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Monday, 9 January 2012

In Review: The Phoenix Issue 1

It feels like a long time since the last issue of The DFC appeared - although The DFC Library books have been reminding us what that title was like and, with the Etherington Brother's Baggage, what it might have continued to be given the chance.

So when The Phoenix was first mooted last year, there was some discussion about how this second title from David Fickling Comics Ltd was going to have to change to survive longer than its predecessor. The biggest change that was considered to be needed was it being available over the counter rather than just by subscription and, with their Waitrose deal, The Phoenix has managed that.

As for the comic itself, £2.99 gets the reader 32 pages of semi-gloss colour, which is a big improvement on the matt colour of The DFC. The dinosaur on the front cover leads into Daniel Hartwell and Neill Cameron's The Pirates Of Pangaea. When the first Phoenix image of this was released I e-mailed it around the rest of the downthetubes team saying that if it was available as a book on Amazon I would have bought it there and then based on that one image. Eight pages in, four in issue Zero and another four here, and I stand by that initial assessment - I like both the idea and the execution and I can completely understand why editor Ben Sharpe ran it as the cover and first story in this issue.

Next up are two pages of Jamie Smart's Bunny Vs Monkey which sets up the humorous strip's basic concept and, like Pangaea, continues directly on from the pages in Issue Zero. As the two protagonists didn't meet in Issue Zero this is one strip that seemed a little strange there, but the fateful meeting has now occurred and I can now see how it is going to play out. With Jamie's delightful chibi-style animal characters, this is one strip that I expect will grow on me.

Via two pages of text from the Ash Mistry book due to be published by Harper Collins in March, the next comic strip is the Etherington Brothers' Long Gone Don. The brothers' love of the manic is in full flow here with the main character dying on the first page before being transported to what could only be described as an Etherington version of Alice's Wonderland. Issue Zero didn't give much away about Long Gone Don and it has to be said that you aren't going to be much the wiser after these three pages but, with a hat wearing talking crow and Lorenzo's trademark detailed art, I fully expect this one to become a firm favourite.

Neill Cameron gets another page and a bit to get the readers to interact with the comic in How To Make Awesome Comics before the first two pages of Kate Brown's The Lost Boy. There isn't much to the story in these two pages, an apparently ship-wrecked boy wakes up on a sun bleached beach, finds a piece of a map and follows footprints up the shore. Yet Kate's style is so distinctive in the way she plays with the elements that make up her pages, as it was in The Spider Moon, that it makes these two pages interesting to look at despite the initial lack of action.

Garen Ewing's ligne claire style is much more traditional in the four page complete story by Ben Haggarty of The Golden Feather in which a middle-eastern boy and his grandfather, appropriately, watch the death and rebirth of a real Phoenix.

This is followed by Adam Murphy's Corpse Talk in which Adam talks to the reanimated corpses of famous people, in this instance scientist Nikola Tesla. Corpse Talk really sounds like a bad idea, zombies for kids mixed with history, however when I asked my 10 year old nephew which was his favourite strip in Issue Zero, it was Corpse Talk - and I have to agree with him. It may sound like a strange idea but, remarkably, it works really well.

The final strip in Issue 1 is James Turner's 2 page Star Cat, the beginning of a longer adventure, which does its job of raising a smile. If James' DFC strip Super Animal Adventure Squad was The Avengers for the Fineas and Ferb generation, then Star Cat is their Star Trek.

The whole comic is packaged up with editorial characters, a couple of humorous shorts, Patrice Aggs' centrespread of a school open day that is just about to go wrong, Lorenzo Etherington's tortuous Von Doogan prize puzzle and a superb Chris Riddel image of a cat restaurant.

So is there a drawback? As with The DFC, getting children and their parents to realise The Phoenix is available is going to be the issue. While the Waitrose deal is heartening to hear, there are only eight Waitrose stores between Yorkshire and John O'Groats, which at least is eight more than Northern Ireland has. For a vast swathe of the United Kingdom, "available at Waitrose" equates to "subscription only". If you have a local Waitrose then consider yourself lucky that you can simply walk in and buy a copy.

The Phoenix Issue 1 is an impressive start for the new title and, based on the contents of this week's issue, it deserves to do well. Time, and hopefully a wider distribution deal, will tell.

• There are more details about The Phoenix comic at their official website where a digital version of Issue Zero is available to read. The various Phoenix subscription options are also available here.


• The Phoenix is available at Waitrose supermarkets. Your nearest Waitrose can be found using the Waitrose Branch Finder.

• The Oxford Mail ran a short article on the release of Issue 1 which includes a picture of The Phoenix team.

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