Farewell, Wizard

In the late 1970s, it was kind of fun being a comic book fan in the pre-Internet age because we had monthly installments of various magazine-style fanzines to keep us company. While the granddaddy of news, The Comic Reader, had ceased publishing, it was replaced in prominence by The Comics Journal with its insightful interviews and thoughtful critical commentary. Hal Shuster jumped on the bandwagon with Comics Feature as part of his New Media Publishing concern. Edited by Carol Kalish and Richard Howell, it was a treasure trove of history and interviews, a great companion read to TCJ.

These inspired me to create Comics Scene in 1981 while working at Starlog Press. I wanted something more professional in appearance, with color, and a shot at newsstand distribution. At the time, comics were enjoying a bit of a renaissance as the maturing direct-sales market allowed people to form their own companies so DC and Marvel were joined by Eclipse, Pacific and First in rapid succession. The time felt right.

Kerry O’Quinn and Norman Jacobs agreed, sensing there might be some mainstream interest since Warner Bros. had been developing a Batman feature since 1980 and Conan was about to be filmed while Saturday morning television was showing signs of creativity. I could have a bi-monthly as long as some live-action, recognizable feature was on the cover.

I did what I could and we got through eleven issues before cancellation. At the time I was told we were ending the run, I checked with our newsstand director, Dick Browne, who was baffled since sales had not only stabilized but were showing signs of improvement.

After leaving the newsstands, there was a void which was somewhat filled by TCJ’s spinoff, Amazing Heroes, David Anthony Kraft’s delightful Comics Interview and the short-lived Comics Week. While they all had their audiences, they remained small run publications without national exposure.

That all changed in 1991 when Gareb Shamus debuted Wizard. For about a decade, it was the must-read magazine in the field. Shamus and his editorial staff had their fingers on the pulse of the core audience in ways that no one had previously achieved. It arrived just as the five creators broke from Marvel and formed Image Comics. The field was growing more competitive as cover gimmicks, exclusives, bound in trading cards and whatever else people could image was used to up sales orders and fuel a speculator market that was red-hot.

Shamus was wise to arrange exclusive news breaks with both Marvel and DC, running exclusive comics coverage and the like. The in your face page designs made Wizard the comic version of the British laddie mags that soon flooded the American newsstands. The had a price guide that no one paid much attention to but it fattened the magazine and their top ten lists became something creators vied to get listed. Brian Vaughn told the New York Times in 2005, “Having my goofy picture show up in Wizard’s ‘Top 10 Writers’ list every so often has contributed to getting more challenging projects.”

But by the time of that interview, Wizard had already lost its cache. Shamus always was seeking ways to expand his brand, beginning with the WizardWorld conventions and then the Black Bull line of comic books. Then there were the spinoff mags, with ToyFare the only one that caught on for the long-haul. Their website was never vital and that would come back to bite them in the ass. In the meantime, the company would periodically become the news as people were fired (including Wizard Editor-in-Chief and co-founder Pat McCallum in 2006) or rounds of layoffs made it seem the company was on the brink.

The conventions were more hype and sizzle than substance, charging for every service save the water fountains and never challenged Creation for the national convention brand.

Shamus took his eye off the ball. He seemed to be looking for the next hot thing before ensuring his golden goose continued to lay eggs. As a result, he missed the rise and importance of the web. Rather than integrating Wizard’s strength into a digital format, he treated the site as a necessary evil as Newsarama, Comic Book Resources and other sites rose to steal the exclusives and break the news. His editors couldn’t find a way to make the monthly work to their advantage, losing the edge to the instantaneous nature of the web.

So, it’s no surprise at all that today it was formally announced Wizard and ToyFare were no more. Now everything is being branded under a new entity, WizardWorld, but now it has to play significant catch-up and frankly, it may be too late. The sense of energy in the air when Wizard arrived has long since dissipated and the remaining comics publishers are clawing for rack space, marketshare, and relevance.

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