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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!


Anonymous said...

According to the FORBIDDEN PLANET blog all 10,000 copies of issue 0 are gone but only 1200 readers came back to subscribe. Not a promising start no matter how you look at it.

Lew Stringer said...

People can subscribe at any time and I'm sure the promo in The Times will boost subscriptions this week.

Besides, what's the alternative? For the UK comic industry to roll over and die? Comic fans should be applauding someone for starting up a new comic, not predicting its doom as soon as it's out of the gate.

I hope the blogs that usually pour scorn on the UK industry will be taking note of The Phoenix (and Strip Magazine) and will have something positive to say for a change.

jamie smart said...

Agreed, subscribers take time to build up, especially when today is only the launch day, it's important to watch it grow. Any business model is long-term, about building loyalty, and I can vouch for the quality Phoenix comics in store over the coming months.
Why do people bother trolling about how dire everything looks without giving it a chance? If you're so fond of your comic industry then support it, instead of dragging it down first chance you get. Everyone's working really hard to produce quality comics, which is far more than any anonymous Internet commenter is doing.
Maybe you could actually buy a copy and read it, THEN comment. You might find you enjoyed it.
(but great write-up Lew, thanks!)

Dr Andy Oliver said...

Sniff. I subscribed but no sign of it yet (hopefully on monday)

Lew Stringer said...

Well said Jamie.

The anonymous option is there for the convenience of people who don't have a Google account but it seems increasingly abused by people to knock comics. If people have such strong views, why don't they put their names to them? For example, 'McScotty' uses the anon option but still signs his posts, as do others.

I'm tempted to switch to account holders only, but then that would inconvenience people like McScotty who have constructive and interesting things to add. Guess I'll just have to moderate more.

Upstart Thunder said...

I for one think it's awesome :D

Dave W said...

Dr Andy, my copy never arrived either. I called the subscription line just to check they had my correct address and was advised that some of the subscription copies missed the post and they hoped I'd receive my copy on Tuesday.

I then drove to a nearby (large) Wairose to check out whether the Phoenix #1 was on sale there...and it wasn't.
Looking forward to Tuesday.

Anonymous said...

Mine arrived today.

I've not had a chance to read it yet but it looks great (as does the envelope!)

I feel like something of a born-again comic reader. After many years of buying only the occasional vintage comic to plug holes in runs, I have been encouraged by the enthusiasm of blogs like this and by creators and readers alike to take out a number of subscriptions. So far Commando, Strip and now The Phoenix. I am sure I am not unique in this desire to show support in this way, and I hope that more creators will be encouraged to launch their own anthology titles.

Never let fear of 'failure' hold you back, please!

Anyway, congratulations to the Phoenix team, and here is to many more issues to come.

Paul said...

It looks lovely. Walked across Manchester to pick it up from Waitrose but, unfortunately, they didn't have it. (Possibly because it's a "Little Waitrose". How twee!)

Might plump for a taster sub instead.

With The Phoenix, Strip Magazine and the revitalised Dandy, plus old stalwarts like The Beano, 2000 AD and Viz, we've never had it so good!

Anonymous said...

Haven't seen the comic. Doesn't seem likely I will coz don't know where the nearest Waitrose is. That's a problem from the start. If it's got limited accessibility it's harder to catch on. Think it's a bit rude to call people fools who might not like an artist's work. Even if disguising it under what Mr T might say. Phil.

Lew Stringer said...

So you didn't even order or download the free sample issue but you still thought you'd come here for a moan anyway. Some things never change.

Richard said...

Yep, according to the Forbidden Planet International blog it has 1200 subscribers. And was me what wrote that, after a source at Phoenix told me.

And although you the initial anonymous commenter is allowed their opinion, I'd rather not see my figures being used so negatively.

Personally I think a conversion from free copy reader to subscriber of over 10% after merely a month is pretty positive. The magic figure being talked of is something over 3000 after the first year, so not too shabby to be 40% there before the first issue arrives.

Like Lew says, having an 8-page promo in the Times should help matters as well.

FPI Blog

Anonymous said...

Not moaning. Just pointing out limited accessibility limits sales. Comics used to hit big and then gradually shrink as time wore on. Few comics start small and grow big. If I could walk into my local newsagents and buy it I would. Most people won't put themselves out tracking down a comic not readily available. That hurts sales. That's not moaning, that's a fact.

David said...

