It's a remarkable achievement for any British comic to reach 100 issues in the 21st Century, especially one which has bypassed the usual retail outlets and is independent of the major publishers. The Phoenix has done amazingly well, relying on subscriptions, digital downloads, and limited visibility in some branches of Waitrose and certain comic shops.
|Art: Neill Cameron|
We live in an age where children's comics have become increasingly reliant on being accompanied with cheap plastic toys, stickers, Haribo sweets and other novelties, - to such an extent that I've even heard some parents and shop assistants think the magazine is an attachment to the gifts. Bloated bags of toys and a comic fight for visibility on crowded shelves. It's a situation that will inevitably implode I think. (Although credit to The Beano for not having any bagged issues since last Christmas. Let's hope others follow this example.)
|Art: Adam Murphy|
In addition to the problem of crowded displays, retail giants actually charge publishers thousands of pounds to be part of this chaos. In theory, the more a publisher pays, the better visibility the title should get. In practise, does anyone tell the staff that? If so, how many bother to follow the guidelines, when they're quickly stuffing the latest issues (often upside down) into the best available space?
|Art: Dan Boultwood|
|Art: Jamie Smart|
The look of the comic, with its light adventure serials and gentle humour strips, owes more to European comics like Eppo or Spirou than to The Beano or Valiant. I used to pick up copies of Spirou from bookshops in London in the 1980s and wish that the UK had something similar. I'm pleased to see that, finally, now we do, and readers seem to like it. Kids relate to good storytelling, wherever they're from.
One other thing that stands out to me is how very upper middle class the tone of the comic feels. You're not likely to see rough-and-ready menaces firing catapults or fat kids shovelling a mountain of chips into their gobs in this comic. Credit to The Phoenix for moving away from the usual British comic stereotypes, although in doing so it does sometimes feel even more old fashioned and quaintly 1950s with its stories of clean-cut children caught up in rip-roaring adventures with pirates and smugglers.
|Art: Robert Deas|
I've no idea how many copies The Phoenix sells every week as they don't reveal sales figures, but printing 32 full colour pages with no paid advertising isn't going to come cheap. However, the cost to the reader is very reasonable; £2.99 for the print edition, £1.99 for the digital one. (With discounts for subscribers.)
So, congratulations to The Phoenix for reaching 100 issues (or nearly 102 by the time this post is published). Let's hope it continues to grow (it's now listed in the Previews catalogue now so any comic specialist shop can order it) and let's hope it encourages some of the bigger UK publishers to develop titles that are comics, not just merchandise-promos and activity magazines.
More details: http://www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk/