Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Do You Remember Wizard Magazine?
When I was a teen, there was no cooler magazine for people that aren't cool than Wizard.
I first picked it up around 1995, I think. My mom and I were housesitting my grandfather's house and I picked a magazine out to help bide the time in the era before internet, cable (or at least them having it) and the like. It had Wolverine on the cover, if you can believe that!
I immediately knew I made a pretty good choice, as Wizard used to be pretty damn thick. Those things were packed. They had readable material up the yin-yang, from a funny and weird letters column, a section for homemade action figures, articles, a price guide featuring spotlights on quality reading on every page, and humor. Everywhere there were captions, on the action figures, under the photos of conventioneers at the front of the news section, and even in the legal mumbo-jumbo in the contest rules. And it was funny. Legitimately funny.
I started to get Wizard on a regular basis, even pre-dating by a few months my own comic reading habit. And in days when I couldn't afford all the comics I wanted, I still got Wizard. They were ballsy and weren't afraid to explain how Todd Mcfarlane's writing or Rob Liefield's everything sucked. It was full of young guys in their 20s and 30s, having a good time, bullshitting, and talking geek stuff in a way that made it seem not-so-geeky, and hip, even! They really were ahead of the curve in the "cool nerd" revolution that hit the early 2000s, where you can see A-listers at San Diego and movies starring Seth Rogen and Michael Cera blow up the box office. By all accounts they should all be driving Hummers that run on liquid baby seals back to their mansions where they bang European women all the live long day.
Well, apparently not so much. Wizard had a run for a while where they bought out a ton of conventions and ran roughshod over the business. I like to think of them as the WWE of comic magazines, in that sense. Then again, New York started up a major convention again and San Diego grew into the biggest industry convention of all. They made another misfire by scheduling Wizard World: Atlanta around the same weekend (or the same weekend) as a much beloved Carolinas convention known as Heroes Con, and were eviscerated online so much that they canceled Atlanta and acqueisced dominance to Dragon Con run by creepy Ed Kramer. None of this really bothered me, as conventions were fun the first two or three I went to, then they became increasingly sad, and I would walk around and feel dirty that these were my bretheren. Once again, not talking about your average Joe IStillReadAvengersButIHaveAGirlfriendAndApartment but more the "this is the only three days I leave my mom's house" people. There, but for the grace of God, and all that...
Wizard Entertainment has fingers in other pies, too. The best, to me, was Toyfare. This was the magazine that spawned Robot Chicken. Except in my opinion this is funnier than Robot Chicken. The best section was Twisted Toyfare Theater, which was so popular they turned it into a series of trade paperbacks. In order to prove they're a big, humorless corporation DC explicitly forbade Toyfare from using their characters in the parodies. Oh well. There's only so many jokes you can pull from those lifeless stiffs anyway. They also had Inquest devoted to gaming, Anime Insider to... anime, and started an unsuccessful comic company, something that could have been seen as a conflict of interest, but it failed so who cares!
Needless to say, I kind of forgot about them until Rich started blogging about recent troubles. I have no inclination to search the back catalogue for all the stories, so once again go to Lying In The Gutters and let your fingers do the walking. With falling convention attendance, longtime employees like Pat McCallum and Brian Cunningham were shown the door. Actually the majority of the staff I enjoyed no longer seem to be employed there, with the sole exception of Mike Fasolo, a latecomer to the magazine, and even that could have changed by the time this post is put up. Apparently they also rely on free help to maintain the forums, with the free help offered in the hopes of getting a paid position. Good luck with that.
I think one of the things that led to the downfall of Wizard is the internet. There's just no sense in waiting 30 days for news when it hits you in 30 seconds via Comic Book Resources, Newsarama, and other places. The rest is just a combination of factors like increased commercialization, lower page counts combined with higher prices, less humor and more focus on ads disguised as articles. Of course, all those things could have been present when I was reading and it's just the rose-colored glasses of youth that didn't make me see them. I mean, one valid concern that's always been there is the total absence of anything not Marvel, DC or Image. I can see that criticism, and I can also recognize that you won't find that much about Troma in Entertainment Weekly, either.
I don't think Wizard will ever really go away. The industry is big enough to need a major magazine to publish it, and Wizard, by virtue of being the first "glossy, sexy" magazine will be it. I don't know if it will ever reach the heights of its 1990s heydey, but then again... will the world reach the heights of the 1990s ever again?
This is a video that one of my buddies did for a Wizard contest in the early '00s. I love the Poundstone line...