100th post, 100th Phoenix!

This week (well, actually issue 101 is on sale tomorrow), the best (only!) British weekly adventure comic reached it’s 100th issue! So, for the 100th ‘proper’ post on my blog (though there’s many other hidden ones which I keep half-written stories in XD) I thought I’d take a look back over it, and talk about what I have liked so far.

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The Phoenix was, of course, the successor to the DFC, which was cancelled after 43 issues. The DFC worked on a subscription-only formula, but The Phoenix is also (theoretically!) available in Waitrose shops. When that was first announced, I thought it was great, as I’d be able to go into Ely once a week on my way home and get it. Around about the time issue 3 was supposed to have been released, I’d not seen a single physical copy anywhere. Other people around the internet reported similar problems, with many staff (up to shop managers) not having the faintest clue what it was.

The problem has now been mostly solved, and the Little Waitrose in the centre of Cambridge now has it fairly reliably (they ‘only’ miss about one issue in every five, when I go in on Saturdays anyway. They probably have it out on other days). Ely Waitrose still rarely has it at all, then randomly puts out a few assorted old issues (still, I did get one I’d missed when my subscription ended there, by pure LUCK).

Subscribers also encountered problems. When I found myself unable to buy it, I subscribed “from issue 1” (as a lot of people did). Only to recieve issue 2 and onwards instead. I later phoned up and specifically ordered issue 1, but never recieved it (Waitrose eventually put the first 3 issues on the shelves at once, so I was able to get it that way). Still, my yearly subscription did come with a nice binder and 52 issues for £99. As the individual issues are £2.99, that’s not too shabby. Still, when I tried to renew my subscription in January 2013 it didn’t work at all, the money never left my account. I decided to keep buying it in Cambridge, as it would encourage the shop to keep stocking it, and then other people might find it too!

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The two binder designs

But on to the subject of the stories. One of my favourite items in The Phoenix is Corpse Talk, partly because it’s a short, one-off story (so I can read it in the qeue at Waitrose) and partly because it has loads of tiny panels packed onto the page but quite a few funny details, just like classic Jonah! In early issues it was one page, though it averages two now.

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However, the hilarious epic of Henry VIII’s wives was a whole four! Mind you, It rarely, if ever, gives specific dates for things, it’s also not entirely clear about what country the events are taking place in, either. Today I know that Rasputin and Catherine the Great were Russians, but when I was a kid anywhere between Germany and China might as well have been one huge country. (Oh wait, it was!). For some reason the characters all talk like modern Americans, too. Perhaps we’re supposed to see it as a sort of Jerry Springer show? (The Henry VIII’s wives episode even had security guards holding them apart XD).

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“I married my dead husband’s brother!”

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Pirates of Pangaea

The first “lead” story in The Phoenix was Pirates of Pangaea. This takes the advice of the “How to draw AWESOME comics” section and features pirates… riding on dinosaurs! Some of them ‘sail’ ships mounted on the back of big four-legged Diplodicus-like herbivores, whilst others ride velociraptors as if they were horses. Some have even mounted flying pteradactyl-type beasts!

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The story is set in 1717, and the main character is Sophie, a 12-13 year old girl who inadvertently tames a Tyrannosaur! She and Kelsey, a young cabin boy (who helped her escape from the first batch of pirates she encountered) are adventuring around the ‘sea of green’, the grasslands that cover much of the giant island of Pangaea. Sophie is supposedly trying to get back to her father, the British governor of the island, but they don’t seem to be in any great hurry XD. They run into several different pirate crews (many of whom end up being eaten) and go on quests for valuable treasure.

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At one point a blue-skinned native tribe think Sophie is a god, and give her pet tyrannosaur (named Cornflower… obviously) some golden armour!

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Another of the launch stories was Long Gone Don, by the Etherington Brothers. If you ask me, these guys are some of the best working in comics today, the writing and characterisation are great, with plenty of quick-fire gags and funny details. The art, though, is out of this world, there’s so much detail, and they love to cram loads of characters into sprawling top-down scenes.

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I beleive a lot of this is done with enhanced computer models these days, though in thier old self-published work, Malcolm Magic, they produced scenes that were just as good, but fully drawn. Don has so far had two series, where he’s stuck in the insane world of Broilerdoom amongst giant worms, insane dictators, stupid soldiers, genius squid(s) and many green people. The first story revolved around a rebellion against General Spode, which was so cool I even made a “VOTE SPODE” T-shirt to wear at the first Camcon in 2012!

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You can just about see it here XD (photo credit: Alan Baptiste aka Temphuibis)

Another of the recurring adventure stories centres around Zara and her friends. They are also children of around 12, only they live in modern-day, realistic London. In both of the stories that have so far been printed (Zara’s Crown and Zara’s Masterpiece), criminals force them to steal important works of art, in order to show up the government and cause political instability. MI5 are on the case, and believe that Zara and her friends are “infiltration specialists”. As nobody will suspect children of pulling off these amazing robberies, they have the perfect cover! This strip is by John and Patrice Aggs (husband and wife, or brother and sister, team?), and the artwork is in a very interesting style. At first glance it seems “unfinished”, with black lines missing and blocks of colour to ‘suggest’ detail, but the more you read it, the more used to it you get. It’s amazing how they can conjure up a crowded, detailed scene with only a few lines and blobs, a bit like Eric Parker, in a way!