I sent off for the preview issue, but didn't subscribe as I thought it would be more widely available in shops. However following your post on Friday I realising it would only be available in Waitrose. As my local Waitrose is a pain to get to, I signed up online for a subscription on Friday afternoon. I was amazed when a copy arrived the next day. Fantastic service.

Both my children have read it. My 10 year old who been showing less intrest in the Dandy of late, thinks it is fantastic. He particulary likes the actions trips and has printed out the map piece that links with 'The lost Boy'. He also loves the Von Doogan puzzle at the back.

My 6 year old loves Bunny verses Monkey and the how to draw comics feature. He's already started trying to draw some of his own strips.

Overall I think it's got a great balance of action and humour and a good mix of art styles. It's a big hit with my kids. Hopefully it will eventually find it's way into a few more supermarkets and shops as I think the limited visibility it has at the moment is it's main problem.

Lew Stringer said...

Anon, I repeat what I said earlier: what's the alternative, for the UK comics industry to roll over and die? You should be applauding any attempt to try and get a new comic started, particularly one of such high quality.

Here's something easier than walking to your newsagent. A link to the online copy of Phoenix issue zero on the official website. See? If you like it perhaps you could subscribe? (Which also takes less effort than going to the shops.) My point being that it not being in shops isn't "putting people out" at all when a subscription is so easy to sign up for...

Free Phoenix issue Zero

David said...

It is my intention to pick up a couple of extra issues and distributet them to the places where children will see/read them.

One will be going to the waiting room of my local Doctor's. The other will be going into the reading corner of my loacl school.

This in my mind is the only way those of us with our lifelong love of comics will introduce the current generation of children. I have seen many parents throw a random comic in their shopping trolleys in supermarkets and their choice mainly seems to be based on whatever the least irritating free gift is on the cover, or it a known TV tie in release. Gems like The Phoenix are sadly overlooked.

Lew Stringer said...

Great idea David.

Yes, the problem these days is that parents in their thirties will have grown up with licensed comics dominating the shelves so they might make their purchases based on product familiarity, rather than originality. It's an uphill struggle to get non-licensed comics accepted by kids, parents and retailers.

Sadly the situation is entirely different than it was 20 or 30 years ago or more. The Phoenix and Strip Magazine wouldn't HAVE to start small if newsagents and supermarkets were as accepting of new comics as they used to be, and if they didn't charge the huge sums for shelf space that they do today.

As for Anon's comment that "few comics start small and then grow big", times change. Without massive financial backing a new comic has no choice but to start small, and publishers aren't willing to spend massive amounts in a country that has gotten out of the habit of buying comics. Yet the habit can't be regenerated without comics. Catch-22.

Incidentally, sales of DC Thomson's Commando have increased in recent years and the editor points to blogs such as this for boosting people's interest in the title. That's the way to promote comics today, with websites focusing on the positive rather than tearing down any new idea that is trying its best to make a difference.

SOS Comix said...

I do a lot of marketing/advertising as my day job and that conversion rate anonymous quotes is actually very impressive!

I ordered issue zero, and asked my story book loving 8 year old to decide if we should subscribe, as I had been looking for a proper comic for her, and although issue 1 has not arrived yet, she is looking forward to it (as am I!). I think it was Neill Cameron's Pirates of Pangea that really grabbed her attention, especially Miss Sophie.

The quality and attention of The Phoenix is amazing throughout and if it gains a decent readership, it could be very successful indeed.(I measure success in longevity and quality, more than just profits!)

I think getting the Times and Waitrose involved is a real coup and I congratulate and thank those involved in getting this launched.

Hopefully when I have time, I will be submiting some strips too!!

Gary Northfield said...

Cripes, I can't believe the negativity started straight in at the first post. Or maybe I should believe it, given the track record of UK internet comic fans.

The sheer love and hard work that goes into putting this project together astounds me, as does the quality of the final product.
Whenever I meet up with the team at The Phoenix, or other contributors of the comic, I'm in the presence of genuinely enthused comic fanatics, people sweating blood and tears in the hope of entertaining a Great British public with brilliant comics.

Times have also moved on where in fact, as opposed to bringing out a fabulous comic and expecting it to drop in sales figures over time because "that's how it's always been", perhaps the positive and forward thinking editorial team are looking to build up an audience and establishing a decent long-term fanbase. A fanbase that was credibly building with the DFC, through consistent quality week on week. It's a tough ask and lessons were learnt with The DFC and have been (and will be) acted upon as the years and life of the comic rolls on.

