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Mom! Dad! Buy stuff! A liveblog of FunFare magazine

by  in Comic News Comment
Mom! Dad! Buy stuff! A liveblog of FunFare magazine

Wizard CEO Gareb Shamus isn’t going to let paltry matters like financial insolvency and an ever-dwindling staff keep him from putting out new magazines. Hence, Wizard Entertainment’s latest endeavor, FunFare. According to the PR release, this new glossy mag “takes the humor and consumer focus of Wizard’s collector-targeted magazine Toy Fair and expands the focus to the family and general consumer.” That certainly sounds like fun, right?

By a unique stroke of luck, we happened to get our sweaty hands (and yes, they are a little sweaty. It is summer after all.) on a copy of the very first issue of FunFare. Taking a page from Christopher Butcher’s monthly Previews breakdowns, we thought we’d go page by page through the magazine and jot down our initial impressions. Will it measure up to Wizard’s past standards of excellence? Read on and find out …

The Cover — Lots of excitement is promised on the cover blurb, most of it having to do with consumer spending. The photo, as seen above, shows a smiling boy and girl. The boy is holding a Transformers action figure. The girl is holding a Barbie doll. Way to buck gender stereotypes there Wizard Entertainment!

Page 3 — Shamus introduces himself to the reader by way of a fumetti (or photocomic to those who don’t speak Italian) where he converses with some action figures. I generally loathe fumetti, and this unfunny bit (hoo-hah! Shamus is a robot!) just convinces me how right I am to do so.

Page 6 — We’re barely past the indicia and already we have a page of “toys for adults.” Actually, most of this stuff (a “Spa Princess” cookbook, bento boxes, a toy product design course) is kind of interesting, but shouldn’t it be in the back of the mag? Shouldn’t the kids be the initial focus? At least in the first 10 pages?

Also, the written copy is overly coy and self-aware (Omarosa references, besides being played out, feel real out of place in a family toy magazine). I hope the rest of the copy doesn’t read like this. It probably will.

Page 7 — We are introduced to the “kid critics” for the main cover story feature. One of them says he wants to grow up to be “Brocolli Obama.” How cute. And I bet he wasn’t coached in any way to say that.

Page 8 — A full page ad for Chicago Comic-Con announcing that Ray Park and Underworld “star” Rhona Mitra are the featured guests. Because elementary school kids and parents that don’t frequent comic shops really care deeply about the guy who plays Snake Eyes in the upcoming GI Joe movie.

Pages 10-13 — So what are the hot (and yes, isn’t it amusing how a Wizard magazine, even one aimed at a general audience, can’t stay away from promoting “hot” merchandise?) dozen toys of the year? A Lego Star Wars Tie Fighter, Fisher-Price Little People Wedding set, Batman: The Brave and the Bold figures, Transformers figures, a Hannah Montana doll, a Disney Fairies art kit, a Star Trek play set and so on and so forth. Basically it’s a bunch of licensed materials based off established lines or popular TV or movie franchises. There’s a super soaker and a “Bee and Butterfly” set that sound neat, but overall it’s a little depressing to see how much of the “hot” stuff is tied to pre-packaged corporate characters.

What’s worse, there’s virtually no information about the toys beyond the basic pr info/description. This is a topic I’ll be revisiting later.

Pages 14-15 — The short “top picks” sound a lot more interesting to me as a parent than the “hot toys.” I’d actually check out things like the Playmobil submarine or the Triptivities set before I’d pick up the Hannah Montana doll.

Pages 16-18 — Even a toy magazine is not immune from Obama-fever. Would that this space was used to highlight history-related materials — perhaps an interactive book about the presidents, for instance. Instead we get various toy companies and artists offering their own interpretive portraits of the current president. It’s cute, but it’s a real space-waster and it feels like it was done just to ensure that Obama got on the cover.

Pages 20-23 — This article by Steve Sunu on how Legos are made is fascinating and exactly the sort of thing I’d like to see in a magazine of this nature. I especially enjoyed the interview with Master Builder Erik Varsegzi. It’s the sort of thing both my kids and my wife would be interested in reading, thus hitting their rather large target demographic perfectly. Kudos.

Pages 24-28 — Same goes for the next article on the history of Fisher-Price’s Little People set, which examines in a surprising amount of detail how the various sets have changed over the years and why. Both stories could have used more and larger photos though.

Page 26 — I like the idea of having little word balloon quizzes sprinkled out throughout the magazine for kids to answer (ex: “When do you think this photo was taken?”). I didn’t see any answers in the back of the mag though. When was that photo taken?

Pages 30-36 — Good idea: Putting an activity section in the middle of the magazine that kids can tear out and do. Bad Idea: Printing it on glossy paper so that kids will be frustrated when trying to keep their lines on the page if they’re using markers or even crayons. That, and making the activities so blindingly easy that even a Kindergartener would be done in seconds. Surely we can put a bit more thought into this, yes?

Pages 37-54 — Lots and lots of plugs for toys. A good deal of these sound like fun, and I actually did get a few good ideas for Christmas presents for my kids, so it’s not like this section is entirely devoid of useful information. It even covers a wide range of age groups, prices and interest levels. They even give a shout-out to the Christian demographic with the Playmobil Church.

All that being said, there’s an awful lot of empty space on these page that could have been better used providing more information about the toys themselves beyond regurgitating the basic pr copy in a friendly, flip tone (again, I tire of the oh-so snappy jokes that dot each page). How many batteries do these toys need? Do they break easily? Are they durable? Are there pieces that could easily get lost? Does it come recommended by any educational or highly regarded advocacy group? These are the kind of questions that parents deal with when considering to buy any toy and should be asked by the FunFare staff of every single product that comes in their door if they want to win their readers’ trust.

Page 56 — A shout out to two “classic” toy franchises — Barbie and Transformers — uses the exact same photo as the cover! Is money so tight at Wizard these days that they can’t even afford to take a second picture?

Pages 56-59 —A round up of family-friendly video games. More so even than with the toys, critical, detailed information is desperately needed here, as most kids’ games tend to be astoundingly awful, especially the licensed stuff. There’s no way on earth, for example, that the Hannah Montana game is any good. Seriously, I just can’t imagine a world where it’s even the least bit challenging or enjoyable, and the magazine’s staff really needs to feel free to say so.

Here’s another, better example. They tout the new Guitar Hero game for the DS, which I won’t let my son play, despite his manic love for all things Guitar Heroish. Why? Because the strap-on controller is horrible for your fingers and induces pain within five minutes of playing! I have no interest in having develop early on-set carpal tunnel syndrome. That sort of critique is completely missing here, which makes me seriously wonder if anyone at FunFare even actually played these games. My money’s on “no.”

Pages 60-63 — Ugh, another fumetti. This one involves Mr. Potato Head beating up a bunch of Decepticons (I think). More than the “hot toys” listing or the Comic-con ad, this eels like a holdover from the old Wizard magazine and needs to be dropped immediately. More to the point, butt jokes are not a good way to win over a parental audience.

Final analysis — The potential is there — certainly there’s some good stuff in these pages — but they’ve got a bit more to do if they want to keep me reading this on a monthly basis. Certainly FunFare held my interest longer than Wizard usually did. But they need to start being a bit more critical with the material that comes in through their door or it’s little more than a glorified catalog. Parents are desperate to buy toys that have an alleged “educational value,” especially for their younger kids. They want to know that what they buy will help their children in some fashion or at least not mentally retard them. Having a few educational experts or otherwise well-versed writers recommend stuff would go a long way towards drawing parents in. A few more substantive articles or activities would have helped as well. For now I’ll just file it under “needs work” and see how it evolves over the next few months. For the sake of the company and the people working there, I hope it does well.

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