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The same team do the on-and-off series called What Will Happen Next? Which is best described as a sort of “Where’s Wally Comic”, each one is a detailed scene with lots of stuff happening, but the same scene is repeated over several weeks showing how events unfold (one sequence in the first one was actually running backwards in time! Something a certain Doctor ought to look at).

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Interestingly, the first Phoenix folders (available alongside issue 1) featured a What Will Happen Next? series called something like “Crazy cook-off”, which has not yet appeared in the comic!

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Another regular adventure strip is Troy Trailblazer, a sci-fi strip. Dan Dare this ain’t! The artwork is pretty good (it would no doubt be described as “manga style”, by people whose sole experience of “manga” has been a quick flick in a book shop seven or eight years ago), but the first stories were a bit naff. Troy, who is none too clever, flies around in space with Barrus (a big cat-like creature who grunts, but is still smarter than Troy) and Blip (an intelligent robot who tries to talk them out of crazy schemes). They are usually trying to find some lost treasure or artifact, such a sword that is hidden in a temple built on the surface of a star (even the robot couldn’t work that one out). The early stories were also pretty anti-climactic. Later on, a big evil empire called The Scourge appeared, along with Troy’s ex-girlfriend. After this the stories got a lot better, at one point they even help a princess escape from bounty hunters XD.

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A common strip in early issues was Cogg and Sprokit, about a boy and a cynical hippo who search for hidden treasure. The first stories were quite short, but later some longer ones appeared. One of the first long serial ones incorporated a puzzle page too, readers had to work out the password to an underground temple themselves! The artwork in this is pretty good, but for some reason I don’t like it all that much. The villains (usually tattooed wolves with razor-sharp fangs and custom motorbikes) are much cooler than the heroes XD.

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Another one I can’t seem to get into is Useleus, which is based on an idiot in Ancient Greece trying to have adventures like the legendary heroes. He meets loads of characters who are from those ancient legends, though I’m not particularly interested in them, I only barely remember them from primary school (are they taught at all in state schools these days?).

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Also the stories are scribbilily “narrated” by his minotaur friend.

There’s also Sky Drifters, which is just plain wierd. It’s about a bunch of puffins who live on top of the clouds. The main character gets to the “cloud giving ceremony” late, and the only one left is a soggy rain cloud. He then sets off for various adventures, mainly short one-parters, though there was also a serial. This strip seems to be aimed at a younger age than some of the other Phoenix stories, but as the comic market in Britain has all but collapsed, they have to try and cater for a wider range all in the one.

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Simon Swift is yer usual epic fantasy adventure strip. I wonder if it’s intended to be The Phoenix’s equivalent of Mirabilis? It’s even broken up into “books”, which will presumably come out as hardback annual-size publications at some point. (speaking of which, surely Christmas 2014 will see the first Phoenix Annual?). It’s about yer usual party of adventurers trekking across a fantasy land, all of them bought together by some wierd symbol tattooed on their bodies. I’ve missed several issues, and then bought them much later from the website, so I’ve not really read much of this #o_o#. But it kind of reminds me of Naruto… though I only read the first book of that rubbish before giving up on it. Maybe it just reminds me of Naruto because they both have a ‘fiesty’ pink-haired girl? Simon also has a voice in his head which advises him in battles, a bit like Nikolai Dante’s crest. Perhaps it will turn out that actually the story is a board game and the voice is the player using Simon’s character… wait, was that Naruto or Bleach? This shonen battle stuff is all the same!

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In addition to these, there’s been a few “one-off” serial adventure strips. The first, and longest, of them was The Lost Boy, which began in issue 1. I didn’t think much of it, a boy who can’t remember who he is strolls around on an island with a ferret-like thing and finds pieces of a map. There’s also some shadow monster things. In the end he gets brainwashed, wakes up on a beach and starts again o_O. Also he talks stupidly.

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When my brother used to talk like this I used to slowly form a fist then punch him if he hadn’t shut up in time.

Much better than that was Cora’s Breakfast, about a girl who finds an alien cereal which gives her superpowers (a different one each time, like flight and gigantism). It also gives her dog the power of speech. She later meets the alien who lost it.

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Returning from the DFC, 1940’s canine cops Good Dog, Bad Dog have to solve a mystery in Hollywood (or Hollywoof?) surrounding the feuding Weiner Brothers. This story is full of great scenes and funny dog-related puns. Interestingly, in these days of other comics not putting a packet of sugar-free Haribo’s on the cover, lest they be accused of “promoting obesity”, Good Dog, Bad Dog features characters smoking and gambling!

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Though for biscuits, not money XD

My favourite of the short serials so far has been Secret of the Samurai. Apparently the main character, Julius Chancer, has been in a book before now. Anyway, it’s a ligne claire (aka “The Tintin style”, but fans of it don’t like it being called that) mystery story set in the interwar period. A woman hires Julius Chancer and his boss to track down a secret of ancient samurai armour which was once sold to Dutch traders and is beleived to have found it’s way to Britain. They think they have found it, but various items on it appear  to actually be insulting, or challenging, them to track down the real suit. The artwork on this story is great, with plenty of detail on the fancy buildings of pre-war London, and on the armour of samurai in flashbacks. There’s also an amusing sequence in an army barracks with a shouty sergeant-major XD.

