Review: The Phoenix / Creators: Various / Published by: The Phoenix Comic / £2.99 per issue / Available: Weekly (UK)
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The Phoenix is a weekly story comic for children, created by some of the most talented comic creators in the UK, and each issue contains a massive array of full-colour comic strips, both one-off and ongoing, aimed at a wide range of ages and complemented by puzzles, games and competitions.
This is everything that children’s comics should be, bold, vibrant, eclectic and exciting. Unlike the competition, The Phoenix doesn’t dwell on anachronistic characters from the beginning of the twentieth century, so we’re not subjected to any ill-behaved schoolboys sporting pea-shooters and catapults, instead each page overflows with invention, from dinosaur riders to Arabian Nights-inspired folk tales. Every issue comes with a two-page short story or excerpt from acclaimed children’s books and a How To Make Awesome Comics section that sums up in a single page what some lacklustre writers can’t accomplish in complete art books.
It should be clear to all concerned that I’m not the target audience for The Phoenix, but that’s what my children are for. My son is three years old, and while he’s only just old enough to appreciate The Phoenix, appreciate it he did. We sat together and read the first two issues in bed and they had such an impact on his tiny imagination that the next morning while I showered he crept downstairs and read them both in his pyjamas. Jamie Smart’s Bunny Vs Monkey hits exactly the right tone for younger readers, capturing his bizarre humour perfectly in a strip that’s packed with colourful characters and madcap antics. Kate Brown’s The Lost Boy has the hallmarks of a brilliant adventure story with an added online element where readers can examine the shipwrecked protagonist’s map collection. The Pirates of Pangaea was undoubtedly my son’s favourite, in which a gorgeous tropical world is populated by pirates and giant dinosaurs. Even as an adult reader Pirates is an unqualified success, with such a clarity of linework and depth of colours that the adventure almost comes to life. Most of the other content was beyond my ability to explain to such a young boy, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t appreciate the extraordinary range demonstrated by the Etherington brothers or the winning charm of Simone Lia.
Possibly the greatest achievement of The Phoenix is its steadfast refusal to dumb down for its readers. This is not to say that the contents are lofty or too-ambitious but that alongside the slapstick action and the animal editorial team there are sometimes reams of text and ambitious storytelling techniques. The Phoenix caters to a broad range of abilities and as such can inspire children to move onto the more difficult and engaging strips. That’s the biggest difference between The Phoenix and its competitors, The Phoenix has ambition and trusts that a child’s imagination can cope with ideas more complex than naughty pranksters, and as a result we’re rewarded with content that I actually enjoyed reading to my son. I received these first two issues to review for free and as a result I’ve taken out a subscription for my family. I recommend that you do likewise.