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Is Wizard’s message board another Con War casualty?

by  in Comic News Comment

“Board offline” — that’s what visitors are seeing when they attempt to use the Wizard Universe Message Board. As first noted on the comics discussion site Panels on Pages, the WUMB, as its users affectionately dubbed it, ceased to exist just before 7:30 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday.

The board was launched in 2006, at the start of Wizard’s often-shaky attempt to maintain a web presence in a comics-news scene increasingly dominated by online outlets. The WUMB was a priority for then-Editor-in-Chief Pat McCallum, who mandated daily posts from all editorial staffers as a way to increase the sense of community with readers of Wizard’s publications (at the time, there were four monthly magazines).

McCallum and many other high-ranking editorial figures — among them, Wizard Editor Brian Cunningham, ToyFare Editors Zach Oat and Justin Aclin, VP Joe Yanarella, Anime Insider Editor Summer Mullins, WizardUniverse.com Editors Rick Marshall and Jim Gibbons, and Wizard and WizardUniverse.com Managing Editor, uh, me — posted on the board frequently, even though its hosting on an outside company’s server prevented its hits from being counted toward Wizard’s main site.

Though the creative staff policed the board’s users only for spam, obscenity, and netiquette violations, higher-ups from Wizard’s business end frequently intervened to order the deletion of posts or threads critical of the company, though this would often, and predictably, simply spur further complaints. Over recent months, a perfect storm of problems — including the firing of yet another batch of popular staffers (of the editors listed above, only Aclin remains with the company), a slew of customer-service complaints about Wizard’s web store during the holidays, and dissatisfaction with Wizard magazine’s creative direction and page count (perpetual and not always reality-based sentiments, to be fair) — spurred a dramatic increase in the number of members joining, and threads being created, for no purpose other than to criticize the company and its policies. The recent announcement of Wizard owner Gareb Shamus’s intention to challenge Reed Exhibitions’ New York Comic Con by scheduling his own Big Apple Comic Con directly against NYCC next year, coupled with what many WUMBers described as a lackluster and frustrating Big Apple show this year, set off a real firestorm of complaints, many of which were then deleted — along with the potentially off-message responses of staffer Mark Allen Haverty, one of the few remaining Wizard employees to maintain a presence on the board.

It’s unclear if today’s rash of complaints regarding the elimination of Wizard magazine’s comics price guide — news of which, like that of several Wizard-related stories since the Con War’s outbreak, actually broke on the WUMB — was the final straw for the board. Indeed, this may have been a planned maneuver following the dismantling of the WizardUniverse.com site last week. But with the WUMB’s ostensible purpose of fostering good will toward Wizard seemingly a lost cause, and given both the company’s track record regarding criticism on its own site and its increasingly noticeable pivot away from the comics community as its target audience, this final move (provided it is a final move and not some sort of revamp) was not entirely unexpected.

Jason Kerouac of Panels on Pages — a site founded in part by WUMB members and populated by WUMB refugees — has posted a brief tribute to board. As someone who spent his fair share of time there over the years, I’ll miss it, too.