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Set in the Victoria and Albert Museum, which ‘recently’ had a display of Eagle and related comics in one of the stairways.

There was also The Bald Boy and the Dervish, another ligne claire story set in an Arab country, where a boy tries to make the king smile. He also has the ability to shape-shift and turns himself into a rope, which secures prize animals his mother can sell. Until the “Dervish” (they are an actual tribe, you know XD) realises somebody is stealing his magic…

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And as well as those, there’s been plenty of much shorter adventure stories of only one or two parts, including The Girl with the Amber Eyes, The Heart Tree and, of course, The One About Chickens That I Can’t Remember the Name Of. These short stories tend to have different art styles. I suppose, like 2000AD’s Future Shocks, they’re being used to ‘try out’ new writers and artists.

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“Crybaby” wouldn’t look out of place in Japan’s “Kowai Paper” XD.

There’s a few other adventure stories I haven’t covered, like Nico Bravo (who works in the shop where legendary heroes, several from Ancient Greece again, get their supplies) and Haggis and Quail, who adventure around the world for, er, stuff. But I’ve either not read them, or they just don’t interest me. But they are there!

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Onto the comedy stories now, and one of the most common ones (probably been in every issue, now that I think about it) is Bunny vs Monkey. It’s by Dandykiller Smart, which probably tells you all you need to know. Though he does seem to have upped his game for this one, compared to his DC Thomson work.

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Anyway, it started off being about a monkey who thinks he has flown to another planet (he’s actually just been catapaulted over a hill) and wants to conquer it, so he fights Bunny, the “leader” (most intelligent) of the other animals. More characters have appeared over time, namely Skunky (who invents various huge machines to help Monkey) and Weenie (a very funny pig). The whole “conquering the planet” thing has kind of been forgotten now, and they just do stupid stuff. Another strip by the same artist, called Looshkin, has recently appeared. It’s like Simon’s Cat crossed with Maru on steroids.

My favourite comedy strip is Star Cat. This one also has characters made up of simple, brightly-coloured shapes. But instead of them going “I ate some PIE and then did a POO out of my BUM!”, it’s actually well-written and hilarious. It’s about Captain Spacington (a stupid hero), Plixx (a blob) and Robot_01 (just plain hilarious) attempting to do the simplest things, messing them up, then succeeding by pure luck XD. The Star Cat itself is piloted by a blue cat, who talks in random letters.

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One of the funniest-ever scenes in The Phoenix

Another common comedy strip is Gary’s Garden, about insects (and sometimes other animals) who live in a guy’s garden. This also reminds me of Simon’s Cat a bit, only with no cats, and the characters talk! There’s a fairly regular series about “the mimicry club”, for animals who look like other things. The first one of these had a leaf bug and a butterfly with ‘eyes’ on it’s wings talking, while sitting on a stick insect XD.

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More recent is Evil Emperor Penguin, about a penguin who wants to take over the world (he also ‘encourages’ people to subscribe on the back page, now and then). He is assisted by a posh octopus and many small furry minions. In one story he decides to impress people by becoming a hero instead, it doesn’t go well…

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There’s also Kit and Clay. The characters in this look very simple too, but some of the backgrounds are well-drawn and detailed (look at this museum!). These range in length from 1-4 pages, and only appear infrequently.

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Of course, one of the main selling points of The Phoenix for me (and only me, no doubt), is the fcact it contains text stories! Though they are usually only two page previews of children’s books. Occasionally an original story will be seralised. Both the previews and new stories are illustrated, though I doubt the illustrations appear in the books, when they come out.

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A lot of the originals seem to be on a ghost or monster theme.

More recently, the “Tale Feathers” section has been taken over by Charlie Small, a boy who keeos getting into wierd situations and escaping them. These are original stories, perhaps being serialised for book publication? I’m not really a fan – give us some Edwardian detectives! “Tone down” and serialise some Holmes if you have to XD.

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Several of the Charlie Small stories also come with cutaways of the machine featured in the story:

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Which brings us neatly into the educational part of The Phoenix. Of course, I’d much prefer if the cutaways were of real things, especially modern things that were not cut-awayed in either Eagle – like the Javelin train, Airbus A380, iThings and so on. Mind you, Eagle did do some cutaways of things from Dan Dare, and The Phoenix has done the same with Troy Trailblazer’s ship:

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One of the regular educational features of The Phoenix is Starborn. The first part of it was promoted as an epic adventure serial, but when it arrived it was just a one-part story about the first human to be born in space. She is found by advanced aliens to reveal “the secrets of the universe” to “the first starborn” of every intelligent species.

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It then became a series of ‘posters’ about space – including current space technology and possibilities for the future. It also features sections about speculative other planets, and the life forms that might live on them. Readers were encouraged to think of what conditions might be like on a planet, and the adaptions a creature would need to survive there.

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One of the more “grounded” ones.

