British newspaper The Indpendent has published an upbeat article on modern British comics such as The Phoenix, which includes comments from Lew Stringer, Jamie Smart and Phoenix editor Tom Fickling.
Written by David Barnett, the article (“How classic comics gave way to garish magazines” – although that isn’t really explained) focuses on humour titles, so there’s no mention of 2000AD, the news stand’s other great comics survivor alongside Beano, and no coverage either of digital comics such as Aces Weekly or 100% Biodegradable. But overall, it’s an upbeat item, noting the changes in the publishing industry, the gradual move away from all-comic strip titles to more magazine-based publications, and the uphill battle publishers face trying to get their comics on the news stand.
“We have to be careful what we’re calling ‘comics’,” says Jamie Smart of today’s news stand. “Most titles on the newsstands I think could be called magazines rather than comics – they might have a few pages of comics in there, but the majority is articles and editorial, and most of that is about Marvel or Lego or things like that.
“Alongside that there are licensed character titles, like Peppa Pig or The Simpsons, and some of them might be more comic-based. But an actual comic, full of original characters and stories every week or fortnight, well that’s still a rarity in the UK at the moment.”
Although The Phoenix – which has just celebrated its fifth anniversary – does have limited distribution in some WHSmith stores (in some of them, well away from other children’s titles for the usual inexplicable WHS reasons) as well as longstanding distribution through Waitrose supermarkets, Tom Fickling favours the title’s straight to your door subscription model, which has helped the title grow over time and build a loyal reader base.
Asked if The Phoenix wouldn’t reach a far greater audience if it was on the shelves next to everything else, Tom agrees, but notes the financial costs of such a move – something many of those who still yearn for the kind of comics they read in the 1960s and 70s are unaware of.
“The Phoenix should be everywhere,” he says. “But we just don’t have the marketing budget to do that. It can cost £3,000 a fortnight to just get a comic stocked in some supermarkets. We are putting our money into providing original content, paying creators to write and draw quality comic strips.”
• The Phoenix is offering an exclusive introductory offer for The Independent readers to sample five issues of the comic for just £1 if they buy a quarterly subscription. For more details go to www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk
The founder of downthetubes, which he established in 1998. John works as a comics and magazine editor, writer, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. He is currently editor of Star Trek Explorer, published by Titan – his third tour of duty on the title originally titled Star Trek Magazine.
Working in British comics publishing since the 1980s, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, and more. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”.
He’s the writer of “Pilgrim: Secrets and Lies” for B7 Comics; “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood.