The Phoenix Comic – Issues 1 & 2
Yes, I’m a little late with a review of The Phoenix Comic, and sorry, but it’s all my fault.
I meant to subscribe earlier, honest I did, but Molly broke her arm mid December, and then the mania of Christmas took over. Before I knew it, it was January, and the first issue was due out. Ooops. Subscribed and grabbed a copy of the first issue late.
Both issue 1 & 2 landed on the mat Friday in these rather attractive envelopes:
So Molly and I had a lovely time reading both issues in one go. And you know what, it’s pretty much everything we were hoping for. A great, great start to something that’s hopefully going to be around a long time.
First off, lets get the comparisons with the DFC Comic out of the way. Same format, same style, many of the same artists, much the same editorial team, same distribution model. So yes, of course it looks and feels much the same as The DFC. That’s not really such a bad thing. But there are differences, and I think The Phoenix is better right from the start.
There’s perhaps a more focused, consistent feel to the strips, and everything hits the ground running, no ponderous storylines, scenarios are set immediately, it’s fast, and it’s good.
And it’s doing a lot more to talk to its readership – lots of text pieces with the friendly cartoon animal editorial team, asking the readers to write in, look for the lost phoenix feathers across the issues, head to the website for the extras tying into the strips.
Even the comics have a good proportion of interactivity – Neill Cameron’s How To Make Awesome Comics is a simple, fun look at making comics, something children love to do.
Patrice Aggs’ Where’s Wally style What Will Happen Next? double-pager each issue leads into the climactic after effects the following issue. And to end each issue Lorenzo Etherington’s The Dangerous Adventures Of Von Doogan puzzle strip gives the reader a little mental agility fun.
These little extras, the comics strips plus that little extra makes the whole comic more of an experience, and certainly seemed to impress the children in school when they saw the preview issue (review of that here).
Overall there’s a lovely mix of styles and content in these first two issues, setting up The Phoenix really nicely. Whether this mix manages to capture a readership obviously remains to be seen, but so far, so good.
Okay, into the regular, major strips….
(The big double page spread from Pirates Of Pangaea by Daniel Hartwell and Neill Cameron)
The whole thing kicks off with Pirates Of Pangaea by Daniel Hartwell and Neill Cameron. An out and out adventure strip, that doesn’t make the mistake of Phillip Pullman’s Jon Blake in the DFC, where even a great author showed he could write hideously badly paced comics. And there was a worry after thee preview issue that Pirates was going to be the same thing.
But here, we’re into it straight away, high adventure with a great wow factor – that’s the second page above – wow indeed.
Pirates, Dinosaurs, sailing ships, a young girl showing courage and adventuring right from the off, and art to knock your socks off. It’s high fantasy, the island of Pangaea now home to Miss Sophie, niece of Governor Silas, but first she’s got to get onto the island proper. And that involves loading the entire ship onto the back of a gigantic dinosaur (called Bessie) and heading inshore, where they find themselves under pirate attack! Great fun.
(Bunny Vs Monkey by Jamie Smart – it’s all the fault of those idiot British Space Program people!)
Jamie Smart’s Bunny Vs Monkey is every bit as ridiculous and funny as you’d expect. And here we finally get to see the Monkey arrive! And get to laugh (a lot) at how maddeningly ridiculous Monkey can be, claiming this wood all for himself , despite what Bunny and the woodland creatures have to say. The funny keeps on coming, especially with some sparkling dialogue between Bunny and Monkey:
Bunny: You don’t understand – we all live here already! You can’t just show up and tell us what to do. That’s a bit rude.”
Monkey: “Hmm, you’re right, I’m going to need to use force! Find me something to hit you with!”
(Long Gon Don by The Etherington Brothers; as manic and intense and fun as you expect)
Long Gone Don by The Etherington Brothers starts with vomit, accidents, and what appears to be the death of the title character. Okay, slightly unusual.
But turn the page and there he is again, quite literally dropping into his new reality; parents vanished, hair turned white, talking crows, giant sized bowls of Oxtail soup, soap, guitars and strange, strange monsters.
What does it all mean? No idea. But the fun, and it is fun, it so is, will be in the finding out.
(The Lost Boy by Kate Brown – a boy, a desert island, a map in pieces. Treasure? Possibly. Dangerous? Probably.)
Kate Brown’s The Lost Boy is simply lush (as Molly said), by which I assume she’s talking about a) how good it is, or b) how sun-drenched and hot it looks. Or c) I’m too old and have no idea what she means.
It might only be two pages, but they’re two lovely pages across both issues, and again, that intriguing idea of removing the child from adults crops up again. And again, we have the extra web stuff there to add to the reader’s involvement – here it’s the opportunity to download the bits of the map found each week.
(Ben Murphy’s Corpse Talk)
I said it with the review of issue zero, and I’ll say it again – Corpse Talk is weird. It’s quite literally author Ben Murphy digging up and then chatting to famous people – Amelia Earhart, Nikola Tesla and pirate Anne Bonny so far. Initially it’s innovative and fun, but three strips in, I’m wondering if it isn’t a little of a limiting gag?
But of course, almost like she was trying to be contrary, Molly thinks it’s “ace”, “well funny”. So what do I know?
(Star Cat by James Turner, brilliantly silly stuff, loving the ball of wool hyper-warp device)
Rounding out the regulars is James Turner’s Star Cat, and it’s just as silly, just as fun, just as funny as it was in the preview issue. Simple concept – group of idiots travel through space and amazingly, usually despite themselves, save the universe. This time round by defeating the evil Dark Rectangle and foiling his plan to deflate the universe (it has a stopper you see – on the planet of Inflatia).
Alongside the main, regular strips, there are several other extras, including the welcome return of Simone Lia and Gary Northfield with his “Gary’s Garden” in issue 2, that I’m hoping will be a regular from here on in.
But the best of the extras has to be the stand-alone Phoenix Feature – 4-pages, self-contained, different each week.
(The Golden Feather by Ben Haggarty and Garen Ewing, the Phoenix Feature Special in issue 1)
So far, with Ben Haggarty and John Welding’s The Apprentice in the zero issue they’ve set the bar really high, yet issue 1’s The Golden Feather by Haggarty and artist Garen Ewing and issue 2’s Ghost Ant by Dave Shelton are more than up to keeping the quality right up there. Personally I preferred The Golden Feather, as Ghost Ant seemed just a touch lightweight after the previous two strips.
One final bit of art – from Chris Riddell’s half page cartoon on the inside back cover – so, so good:
Okay, that should have shown you enough of the first couple of issues to give you a good idea of what it’s all about. Molly and I really enjoyed both issues, and we’re hopeful that enjoyment will continue weekly for a long time to come.
Like I said, I (finally) got my subscription sorted, and you can find all the details you need for subscribing, plus all the extra web content, plus a free digital version of the Issue Zero at the Phoenix Comic website.
If you do subscribe late, there’s an online “time machine” feature that allows subscribers to catch up with what they’ve missed.
And yes, there have been some problems, hopefully all in the process of being ironed out (and from what I hear the staff at The Phoenix are being very proactive). Several subscribers talk of being told their subs started from issue 1, yet received issue 2 instead. Likewise the much talked about Waitrose deal will hopefully be sorted soon allowing you to pick up the latest issues in store (it was meant to be ready with issue 1, but “unforeseen delays” mean it’s not happened yet).
But these troubles aside I can only hope you’ll give it a try. Support it, talk about it, make it the success I think it deserves to be.