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Top 5 Comics That Get Magic Right

Friends, please welcome Wolven to our cast of characters around here. He’s constantly going off on various subjects on his Twitter account, including magic, so I invited him to come and deliver a thesis on pop culture and magic–and his first target is comics. Enjoy.

John Constantine

Hello, gentle readers. My name’s Wolven. While you might have seen my name and linkage on a sidebar, or a random source attribution from our man Widge, there’s a lot you probably don’t know about me. Like the fact that my ribs are more cartilage than bone; or that some days I’m pretty sure that I’m a random government-funded genetic/social experiment; or that I freaking love comics. I love comics with a ridiculous love, and I have since I was a child. I am, by rights, a nerd. A geek. A person with intense interests less known and less understood than those of the so-called norm. And not only am I a geek, I am a geek with professional, academic, and personal interests in magic and the occult. So when Widgett approached me about doing a guest column concerning the Top 5 Comics That Get Magic Right, I damn near fell off of my couch. Luckily I was lying down at the time.

[ad#longpost]But, before we continue, I think it a good idea to get a couple of things out of the way, so we’re none of us under any illusions (Shh, I see it.) regarding what we’re doing here. Point the first: Magic. Rather than rewrite my thesis here, let’s just agree that, when we’re talking about magic, we’re talking about sets of practices, beliefs, attitudes, and ways of life, which find themselves situated somewhere between Carl Jung’s pragmatic symbolic experience-based psychology, the syncretic (and possibly fraudulent) attempts in the late 1800s to revive and combine various ancient and then-modern religious practice and beliefs, Sir James George Frazer’s ideas of sympathy and contagion–that any things that are sufficiently alike can affect and be affected by each other (by someone with the proper knowledge) and that any things that have been in contact can affect and be affected by each other (by someone with the proper knowledge) and the more fringe implications of quantum mechanics. There. We all suitably confused? Awesome; then let’s continue.

The second point to remember is that the comics business is deeply incestuous, and any writer or artist, or team thereof, with a reputation for a certain type of work, will generally be found doing that kind of work again later. As we go through this list, we’re going to see some overlapping works, names, etc. That’s okay. Get a hold of yourself, dammit, I said it’s going to be okay!

There. That’s better.

Third, this is my list, and it is not entitled “Every Comic That Ever Got Magic Right & the Particular Issues Where They Did It.” It’s a Top Five. So don’t gimme any o’ your guff.

And the final point, before we get this Dog and Pony show underway? You can get the depiction of a thing right, even if you don’t intend to do so. Even if you’ve never believed in a thing–or cared about it–before you started writing it, you can get it absolutely right. So, with out further todo, here we go, in no particular order:


Phonogram: “Music is magic…Everyone knows that. It’s just that some realise that it’s more than metaphor.” This is the ethos with which writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie created Phonogram, a six-issue mini-series following the exploits of “self-confessed phallocrat” and unrepentant indie-kid David Kohl as he tries to avenge a massive wrong perpetrated on the goddess who–even if he let her fall by the wayside–is the one who made him who he is: 90s Britpop. You still with me? Good. Kohl enlists the help of old friends, girlfriends, rivals, enemies, all of whom have seen the ways he has changed over the years and have a wide spectrum of feelings on the subject. But Kohl has a unique set of skills at his disposal which along the way begin to warn him that something is deeply wrong: his memories of the past are being altered and his emblematic associations with music are changing. He is listening to crap pop music.

See, in his world, Kohl is what is called a “phonomancer”–someone who can use the feelings and symbolism produced by the experience of music to produce the effects he wants in other people and in the world at large. He can, for example, use the encounter of a certain song to divine the major themes of a crisis, or he can find the literal harmonic resonance between a person, their music, and their world, and use that to…well. Get laid, mostly. And that’s the trouble. Kohl uses music and the primal reverberations it brings into being in almost every person on Earth to dig deep into the inner workings of the world around him and make it do what he wants and, in doing this for a very long time (ten years is forever, in Indie Music), he has forgotten the thing that made him who he is. So, when his music tastes begin to alter, and the memories and emotional connections he has, due to a certain song or album, slowly begin to change, he knows that something must be fixed, and soon.

As Kohl seeks to recapture and reinstitute what he’s lost, the arc covers what happens when we recognise the astounding effects that something as seemingly mundane and ubiquitous as music can have on us. Through the understanding and application of phonomancy–which, among other things, is really about Knowing Music, yours and that of other’s–Kohl picks through clues, and works his way closer and closer to the solving of a vast crime, but the conclusion of the process he has to undertake to do it may have incredible and unintended consequences. Phonogram is a must-read for any music-appreciating magician, if only for its seamless weaving of lyrical references to the exact right situations, providing a kind of living tapestry of spells and invocations of associative concepts and symbol.

And, again, Britannia as the vengeful goddess of 90s Britpop: how can you go wrong? Click here to buy Phonogram stuff from Amazon.

Move onto Part 2.


  • That was awesome, Wolven. As always, very nicely put. I look forward to more of your writing ;)

  • Solid, solid list. But I’ve got to at least mention Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles. While stylistically dated, it’s right up there with liber null or book iv on my bookshelf. Pop Magic was, unfortunately, a letdown, but his disinfo speech is still great listen.

    Be Good,

  • Ronin, gods only know if you’re still getting alerts for this, but I was thinking about your comment, now that I’m re-reading The Invisibles, again. My reasoning for not including it was that it does a lot of the same thing Promethea does, but from the other end of the spectrum.

    Moore’s idea is to guide you step by step through a very particular and prescribed process of initiation and education. He was immersing you in a psychadelic river of mind and magic, yes, but one with definite rules and actions. Morrison’s goal was chaos magic and psychadelia to it’s full extent, erasing the self/other illusion, utterly annihilating any vestige of mind/body, us/them, yes/no, this/that dualism. The rules are there, but they are fluid, and they can be bent, changed, erased, with the right bargain.

    Now, though these seem to be different goals, they both go about it in the exact same way: Using the Comic Medium as a Trance-Inducing Immersive Litany to transform the mind of the reader, as she reads, thus both teaching and initiating the subject, at the same time.

    And I didn’t want to repeat myself :)