Tea & Comics: The Three-Episode Rule

“Tea & Comics” is a weekly feature here at Gutterball Special, in which my girlfriend Dani and I talk about the week’s new comics over a cup of tea.

This is part two of this week’s conversation, in which we discuss Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #1 (written by Kieron Gillen, with art by Jamie McKelvie and colours by Matt Wilson), and Starve #3 (written by Brian Wood, with art by Danijel Zezelj and colours by Dave Stewart.

Tea in comics. (Art by Jamie McKelvie, from Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #1)

Tea in comics. (Art by Jamie McKelvie, from Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #1)

A: So, Phonogram. This was the one I was most excited about this week.

D: And this was the one I had the most disproportionate amount of frustration toward.

A: That is something you do – you get really angry about things that don’t entirely warrant it.

D: Yeah, I do that. But it’s like you and hippies.

A: Hippies do make me angry. But luckily, Phonogram is less about hippies, and more about hipsters. And lots of them.

D: Ugh. Hipsters.

Ugh. Hipsters. (Art by Jamie McKelvie, from Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #1)

Ugh. Hipsters. (Art by Jamie McKelvie, from Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #1)

A: I think it’s a very intentional decision, and I’d say it’s more a book about hipsters than it is a book that hipsters will like. I don’t think they’d enjoy the depiction of their particular subculture.

D: Oh no, does that mean I’m a hipster since I didn’t like it?

A: I worry about that, because we kind of feel the same way about Portlandia, which seems really hipster-y, but is also pretty directly mocking hipsters, but neither of us find it funny.

D: Oh no. But, more objectively, I guess, I would say that you probably shouldn’t jump into this one without reading what’s come before it. Like I did. Don’t do it. It’s a bad idea.

A: And that’s what we both did! Though this is the first issue of this miniseries, The Immaterial Girl, this is actually the third Phonogram series. And actually, I probably wouldn’t recommend starting here. The reason I picked up this title, and the reason I was so excited about it, is because I absolutely love Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s work. Their run on Young Avengers probably ranks among my favourite non-Superman superhero comics.

D: And if you’re judging books by their covers, this comic should be amazing.

Judging books by their covers. (Art by Jamie McKelvie, from Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #1)

Judging books by their covers. (Art by Jamie McKelvie, from Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #1)

A: Well, Jamie McKelvie’s art in general is just incredible.

D: It’s spectacular.

A: And I love the Wicked + The Divine as well, but I have not read either of the previous Phonogram series. While Kieron Gillen does claim that each series will stand on its own . . .


A: Well, I think it’ll probably stand on its own, but I do think the whole experience is likely made richer by the preceding stories.

D: So, it’s largely set in the UK. And I wonder if that’s one of the reasons that maybe there’s a little lost in translation.

A: Yeah, I feel, because something that I know from having read a great deal of history of popular music, is that music scenes were really more pronounced in the UK, they have like a real cultural impact that’s not the same in North America.

D: Because it wasn’t just a matter of the music; it was the culture, the fashion, the social movements, the slang – it was part-and-parcel, for sure.

A: So, punk, for example, even though it came out of New York, the punk culture really came into being in the UK. And it’s the same with, say, glam. So I do think that music fandom taking that form is a fairly uniquely British thing.

D: And maybe North Americans are just more literal. When I read the title page, I thought, hey, there are some people who are able to manipulate situations and other people, usually for their own benefit, using music, I thought they meant literally, like a cooler comic-version of Jem and the Holograms.

A: There is actually a currently running Jem and the Holograms comic.

D: Which we’re not reading.

A: Well, it’s not on my pull list, but I have heard really good things about it.

D: Readers, if you think we should be reading Jem and the Holograms, tweet at us. Maybe if enough people say we should, Aaron will add it to the pull list.

A: It’s @gutterballsblog, folks. But, yeah – I really, really wanted to like The Immaterial Girl, and I’m still hopeful that it will get to the point that I like it, but at this point, I find the premise is just a little unclear to me; it’s not that I dislike the premise, or that I don’t think it’s making good on it’s premise, I just don’t know what the premise is. And I don’t whether it’s due to my unfamiliarity with the world of Phonogram, or if it is not meant to be taken as a literal narrative, like maybe they’re going for surrealism or just errant weirdness. But there were certainly parts that I enjoyed.

