Being: the first of two short posts building up to a third, hopefully more substantial one.

This series of posts is supposed to be all about mirrors and vanity, so what better way to start than by quoting something I said in the comments to this Phonogram review?  Cast your mind all the way back… to December 2009!

I like The Phonogram – it shows me something I like to recognise, namely, me!

I hate The Phonogram – it shows me how stupid that bit of me really is.

Which is why it’s good, and why I love it, and why this review gets to the core of The Singles Club better than any other (though Nina’s review was also very good, if far harsher). I’ll be happy to see more issues, and sorry to see it end.

Still, it’s a bit of a prick at times, The Phonogram.

Sometimes, I don’t think it likes me as much as I like it…

How does the song go? Oh yeah: “I taught myself the only way to vaguely get along in love/ Is to like the other slightly less than you get in return/ I keep feeling like I’m being undercut…

Of course, much as I admire these tricky qualities in Jamie McKelvie and Kieron Gillen‘s Phonogram, and much as I’ll always be grateful to them for dedicating an issue of their fanzine-as-fantasy-comic to a defiantly minor group like The Long Blondes, I’ve always known where to find the best example of this trick in all of comics.

I'm not going to have time to properly get into it here, but Jamie McKelvie's art was just so perfect for Phonogram, with its cast of fragile characters trying so damned hard to pose their thoughts into reality. Suffice it to say, if you got McKelvie to draw a working diagram of the universe I'd expect it to be boys who like

Indeed, even back in December 2009, when I was young and naive and actually pretty cowardly about these things, I was still careful to give tribute to The King:

But then I thought of Alec – The King Canute Crowd: “yeah, all these books were written about you!” That Eddie Campbell’s a clever bastard, you know – I don’t think there’s a better laid trap in all of comics than that page.

And yeah, I’ll stand by that statement!

If you aren’t familiar with the pages in question then you owe it to yourself to check out The King Canute Crowd pronto.  This sequence comes in the final quarter of the book, and it sees Campbell addressing the reader while working his day job, cutting sheet metal in a factory:

The life of the mind?

Contrast this excerpt with Phonogram’s Kill Yr Boyfriend-derived snappy, in your face delivery – one need not have a mind of metal  to read these pages and be carefully manipulated by Campbell…

I'll show you the life of the mind!

…wrapped up in his neat little squares, caught up in the fantasy he overlays onto the everyday.  And it is a fantasy that we get here, one that’s every bit as forcefully constructed as the ones we’re presented with in Kill Your Boyfriend and Phonogram, but Campbell’s measured tone is sneakily effective here.  He’s just explaining how he finds the story of his relationship in every book he reads, that’s all! Aye right.

The difference between Alec and Phonogram is like the difference between a bit of chat you’d hear from a friend down the pub and a speech given by a pop star on TV.  Both could be well practiced monologues, but if your mate in the pub’s a crafty bastard you might not quite get what he’s doing at the time:

Just for you

We read this and we see ourselves in it – we think, “Oh shit, I do this too! ” But by doing so, you’re falling into the exact same trap that Danny Gray catches Campbell in.

Because why are we reading, really?

Why do we bother with any of this?

Is is because we want to see ourselves in the pages of a comic book? Do we want to see a thought we know we’ve had, but have been unable to ever quite put into words, laid out in stark black and white? I’m paraphrasing an Alan Moore/Eddie Campbell collaboration here, of course – this is part of the theme of Snakes and Ladders, which Campbell adapted to the page from one of Moore’s spoken word performances.  Snakes and Ladders is all about what we use art for and why, and it takes Our Heroes from from the heights of imaginative ecstasy to the filthy street gutters, the idea being that we live in both of these seemingly disparate states every day of our lives:

Clay looks on clay, and understands that it is beautiful.

Through us the cosmos gazes on itself, adores itself, breaks its own heart.

Through us, matter stares slack-jawed at its own star-dusted countenance and knows, incredulously, that it knows.

And knows that it is universe.

Moore’s rhetoric is dazzling here, but this still sounds a little narcissistic to me.  I mean, what if you’re actually looking for the opposite of this experience?  What if you read these stories in the hope that they catch you out, or force you to rethink your assumptions? The King Canute Crowd certainly can, and great as it is, it’s not anywhere near as crafty as Campbell’s mature work.

