2011-01-26 - NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON'T: WIZARD'S DISAPPEARING ACT
The news spread through the comics community pretty fast Monday morning: effective immediately, the print editions of both WIZARD MAGAZINE and TOYFARE were cancelled, their staff out of work (with reportedly some employees being told of their termination via Facebook messages -- talk about your anti-social media). And almost as fast, it seemed, the more unsavory side of the Internet crawled out from under its rock and began its dance of scheuedenfreude:
"They haven't been relevant for years!"
"Time to dance on its grave!"
Really? I'm sorry, but even with as many profound disagreements as I may have had with the magazine and its parent company over the years, anything that puts people out of work in this economy is hardly something that's going to put a smile on my face or bring a pithy quip to my lips.
WIZARD got its start back in July 1991 with a glossy, full-color ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY-style approach to covering the comics industry, immediately finding a level of success that its more staid predecessors like the COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE never saw. Brash, outspoken and irreverent to the point of being downright juvenile on occasion, WIZARD took no prisoners and definitely played favorites: the amount of coverage upstart publishers like Image and Valiant got in its pages was downright stunning, and in no small part because these publishers played ball with WIZARD in a way that Marvel and DC wouldn't for years, courting the new magazine with previews, exclusives and covers.
WIZARD got on board the collectible toy craze of the 1990s early on, first with coverage in the original magazine, then branching out to an entirely toy-dedicated spinoff magazine entitled TOYFARE, which for my money was the best thing to come out of the WIZARD phenomenon, especially in its early years, when TOYFARE had adopted as its unofficial mascot the 1970s-era Mego Spider-Man, given a snarkily hilarious voice that commented both on the industry and hobby as a whole, and the sheer goofiness of there actually being a monthly magazine devoted to it. TOYFARE's early hilarious action-figure comic strips spawned a series of "Twisted Toyfare Theatre" collections, while many of the creatives behind it would later go on to create the long-running Adult Swim series ROBOT CHICKEN. (The magazine's re-introduction of the Mego toys to the popular culture no doubt contributed to the recent resurgence of the toys, for that matter.)
WIZARD's done plenty I've disagreed with over the years. Its early focus on collectability and investment helped fuel the investor's boom and bust that did serious damage to the industry in the '90s. Its heavy promotion of the CGC graded-and-slabbed comics craze of a few years ago struck me as antithetical to what comics business should be about, as well as seeming slightly unsavory. And the way it tried to muscle its way into the convention game in recent years, buying up small conventions, turning them into little more than autograph sessions for B-list actors, and scheduling them against long-running conventions in specific markets in heavy-handed attempts at brinksmanship left a pretty bitter taste in my mouth.
The magazines had fallen off in recent years, too. While there was no denying that early WIZARD was often little more than a hype machine, it was still a fun hype machine, and one that was really focused on comics first and foremost. When the magazine shifted to a more mainstream format a few years back, with more non-comics features about movies, television, gaming and Hollywood and less in-depth comics coverage, I bailed out. I stuck with TOYFARE until the bitter end, although it too had become a shadow of its former self in the last couple of years, certainly not as fun and exciting as it was at the start.
While it's tempting to cast all of the blame on WIZARD for the magazines' falling fortunes (and there's plenty of blame to go around), the real truth is that, like most magazines nowadays, it's nearly impossible to compete with the Internet when it comes to delivery of news, and without that component, it was just hard for the magazines to survive in any real vital fashion.
Still, I hate to see them go. They've been fixtures on the rack at my local shop for almost two decades, and though I still hadn't picked up an issue of WIZARD in years, it was comforting to see it there nonetheless. Here's hoping all the editorial staff lands on their feet and is quickly on to bigger and better things.
Scott Tipton still misses those Brian Ahern calendars from the old issues of WIZARD. Whatever happened to that guy? If you have questions about comics in general, send 'em here.