Friday, October 30, 2015

The Phoenix hits the High Street



The Phoenix is 200 issues old this week and apparently is "the first independent comic to reach such a milestone in over 40 years" says The Guardian and several other newspapers. Meanwhile, Viz comic is quietly celebrating its 250th issue this month.

The press are missing a vital word. The actual PR from The Phoenix said the comic was the first weekly independent comic to reach 200 issues since 1969, but even that is questionable. Which previous indie comic was that then? Step forward TV Century 21, somehow reclassified as an independent comic just for the benefit of The Phoenix's boast.  TV21 was published by City Magazines, one of the major players in British comics of the sixties. They also published various other titles including Yogi Bear's Own, Huckleberry Hound Weekly, TV Tornado, Solo, Lady Penelope, and Joe 90 Top Secret. Hardly what one would think of when talking about indie comics.

Thing is, The Phoenix doesn't need to resort to such flawed hyperbole in order to big itself up. The fact that it's reached 200 issues is a fantastic achievement in itself and well worthy of celebration. Surely a better, and more accurate, boast would be "The Phoenix, an independent comic, is celebrating 200 issues this week. A milestone that many mainstream comics have never reached."

So, well done to The Phoenix on its 200th issue. An edition that not only has 16 extra pages for no extra cost but also finally arrives on the shelves of many branches of WH Smith. Yes, The Phoenix is now in the High Street of some towns and cities across the UK. 

Issue 200 gives us a striking cover by Chris Riddell, and opens with the start of a new serial, Saint Georgia and The Ends of the World, by Robin Boyden. 
There's also a new adventure for the Mega Robo Bros by Neill Cameron...
A new comedy adventure serial Battlesuit Bea by Jamie Smart, and much, much more...
The good thing about The Phoenix is that is has its own identity. It doesn't follow the traditional formula of Beano-inspired funnies, and has little in common with British comics of old. It seems to be more inspired by the style and tone of modern children's books, and although this aspect sometimes comes across as a bit too polite and twee to those of us who grew up with raucous comics like Wham!, Smash! and Oink! it can't be denied that many children find it appealing. And of course the response of that target audience is the only thing that matters for a children's comic. 

The arrival of The Phoenix in WH Smith is an interesting development. The strength of the comic is that it's all-story, no features, no ads, and no bagged gifts. If it proves a success, as I hope it will, there's a strong possibility that other publishers will want to follow suit. It might even lead to a revival of the story-driven comic, instead of the 'bagged magazines with a few pages of strip' that have dominated the shelves over the past 15 years or more. That in itself is a good reason to buy The Phoenix from Smiths, if your branch is stocking it of course. (Some people are already reporting that their local Smiths has never heard of the comic. I bought mine from the branch in Birmingham city centre.)

Who says the British comics industry is dead? The Phoenix No.200 is out now, 48 pages for £2.99, available from selected branches of WH Smith, Waterstones, and Waitrose. 

15 comments:

Andy Boal said...

Nutty was the most recent one to reach 200 issues in December 1984, so there we go :)

Still, I’m looking forward to my copy. It didn’t come in today’s post, so hopefully it’ll arrive tomorrow.

Lew Stringer said...

Although we can't call Nutty an independent comic it goes to show that not many comics have reached 200 issues in (relatively) recent times.

Andy Boal said...

Yes, I agree. IPC set up comics to boost others with merges, but Jackpot bucked that trend by lasting nearly three years. Nutty also bucked the DCT trend, because no other "extra" comic had its longevity - Buzz, Cracker and Plug certainly didn't, and Sparky was a fully fledged one of five.

Of course, 2000AD is now independent, but since it was owned by IPC in 1981, I suppose it doesn't count ;)

Manic Man said...

It's a nice achievement but yeah, not much of a surprise the guardian would get it wrong but nevermind that.. even there statement is a little off.. OH and you made a mistake maybe.

"The press are missing a vital word. The actual PR from The Phoenix said the comic was the first weekly comic to reach 200 issues since 1969" .. so.. The Phoenix didn't say Independent? which does open the doors to Nutty, 2000AD, Even Sonic the Comic (though it was during the 100% (well, 99.5 or so%) reprint era.

but we get a problem with the word 'Independent'.. a lot of companies classed as Independent publishers are often... well, not really independent.. there was stupid thing on IGN (a site I'm sorry to say I visit once in a blue moon.. way too often) where 'Independent comics' meant any company that wasn't Marvel or DC.. in fact, most lists seam to include companies which are far from any meaning of independent as I understand it.. which basically (after a lot of debate and research) seams to be 'an Independent publisher is a publisher that has the single commitment to publishing as a business'. Where as a non-independent publisher would also do other works unrelated to publishing (so you would say Warner Brothers isn't an Independent Publisher because only one of their 'companies' is a publisher, others do other things.. but even this is a bit mixed up.. Many comic publishers also deal with Merchandise. This can be a tool to promote the comic (or even book or whatever the independent publisher is publishing) or often, can be a way to make money of current properties owned by the publisher. Image Comics is often stated as an Independent publisher despite TV shows, Films etc, which were more made to make money in there own right more then create more awareness and readership of there published work..

Manic Man said...

(Part 2 due to character limit)
Do we say Self-published is Independent? if so, they limits it ALOT and something like Phoenix wouldn't even count. I have a number of 80s comics from what are called independent publishers which sure aren't self-published, but they are created owned. So does that have a part in being independent? IN which case, would created owned comics published by non-independent publishers (like Marvel and DC and Dark Horse etc) class as Independent comics?

