The Phoenix Weekender – Issue 236

Published On July 16, 2016 | By Richard Bruton | Comics, Comics For Children, Reviews, The Phoenix Weekender

Here we go once more, another weekend, another copy of the best kid’s comic around lands on the doormat…

This week there’s a really striking John Blake cover by Fred Fordham, but as we’ve discussed before, there’s an embargo on showing you images from the strip, so here’s all the cover I can show you!!!

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As for the John Blake strip itself; The Adventures Of John Blake: The Mystery Of The Ghost Ship by Philip Pullman and Fred Fordham, it’s revealing more and more of the secrets of how The Mary Alice became a ghost ship travelling through time with a crew plucked from the ages. We’re listening to the recollections of an old member of the Einstein-Carmichael expedition, as he tells all to the Navy Agent investigating. But what makes it work so well is Fordham’s artwork, beautifully evocative muted brown and cream tones with just young John Blake in colour, a red shirt marking him out so well. The experiment by Blake’s father turns out to be the thing that sent young John out of time, and with each episode the mystery deepens and deepens. It’s a great strip, my earlier misgivings over pacing have completely gone away and I can’t wait to find out much more week by week.

Now, as for the rest of the comic…

Jess Bradley’s Squid Bits is a surreal, silly delight week after week. A double page with great gag strips, unconnected but superb, and it’s simply a joy to read, bringing a smile to my face every time I read it. But where it absolutely excels is when Bradley comes up with a concept that’s just utterly, completely ridiculous and runs with it. This week we get a Banana Fan Club membership, a teenage dinosaur needing glasses (all to get in the title… “Do you think he saurus?”), bizarre Cryptid creatures checklist, a blerg / blog confusion and best of all…. this….

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Genius.

And speaking of genius, this week sees the return of Gary Northfield’s Gary’s Garden. Love Northfield’s artwork, a beautifully loose, flowing style, looks so simple, but bloody hell, getting that level of relaxed line takes so much work. And as for the tales, well, there’s always so much to laugh at when we visit his garden. Although perhaps not this week, as a happy Gary ventures out after the rain, only to make a terrible mistake… all in the crunch….

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Poor Gary, we get to see just what terrible thing he’s done in the next panel, a full page of terror!

The Tales From HQ feature is becoming a regular strip now, featuring the writing of The Phoenix team and art by Lee Robinson (I think… it really should be credited to him on the inside front cover though). And it’s a fun strip each time, Robinson’s art very bright and fun, as the editorial gang field test the latest of Quincy’s inventions. Dangerous… well, maybe just a little….

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One small problem though, with Live From HQ taking up three pages, plus seven pages of editorial pieces and a John Blake poster in the middle, there’s less room for other strips, something that’s been happening for a little while now. Sure, the quality of the comic is still sky high, and the editorial side is really important for the readership, establishing a great connection, but the decrease in strips is a worry.

But enough downer, let’s get silly again, and there’s no better way to get silly than with Jamie Smart’s brilliant Bunny Vs Monkey, always stupid in the cleverest way, always super funny and perfectly done. The way we’ve come to know and love every single member of the woodland community is testament to how Smart writes the thing so well. Even the worst of them have something to love, case in point here being the Maniacal Badger….

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Oh yes, even maniacal evil creatures have parents to annoy them!

Finally, another episode of Neill Cameron and Kate Brown’s stunning Tasmin And The Dark. We now know exactly who and what “The Dark” is, and it’s not good for Tamsin or her brother. There’s a real skill in balancing thrills and scares in a children’s strip, and Cameron and Brown nail it week after week….

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About The Author

Richard Bruton
- Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he's written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard's day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children's graphic novel library in the country.

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