We’ve been talking with acclaimed storyteller Philip Pullman about the impact comics have had on his life, and why he’s as excited as us at the news of The Phoenix’s rise…
‘I’m overjoyed to see a new comic, The Phoenix, arise with promises of great new stories and wonderful artwork and cause a new generation of children to tremble with excitement.’
Comics formed a vital and vigorous part of my childhood reading. The Eagle was the main British comic, of course – to anyone born just after the war, as I was, it came as a great burst of life and fun and colour in a rather drab world. But I was lucky enough to spend a year or two in Australia in the mid-50s, which was where I first saw American comics like Superman and Batman. I still feel the thrill that made me tremble with excitement back then when the weekly comic arrived with the papers – thrown on to the lawn of our suburban house (very Ramsay Street) by a cycling paperboy. I’d seize it with avidity and retreat to some corner of the garden and fling myself down and devour it like a hyena. There was something so clean and powerful about the storytelling in a comic – so direct, so swift and easy, as if the delight and excitement of the story passed immediately into my blood.
Other comics I enjoyed – well, there was Classics Illustrated, with its rather laborious re-telling of ‘great books’; and there was a pile of ancient Wizards and Rovers passed on from a neighbour, which were at least half text, but I enjoyed them for the outrageous characters like Wilson, the enigmatic super-athlete trained in the hidden mountain fastnesses of the mysterious East, who broke every world record in every athletics event, and then vanished as mysteriously as he arrived; and there was a goalkeeper called something like Barry Briggs, who was a rag-and-bone man, or a scrap metal dealer, or something of the sort, but who also played top level football and Only Ever Let in One Goal (I longed to find out who scored against him, but it had passed into legend before I started reading about him).
My parents were tolerant of my comics habit, I suppose because they could see me reading ‘proper’ books as well. I never got over it. I’m still a devotee. And I’m overjoyed to see a new comic, The Phoenix, arise with promises of great new stories and wonderful artwork and cause a new generation of children to tremble with excitement. One of the things I’ve enjoyed most as a writer was creating the story of JOHN BLAKE for the much mourned DFC. I hope John Blake is going to be a film in the not too distant future, but I also hope I’ll have the time and the energy to make a small contribution to the Phoenix, in due course. Comics, as a narrative form, have hardly begun to scratch the surface of what they can do. It’ll be thrilling to watch the Phoenix take to the skies and carry the particular kind of delight I felt as a boy to everyone who reads it.
*Photograph copyright of Philip Pullman