Still, look at those last two panels again. Pay attention to the way that Campbell draws himself — sorry, draws Alec – leaning in, all casual like, as the background fades away to handful of bunched lines and some abstract zipatone fragments:


And… this all comes back to the stealthy similarities between Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell in the end.  This was one of the themes of my Academy Award nominated essay on Eddie Campbell and Big Numbers – and what’s the internet for if not for taking every possible chance to pimp your wares, eh? -  but it’s a “counter-intuitive” point, so it probably bears repeating.

Moore’s grand plans and Campbell’s attention to the minutiae of things his friends have said and done… these are both just different zooms on the same raggedly intricate pattern.  We see our romantic triumphs and failures reflected in every book we read and every song we hear, the big picture reveals itself in every fragmented conversation and every unlikely street name.

Read the comic. Scan those pages. Find yourself in the picture. Feel the panel borders closing in on the periphery of the scene, and let your every motion blur out into the abstract…


“This is all great fun,” you find yourself thinking, “but can it ever be enough?”

I love these stories, really I do, but sometimes I still get the feeling that I’m being undercut…

43 Responses to “Short and to the Pointless #1: The Like Trap!”

  1. Tweets that mention Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Short and to the Pointless #1: The Like Trap! -- Says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by sean witzke, Douglas Noble, Jog Mack, Lynne, David Al and others. David Al said: New post about Phonogram, Eddie Campbell & The Like Trap up on Mindless Ones: It's the first in a series of 4 posts. [...]

  2. Woody Allen Says:

    Sorry David, but I prefer your earlier funny posts.

  3. Botswana Beast Says:

    Now, this was in the spam folder, and I can easily put it back there if need be, before DALEET, but there again, maybe we could have a actual conversation?

  4. Zom Says:

    With the real Woody Allen!

  5. Illogical Volume Says:

    I have it on good information that this is the real Woody Allen, so hey- I’ve heard what you’re saying and you know nothing of my work.

    Don’t know if there’s much of a conversation to have beyond that: my early posts weren’t that funny.

  6. The Beast Must Die Says:

    Man, I really need to read some more Eddie Campbell. Another illuminating piece, Illogic(al).

    Don’t forget – Woody Allen has always been a miserable little sod.

  7. Kieron Gillen Says:

    I haven’t read the piece yet, but want to say the Alec books are the primary influence on Phonogram which no-one ever notices. For fairly obvious reasons.

    Seeing them in a piece together pleases me enormously.


  8. Kieron Gillen Says:

    (And now I’ve read it, it pleases me even more. Like, totes!)


  9. Zom Says:

    We rely on intuition and psychic powers here at MO. None of that research stuff for us, we just read creators’ minds.

  10. Patchworkearth Says:

    As D-D-D-David knows, I could listen to people talk about ALEC all month long without cease. Very much looking forward to the rest of this, obv.

  11. Illogical Volume Says:

    Thanks, everyone! I finally feel like I’m (almost!) a good enough writer to do justice to Eddie Campbell’s comics, so I’m going to keep on writing about them here until everyone is totally sick of it.

    It’s weird, because I think the comics internet’s extended focus on Grant Morrison and Alan Moore has really helped to make me a better writer about those sorts of comics. There’s not nearly so much discussion of, say, Eddie Campbell’s work on the web, so I’ve not had as many opportunities to figure out how to talk about his work/steal the thoughts of my betters.

    Kieron – I’m glad you like this post, and yeah, I see the Alec influence all over your book! I intend to do a proper piece on Phonogram eventually, but I think bobsy’s got you covered for now!

    At the risk of disappointing Patchworkearth, this seems like a reasonable place to point out that this series isn’t going to be all about the Alec books.

    I’ll come back to one of Campbell’s comics to wrap the whole thing up, but the next (short!) post and the subsequent (long!) one will be on two entirely different comics.

    What are they all about? Well, it’s funny, but as soon as I responded to Woody “the Woodpecker” Allen (he’s not even a real woodpecker, so what is he?!) I found myself worrying about whether someone would read my comment and not get that I was making a stupidly obvious Woody Allen joke.

    Which is ridiculous, because WHO DOESN’T KNOW ANNIE HALL, right? Who doesn’t know a clunking big Woody Allen gag, especially when applied to love or the movies or love in the movies?

    But if someone wasn’t in on the gag, wouldn’t I just look like a massively self-important tool up there? And hey, I certain don’t need any help there!

    It’s a sickness, this constant reliance on STORIES, isn’t it? My Sexual Problems… who wrote that one again?

