Overview

The Phoenix #22

Review

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The Phoenix #22

Credits

  • Words: Various
  • Art: Various
  • Publisher: David Fickling Books
  • Price: £2.99
  • Release Date: Jun 1, 2012

A triumphant synthesis of the established conventions of British comics with a contemporary and relevant self-awareness.

When The Phoenix debuted five months ago I suspect my feelings about this valiant attempt to echo a golden age of weekly U.K. anthology comics for children reflected those of many other observers. While the comic’s entry into the market was exciting and most welcome, the harsh reality is that the halcyon days of popping into a British newsagents and finding twenty-plus similar anthologies on the shelves are long since gone. Whole generations of readers have come and gone with essentially just The Beano and The Dandy representing a vanished tradition and the critically acclaimed The DFC, the last attempt to recreate a great Brit institution a couple of years back, sadly failing to see out a year. From that perspective, my enthusiasm for this new venture was tempered by the challenges in building an audience it would inevitably face.

Now, whether The Phoenix is currently making its requisite numbers saleswise is not something I’m privy to, but in terms of quality and presentation if this comic is not reaching its targeted demographic then it would be an injustice most woeful to behold. This twenty-second edition is full of the usual mix of adventure and humour comic strips, puzzle pages, and interactive features that have proved such a winning combination since The Phoenix’s inception. In fact the only thing missing from the usual formula this week is the illustrated text story.

The big draw (pun unintentional but fitting) this time around is the cover competition inviting the readership to add their own illustration and submit it for judging, with an opportunity to win a number of great prizes. This ties in with  Neill Cameron’s weekly feature How to Make (Awesome) Comics where, for the last few months, the creator has been instructing his audience on the distinctive language of the comic strip page in an entertaining and informative manner. It’s emblematic of the publication’s strong focus on connecting with its young readership in a tangible and visible way.

This issue also sees a new character in Jim Medway’s Sergeant Chip Charlton and Mr. Woofles of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, featuring the eponymous Mountie and his dachshund chum. This is a fun comedy strip that combines the visual sensibilities of classic eras of bygone British humour comics with a Tintin-esque clarity. That wackiness factor is also very much in evidence elsewhere in #22. Jamie Smart’s Bunny Vs. Monkey embodies that classic premise of two warring animal adversaries with a frenetic, twisted charm. And the affable insanity continues in the Etherington BrothersLong Gone Don featuring the schoolboy hero who apparently drowned in a bowl of oxtail soup in a canteen accident in The Phoenix #1. From that bizarre demise Don found himself transported to a fantasy world so reminiscent of the fun of the Brothers’ magically warped fantasies in their highly recommended books Monkey Nuts and Baggage.

Other highlights include Adam Murphy’s Corpse Talk wherein he chats with the zombie reincarnation of a famous historical figure each week about their famous, or sometimes infamous, exploits; a kind of Horrible Histories extrapolated to its grimmest degree. Flowerbed and potting shed politics prevail amongst the animals and insects once more in Gary Northfield’s ever charming Gary’s Garden, which again seems to channel the spirit of cult 1970s animated show Roobarb in its approach. Slapstick noir is the order of the day in Dave Shelton’s Good Dog, Bad Dog with canine detectives Bergman and McBoo continuing their retro-styled investigation into the murder of a Hollywood stuntman. Perhaps the only weak link in #22 is Kate Brown’s The Lost Boy which, I suspect, will make for a far more engaging read when presented in its entirety than these two-page snippets are providing on a weekly basis.

Full details on subscribing to the comic are available on the official website here. The Phoenix is a triumphant synthesis of the established conventions of British comics with a contemporary and relevant self-awareness. Long may it continue to introduce a whole new host of younger readers to the joys of the comic strip page!

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