Tom Fickling shares his passion and enthusiasm for the weekly comic, no longer a thing of the past but an exciting, cutting-edge technology with the ability to inspire a love of reading. He describes the reader-focused philosophy which drives the creativity of his team at The Phoenix.
It doesn’t matter what you make – be it book or comic or something else – the reader should come first. That is perhaps brought into starker relief with a weekly publication because you have to make a lot of decisions on a very tight timescale, with the impact of those decisions being felt only a few days later. But it’s true across the board.
We often get asked why we started The Phoenix, and of course there are lots of reasons, but ultimately the answer is: for the readers. But what does that really mean? And why do these readers (or in this case, children) need a weekly comic? After all, common sense tells us that weekly comics are a thing of the past and that’s where they should stay.
People say we need to move forward, that we need new and exciting things. You know, tablets and gadgets and VR headsets and the like. (Alright, we definitely need the headsets). Comics may have been around for a while but I want to tell you that, far from being outdated, comics are a cutting-edge technology. A cutting-edge reading technology.
Our aim at The Phoenix is simple: to delight, to inspire, to fill minds with awe and wonder. Above all The Phoenix is for its readers. We want to make them go ‘wow’ when they tear open that envelope. We want their hearts pounding with excitement. We want them hooked on the story, totally mesmerised by fascinating non-fiction and their minds blown to smithereens by awesome puzzles.
At The Phoenix this means publishing things we know for a fact that children will love, alongside things that we think they will love. Because often the reader doesn’t know what they want. And asking them what they want rarely produces the right answer. As Henry Ford said, if he’d asked people what they wanted before he mass-produced the first car they’d have just asked for a faster horse. It’s the same with books. It took J.K. Rowling, not a focus group, to introduce us to Harry Potter. Philip Pullman conjured His Dark Materials from a lifetime of thinking and the words of Milton, not from a feedback form.
We want excitement and adventure and scares and all the rest of it, but we also want six and seven year-olds to love it. There are plenty of examples of stories that can be enjoyed by all ages. Anyone heard of Star Wars? That’s the kind of cross-generation appeal we ultimately aim for. It’s a great target audience. Some might say it means dumbing things down, but I think that actually it means cutting straight to the heart of what a story is about. You can’t hide behind gratuitous violence or gore or other salacious details. You just have to nail the story. It’s tough, and rarely done, of course, but amazing when someone hits it out of the park and grandparents can enjoy it side by side with their grandkids.
Tom Fickling worked in film production for a number of years on a range of films, from small British productions to large Hollywood blockbusters. Tom was part of the core team that published The DFC, the precursor to The Phoenix. He joined The Phoenix full time in 2012 and was appointed Editor in May 2015 and managing director in 2016. In 2019, Tom was appointed managing director of David Fickling Books