D: Namely, Jamie McKelvie’s art.

A: You know, we talked a lot about artists when we were talking about Batman and Catwoman, specifically about Greg Capullo’s seeming inability to draw two faces different from each other, and some similar comments regarding David Messina’s art. Now, Jamie McKelvie – ah, his art is just so refreshing to look at.

D: I know. I would look at his art in any context.

A: His faces – each character looks different from each other, and the faces are very expressive. He can draw panel after panel after panel of just people’s faces, just a conversation, and make it interesting to look at and to read.

The art of conversation as the art of Jamie McKelvie. (From Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #1)

The art of conversation as the art of Jamie McKelvie. (From Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #1)

D: This is might be the first time I’ve ever seen a woman in a comic – and an overtly sexual woman, at that – who has a double chin. Also the first time in a comic that I can remember reference to a woman performing cunnilingus on another woman. Leaps and strides for feminism!

This is exactly what it looks like. (Art by Jamie McKelvie, from Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #1)

This is exactly what it looks like. (Art by Jamie McKelvie, from Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl #1)

A: And I’d say, even if the story never takes off, it will be worth picking up just for Jamie McKelvie’s art. But I do have faith that the story will take off, because I know from the team’s previous work, that these are smart guys. So, while it wasn’t quite the exciting, oh-my-god-this-is-the-best-comic-I’ve-read-in-a-really-long-time which I was really hoping it would be, which is what The Wicked + The Divine was when I picked up the first issue, I remain hopeful that it will get there – because the Immaterial Girl herself, the character, is actually pretty interesting, even though I don’t understand her Faustian bargain even a little bit.

D: It’s a wait-and-see. But now – let’s get into the meat-and-bones of this week’s comics.

A: Ha. Um, yeah – this is kind of the opposite of my take on Phonogram, because this is a book that let me down a little in it’s first two issues, so I wasn’t expecting much from issue three, but this new issue is actually really, really good.

D: Which goes to show the value of patience. It’s the Three Episode Rule – anytime we start watching a new TV series, we don’t make a decision to drop it or keep watching until we’ve seen the first three episodes, because that’s usually how long it takes to tell whether or not a show will actually be any good.

A: So, we’re talking about Starve, by Brian Wood and Danijel Zezelj, which was a comic I was very much on the fence about even when it came to picking up the first issue. Right from the beginning, I was entirely on board with the premise – I first heard about this comic from Paste Magazine, on a list of comics about food.

D: Which was a very well informed list. Actually, Paste Magazine does a great job both in their coverage of comics and food.

A: Buzzfeed, take note.

D: The premise is great. Food and resources have become such a scarcity, that the culinary arts are now seen as an extravagance only enjoyed by the super-rich, and it’s actually been turned almost into a spectator sport.

A: But the premise honestly was better just to describe it than it was in execution in the first two issues, and it didn’t help that I was on the fence about it already, because of Brian Wood. His run on Conan the Barbarian was, I think, the first comic that I faithfully picked up month after month. I mean, I started picking it up entirely because of Becky Cloonan’s art, but she was only on it for the first arc, and I kept reading it even after. It wasn’t all Brian Wood, of course – that book did introduce me to some of my favourite artists, like Declan Shalvey – there were just a lot of tremendous artists on Brian Wood’s run, and I think it says a lot that I stuck with it, because Conan was never a character I cared about in the least. It did compel to pick up some of his earlier work, again with Becky Cloonan, called Demo.

D: Which is awesome. Go read it.

A: But then, there was his run on adjective-less X-Men. Or, as we call it, X-Men OMG.

D: Speaking of things that make me disproportionately angry. Do you want to explain why I dislike it?

