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...

12 comments:

AWalmsley said...

Ha. Yeah, I remember when I started to realize that Wizard wasn't as funny as it had been. For awhile I just thought that maybe I had only found it funny because I was a teenager when I first started reading it, but I started noticing a lot of other people felt the same way. It really was incredibly funny for a good while. I couldn't take it anymore when I started to notice that they just never criticized anything no matter how bad it was.

Bryan Ferry's Mom said...

Happy New Year, Seethe!

Wizard definitely had its heydey (heck, I even subscribed to it for a couple of years), but it is a shadow of its former self. I had a recent issue get tossed in with my monthly comics shipment by accident, and it didn't impress.

One of the more recent comics magazines to offer something different is (was?)Comic Foundry. I ordered the first issue, liked it, and immediately subscribed to it. Unlike just about every other mainstream comics magazine, Comic Foundry actually put photos of real people on the cover, such as Matt Fraction, Mark Millar, and Tony Harris. Sure they were faces only a mom would love, but it screams that this magazine is trying something that breaks away from the comics mainstream. Anyhow, they're closing up shop in February...see what you get for trying something different. They say they're doing it for personal reasons, but....

The magazine industry seems to be in shambles these days...Radar ceased publication, PC Magazine is going "digital only", and my beloved Rolling Stone (that I've subscribed to since 1984) has shrunk down to regular magazine size.

The internet has killed the printed page. Maybe 2009 will be the year of the Kindle.

IAMFeAR7 said...

I started reading Wizard regularly around 97, and it was a great funny magazine indeed. I think the real turn for the worse is when they changed the format from comic-sized to magazine-sized and basically became an entertainment magazine focused on comics-based stuff. I kept buying mostly out of habit and finally gave up a few months ago, and I cant say it makes much difference to me now since I've had internet for a couple years. I used to read it voraciously and go through every feature and article meticulously, no matter what comic it was about.
In the end, I'd buy it, read whatever interested me, and it would quickly just go on the pile, not to be opened again.
Kinda sad, really.

You're probably too young to remember, but in the early 90s there was also Hero Illustrated, which was just a Wizard ripoff that lasted a few years. And before that, an old favorite of mine, Comics Scene (from the Starlog/Fangoria publisher), now that was a great magazine!

jrloafy said...

I too loved WIZARD when it debuted. I started picking it up regularly around issue 10 and bought it every month for years. And TOYFARE too. I would read each issue cover to cover the day I bought it but eventually my love affair waned and I noticed I wasn't devouring it anymore. I actually had a WIZARD backlog and realized it was time to let go. The internet replaced it.

Anonymous said...

Another fantastic post. I really think this blog perfectly encapsulates the 'comic experience' for what I can only collectively refer to as "the rest of us." You know, those of us who aren't the whored to the gills trendy Johnny Come Latelies but also not the severely emotionally crippled man-children that you'd usually expect to find amongst the ranks of long-time comic fans.

And for that, I thank you once again.

For what it's worth, my first Wizard was the one with Superman Blue on the cover. Man, that magazine used to rule. It's sad really what it's become. I fondly remember they used to throw in these funny Twisted Toy images with funny captions in the middle of their price guide. You know, not for any particular purpose... just to make us laugh. I think the image of the Lando toy standing next to the Colt 45 and it's caption is one of the funniest things I can recall from back then.

-Christian

creature said...

I picked up the Wizard around issue 5 or 6, I can't remember. The one thing that I realized with it was the writers at the time loves what they wrote about, good or bad. Tom Palmer Jr honestly wrote about great works. Bart Sears made even idiots like me think we could draw worth a damn. Even Gareb Shamus, a man even I thought was a geek, wrote good articles worth reading.

Then they decided they were bigger then comics and their fans. I could see it happening before my eyes when what really was a good fanzine with good production values started looking move like People Magazine then anything. Wizard went from being EGM (when they were still good) to being GamePro (which has always sucked), to put it into geek terms. I don't know what they were thinking, but I think it all had to do with money.

I knew things were really bad when I saw more and more of his family with staff positions then actual fans.

Seethe Rogers said...

Wow, a lot of posts on Wizard... who'da thunk that of all things would be my hottest topic?

I really don't know why they're trying to save money. Aren't they still the number one rag in the biz?

I actually came across Comic Foundry when searching for a good pic to use (still not found). They had some cute chicks work there, apparently.

You'd think Shamus would have sued the pants off Seth Green for ripping off Twisted Toyfare Theater. And in my opinion, not doing it nearly as funny.

Invisible Ninja said...

Hey it might be the biggest magazine still, but if our sales are any indication, they're still in need of cutting corners. I've seen quite a lot of regulars drop it from their list, and the stand sales are abismal. Hey anyone remember how they used to pimp the hell out of Valiant comics. Every top ten was dominated by Bloodshot and the like...

Ex-Wizard Insider said...

Every one of you have pretty much nailed it… Wizard used to be good. I've seen how this "company" was run from the inside out. You could say I was in "The Belly of the Beast" from '04-'06… And it was HELL working there… lots o' attitudes and egos… but it got me back into comics and I got to design features and columns based on Marvel and DC characters. How @&#! cool is that!? All of the humor (ie captions, word balloons), that was coming directly from Pat McCallum, who by the way, was an immense DICK… Rick Marshall (mindpollution.net) was the first guy to spread the word about the working conditions at 151 Wells Avenue. It sucked. Now all of the work is done by interns and it shows. As bad as these geeks were to work for, at least we produced a a mag that warranted a $6.00 cover price. Remembers 1/2 issues? Yeah, I do too. They started fazing those out when I was there. I will never forget the words of another DICK Joe Yanarella when Good Ol' Gareb left to start that IFL thing. "Nothing's going to change." Yeah, Joe sure it won't…

Seethe Rogers said...

Just out of curiosity, Ex-Wiz, what are you doing now? Just wondering if you're still in the industry.

There's no doubt that if I picked up a Wizard today that it'd be virtually unrecognizable to me. I'm actually not that broken up over that fact. I used to read Maxim, too. Outgrew that one.

Ex-Wizard Insider said...

No, I can't say I am still in the "comic book industry". The Big Two are very, very tough to get into. You're gonna need a four year degree from a well known–New York City–art school to get even a glance from either of 'em…

I don't want to piss all over some future designer's dream but unfortunately, "It's not what you know it's who you %@&!!#" in this field. Especially in today's climate.

You really should tear open a recent Wizard to see what it has morphed into. It more like a pamphlet than a magazine now. It's a sign o' the times I guess. Consumers are paying more and getting less.

Seethe Rogers said...

Hey, Ex-Wiz, and all of you even... how are you finding this blog?