    //MESSAGE ENDS////

  12. Illogical Volume Says:

    Zom, Botswana Beast, The Beast Must Die – I have just realised that I didn’t mention any of you by name in that last comment.

    I hope you know that this is a sign of respect, rather than disrespect. As you all know, your names are killing names – every time someone says The Beast Must Die an angel crashes down from heaven, screaming.

    Which is a shame, because I really like saying The Beast Must Die, The Beast Must Die.

    (You’re still my own personal Scott Summers, Botswana Beast, and don’t you forget it!)

  13. Anonymous Says:

    Isn’t what “Woody” said exactly the kind of thing folks say about artists like W. Allen, who start off all light ennertainment and mature into a more philosophical mode? (there are other, better examples, most likely.)
    The guy’s probably just picked up on the cosmic-consciousness references and taken such as a slight change in style.
    It’s not actually that far from being an out-and-out compliment, if you take a couple of seconds to process it.
    Not quite fannish enough though, really, is it?
    Not really bellowing its adoration with enough abandon.
    Only devotees and antagonists post comments, after all.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    To clarify:
    1. “Woody” seems to be relying on familiarity with a particular cliche, the one s/he quoted.
    2. The thing that irked me was the idea that his/her comment should be got rid of. It’s not even offensive in the slightest.
    Too jumpy by far. Kind of repulsively so.
    Or maybe I’m just missing some in-joke, he did refer to the blogger as David.

    Personally, I recommend deleting all of everything ever, so as not to cause offense to anyone who opposes any of it.

  15. Illogical Volume Says:

    Ha, well, while I’m not going to pretend that I don’t want to be adored (because I so obviously do!), I can’t say that I categorise all commentors as either devotees or antagonists.

    Take our Woody, for example- there’s not more to his(?) comment than a daft Woody Allen gag, so I responded with another one. I read that comment as being a little bit dismissive, and I think you’d have to work hard to take it as anything but a backhanded compliment, but it’s not like I went in a huff about it or anything. And hey, if Woody wants to come back for a wee chat then I’m definitely up for that.

    Like, for example- *I* don’t think my recent posts have been written in a style that’s much different from the one I’ve been using since late 2008, but maybe I’m wrong?

    If Woody means that they prefer the stuff I was writing on the web a decade ago, then I disagree, I think that stuff was mostly terrible, but again I’d be curious to know why.

    But, you know, as big as my head is I’m getting sick of hearing my own voice here.

    Anyone else wanna chip in?

  16. Illogical Volume Says:

    Xpost there.

  17. Botswana Beast Says:

    Well, anon/E-Man/Alec Trench, it’s fine easy for you to say – likesay, I found the comment in the spam folder, whether the filters had it or another Mindless One put it there I dinnert ken – but frankly, I have before and will continue to delete people being personally unpleasant to us (and nothing else*,) like the guy who wanted me to “die in a fire” because I think Geoff Johns is a shit writer as this is really the very last thing I ever blogged for, to read that. I’ma watch the team’s back, too. MO4LIFE.

    If you don’t like this, feel free to fuck off.

    *I didn’t know if this was the case with Woody, being unfamiliar with all the paedo-groomer’s films bar that abysmal tennis one.

  18. Anonymous Says:

    “die in a fire” might concievably warrant moderation.
    glib flippancy surely doesn’t.
    sometimes you just don’t understand what people are saying, that’s one reason.
    if it’s not “die in a fire,” or of that ilk, maybe you should just accept that it’s a wide world, the internet, if only for the sake of your site being an interesting place to visit. comments, when present are a significant part of the appeal of a robust blog such as this.
    but, you respond to even ambiguous comments as if someone had entered your very abode and relieved themself upon the seating.
    that attitude, if unchecked, could preclude any kind of comments-discussion other than facile back-slapping.
    and although that may be the very first thing you ever blogged for, to read that, it is fucking boring.
    i suppose (honestly) i’m just a little disappointed that one of my favorite thought-provoking blogs isn’t as interesting, in the commentary to-and-fro, as some others.
    i find that i am more engaged with (and read more closely) something which i feel welcome to discuss from whatever angle compels me to.
    in the comments here, it might be nice to avoid an atmosphere of oppressive group-think, eh?
    nevermind though, plenty of engaging discussion elsewhere, and not just the meta-conversational kind.

    btw: i’m quite aware of the web-tools at your disposal, you don’t have to flaunt your power quite so crudely. principles of decency and discretion still apply, whatever the medium.
    it’s entirely up to me if i want to use pseudonyms and you ought to respect my choice, “Botswana Beast.”

