Saturday, January 07, 2012
Review: The Phoenix No.1
Issue one of The Phoenix arrived bang on schedule this morning, thumping onto my doormat, and very welcome it was too.
It's an impressive debut issue (or second issue if we count Issue Zero as the premiere) with 32 full colour pages packed with brand new material from some of the finest UK creators. Neil Cameron's eye-catching cover opens the proceedings, giving us a taster of the lead strip he illustrates, The Pirates of Pangaea written by Daniel Hartwell.
There's a good mix of styles in the comic, with no formula house style dominant. Jamie Smart has two pages, with his Bunny vs Monkey strip, and it lives up to his usual daftness. As Mister T might say, I pity the poor fools who don't "get" Jamie's work.
There's an aspect of The Phoenix that feels a bit like being at a posh kids' party in the 1950s, where people use phrases like "oodles" and "rip-roaring". It's not really dominant or problematic, but it's there. Perhaps it's why I felt the one scene of 'gross humour' in the comic clashed with the polite tone of the rest of The Phoenix. (Although showing a character covered in someone else's vomit would even be extreme in Toxic.) That's only a minor criticism and besides, what's a posh kids' party without someone throwing up?
There's a theme to many of the strips which is about characters finding themselves in unfamiliar surroundings, usually in a fantasy setting. This of course has been a successful plot device in classic children's books for decades (The Wizard of Oz, the Narnia books, etc.) and makes for a very welcome change from the usual suburban setting of children's comics. It also adds an unpredictable dreamlike quality to the stories, seen best in issue 1 with The Etherington Brothers' Long Gone Don.
It's good to see a comic that enjoys being a comic, and The Phoenix contains a regular feature called How to make Awesome comics, again by Neil Cameron. This is a great way to educate kids on the creation of comics in a fun way, and hopefully inspire in them the same respect and understanding of the form that many European kids have.
The complete story this issue is The Golden Feather, a telling of the myth of the phoenix, by Ben Haggarty and Garen Ewing. Top class stuff.
There's a nicely drawn half page illustration rounding off the issue by Chris Riddell entitled Supper at the Cat Restaurant. It's the kind of thing that could have appeared in comics of the 19th Century and is drawn with the illustrative skill of that era but with a modern twist. Excellent work.
All in all, The Phoenix No.1 deserves to be a huge success. It's intelligent, well crafted, entertaining, has its own style and, if today's kids can tear themselves away from their X-Boxes and mobile phones, I'm sure they'll find it to be great escapist fun.
At present, The Phoenix is only available to buy at Waitrose stores (and London's Tales on Moon Lane bookshop) or by subscription. Hopefully more retail outlets will follow but at present, if you're nowhere near a Waitrose, I'd encourage anyone to subscribe. (Depending on what option you choose, subscriptions range from as little as £10 for 5 issues to £99 for a year.)
Don't forget that there's a free 8 page preview of The Phoenix in today's edition of The Times!