain was annihilated by strong brain medication and underlying fear. It was the beginning of what would become a rather terrible time, and I wanted the words in my head out of them and onto paper to serve as a catharsis, but try as I might, the words coming out of me were shit. I look back at it now and I realized I could have been stronger, but I’m still glad I was weaker, or else I probably wouldn’t come back to this familiar path.
You Won’t Find It By Yourself, You’re Gonna Need Some Help
Comics, my everlasting redeemer, brought me back. It wasn’t Phonogram immediately, however. Another writer who in the past works as a totemic symbol got me going – Warren Ellis. I finally read Planetary, which I had not read before, and the fact it was heavily referential served well for the road ahead. There was something about the fact that the resident hacker, who went by the name of The Drummer, could produce links to the occult. It’s an odd stretch to connect his breed of abilities to phonomancy, but comics and sympathetic magic can work that way.
Magic By Any Other Definition Of The Word
Yes, about sympathetic magic. Simply put, it is magic performed when its effect resembles its cause – “like produces like.” Music is my shamanic totem, voodoo doll, and haunted weapon that connects to the arcane. When there’s a song that plays, one that fills my ears and endorphins drown my brain, things get metaphysical. I feel like I can read the face of everyone in the club’s crowd, or harness male aggression into audio witchcraft. The moments I’m alone in my room and the music is set to ignorant levels, I feel like I’m in true sonic santero mode and sing like Freddie goddamned Mercury. And then, I find that there was a book toying with that very concept? It’s like someone was telling me from the ether, whispering “Here Garay, is the grimoire you have been asking for all your life.” How could I refuse that mystic offer?
We Are Now For Your Inspiration, Soundtrack To The Times
I’ll admit this immediately – before I immersed into Rue Britannia my knowledge of Britpop was very rudimentary. It went only as far as a documentary I stumbled on the TV years ago, “Live Forever – The Rise And Fall of Britpop.”
It was still not enough. From the get-go the shameless, arrogant David Kohl at first did not serve as an easy teacher of the musical lore of 90s British music. But that didn’t stop me from reading. It was the way Kieron Gillen described Kohl’s obsession to Britpop, and Jamie McKelvie’s depictions of phonomancy that made the story come alive. The expressions on the way McKelvie drew faces – Kohl’s shit-eating grins, the faces of Britannia, etc. – as Gillen waxed poetic on magic/music were ace. It read like parts of conversations I’ve had before, or wish I had. Phonogram was simultaneously impenetrable and accessible, an indie rock band telling you it’s better than you but holding your hand with simple hooks that stick to your ribs.
Rue Britannia was important to me because it validated an attempt at writing, at least in some form. I may not have known a goddamn thing about Kenickie, or Kula Shaker, or a shit-ton of other things in that first arc, but it was in a world where I could feel my obsession for music, or recalling an old scene, and capturing the other-worldliness of it. And if that can be done, if you can make the occult from the mundane, then anything is possible.
[Yes, I’m doing a glossary, I’m putting references in this post, why wouldn’t I? Deal with it.]
Story Of A Charmed Man – Modified play on “story of a charmless man,” from the song “A Charmless Man” by Blur. Yes, I was gonna make a Britpop reference out of the motherfuckin’ gate.
“One More Time” – Opening song of Daft Punk’s Discovery album. I shouldn’t have to put this here, they play this song at weddings now.
“Now what you done, Beetlebum…” – First song from Blur’s self-titled album. My favorite song by the band. I believe it’s about heroin.
“You won’t find it in yourself…” – Part of the chorus to “Come On Let’s Go” by Broadcast. They were a really good neo-psychedelia band. It’s a shame the lead singer died.
Warren Ellis – Writer of comics and novels. Most known for Transmetropolitan, The Authority, Crooked Little Vein, and others. His work can been seen in movies like Red and inspired parts of Iron Man 3.
Planetary – Seminal Warren Ellis comic, a story of archaeologists of the weird. Each issue is a great send-up to pop culture references.
Magic by any other definition of the word – David Kohl says this in Phonogram: Rue Britannia #1. Right after he uses his powers to get into a club.
Santero – Name for practitioner of Santeria, the predominant Latin American form of witchcraft.
Freddie Mercury – Lead singer of Queen. If you don’t know who that is to begin with…well, you need Jesus, or the Devil, or Stephen Hawking to save you, kid.
We are now for your inspiration… – Part of lyrics to“Nightlife” by Kenickie. I kinda fucks with this song, although not with the band.
Britpop – Mid-90s British rock/pop. Really British mid-90s rock/pop. Influenced by the history of guitar music from their beloved kingdom. Bands include Oasis, Blur, Elastica, Pulp, etc.
Kenickie – British pop punk band. “Iggy Pop’s atom bomb and Dusty Springfield’s Hiroshima’s eye shadow”, as David Kohl says in Rue Britannia.