The uninformed negativity that surrounded the launch of The DFC is the reason I backed off from reading UK comic forums. It's easy to sit in your armchair gnashing at your keyboard, but if you ever had the chance to get involved and meet the actual real human beings working on the comic, you might feel a little bit more supportive, "no matter how you look at it".

Anonymous said...

Why think I don't applaud new attempts? Only noting harsh reality comics have to deal with. That's not negative. Looked at website. On a limited budget, so not subscribing to comic I can't see, smell, touch, size up before buying. Comics an experience websites can't do justice to. Hope it succeeds, but got its work cut out not being more accessible to possible buyers. That's fact. No use arguing about it. Roll over and die? No, but no excuse for going into battle half cocked. Needs more than hope for a comic to succeed. Let's hope it does anyway. Phil.

Lew Stringer said...

So what did you think of the free issue I gave you the link to "Anonymous"?

Gareth said...

WTF? Why would anyone want to know what a comic smells like before they buy it?

David said...

"That's the way to promote comics today, with websites focusing on the positive"

I subscribe to Commando because of your publicity for issue 4000. Never read Commando before. Bought 4000 and was a subscriber shortly afterwards.

Likewise my kids subscribe to The Dandy because you publicised the relaunch issue and my kids loved it.

Sadly with the greed of shops selling shelf space and most comics existing mearly as a form of advertisment to sell a toy range, real genuine comics have an uphill struggle.

That's what I love about The Phoenix. It's agenda is clearly just to tell a wide range of stories in a variety of styles and get kids reading for PLEASURE. Too many children are being turned off on reading as they see it as something they are FORCED to do at school.

I'll make sure as many children as possible see a copy and hopefully do my bit to add to the subscriber base.

Of course there will always be the anonymous internet trolls who seems to get their perverse kicks attacking anything with positive aims. Life is full of negative people sadly

Lew Stringer said...

I'm very pleased to hear that The Dandy gained at least one new reader due to this blog anyway David.

I'm not a generally optimistic person by nature but I can't see the point of wasting blog bandwidth putting down comics I don't like. I'd rather use it to promote the comics I do like, and help the industry (if I can) not tear it down. That's not due to a "vested interest" as someone once accused me of, but simply because I think the UK comics industry faces so many obstacles as it is I'm not going to add to its problems out of spite.

It'd be far easier to sit back and wallow in nostalgia and sneer at new comics waiting for the chance to say "Told you so" when any of them falter, but who wants to be someone like that?

Mr Straightman said...

"I pity the poor fools who don't "get" Jamie's work." I get it, I just don't like it. Feels like the work of a typical uni-student who grew up with Pokemon and Cow and Chicken deciding to draw some self-consciously 'wackeee' comics for his chums to me.

Lew Stringer said...

Nah, you just don't get it.

Anonymous said...

Recognising probs not being negative. Being aware is first positive step in overcoming. Burying head in sand and wishful thinking won't make comic success. Readers or critics publicly saying what they don't like can point editors in right direction in making comic people want. Looked at free issue. Some of it nice, some of it not. Can't read tho coz screen too small. Want to read comic as comic. Not enlarge panel one at a time. Phil.

Lew Stringer said...

So why didn't you just send for the free comic when it was available?

Sounds to me like you're just looking for excuses not to support it. You haven't said one single thing in its favour yet.

Jamie said...

Hate to say it, but I'm a coupla years too old for Pokemon and Cow And Chicken. I grew up on Calvin And Hobbes and The Tick. It may show my age, but I've been drawing comics professionally and full-time for nearly 15 years now, far from being a uni-student.
I don't draw comics for my chums though. I draw what amuses me. It's a selfish approach perhaps, but it does seem to appeal to a lot of other people too, so I've stuck with it this long.
But of course, I have no problem with someone not liking my work. Hey, I don't like a lot of other cartoons too. I'm very opinionated. Can't please everyone!

Anonymous said...

Coz only found out about it few days ago. Haven't said anything in favour? Said some of it looks good. Don't want to read comics on screen. Want to read comics as comics. Excuse not to suppost it? Can't support what can't buy in shops. Can't afford subscription. Wouldn't subscribe anyway coz prefer to have comics perfect. Not bent in mail. Excuse me for living. Not everyone see things your way.

Felneymike said...

Actually from what I've seen around the web not one person has actually found it in Waitrose. People who have asked customer service have been told it's not on order either, so it may not be worth people going out of their way to look.

Lew Stringer said...

Thanks Mike. That doesn't sound encouraging does it?

Incidentally folks, I'm finding the way the troll is sounding like Rorshach in order to disguise his identity very amusing. He didn't fool the invisible Statcounter ISP locator though. :)

SOS Comix said...

