The Phoenix 481, 523-534
Medium: comic, book
Year: 2021
Country: UK
Creator: Abby Bulmer, Adam & Lisa Murphy, Andreas Schuster, Bethany Wood, Gary Northfield, James Stayte, James Turner, Jamie Smart, Jess Bradley, Joe Brady, Jonathan Barrett, Neill Cameron, Robert Deas, Sam Davies, Simone Lia, Yasmin Sheikh
Keywords: The Phoenix, UK kiddie comic
Format: Weekly children's magazine, three random issues
Website category: Comics UK
Review date: 30 March 2022
It's a British children's comics magazine that I think sells mostly through subscriptions, although it's also available in WHSmiths and Waitrose. It's been running for a decade and it's quite good, but I only discovered it recently. It's also surprisingly varied. These three issues I bought contain kiddie comedy strips, straight adventure serials (Fawn), newspaper format four-panel funnies, a comics adaptation of a Russian folk tale, an excellent regular "The Skills Hub" two-page feature that teaches children how to draw comics, a choose-your-own-route text adventure, SF, high fantasy, pirates, robots and more.
There are hits and misses in all that, but it's a pretty good read. I particularly liked:
1. Jamie Smart, obviously. He's done various strips for them, although the main one is Bunny vs. Monkey. (There are collected volumes of that and we've bought the four volumes that have appeared so far. Every so often, Natsuki asks when volume 5 will come out.) Smart also draws also Lookshkin! (a cat who's trying to help a clown) and Megalomaniacs (evil monsters who want to rule the world).
2. James Turner, another Phoenix fixture. I like his comedic timing. He's a writer, though, not a writer/artist. (The only strip he also draws here is Clatters and Bump, which looks extremely crude and only works because it's a newspaper format gag strip.) I Hate Pixies is about a boy who's king of the pixies, but didn't want to be. Star Cat is half-cat, half-spaceship, which is a pretty wild SF idea in a slightly surreal comedy.
3. The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship, i.e. that Russian folk tale. It's fascinating. The fairy tale narrative makes the strip completely different from anything else I've read in the past year, while the art is like slightly peculiar illustrations for a children's book.
4. Its unpredictability. The magazine isn't fixed from week to week. Regular strips will swap with others and so on.
5. Its survival! It's a long-running British comic in an industry where even famous titles have tended to die like flies. It reached its 500th issue recently. The last UK comic to last this long might be Roy of the Rovers in the 1980s. Viz beats it in longevity, but not in issue count since it isn't weekly.
6. Its strips are all creator-owned.
7. The Draw Your Monsters "skills hub", which is a fantastic way of engaging children in comics. These two-page spreads would often be valuable comics art lessons even for adult wannabe-pros, let alone children. Each skills hub instalment will have its own topic, e.g. "make your art move!" (body language, gesture, etc.), how to draw mountains, medium shots, use of silhouettes, etc.
The magazine's quite interesting. Even the range of art styles is startling. Sometimes it feels like a fanzine, which I love because it shakes things up. The straight adventure strip (Fawn) didn't particularly grab me, but that was just an opening four-page episode and I love the fact that the magazine has content like this too. (It has high fantasy dialogue, but a Viking-like setting.) Also, though, there's a goofy four-pager about the Refrigerator of Infinite Universes and its quest to open a jar of pickled eggs.
Both Natsuki and I prefer this to today's Beano. He read these three Phoenix issues I bought and I asked him which subscription he'd prefer. He said this, so we cancelled his Beano and we're now getting The Phoenix every week instead. (For a children's comic, weekly is probably the ideal schedule. It's the right amount of time to wait between issues.) Mysteriously, though, the Beano's still being delivered. I must follow that up...