As The Phoenix Colossal Comics Collection describes itself in the credits, “All the comics in this book originally appeared in the pages of THE PHOENIX comic, a weekly paper magazine published by a small team in Oxford, England.” With all due respect to that original format, this anthology-style book of kids comics is a blast. Ostensibly, this is a collection of six comics, each bursting with kid appeal. However, smart publishing decisions make this a rewarding title to navigate, luring readers through different kinds of stories and layouts and teaching them how to read comics in the process without ever saying so.
The book opens with a couple of characters, Tabs Inkspot and Quincy Trowel, welcoming the reader directly and introducing their “awesome comics for awesome people.” They pop up a few more times throughout the book, reacting to images and stories. A table of contents shows off banner art for six different titled comics, starting with the serialized science fiction adventure Trail Blazers by Robert Deas, which has four chapters interspersed through the book, and five comics placed between and among those chapters. One could almost call this “Trail Blazers plus five cute, entertaining cartoon breaks,” but each title is given plenty of room to shine, including Bunny Vs. Monkey by Jamie Smart, Doug Slugman P.I. by Joe List, Evil Emperor Penguin by Laura Ellen Anderson, Squid Squad by Dan Boultwood, Looshkin The Maddest Cat In The World by Jamie Smart, and some assorted mini-comics and gag panels by Jess Bradley, Chris Riddell, and Mike “Alexi Con” Smith.
Without reviewing 6.5 comics at once, here are the main draws of each title. Trail Blazers follows a hapless smart aleck, Troy Trailblazer, and his kick-butt friend, Jess, as they cross the stars chasing an intergalactic mystery involving data breaches, interplanetary warmongering, and action revolving around robotic superpowers and one killer laser-whip. Reading the chapters of this story as separate pieces feels like tuning in to an afternoon cartoon.
Bunny Vs. Monkey is a series of two-page comics about the pratfalls and reversals of fortune between Bunny and Monkey, starting off with friendly rivalries such as sled racing but eventually involving different animal visitors to their woods. These comics utilize color, sound effects, and deceptively cute animal expressions for maximum impact.
Doug Slugman P.I. is a series of one-page gag comics revolving around a private investigator who tries to solve others’ problems through absurd means. For example, dispensing advice through his sentient shin or causing an oversized hat to fit via increased reading and learning (causing one’s head to grow, you see). Each page comes with a one-liner above the title.
Evil Emperor Penguin is a series of four-page misadventures about EEP’s attempts to take over the world. The opening page is a map of EEP’s underground headquarters, a maze of labeled chambers that younger readers especially will enjoy following around the page.
Squid Squad is a nine-page comic about a trio of squids who fight troublemakers in the ocean and come with their own theme song.
Looshkin is a series of two-page comedy stories about a blue cat who generally annoys everyone nearby with madcap hijinks such as causing a racket trying to swat a fly with a frying pan, or harassing someone in a wizard costume under the belief they are an actual wizard.
The cumulative effect of these comics, especially upon first read, is like watching an episode of the old Nickelodeon variety show Kablam! (“Where cartoons and comics collide!” Search that jam on YouTube ASAP!) You never know what will pop up next, but the revolving door of comedy, chaos, and melodramatic Trail Blazers updates means no single element wears out its welcome. Young readers will have plenty of opportunities to latch onto the comics they appreciate most and skim the ones that don’t make as much of an impression. At the same time, the hopping between stories imprints several different artistic and layout styles to open readers’ minds about what comics can do. One minute, readers are hanging out with an evil penguin and his minions; the next, squids are combining into a battle robot to combat a wicked, vacuum-wielding diver. Across a variety of illustrative styles, color and punchlines lead the page-turning bonanza.
This edition is labeled Volume One, and ends with the invitation, “see you next time in Volume Two” along with a URL for following the weekly comic releases online. Shelve this title with your children’s graphic novels and watch it grow a comics reading habit on the spot.
The Phoenix Colossal Comics Collection, vol. 1
by Robert Deas, Jamie Smart, Laura Ellen Anderson, Dan Boultwood, Joe List, Jess Bradley, Chris Riddell, and Mike Smith
Publisher Age Rating: Ages 8-12