A: Well, I pretty strongly disliked it, too. So, I think the premise of an all-woman X-Men team makes perfect sense, because X-Men just has so many fantastic female characters – it’s one of the better superhero comics for gender representation in general. And coming off of Brian Wood’s run on Conan, I thought this was going to be fantastic. But it just really wasn’t as good as it should have been, due completely to Brian Wood’s writing. He wrote Kitty Pryde, who at this point was the headmistress of the Jean Grey Academy, and is a formidable, intelligent woman, as saying “OMG” twice in a single conversation, as a means of expressing how grossed out she was by the prospect of changing diapers. I’d forgive some out-of-character moments, but in a book where most of the characters were exhibiting no personality at all, and the only one with a personality seemed to have the wrong one, well . . . So, I was on the fence about Starve.

D: It’s probably worth mentioning though, that you and I both are pretty seriously into food. Like, we really like food. We usually talk about other food while we’re eating food.

A: And we love comics about food. We love Chew, and Relish by Lucy Knisley. So, Starve seemed like it could be something that we’d really like. But for the first two issues, it really wasn’t. It was okay.

D: Part of the reason for me that it wasn’t better, is just that I felt like Chew tackled some of these ideas a little more interestingly? I mean, Starve doesn’t really have a specific event, like the avian flu in Chew, which led to a ban on poultry, it’s just a more general dystopia where food has become a commodity. Well, more than it already is.

A: That’s exactly it. It’s an idea that is genuinely intriguing, but if Brian Wood is informed on food politics, he’s not really showing it. And as someone who’s interested in the that, I really wanted to see that. There’s not a lot of dystopian science fiction that hinges upon the world’s relationship with food, but it’s such an essential thing – where our food comes from –

D: – who has access to it, how is it used, food waste. Yeah. Rather than talking about that, Starve has almost over-developed it’s main character, who is a disgraced celebrity chef, who came out as gay and lost his family and his career, and just wallowed in drugs and alcohol in Thailand.

A: But now he’s dragged back into the spotlight to finish out his television contract. But in his absence, his ex-wife, who holds all the rights to his show, has turned what was once, by the sounds of it, an Anthony Bourdain-style food travel show, into this super classist culinary competition. And he comes back, and for the first two issues, basically shows everyone up by being a good chef. And that’s just not very interesting.

D: Well, we’re told he’s a good chef, but we don’t even get to see what he cooks in the first two issues.

A: The comic seems to do a lot for shock value, too, which I guess is accurate enough for reality television, but it’s a little strange here, because I frankly think that what’s presented in Starve as shocking isn’t especially shocking to anyone who knows much about food. In the first issue, the cooking challenge was to make a palatable dish out of dog meat.

D: Which is enjoyed in many cultures, and is a completely valid source of protein.

A: And even in this issue, the challenge is to butcher a live pig from head-to-tail. The scene is really well done, and Danijel Zezelj is great at making it really visceral. But I get the sense that the scene is meant to be horrific or even exploitative, when, in reality, no, that’s just where meat comes from.

Heartwarming father-daughter moments. (Art by Danijel Zezelj, from Starve #3)

Heartwarming father-daughter moments. (Art by Danijel Zezelj, from Starve #3)

D: Subtlety is not really a thing in Starve. Even in the art, everything looks really gritty and dirty, which makes it look like a dystopia, and it’s mentioned that the world’s resources are depleted, but the story itself doesn’t really reflect that, because it’s more interested in being a story about a father reconnecting with his daughter.

A: Which isn’t subtle either, but it actually starts to be effective here, because we see food being used as a common link between Chef Gavin and his daughter Angie, as a bond, and as a memory, which is really cool, and I think there’s a lot to be said about food in that way. And it’ll be really interesting to see how the role of food develops going forward, but even in this issue, it places food squarely in the spotlight for the first time, and it actually breaks down the dishes he’s preparing. And I really want to see more sequences like that, and hopefully, the drama that emerges from the events of this issue won’t eclipse the food.

It's all about the food. (Art by Danijel Zezelj, from Starve #3)

It’s all about the food. (Art by Danijel Zezelj, from Starve #3)

D: This comic seems kind of perfect for Tea & Comics, it’s too bad we’re not drinking tea. It’d go well with a cup of genmaicha.