Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie argue that Phonogram is an awful way to learn about humanity

Illustration for article titled Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie argue that Phonogram  is an awful way to learn about humanity

The New York Comic Con is three days of tightly packed comics action, a quick but enormous event in Gotham City. Sifting through the content, we ask some of our favorite comics creators questions on their craft in The A.V. Club’s Comics Questionnaire.


Writer Kieron Gillen and illustrator Jamie McKelvie are coming off arguably the biggest year in their careers to date. After a wildly popular run on Marvel’s Young Avengers, the pair launched the wildly popular The Wicked + The Divine last summer. WicDiv, as fans call it, is about a group of deities that merge with humans every 90 years and the mortal followers who treat them like rock ’n’ roll icons. Currently, Gillen and McKelvie have taken on double-duty, publishing the long-awaited third volume of their previous creator-owned series, Phonogram, about modern-day magicians who draw their power from pop music.

If an alien species discovered The Wicked + The Divine and Phonogram as the only remnant of human civilization, what would they learn about us?

Jamie McKelvie: That we’re all terrible people.

Kieron Gillen: Yeah. That’s an awful fate. Just imagine like Planet Of The Apes. “You finally did it. You formed Kula Shaker.” Phonogram is a complicated book about very shallow people. It’s a book about shallowness. It kind of interrogates the concept and tries to work out why the hell you would care about them. You know, why the hell does anyone care about a pop record anyway? That’s what the book is generally about, and why have you got so obsessed about this shit and why you care about these sort of people. It’s kind of High Fidelity-esque in that way. I tend to think we’re quite harder. We don’t let them off as easy. What else about humans? Art was important to us. There was this thing called “music” that people seem to over-read into. All women have really good haircuts. It was in all black-and-white at one point and then color entered the universe.

The A.V. Club: That’s the way the world was.

JM: I thought that, as a kid, like on television.

KG: I feel like all that Phonogram is, it’s a time capsule. It’s deliberately designed to evoke very specific moments in time. The Singles Club [the second volume of Phonogram] was very much that night in 2006. The smoking ban was coming about in the U.K. What records were available. This is what life was like for a certain strata of people in a certain town. You couldn’t tell much about humanity, but you could certainly tell one expression of humanity in the context. The problem is that’s all that stories do anyway. If you extrapolate from Phonogram, you’ll get a really awful idea about human civilization. Not necessarily an inaccurate one. [Laughs.]

If my résumé included a whole summer spent reading The Wicked + The Divine and Phonogram, how could I spin that into valuable work experience?

JM: Good luck.

KG: Cultural history, you know? There are Ph.D. people using WicDiv and it’s ended up in degree programs about it. There’s an academic route you can argue. If [the series] were finished, it would basically be a four-year degree course. It’s about pop culture, and it’s four years, and now you can get on with yourself. But it would have to be finished.

Illustration for article titled Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie argue that Phonogram  is an awful way to learn about humanity

If copyright law were no concern, what character from another game, comic, movie, etc. would you like to see crossover into The Wicked + The Divine or Phonogram?

JM: John Constantine would be quite fun in Phonogram. Just shaking his head at Kohl [the lead character from the first volume and recurring character since].


KG: That’s how I was going to start. If we got Hellblazer, [John Constantine] some kid would be ranting about music and magic and he’d be like, “This is how you use it. This is an occult system for magic. No kid, no you can’t fopping do it. It’s not like that at all.” That would be my opening “fuck you” to myself. That would be funny.

JM: Morrigan from Dragon Age into WicDiv and Cassandra from Dragon Age into WicDiv. I feel like Cassandra and Cassandra would get along very well.


KG: Amaterasu from Ōkami, crossing over with our Amaterasu would work especially nicely. Ōkami is explicitly referenced in the next issue of WicDiv. Amaterasu is a fan of it.

If The Wicked + The Divine or Phonogram were the main course of a meal, what would be the appetizer and what would be the dessert?

JM: How does one turn pain into a dessert? Or anguish?

KG: Dessert’s okay because basically it’s purgative. You want to eat ash afterwards before you vomit, just to get this out of your system. Before reading Phonogram—it’s tricky actually because Phonogram rips off so much stuff, that’s sort of what it’s about—I’d start with Kill Your Boyfriend, and then afterwards you’d read all of Blue Monday by Chynna Clugston. Chynna Clugston is sweet, while there’s a little bitter thing to start.


How would you describe Phonogram volume 3 lead character Emily Aster’s ideal first date?

KG: Very expensive. It would end in dance. With whom?

JM: Most people are beneath her.

KG: You know that cover of Kohl making out with himself? Emily would totally date herself. Emily is a reflective surface—you see in [volume 2] issue 3 when you kind of get her thing. Everyone in a phonomancer’s eyes are different depending the personality of how they see magic. Emily’s eyes are mirrors. She’s a reflective surface, she’s a very appealing reflective surface that everyone can see themselves in. She would totally date herself and take her to somewhere extremely expensive. There’s a line in the last issue… we’ll get there.

Illustration for article titled Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie argue that Phonogram  is an awful way to learn about humanity

Let’s say The Wicked + The Divine has been adapted into a Broadway musical.

KG: Hell yes!

AVC: Describe the big show-stopping musical number.

KG: Your head will totally explode when you see it. Brain-exploding climax. What music would we use? We often joke about Phonogram as a musical, doing it in the style of the West End revival hits, so that’s “Brit Pop Musical.” [Sings.] “If I could / I live with the common people.” David Kohl dances across the stage. That would be the worst thing in the world or it could possibly be successful. We just imagine some sort of “Sympathy For The Devil” routine. Dancers whose heads will explode.


JM: Splashing blood across the entire audience. I was out getting a slice of pizza, which is obviously what you do when you’re in New York, and there were posters and stuff on the walls and one of them was for the show Stomp. The tagline or the quote they used was “Stomp does for rhythm what Freud did for sex.” So… made it really weird and about your parents? So, the WicDiv musical does for gods and pop what Freud did for sex. Made it really weird and about your parents.

KG: It kind of really is!

JM: It works a lot better for that than it does for Stomp!