Kula Shaker – Late Britpop band. I’m pretty sure the only thing they made of consequence stateside was their cover of “Hush”. In agreement with Gillen, they’re kinda basura.
I made it a point to wait until a few issues before I posted anything on this comic. I of course, am thoroughly enjoying it as I have all Gillen/McKelvie joints, and this modern pantheon drama hits many things, simultaneously, that I will perhaps go into detail in future posts. For the time being, here is a small ramble. 1-2-3-4.
Godhood is a violent prospect. The life/death cycle, avatar-esque nature of deities across all mythologies (Greek, Egyptian, Mesosamerican, etc.) come down to one thing – the wonder is as bloody as it is holy. There is the primordial chaos of Tiamat, the fratricide of Cronos and his children, and Odin ripping an eye out for wisdom. It makes sense that the cold open of The Wicked + The Divine is a destructive one. It is a modern creation myth, an Enûma Eliš of sorts, not because Gillen and Mckelvie are making modern versions of dragons and monsters but because they want to let you know this is how it will be. In the faces of the four Jazz-Age young gods – resolute, nonchalant, excited, and hesitant – they prepare for a cataclysmic end. It is a small microcosm of what will come to pass in all stories. The light of creation does not come peacefully in Gillen/McKelvie’s story, but in fire and destruction. This is also true in Ananke’s transformation of Lucifer . If Laura were to become a god at some point during the series, which is doubtful, her transformation will be just as rough.
And honestly, how bad is the construction of your modern gods – your cherished musicians, artists and writers? Consider the myriad abuse, drugs, poverty and mental difficulties. Consider that Philip K. Dick was constantly broke, paranoid, and had hallucinatory episodes. You have Van Gogh, of course, along with Basquiat who even with all his fame in life still had a crippling heroin addiction. The concept of the life/death of the WicDiv gods is an interesting 27 Club of sorts that will be interesting to see unfold as the story progresses.
The millennial updates of the gods in WicDiv is intriguing to me from many points, one of them my lapsed South American Catholic one. Latin American Catholicism is a mix of saints with orishas, relics mixed with the roots of the land. Even witchcraft has connection to the cross. My connection vis-à-vis WicDiv comes through the Lord of Lies, The Adversary, Apollyon, The Lightbringer, etc. etc. Lucifer is a very powerful character to Catholics – even my brother, who also does not follow the faith as much anymore, has a tattoo of the devil getting his ass kicked by St. Michael the Archangel.
One must wonder in the world of the comic what would be on the backs of her followers when they take off their white suits. Would it be a giant graphic of the morning star sigil, or will it be Luci standing in a pose similar to Bowie in his Thin White Duke era, grinning as she stands over a dead angel in the pits of hell? If you were a follower of Luci, what would be tattooed on yours? That simple morningstar, perhaps an unchained Lucifer from an idea you came up with in the middle of a coke binge one night? If it was a theoretical me, given that my shift comes from recovering Catholic to believer in a sartorial sinful goddess, my tat would be…well, I don’t know. It will come to me in time.
The Morrigan/Baphomet scene feeds all those parts of your body when you go into an underground show. There were two shows I had been to that came to mind when I read that scene. The first was in a warehouse in New Jersey where a DJ was playing house music and a man put up sheet rock as a makeshift bar/lounge. The drinks were horrible of course but the crowd was fun. As always, things ended abruptly the moment red-and-blue lights made their appearance from the windows outside. The second show was a more peculiar setting – a Chinatown dim sum restaurant closed for the night – but the DJ was more exciting. Crystal Castle’s Alice Glass was headlining, and of course everyone was sweating out their water/booze/drugs in anticipation for her to come out. And when she did it was well worth it.
Those two moments fit Baphomet and Morrigan. Baphomet is that dingy warehouse, the pounding music as energy leading to something ominous. While getting caught by the five-o is not as dire as death-by-phantasms, the prospect still gets your heart racing as you make your way past decades-old rebar and crumbling brick. Morrigan is seeing Glass jump over the knobs and sound system to stand over the crowd (took a photo of it here on a crappy phone camera), becoming the lord as she always does at a show lit only by tea candles and two party lights. A dark goddess playing whatever the hell she wanted, everyone thinking she was perfect, and the crowd loving every second of it.
So 2010 was a fun year for music for me. Two of my favorite albums were Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy score. WicDiv’s Baal and Woden are avatars of my 2010 music love. Baal’s red suit and the mural in its Michelangelo-esque glory – which was an amazing synthesis of McKelvie and Nathan Fairbairn – is undeniably MBDTF-era Kanye.