Not sure it's actually trolling, Lew? - Just a "realist" who seems very particular about how they like to obtain comics. And they haven't made all comments negative. And they are not the only one to post negative news.... Plus it's got the discussion going, so that's not bad surely. I've seen much worse on the web before.

I dunno. It's your blog. lol

Lew Stringer said...

Someone who posts anonymously six times in one thread, using a weak attempt to disguise his writing style whilst criticizing a comic he has no intention of buying sounds like a troll to me.

We're all aware of the realities of publishing, as has been covered on this blog loads of times. "Anonymous" clearly just wanted to try and sour things.

At least that's the way I saw it. Perhaps I'm wrong?

Dave W said...

I'm pleased to say that my copy was waiting for me when I got home this afternoon.

The comic is beautifully designed and the quality of the strips is very high. The overall look reminds me of European comics, which could mean the strips may eventually be published in other European countries where comics are still widely read and well respected?

One other thing I noticed was that there is a bar-code on the front cover, which DFC didn't have. This leads me to believe that the Phoenix is intended to be sold via other outlets. Lets hope Waitrose starts stocking the comic soon.

Congrats to the Editorial and Creative guys for a much needed new quality British comic. The marketing guys may still have a bit of work to do, perhaps?

Lew Stringer said...

You're right Dave. I'm sure the stories could easily appeal to a European audience. I'm not sure if that's the intention of the creators but some of them may well have been influenced by European comics.

That said, many of the old UK strips (such as Robot Archie, Billy's Boots, Janus Stark etc) were reprinted abroad and they didn't really have a Euro look to them. I suppose good comics travel well, however they're drawn.

Mikeodee said...

Monday and still no sign of it yet. Bit of a shame after all the build up....

Lew Stringer said...

I think some copies are being posted out today. When did you subscribe?

Anonymous said...

You're wrong. Not troll. Only answered 6 times because you asked questions. Use proxy server as security to avoid hacking. Statcounters don't account for that. You paranoid perhaps?

Mike Smith said...

There's no point in being blindly positive but there's no point in being willfully negative either. And Anonymous is wrong... 1200 subscriptions from 10,000 trial copies is an excellent take-up.

If that's the only thing Anonymous had to say about this whole gargantuan effort then it's pretty sad.

Lew Stringer said...

Indeed Mike. I would have thought that the arrival of a new UK comic would be warmly greeted by ALL genuine fans of British comics. Like you said, there's no need for the sort of rose-tinted optimism that ignores the minus points of such ventures but so far the reviews seem balanced. Anon was the only one to attempt to put such a negative angle on things, but that's par for the course.

SOS Comix said...

Ours arrived today. From a first glance it looks lovely. Plus it seems to have struck a nice balance of content. Will report back once we've read it!

One random thought has occured to me, though, is the lettering. A comic like this may benefit from a consistent and clear lettering style throughout the strips. Plus maybe a decent size Lower/Sentence case would be the wiser choice. (and for comics in general) Afterall, it could help entice people who are used to Lower/Sentence Case in books and webpages and maybe would appear more "educational" to adults suspicious of comics. All caps seems too shouty and tiresome to me these days ( yes, I am well-versed in lettering traditions, eg and I realise you have touched on this here in the comments )

Maybe that's a theme to explore further in a blog post, Lew?

Lew Stringer said...

I think upper case is fine. Generations of kids grew accustomed to it in comics. Personally I can't remember it bothering me as a child that comics were in capitals and books were not. It certainly didn't impede my reading skills as I was top of the class when I was five thanks to The Dandy and TV21. :)

We use lower case on The Dandy now of course but I think either way works.

As for a consistent style of lettering throughout the comic, I'd say it wasn't that important. If kids can adjust to different styles of artwork they can adjust to different styles of lettering. In the real world not everything is lettered in the same style so getting the brain accustomed to learning a language in different fonts and styles must surely be an advantage?

Fred MANSON said...

I really loved The DFC. I wanted to subscribe to The Phoenix, but the prices to Europe are so heavy...

I need to think if I subscribe or not. That is not an excellent position because I want to support the British comic book industry the only way I can but there, it is very expensive, as well as for the Commando subscriptions prices too... Ouch...

Gareth said...

I'm more of a fan of old style adventure comics (Spike, Speed and so on) but I'm really getting into The Phoenix.

And... your comic sniffing troll might like to hear that it even SMELLS good too. He's missing so much. Lol.

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