The other main feature of the phoenix is the editorial, which also contains gag cartoons and short strips such as Planet of the Shapes. The editors themselves are characters, who occasionally show you around the “story labs”, and battle the villainous Barnaby Knowles, who wants to re-name the comic The Owl.

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A common feature early on was Elsewhere…, which has several funny ideas. Not all of them involving elephants called Nellie…

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I’m glad The Phoenix has raced past the milestone set by it’s older brother, and I hope that it lives long into the future. It’s not exactly the British adventure comic I’d make, given the chance (I’d have Zara in every issue, for a start XD), but it’s pretty good. You can subscribe (well, try to!) on www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk, or else try your nearest Waitrose, you might be lucky!

MCM Winter Expo 2012

(Why yes, I am referring to them in the same manner as the Japanese refer to Comiket, though those are a couple of months later, entirely dedicated to comics, and four times bigger XD)

Last weekend I went to the MCM Expo, which is held twice a year in London’s Excel Centre. Also known for hosting various Olympic events. I actually got myself organised this time, and caught the same train as my friend from King’s Lynn, so we went together. I also finally gave her a Nendoroid (small, chubby figures of characters from nerdy things… where’s the Doctor Who ones?) I’d bought in Japan. She was with various friends in costumes, who said “We’re a bunch of freaks”. Except on the way down the train I’d walked past a loligoth zombie with her face all in stitches, so yeah. I’d intended to dress up as a 30’s American gangster, to “promote” Pulp Detective. In the event, I forgot to even take the first issue of Pulp Detective and shove it in people’s faces. The small WH Smith in the King’s Cross Underground didn’t have it either. Why yes, I would have bought a second £3.25 copy just to shove in people’s faces.

Anyway, on arrival we promptly lost most of the people from the train, who had spent the journey playing Mario Kart and screaming. The journey to the venue was uneventful… apart from when a few Japanese girls accosted my friend (dressed as computer-generated singer Hatsune Miku) and wanted pictures taken with her. Then they asked us where “the Harry Potter place” was. We also met a cowboy on the underground, but he was on a pub crawl, not going to the con XD. Also my friend’s friend, dressed as the second doctor (though with the hair of the fourth XD) decided to spend the rest of the day in character, which was amusing (he saw many of his future selves). We waited for somebody else, who was cosplaying a “Pyramid Head” from… some game. We had to wait for him to change, which appears to have involved taking most of his clothes off, which somehow took ages. His costume was very good, so loads of people wanted pictures taken, he also insisted on walking to the queue “in character”, dragging his huge sword. We decided to leave him to it.

The queue was as fun as ever, with many hi-fives and fist bumps. There was also a few “mexican wave cheers”, but as big as the MCM queue is, it was a bit too small for those to work properly. You really need 110,000 people, stretched across a gigantic field, with AC/DC at one end. Later on we tried to start a mass singalong, but unfortunately nobody else knew the words to any Spitting Image songs (or 19th century German propaganda anthems). Oh we also got everybody clapping at one point XD. After the qeue was finished I lost the other two by stopping to have Thai curry AND sushi… well you didn’t get very much of either. The sushi was the nicest pre-packaged kind I have had in this country, which isn’t saying much.

Once that was over and done with, it was on to the main hall! I’ve always said they should expand the convention into two halls, instead they appear to have taken out the partition between two and turned them into one huge one. It was far less crowded than it was in May, and even the small press “comic village” had a decent amount of space between tables. It was also the first place I headed for, of course! There was plenty else going on along the way, mind you. KITT was parked in the middle of the hall, and there was a Yu-gi-oh / Magic card tournament nearby. Also costume competitions, talks and that. All of which I sailed serenely and ignorantly past, I had comics to buy!

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The complete haul

Japanofail issue 6 (of 5) is a collection of very funny gag strips, I’ve lost track of how many of them I have, mind you. Better have a dig in the small press drawer.

I also got a couple of Victorian-set stories, though both involving elements of “Steampunk” and magic. Widdershins is pretty funny, and remarkably for a “vaguely manga”-type modern story, doesn’t depict Victorian Britain as “just the same as it is now but with a few gas lamps”.

Twisted Dark is great big 200 page wedge of horror for only £5, and Tortured Life is a new full-colour comic from the same creators. This one about a man who is able to see how people and animals will die when he looks at them, so becomes a hermit, then finds somebody who is apparently not going to die!

Allsorts is from Sweatdrop Studios (in-depth post really is going to be made one day, honest! …or just look them up yourself) and is an all-ages comic. There’s actually a few Sweatdrop comics that would be great for children, but which have swear words added for no reason. It puts me in mind of “daringly” watching 12-rated films when you are 10, or spotting one swear word in a translated manga. Completely pointless! Anyway, Allsorts is A4 sized and very thin, a format just like a traditional British weekly. Mind you it’s also £5 because it has a small print run and many people worked on it. It even has a text story! Though knowing the Sweatdrop lot, this was no doubt inspired by seeing text stories in The Phoenix, rather than a knowledge of the history of British (or real history of Japanese) comics. Also from Sweatdrop is Reluctant Soldier Princess Nami – a parody of Shoujo Battle anime from the late 80’s, which makes no sense to me, probably because I haven’t watched what it is parodying!

