Starlog Shifts to the Web
In the spring of 1980, I was facing graduation and needed a job. I researched 35-40 publishers of books, newspapers and magazines, all in the New York area and all I wouldn’t mind working for. Clearly, some were more desirable than others but I couldn’t be picky. I added to the list, Starlog, since I had been reading the mag since its debuted in 1976.
Of the letters mailed, a handful netted very nice notes saying thanks but no thanks. A few led to phone conversations and only one led to an actual job interview. During the April break, in the midst of a transit strike, I headed into New York in my suit, ready to wow the publisher at Starlog Press. A little after our appointment was scheduled for, Kerry O’Quinn, clad in jeans an boots, rushed in, shook my hand and took me back to his office. We chatted for something like an hour and then he asked to see samples which I would have to mail him.
A week later he called, impressed, and told me they intended to expand and would need a managing editor for Fangoria come September. Was I interested? Well, I was more a science fiction than horror guy, but I said sure. They offered a low sum which I negotiated up to as whopping $10,000 a year and accepted.
My three-plus years were largely a delight. I got to write for Starlog and Future Life in addition to my work on Fangoria. I met people, learned the ropes, made contacts, and conceived Comics Scene which led to my giving up Fango in exchange for a new project. Comics Scene led to my offer to join DC Comics in 1984 and things proceeded apace.
I continued to write for Starlog for several years thereafter and then the work dried up but I have remained a loyal reader all these years. Its editor, Dave McDonnell, was one of my writers and I helped get him hired just before I left. We’ve been friends ever since. He’s been at the helm for ages now and he has weathered the newsstand declines, managerial indifference, and ownership changes.
This week it became official. Starlog has ceased to be a print publication and will join the plethora of web-based magazines covering the field of science fiction, fantasy, and comics. Like so many sites, it’s being done on a shoestring budget but does have the clever writing and visual touches that are unique to the magazine.
At a time when the UK has a bunch of mags still covering the field and the US has Sci-Fi Magazine still around, one wonders why the granddaddy isn’t still in print. The answer really comes down to the same reason why so many others have faded away. The publishers never exploited the franchise at its height or changed and adapted when the market evolved. The website has always been a hit or miss proposition when it should have contained archives, indexes, exclusives and the like. The Starlog Store concept was interesting but so poorly executed it hurt the brand. A line of books containing its interviews or episode guides or instructional pieces should have happened but were always done hit or miss.
Dave’s editorial approach hewed to the traditions of solid journalism and the design was freshened now and then to keep it interesting. However, as the news arrived faster on line and mainstream outlets like Entertainment Weekly started grabbing the exclusives, Starlog was starting to feel stagnant. By the time their solid coverage of a film rolled out, we’d already seen pieces with the same people on numerous websites and in other magazines. It was starting to lose ground and lose relevance and nothing Dave could do from his editor’s desk could change that.
When Kerry left, his partner Norman Jacobs, tried and failed repeatedly to extend the franchise, placing more of his efforts into Fangoria which seemed to better catch on with its audience. He subsequently sold the company to the Creative Group and they in turn had no clue what to do with Starlog so ignored it like an ugly stepchild. And now the print version has been suspended.
At its height, Starlog offered the sharpest writing and most extensive coverage every month. It was the authoritative voice of the field for years and that will be missed. By all means, check out the site and enjoy the new coverage along with the digital archives from its glory years.
I’m going to miss having that arrive in my mailbox every month. After all, you never forger your first job.