As for Woden, not only is he wearing a Guy-Manuel de Homnem-inspired helmet, but the rest of his suit and that of his valkyrie come straight from The Grid. All he is missing is a light-cycle in that panel to really seal the image. This continues with the rest of the gods. Amaterasu’s aesthetic is in full Florence Welch, flame-red hair and long gowns suiting her. Baphomet mirrors an early Andrew Eldritch, shirtless and wearing a black leather jacket and sunglasses just like in the “This Corrosion” music video:
The Morrigan is a three-part goddess all connected to her Celtic roots, but the primary one is a Kate Bush/Lorde ultra-goth hybrid of the dark. Sekhmet appears to have a Sky Ferreira/Grimes look to her. The most enigmatic of all is Ananke, who has no easy or modern pop cultural frame of reference to work with. She is necessity personified, sure, but I imagine from an aesthetic perspective what was necessary to make her.
As the story progresses I think I may come up with more WicDiv posts. For the time being, I’ll continue counting, and snapping, and counting and snapping…
I had been to smaller conventions before – The Nova Albion Steampunk Exhibition in 2011 and PAX East this year, but New York Comic-Con was the first time I almost felt overwhelmed going through crowds of cosplayers, garden-variety geeks, and bewildered parents of tween Homestruck fans (which I honestly don’t get, or maybe I really am old). I didn’t really take in the full con at first due to working on Thursday and my Friday was severely cut from an immense pain in my feet from a beforehand walking from the New York Public Library down to Union Square in a “team-building” exercise for work.
I did manage to get a primary target out of the way on Friday despite the pain. I wanted to get my copies of Pax Romana and The Nightly News signed by Jonathan Hickman, the writer/artist of the books. For those that don’t know, both are indie graphic novels in which the former’s premise answered the question of what history would be like if the Middle Ages had never happened, and the latter involves terrorists against the media. Hickman’s current run on Fantastic Four was pretty good as well, seeing as you know, actually got me to read FF comics for the first time without tossing them back into a bin somewhere.
When it was my time to speak to him, I told Hickman as he signed my books that his run on Fantastic Four was the first time I had ever cared about them.
“Me too!” he responded.
I had my friend Phil take a photo of me with Hickman.
Oh, one more Friday photo of note is that of writer/artist and Kabuki creator David Mack.
Saturday was the true slog, however. I had convinced to take my mother, sister, and brother-in-law around the convention to their first huge convention. I had no internet/phone service from the moment I got within yards of the Jacob Javits Center, and after finding all of them more than an hour later, I lost them in the first fifteen to twenty minutes of walking around with them. I knew it would be pointless to find them in the crowd, so I walked around until more of my friends showed up. From there on out I walked around, taking photos of cosplayers. Here are some of the greatest hits from the entire con:
The above photo is a good segue for an interesting part of my con experience. I am fascinated with the steampunk scene. I used to own these great goggles but I lost them in the move back to Jersey. I saw this old man from Michigan selling them at a reasonable price (as if there is a reasonable price for gear of that sort) which included magnifier glasses. Phil said something that proved to be correct: ladies love cool goggles:
To be a complete attention whore about my new gear, I kept them on my head. even when I left the con to get food. I had a female tourist sitting outside a restaurant ask about them, and I had a group of women staring at me the entire time I was at a nearby dive bar. I wasn’t in the mood to start a conversation, however. The real test of the theory though? Her:
She politely complimented me on my goggles after I took this photo. That pretty much validated the purchase.
My final (and probably most important) target of the convention happened on the final day. I wanted to meet Phonogram and current Journey Into Mystery writer Kieron Gillen. To put it simply, Gillen is one of my new heroes. Gamer writer (he founded Rock Paper Shotgun), music geek on a level I’ve never been to (seriously, read the original and see just how much Britpop you really know), and apparently pretty solid at conventional comics seeing as the line in the 3:00-4:00 time frame comprised entirely of his fans, mostly young teenage girls obsessed with his Journey Into Mystery run. I normally like to chat with people in line, but seeing as I along with my associate Rob were probably a good ten years older than the people behind and in front of us, we both kept quiet.
I had brought two things for him to sign: one was a trade of his short run on the quickly cancelled SWORD from Marvel, and his sequel to the original Phonogram, The Singles Club. When it was my time to speak, I had put the SWORD trade on top. I slid them over to him and said:
“I bought the first one to keep the Marvel thing going but..”
I then slid it over to show the Phonogram trade. He smiled and did that British thing where they tip the side of their nose. I went off and told him that Phonogram was my Velvet Underground (to understand that, there’s this old anecdote that the first VU album did not do well financially, but it helped inspire and start many bands) in that he helped validate some of my old ideas of the connection between music and magic. I also told him he stole my idea of using TV On The Radio’s “Wolf Like Me” as a story title and premise. He told me that the same thing had happened to him, only that it was Alan Moore of Watchmen and V for Vendetta fame that took it.
“I took that as compliment,” he said. After that, he asked me if I’m still writing, which is very much the case. He signed my copy with the words “WRITE!!!” and “Music=Magic”, which is the tag of the entire Phonogram series. Rob took this photo of me with Gillen:
Afterwards, I walked around and bought more random stuff in the name of consumerism and went home. Overall, I had a blast. Can’t wait for next years.