  19. Anonymous Says:

    i didn’t think there was anything wrong with your response, don’t fret.
    there is not a siege on, everyone, it’s all ok.

  20. Botswana Beast Says:

    tbh, anon, I think you’re engaged in a little low-level trolling and that’s why you’ve chosen the mask of Naeb’dy. I think I caught you bonny, son.

    And my real name is all over this site, you can probably find it out, it ain’t no thing.

    All I’m trying to convey is that [OH NOES! OPPRESSION SO UNFAIR] anyone who wants to pop a poisonous turd at the end of one of our pieces of hard work is not going to have the satisfaction of seeing it for very long. This is neither ‘groupthink’ nor a particularly parlous roadblock in the way of your doubtless many, many-angled conversations. I hope I won’t have to rephrase this very, very simple proposition to you for a third time.

  21. Anonymous Says:

    One man’s poison, Dunc.

  22. Anonymous Says:

    Actually, you know what, I’ve thought about what you’ve said, and it’s all true and it negates all my points.
    All I was trying to do was goad you anyway, as you rightly pointed out.
    Not only that but you’re very witty and I think you should go ahead with your first impulse every time you have one.

  23. Illogical Volume Says:

    Again, anonymous, I’m not going to pretend that I don’t like it when smart, interesting people pop up to tell me that I’m smart and interesting – it’s probably not the most exciting thing for everyone else to read, but of course I like it!

    Still, one of the other big reasons that I spend my time writing these posts is that these aren’t things I get to discuss very often. I remember Plok talking about how he started blogging partly so he’d stop bothering people he knew with his Fantastic Four grading system. Which, hey – I can (GEEK!) relate (GEEK!) to that (GEEK!)!

    Of course I’d prefer it if these comments led to an engaged debate about the article or, better yet, the comics themselves, but… well, it’s a little frustrating, this back and forth we’re having here. It’s an extended meta-commentary in which people complain about the tone of the extended meta-commentary, and you’re both the one who’s complaining loudest and the one who’s guiding the direction of the conversation mate.

    (Says the guy who’s keeping the damned thing rolling right fucking now, I know!)

    It’d be one thing if we were ruling this place with a rod of iron, J.Cock style, but we’re really not. Duncan explicitly stated, way back at the start of this thread, that he had brought the comment out of the spam folder so that we could have a conversation about it, so forgive me if I’m unconvinced by your attempts to characterise him as some sort of sinister Big Brother figure.

    (I thought his chat about the fact that he had deleted a few nasty comments was a display of lower case fraternal protectiveness, rather than a gross display of power, mind. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to delete the Woody Allen comment, but it wasn’t really adding much, was it? Well, it provided me with a neat set-up for a silly joke, but aside from that!)

    Now if you are E-Man, I know I started off quite aggressively in the comments to that Deadpool post, but at least we were having a bit of a discussion there, you know? It had its rough edges, sure, but it was about something other than itself.

    So, I guess what I’m saying is: if you want to have a better conversation here, try starting one. If the Mindless Hivemind act in such a way as to crush that conversation, then maybe we get into all of this. *

    Otherwise, give it a go! It’s definitely what I’d prefer to read here, and I’m sure most people would agree! **

    * You clearly think that we already act in this way, so – yeah, try again, see how it goes mibbae? Or not: it’s obviously your call here.

    ** But if you want to tell me how wonderful I am then that’s fine too, obviously.

  24. plok Says:

    Oh no, but I am reading Eddie’s comics right now!

    I’ll be right back on here soon as I chop some more Campbellian woods down, promise.

    Love the “hover” stuff, very you of you. I might have to steal that idea, and make it very me of me, instead…

  25. Illogical Volume Says:

    Looking forward to it man. And yeah, the hovering text thing! Glad you feel like stealing it, cos I think it’s a neat trick and I want to see what you do with it!

  26. An Don (nee O'Nymous) Says:

    I did bow out but I must say:
    Illogical, you might be taking personally things that were directed elsewhere, I wasn’t talking about your reasons for blogging etc, I was merely being snide about one of your fammo, or homies or whatever. The one who was talking about putting poor little old Woody back in the spam before hitting “DALEET” or somesuch Biff-ism.
    And, your Woody Allen joke was a fine and appropriate rejoinder to Woody Allen’s Woody Allen Joke.

