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This is the first year to start without The Dandy on the shelves of U.K. newsagents since 1937, making it strange times indeed for the kids’ comics market in the British Isles. For most industry-watchers over here, as the decades passed, comics came and went, and all were vulnerable to the specter of sudden cancellation, with little certainty in the field other than there would always be The Beano and The Dandy. Waking up to a world without one or the other in it was once as unthinkable as a night sky without the moon.
The great hope for the U.K. children’s sector for a while now has been The Phoenix, born from the ashes of the similarly highly regarded The DFC. To the frustration of some, the distribution model for both comics forewent the newsstand, instead focusing on a subscription-only system. To others, this model was understandable: The kids shelves of newsagents are heaving under a glut of media tie-in titles, usually poly-bagged, designed to appeal to children only according to the brand recognition of the franchise they’ve spun out of, or by the cover-mounted free gifts. The contents of these titles are invariably of negligible quality, and almost certainly produced by uncredited work-for-hire. Adopting a subscription-only model meant avoiding being buried under this avalanche, and building slowly without the economic strains of the sell-or-return policy of the newsstand. Others, like me, thought this model a little too tricky, too fiddly. It’s hard enough for most parents to get their kids to the school gates on time every day, with dinner money in their pocket, without also remembering to organize a direct debit for a subscription to a comic for them, albeit a very good one.
The Phoenix has now launched its own app, with distribution via iTunes, possibly the mainstream channel the comic has previously been missing. It’s a free download, with a free sampler issue. It is, of course, highly recommended by me — many of the U.K.’s finest indie and underground cartoonists regularly produce work there, and is a comic that always features work that charms and entertains in equal measure. Robot 6’s own Brigid Alverson has a review of the app, making the point that the best thing about digital distribution is the instant reality of global availability without monstrous postal charges. Stick it on your iPad, hand it to your kids and watch their eyes light up with the possibilities of comics.