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Oops, some airfix paints fell conveniently into place

But the best buy of the con was this Doctor Who book. IDW in the US are producing their own Doctor Who comics (including a crossover with Star Trek) independently of the strips in Doctor Who Magazine or Doctor Who Adventures. The cover was signed by artist Al Davison! I’m keeping that one in an old Phoenix envelope. The story itself is about the tenth Doctor in the world of Hollywood during the roaring 20’s. I seem to remember a brief reference to that in one of his last TV episodes – making the book a neat ‘gap filler’.

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Posters n postcards

The most interesting thing I got was Sound, a compilation of Vietnamese comics(!). The theme of the collection is Sound, though there’s also plenty of stories with a ghostly horror element. One story, perhaps inevitably, mentions the war and another gives an insight into Vietnamese culture – they have a “Civil Defense” who are like Britain’s PCSO’s, only organised along military lines. The artwork is mostly Japanese style and the production of the book is in line with UK small press anthologies. I suppose Vietnam’s comic industry is tiny, under-funded and anaemic, with a very blurred line between the “small press” and “professionals”. Just like Britain’s comic industry, in fact!

After a lot of wandering about looking for my friends and appreciating cool costumes, I spent the last of my money on some Japanese porn comics and came home, going through several flurries of freezing cold rain. Winter is truly here now, so stay indoors with your favourite picture-books. My next convention will probably be the Spring MCM or Camcon II… depending on dates! There is a convention in Leeds next weekend, which The Phoenix will have a stand at, but that’s a bit far to go for a day trip, from here.

A comparison

…of Japan’s best weekly adventure comic and Britain’s best (only!) weekly adventure comic.*

It’s no secret that I hold Japan up as an example of how the comic industries of all countries ought to function. Thick, cheap weekly anthologies with exciting serials, which are then collected into better-printed book form for fans to collect. I’m not suggesting that Britain ought to start copying the Japanese art style or stories, though. And our comics don’t need to be as thick either, if we’re going to stick with detailed Commando-type artwork. But they do need to exist!

With sales dropping or barely holding across the board (mind you The Beano did recently gain just over 1000, which is a step in the right direction.) some drastic gambles may have to be taken. And of course comic fans all need to do their bit to promote the art form to non-readers in everyday life.

But enough of that, on with the comparison!

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The Phoenix issue 8 and Shonen Jump issue 12 (for 2012)

Here are the covers, and I think The Phoenix easily wins out,  with a big bold image and minimal text, as opposed to the “bit of everything” Japanese clutter. Some otaku hold that Japanese writing** is “more artistic” and so cluttered covers work better in that language. Well actually in Japan it’s considered “artistic” to scatter odd English around designs (usually it makes no sense). Cluttered covers are just ugly whatever language they are in!

Of course, the ideal is to have a strip on the cover. But we just aren’t getting that these days.

But enough of the fronts, lets look at the sides…

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That’s about the size of it.

Yes, Shonen Jump is still a weekly! It can be such a huge size partly because of the style of manga art, with many panels featuring only talking characters with basic backgrounds. Also manga usually uses screen tone to add shading, rather than time-consuming cross hatching. Oh and of course (at least if Bakuman is anything to go on) artists and writers only work on one story at a time, for which they are paid a decent wage and also receive royalties from sales of the collected books. This means they can concentrate on “their” story entirely. Most if not all of them also have assistants doing the donkey-work of, say, drawing the windows on distant skyscrapers. It is in effect the famous “studio system” used on Dan Dare raised to a state of perfection.

This particular issue contains 21 stories in about 500 pages (most of them aren’t numbered). The Phoenix contains 11 stories in a mere 32 pages. Though of course the length, style and pacing of them is so completely different a direct comparison is meaningless. Also the Phoenix’s editorial content is a ‘story’ in itself!

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Like so

Starting off, we have the latest information on “Phoenix land”, with the ongoing case of the missing feathers. One of the fictional editors of the comic has been arrested on suspicion of stealing them, which has not gone down well with the rest of the team. And then we’re into the first story. The stories in The Phoenix are all full-colour and the paper quality certainly beats Shonen Jump hands down. Mind you I’m wrong in the head so I actually prefer thin newsprint, but I’m not going to start claiming it’s better!

The first story is Pirates of Pangaea, which is actually pretty close to the “sort of thing” you’d see in manga! A fantasy world of dinosaurs and crazy pirates. Mind you though Pirates of Pangaea doesn’t feature a mysterious child with an ancient power locked within him, or elaborate, wordy mind-games. No it features shooting at rampaging raptors with flintlocks and then running like mad!

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A blonde guy teamed up with a “dumb animal” that’s more intelligent than him, shades of Tintin eh?

The other ‘serious’ adventure story in The Phoenix is The Lost Boy. This one is actually drawn in a kind of combined British / Japanese style. And it also features a seafaring adventurer on a mysterious island!

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Sweet sugar lumps!

The other “flagship” adventure story is the more comedic Long Gone Don, created by The Etherington Brothers. This pair are for my money not just the most talented writer and artist working in British comics at the moment, but are among the best in the world! The complex and detailed art is a joy to behold, the dialogue is fantastic and the stories rattle along at a good pace. The one criticism I can perhaps offer is with art that deep and detailed they ought to go about including some “where’s wally?”-style mini visual gags. That’d make their work just about perfect, and would encourage people to stare at it for longer, too!

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Crazy invention time!

The Phoenix also contains some purely comedy stories, such as this one by Jamie Smart. To put it diplomatically Jamie is a “marmite” artist. A little like a modern version of Eric Parker, in fact, in that he sure can turn ’em out. He’s almost made The Dandy his own of late – which has bought about some highly polarised opinions. I’d better reserve my own judgement on the matter, lest accusations of jealousy start flying around.

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What would the Rev’d Marcus Morris have made of this?

One of my favourite parts of The Phoenix is the educational Corpse Talk. The basic premise is that the skeletal, rotted remains of famous historical figures are dug up and interviewed about their lives. Like ya do. This week it’s the Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, and previous bodies in the chair have been Marie Curie and Genghis Khan. I should think more than one kid has got better marks on their history homework as a result of this! Plus just look at how many panels have been crammed in, it’s like 1950’s Jonah!

The feature content of The Phoenix includes the usual “letters and pictures from readers” section that has long been a staple of British comics (though of course the best letters sections appeared before 1930). I can’t see anything that looks similar in Shonen Jump. The Pheonix also contains a series of articles about creating your own comics, and encourages children to have a go themselves.

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 Mind you this one is about sound effects, which are overused, over dramatic and over here!

To my mind this is the most important part of the comic. It will hopefully instill in the readers not only the desire to try it for themselves (all kids draw, but if my own experience is anything to go on very few of them attempt to make comic strips. Though to my own young mind it seemed the logical thing to do.) but also an appreciation of the art form of comics and of the effort that goes into making decent ones. If The Phoenix can be sustained (apparently it’s secure for two years… are you doing your bit to make it run beyond?) and if those kids can inspire others at their schools to draw comics too we might see the long-wished-for comics “revolution” in Britain within the next 15 years!

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More Etheringtonism

The Phoenix also contains puzzles, including the ongoing series The Dangerous Adventures of Von Doogan. Some of these are harder than others and really require you to get yer brain in gear. This issue’s are a bit easy though. Readers are invited to “help” the adventurer by sending in the solutions to the puzzles, and if “chosen” by him receive prizes.

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Yep!

Finally one thing Shonen Jump definitely does not have is text stories! Text-filled story papers were the predecessors of British adventure comics, and even once the adventure strips started to appear in the late 30’s there was a long crossover period of mixed text and strip content. By contrast I’m not sure Japan ever had what could be considered an equivalent to story papers. But then most histories of manga begin in the late 1940’s and ignore everything that went before as being “too nationalistic”. Mind you certain ivory-tower preachers are attempting to act like British comics only began in 1976 and nothing that came before is worthy of note.

Possible candidates for Japanese story papers include books called ‘Yellow Covers’ that first started to appear in 1775 (the first British story paper was possibly The Young Gentlemen’s Magazine in 1777, but very little information is available on it). After these there was a genre of serialised stories called ‘Books for reading’. I’ve also seen an issue of a 1920’s “comic” (as described by my girlfriend of the time) called Boys’ Club. But I can’t find any information on it, and it was locked in a cabinet at a museum with all of the other information about it in Japanese.

Anyway, the Phoenix text stories are often extracts from children’s books, which means I don’t bother reading them as I won’t be buying the books. Occasionally however they run complete stories or mini-serials (including an adaption of The Minotaur). More of those, please!

The Phoenix is completely free of advertising, because it is funded by “anonymous backers” (why anonymous though, surely not ‘shame’ at being involved with ‘mere comics’? Stand up and be counted, true patriots!). By contrast Shonen Jump has quite a lot of adverts, even in the form of fold-out “colour plates”!

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 FURUKOOOOOOOOOOSU!

These adverts are generally for action figures, videogames or anime DVD’s. Almost all of which are based on the stories that have appeared in Shonen Jump! And yet in this country when a British comic character is adapted into another form (rather than a TV show being made into a ‘comic’ with hardly any comic) it’s generally either ignored or is met with a disgraceful shower of hate from hack journalists who have suddenly ‘discovered’ that the comics they read as a kid 30 years ago have changed since then. And this from supposedly ‘patriotic’ newspapers.

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Hand!

By contrast to The Pheonix, Shonen Jump contains only 3 pages of comic in colour. They are the first three pages of Haikyuu!!, a school and volleyball strip. It’s apparently a new strip, so this could be the very first part and the colour pages serve to introduce it. Of course in issues where a new story is not beginning it’s probable that a popular one is randomly chosen for the colour pages.

The Phoenix does not have any sport stories, but they were once a genre that ebbed and flowed through British comics. The Boys’ Realm became a sport-themed paper towards the end of it’s life, and even launched a smaller spinoff called The Boys’ Realm Sports Library, which I recently bought 6 months of. This issue of Shonen Jump has two, Hakyuu!! and Kuroko no Basuke (Kuroko’s Basketball).

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 Is a small tsu in Katakana also a ‘sound extender’ like a line is?