    I did also enjoy this insightful blog entry and look forward to the follow ups, and acronym tags are great fun, yay.

    Anyway, I’m really sorry (Lord) that I tried to defend Woody’s right to be harmlessly facetious, I definitely deserve all the [edit: spurious rudeness] that the internets can throw at me.

    Am I looping? Paranoic meta-jabber is a vortex, they should sell it to squat-ravers.

    Illogical, I’m not sniping at you.
    “You’re so vain, I bet you thought that snipe was about you…”
    That’s a fun (mis)quote, not a literal statement.
    Ok, it’s both, you can take it.
    I think you can take it (the vanity comment) because maybe you’re not an overly hostile person, so maybe you wont see that characteristic reflected back at you.

    Shit, It’s the topic! Scarper!!

  27. Zom Says:

    This is over now, yes? Because I’m much more delete happy than BB.

  28. An Don (nee O'Nymous) Says:


  29. Kieron Gillen Says:

    Illogical Volume: Totally! Though we’re still waiting for the review of issue 7. Bobsy! You failed us at the last hurdle.

    This is creator entitlement taken to a whole new exciting level.


  30. Illogical Volume Says:

    Kieron: perhaps the problem is that you didn’t believe in bobsy hard enough? I’m projecting a sigil into your brain right now. Focus on it over the next few days & see what happens.

  31. Kieron Gillen Says:

    I will try and assign my masturbation towards a bobsy-charging purpose rather than my common-or-grarden ether-jisim-release.


  32. Zom Says:

    It might be that you are rewarded soon



  34. Illogical Volume Says:

    Hey, we did it!

    I’d like to shout “high five!”, American style, but I think I should probably wash my hands first…

  35. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Short and to the Pointless #2: Josie Long Says:

    [...] two page comic strip. You could probably suggest that I didn’t like ‘Love’ because I didn’t see myself in it, or that the opposite is true and that I hated it because it reflected a part of my life that I [...]

  36. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Looking Glass Hearts Forever Says:

    [...] I mean honestly, which of these two are you more likely to identify with: [...]

  37. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Short and to the Pointless #3: The Playwright Says:

    [...] series of posts is supposed to have been all about mirrors and vanity, so what better way to start this than by going on another weird tangent? I’ve probably [...]

  38. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Looking Glass Hearts Says:

    [...] Short and to the Pointless #1: The Like Trap (a short post on reader identification in Phonogram and Eddie Campbel’s autobiographical comics) [...]

  39. David Golding Says:

    (Right. Home alone, kids in bed, internet. 1,2,3,4–)

    “Like”: well, is there a better word for our era? I came to this post with an expectation that it’d be about Facebook; and then you’re all “mirrors and vanity” and I think I’m right, but you’re a better writer than that and I certainly should have known better.

    So, things to take away from this post: Phonogram, Alec, Barton Fink, Los Camposinos, Illogical Volume (of course)–sold, sold, sold, sold, sold. Now if only I had time; if this were a Facebook post, I could just click “Like”…

    In lieu of intelligent comment, here’s an Eddie Campbell anecdote: So I was in my LCS and there’s this guy sitting near the counter as I go to buy whatever I was buying (New X-Men?) and this guy says to me something like “Hi, I’m Eddie Campbell, and if you want to buy a copy of my comic I’ll sign it for you!” Social contact at this juncture caused my higher functions to shut down, so my lower functions decided that (a) I already had Snakes and Ladders and I wasn’t sure I wanted a copy of Birth Caul [these the books being promoted], (b) I was embarrassed about walking straight past this guy, (c) I was ashamed about suddenly not being able to remember anything about this guy, and (d) I’m ill-equipped to speak to people, let alone artists. So I sort of mumbled something and got the hell out of there.

    (“they seem, in places, to address me so directly it’s almost uncomfortable”)

  40. Illogical Volume Says:

    Good Eddie Campbell story- I tell myself I’m not the type to be awed by artists I like, but I’m sure that idea would crumble if any pressure was put on it.

    I posted this on Facebook back in February, and dared people to like the like trap. Two of my friends did and now I own their souls forever.

  41. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » “Doomed to a life of unimaginable solitude” - Kapow! 2011 Unimagined! Says:

    [...] there a better prism for reconsidering your obsessions and your ideas about what those fixations mean than Phonogram? Well, probably, but I bought this issue again at Kapow! so I’d have an excuse [...]

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