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.