Of course the staples of shonen manga (boys’ comics) are the adventure stories. There’s some comedic ones such as Toriko, which is about a “gourmet hunter” who tours the world looking for ingredients to create “the ultimate meal”. If British TV companies want to save a few bob they could always combine I’m A Nonentity Get Me Back On Telly (are you sure that’s right? -ed) and Masterchef into one show in this way.

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Also it has Mexican wrestlers

Another comedy adventure tale is the famous One Piece, which is about a crew of pirates captained by “Luffy”, who has some sort of superpower. In this issue we have the 657th (O_O) chapter…

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 With some English

…and you thought Varney The Vampyre ran for a long time! Like the early-mid 19th century Penny Dreadfuls, a successful manga will be extended and extended to make more money rather than allowed to end at the point the writers probably hoped it would. This of course usually leads to people beginning to describe long-running stories as “annoying” or “crazy” as the writers just stick in whatever they think up first, probably having long since given up caring.

Of course in Britain from about the 1860’s – 70’s onwards stories had a set length and finished when they finished. It didn’t do our industry any harm for the next hundred years! And of course a story ending doesn’t mean that the same characters can’t come back in a new tale later, but it does free up the creators to think of something totally different if they want.

The main stock in trade of the shonen story is, of course, giant monsters, giant lasers or, er, both.

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Oroboros? It always makes me think of Red Dwarf!

Some stories actually have quite a lot of detail despite still being 20-30 pages a chapter. There must be quite a crew of assistants working on Nurarihyon no Mago.

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Fields of swords!

And of course there’s the epic battles with magic energy beams. I wonder how people don’t get tired of this stuff… but then again somebody who can’t read English would probably consider every Commando comic to have the same story XD.

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 DOGOOOOOO. Mind you if the Treens were watching this they’d know not to mess.

Shonen Jump also contains a few examples of other genres, including one which was once very popular in Britain… up to World War 1 anyway, the “work” story. The Boys’ Friend used to be crammed with tales about boys who worked in mines, factories or shipyards. And the immortal Sexton Blake used to regularly go undercover in all sorts of industries. In today’s Shonen Jump we have Bakuman, a story of kids working their way into the manga industry. The old work stories in Britain were usually detective stories at their heart, with the hero overhearing some villainous plot and working to foil it.

Bakuman is instead basically a romantic story at it’s heart (well there’s not much scope for villainy in the manga industry, a serial pencil thief is not that threatening). Moritaka Mashiro dreams of being a manga artist, he loves Miho Azuki who wants to be a voice actress. They promise that when Moritaka has made a successful manga that is animated, Miho will play the woman in it, and then they can be married. But apart from that it also contains many other amusing characters and offers many insights into how the manga industry in Japan works (which is how I’m even able to write posts like this!). The Japanese books are currently up to 16, the English have just reached 9. This chapter will probably be part of book 17.

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“Everybody Listen!”

Other styles of stories include the purely humorous story, as we’d see in The Beano. Just longer, black and white and probably serialised to a degree (and later made into an animation without mouth-foaming, traitorous ravings in the papers).

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Teacups for heads? It’s PC gone mad!

One of the longest running comedy comics in Shonen Jump is called, and breathe in here: This is the police station in front of Kameari Park in Katsushika Ward. It’s been running continuously since 1976, and in fact the artwork still looks more like 70’s manga than the modern kind.

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“I’m gonna try and do 3 rotations!” “Aagh stop rotating!” …or something like that .

The story is probably more like Only Fools and Horses (or maybe Stop The Pigeon) as the characters try to use the latest fads or wierd inventions to either get rich quick, or catch criminals more easily. Of course these always go wrong. Also like the stories of Billy Bunter or Sexton Blake the main characters never age even though the world is changing around them. But actually in this story a few characters do age. A baby born in an early story is now a teenager, but his parents are still the same age.

This particular story appears to involve a pushy journalist constantly interfering with police work by trying to interview everybody. However he then helps them arrest an armed robber by popping up at the resturant he is holed up in and trying to interview him. While he is still wondering what’s going on he gets arrested!

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Myootsukee.

There’s also a school story apparently told from the perspective of the teacher. The only British example of that I can think of (except for maybe “Singled out: Teacher” Bash Street Kids episodes in The Beano from the 2000’s) was in The Captain in 1899!

You will probably have noticed that most of the print quality in Shonen Jump is not fantastic. That’s because these weekly anthologies are seen as ‘throwaway’, in fact the trains and stations in Tokyo usually have discarded copies laying on the seats. Of course in Britain for most of history comics were also seen as “throwaway” and were used to, say, light the fire once the kids were done with them. This has found it’s ultimate expression in the replacement of the printed US Shonen Jump (which was monthly and had half the page count… somehow) with “Shonen Jump Alpha”, which is at least weekly but ‘expires’ and deletes itself. Of course any comic that goes purely digital from print ceases to exist as far as I’m concerned. But having them ‘expire’ really is a step too far. I haven’t bought a videogame since 2009 because of the Orwellian excesses of that industry. It cannot be allowed to creep into comics too!

Of course, it’s okay to dispose of the weekly anthology copies in Japan because the stories that the readers like will come out in better-printed book form. Virtually every story will be printed in this way, whether they sell or not! It is of course these collected books that we get in foreign countries.