I think this is something that is becoming... well. more important as time goes by. In Computer fields, the so called 'Independent' or 'Indie' (as it's called in most markets, be it comics, computers or music) is becoming a badge of honour to say there quality is better then 'commercial' products because they care about what they are making. for better and for worse, small time game studios are making a huge come back, the same as in Comics. when the 80s B&W hit America, it meant tons of 'self-owned' 'independent' comics came out.. most were cheap rip-offs of others works, since it was now becoming a field where most people could get a comic published, they didn't have as much polish as needed. Take a look at your work in Fanzines. Take a look at anyone's work in that field. more often then not, it's a training ground but sometimes, the training needed to be done before publishing. With the internet, people can Electronically (or even print on demand) publish for little to no start-up fee.. Crowd funding (as they call it) is also becoming a bit field for getting the start up fees some claim to need, or some DO need.

This is both good and bad.. like I said, it does mean a lot of rubbish comes out, but it also can be good as a training ground.. people can lean more and grow. We don't seam to have as many small circuit training grounds but world wide training grounds.. however, this mixture of good and bad can make it harder for the good to stand out.. I knew/now someone that never liked to play fan levels for computers games because there quality was never as good.. which wasn't true.. I could name tons which are better because they have had more time to find out cheats. most consoles have a HUGE quality rise nearer the end of there life as programmers and other creators learn various tricks of the trade and how to push the console to and beyond it's believed limits..

anyway.. side-tracked there.. I don't think we can really say about 'independent content' until it can be defined. It's like speaking another language.. you can use the word 'Vache' as much as you like.. "Oh, that painting was such a Vache", "I can't believe what a Vache that waiter was" etc, but unless the others know what it means (cow) it can mean anything in the world. We can probably find ways to class any comic as independent until we can nail down the meaning..

erm.. anyone understand that?

Lew Stringer said...

When we talk of 'independent comics' it usually means small publishers such as Time Bomb, Alan Class, Soaring Penguin, Knockabout, etc, not part of the mainstream big publishers like Thomson, Panini, City, Odhams, IPC etc.

Manic Man said...

but in the way, isn't that a problem? that's not "Independent" but "Small".. you can be a large Independent company, or a small mainstream company.. Rebellion Developments Ltd. is a fairly mainstream computer game company which brought 2000AD a while back, and I would hardly call them Independent.. they do ALOT of games which are very mainstream yet they only have 250 employees (god knows how many freelancers) though they don't really publish much.. a number of there games were published via Konami, comics published via DC Comics etc..

There is a difference between Small Press publishers, Independent publishers and Self-publishers but.. no one seams to have an clue what it is.. with the term being so.. well.. diluted now, it surely loses a lot if not all it's meaning.. Yes, 200 issues is a big milestone (Though I wonder what is bigger.. 200 issues for a weekly or 200 issues for a monthly? it would take longer if there were less issues a year.. mmm) but when they say 'independent' it's... just a meaningless word now.. like a lot of groups and 'news' outlets with simpler names, "Independent News & Media plc" is a large group (about 9,600 employees which is.. atleast 8 times larger then DC Thomson) yet they are still classed as independent (not just in name)..

So really. the term has lost meaning and no-one can define what it is, but merely what it's used for in some cases.. which was the reason for 'literally' now also meaning 'not literally true'.. reminds me of an annoying sign at Tesco "A Bag for life means Exactly that".. not it doesn't.. that bag doesn't last long, they replace it free of charge.. that's not the bag for life.. so it Figuratively means it.. Exactly would mean Literally..

All we can really say is Well Done for getting 200 issues published. simple as that.. the size of the company or how it's published cant enter into any sort of classifying because we just can't figure it out ^_^

sigh.. reminds me of the debate on if a Comic (or cartoon) is English if it has American staff.. does it depend on the writer? the main backer? the actors?.. ah screw it.. I personally don't care as long as it's good.

Hibernia Comics said...

Great news, but no WH Smiths this side of the water. The equivalent here 'Easons' distribute on behalf of Smiths in Ireland(I think I have that right) so Ill check tomorrow in the local Easons.
Is this a one off, like the DFC in Tesco, or is it intended as ongoing distribution through Smiths?

Lew Stringer said...

No, it's going to be in Smiths every week from now on. I don't think Easons will have it but let me know if they do.

MikeM said...

Haha, I once saw some small joke strip about comics in America, where some guy was saying he only read "independent" comics, implying he was "too good" for the "mainstream" Marvel and DC. He then turned around and asked if the latest issue of Star Wars was in yet XD

Gary J said...

As PHOENIX is the first comic to reach 200 consecutive issues in 45 years I think that is a HUGE achievement worthy of celebration. SCHOOL FUN was my comic when I was a youngster but it didn't last. So sad. It affiliated with BUSTER, another comic but I never cared for that. Congratulations to PHOENIX for its record breaking run!!!

Lew Stringer said...

Just to clarify, Gary, The Phoenix is not the first comic to reach 200 "consecutive" issues in 45 years. Numerous comics have beaten that record. The last 200 issues of The Beano, 2000AD, Viz, and Toxic have been consecutive for example.

It's the first indie weekly comic to reach issue No.200 for a while.

Gary J said...

Good Lord! Is BEANO still around in this day and age? From what little I have seen of VIZ it is a magazine paper, a downmarket equivalent of PRIVATE EYE so I don't consider those to be comics. 2000 A.D. is a sci-fi publication, not comic as we know it. TOXIC? I know nothing about.

Lew Stringer said...

Ok, thanks for your comments. Have you used the search window, top right? Works wonders.

Gary J said...

I wouldn't know a search window from a bay window so the wonders will elude me forever. My children love PHOENIX and we think that 200 issues and counting is something worth shouting about! Hurrah! There, we shouted.

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