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But a little bigger

Of course this can help with Japanese study… an aspect of comics that must also be promoted by fans to the unbelievers, and a reason why it is essential that more countries begin to produce a wide range of varied stories in the manner of Japan, and export them!

Imagine the proliferation of enthusiasm for learning other languages and the cultures that go with them if all nations produced interesting-looking picture stories that people wanted to understand. Comics have advantages over plain books in that the pictures help to explain what’s going on, and the dialogue and descriptions are “broken apart” clearly.

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The English words actually seem to fit some of those bubbles better!

Of course book form reprints of stories from British comics are starting to proliferate now. But only haphazardly and occasionally in “best of” type books rather than full reprints. They’re also usually hardbacks with thick glossy art paper… even if the original artwork has been lost and the reproduction would have been just as good in lower-quality paperback. Of course this drive for quality of printing and binding drives the prices up to prohibitive levels, especially in a recession, and people stay away. Then series are left incomplete because of “poor sales”. Still if everybody reading this made up their mind to buy just one of the British comic reprint books this week…

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Serving suggestion

Of course it’s far more important that the risk is taken and that ‘vanished’ stories are once again reproduced thousands of times and distributed to the ends of the country, so that they may survive into future decades in an easily accessible form. But as usual those who “know the cost of everything and the value of nothing” win the day. Mind you unsympathetic shopkeepers don’t help. Classics From The Comics was just really getting into it’s stride, switching from purely reprinting 1/2 page humour strips to a little bit of everything from DC Thomson’s extensive back catalogue, even reaching back into the twenties! But bad distribution killed it off in it’s prime. It was probably the closest thing we have had to Shonen Jump, actually. Though only 100 pages and entirely reprints.

One other book Britain has had which was a bit like Shonen Jump was this one from 1989

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Intended as an annual, mind you.

It was a paperback reprint of a random selection of IPC / Amalgamated Press adventure comics from the 50’s and 60’s. It even had Jump-like print ‘quality’!

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A highwayman story probably originally from The Thriller Library

Even in 1989 this apparently didn’t sell well enough to be reprinted. But really it ought to point the way forwards, if the quality of the reprints is not going to be very good because of missing/deteriorated original artwork, cheapen the paper to match and knock it out for as low a price as possible! And of course all of us will then have to let other people know it’s out there!

It’s one thing to wish that we had regular big wedges of comic like Shonen Jump (not that thinner wedges of full colour like The Phoenix are a bad thing, we ought to be able to do both, really). But if we want it, all comic fans and creators have to stand together and do their bit!

*- Actually Doctor Who adventures is also weekly, and Doctor Who is an “acceptable” licensed character. But it only has 4-5 actual pages of comic strip per issue, the rest is dumbed-down articles with big pictures and “ooh scary!” captions.

** – The ‘fancier’ characters are actually almost all Chinese, though!

The post formerly known as “Where’s your phoenix?”

…because instead it ought to be called Where’s my Phoenix!

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My regular buys, though some have not so regular publication!

The Phoenix is a new, weekly British adventure comic that is distributed (apparently) in (some) shops. It launched on Saturday… not that you’d have noticed if you didn’t read the Times or British Comic websites. As it’s name sort of implies it’s a revival of a certain other comic, namely the ill-fated DFC of a few years ago. It’s been bankrolled by an “anonymous benefactor” and apparently has enough funding to guarantee it running for another two years. Though if I ever win the lottery that will be immediately doubled.

Anyway, as I said above the comic is supposed to be distributed in shops, or at least in Waitrose. Good luck finding it though! Wherever I’ve been on the internet I’ve only seen tales of dissapointment. Waitrose isn’t as common up north or in Scotland as it is around my way, so some people went on special journeys of no small distance only to be met with a blank wall!

I didn’t have such a trek to my nearest store in Ely, but had just as much luck! Aside from a proper dig in the typically messy comics section I also checked along the tills (where the special Waitrose magazine is sold). Having not found it on Saturday I carried on into Cambridge for the other bits I wanted to buy. In desperation I also checked for it in Forbidden Planet (nope!), Smith’s (nope! But they did manage to stock all four Commando issues this time around) and various other small shops (nope!).

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Picture related

However, I decided that as the comic was also available by subscription from the internet, perhaps the January 7th date was simply when those copies were posted. The actual physical copies wouldn’t be distributed to shops until the following Monday? Well I went in earlier today and… nope!

This time I tried asking at customer services too. The first person had never heard of it. Neither had the second. She rang up one of the “higher ups” who had also never heard of it. She then rang up one of the even-higher-ups who wasn’t in the office (this was about 5 o clock mind you). To be fair to them they did even offer to have him ring me back, but I just said I’d buy it online instead. Perhaps a mistake, I could have appealed to his patriotism… by calling him a traitor. And other such polite and persuasive arguments.

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Picture related

Anyway, I tried my best. But now I’m going to have to be reduced to buying it online. You’d think the people that run physical shops would be more worried about people buying everything over a wire wouldn’t you? One computerised logistics centre does the work of 100 supermarkets, the shop managers are under just as much of a threat as the checkout girls if they continue to lose sales.

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 Still you get a free binder. More shelf space I have to find!

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