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Pipeline, Issue #495

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Pipeline, Issue #495

REINVENTING WIZARD

This last week, WIZARD fired/laid off/disengaged themselves from the services of Pat McCallum, their editor-in-chief and an employee with a single digit number. He was there at the beginning of the magazine, and now he’s not there at all. This comes in the same year that they disengaged themselves of two cornerstones of their convention business in a year when the conventions saw a noticeable hit. Not, mind you, that WIZARD would ever admit to that, but you’d have to be willfully blind to buy any line that the Wizard World Conventions grew this season.

There’s been other corporate reshuffling recently, and it makes one wonder what the purpose to this all is. Are they merely reshuffling the deck in the hopes of dealing a better combination of finances to keep the game running? Are they shifting the chairs around the Titanic’s desk? Or are they seriously looking at their magazine and considering editorial changes which might renew their flagging fortunes?

In a rising comics market, why is the number one comics magazine sinking?

While I think the odds are good that they’re just rearranging the heck out of those deck chairs, it did get me to wondering what I would do as editor-in-chief to fix WIZARD Magazine. Keeping in mind that I have no behind-the-scenes information such as sales statistics on newsstands versus the Direct Market or anything else, here are my notes to the WIZARD staff on my first day in the corner office.

1. Let’s remind everyone that WIZARD is supposed to be “The Guide To Comics.” To that end, the magazine will cover comics.

  • No more Hollywood starlets will appear on the cover.
  • No video game will be reviewed without a comic book component to it. (MARVEL ULTIMATE ALLIANCE, sure. RED STEEL? No.)
  • Ditto for toys. Amazingly, we already have a magazine dedicated to that. It comes out monthly. It talks just about toys. No, I can’t believe it, either, but it’s proof that it can be profitable to stick rude word balloons over the heads of Mego figures. Bully for them.
  • I’ll allow a general DVD section in the back to absorb the anime section and cover the consistent monthly releases of comic book-related DVDs. No more LOST. No 24. WIZARD is the Guide To Comics, not Comics Fan Culture. That might make an interesting sister publication, though. . .

2. A print publication has its strengths and its weaknesses. It will never be as timely as the web. It will, however, be more portable. It will keep your attention longer than a website, but it still has to be interesting.

First and foremost, the Wizard website and the WIZARD Magazine have to work together. Hot breaking news items go into the website, which will need a major Web 2.0 redesign to stand out from the crowd. (Seriously, it’s an embarrassment right now. Those Newsarama and CBR sites haven’t been updated in this millennium and they look two generations ahead of WizardUniverse.com.) Everything else can go into the magazine.

Feature-length interviews work best in print, not on the web. The longer your article or interview appears on a web page, the less readers you have for it. The more pages you make them click through, the quicker they’ll move onto some other page. With a printed magazine, you have more leeway to print a looooong interview across many pages and keep the audience. Sure, illustrate it profusely to keep it visually appealing, but let it ramble on a bit more.

For example, I’ll be moving Brian Bendis’ interview column from the web site to the print magazine. If I have to shave it for page count, I’ll be sure to put the cut bits — or the entire thing — up on the website after the magazine hits stands.

WIRED does OK by putting all of its magazine articles onto its website over the course of a month. Why not WIZARD, too? It’s the best chance WIZARD will have to get people talking about their magazine and its contents again. When people see what we can deliver, they’ll want it first and they’ll pay for the dead wood publication.

Yes, parts of this are also done by THE COMICS JOURNAL. And you know why? Because they’re smart. They might not post the entire interview on-line (though I believe I just made an argument for why they should), but they do publish insanely long interviews that are interesting and relevant. WIZARD hasn’t done that in a long time.

In other words, if you get the chance to interview Adam Kubert, do not spend half of your column inches discussing the White Castle restaurant that the interview was conducted in. That’s useless, even as filler. It might help make for a cute companion piece on the website, though, in both telling a funny side story and promoting the magazine. Bloggers love that stuff.

3. WIZARD is not a fraternity. There will be no pointless genital and fart jokes, “Identify the Character Based on This Closeup of Her Butt,” or attempts at humor that serve to alienate a large portion of the potential readership. You can keep the bunny, but he won’t be doing any jokes about soap in the jail’s shower room. You can have a little bit of attitude. A point of view will be actively encouraged, but that doesn’t mean the magazine makes itself wildly inappropriate for anyone other than an emotionally stunted 15 year old.

See MAC ADDICT magazine for an example of a magazine with attitude that doesn’t devolve into silly frat boy humor.

4. Coverage must expand beyond just those who pay for ad space in the magazine. Featuring Marvel and DC comics is not a bad move. They own something like 80-90% of the comics direct market. But there’s a whole other side to the world of comics that WIZARD needs to pay more special attention to. For starters, those big name creators at Marvel and DC often do smaller projects off on their own that deserve coverage. Whether it’s Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips on CRIMINAL or Stuart Immonen doing 50 REASONS TO STOP SKETCHING, there are whole new avenues that WIZARD’s readership doesn’t know exists or aren’t encouraged to go down. WIZARD should be supportive and encouraging of those efforts without being mere cheerleaders and Yes Men.

Let’s use that as the gateway drug to get into more independent comics. No, I don’t expect this magazine to ever start doing critical analyses of literary comics, but I do think there’s a lot of fun reads that our readership doesn’t know exist. They’d like SCOTT PILGRIM or AMELIA RULES! if only they knew about it.

4.5. This isn’t a wholesale change of interest and focus. Yes, the meat and potatoes of WIZARD’s readership is made up of those who read Marvel and DC comics. I understand that, I appreciate that, and I can work with that. Getting eight page exclusive previews of their forthcoming top sellers is a good thing for both the publishers and WIZARD. But we need more. We can’t be dependent on two companies’ publishing plans. We need one of our own.

5. The tone of the magazine should be positive. There’s so much in comics that’s honestly good today that we shouldn’t waste space tearing down the bad and preaching to the choir on it. That said, without the negative, the positive starts to look awful bland. To that end, we need a cranky columnist. We need the guy to write the back page editorial that goes against the conventional wisdom, and does so convincingly, not just as schtick. Find a grizzled veteran or a loud-mouthed blogger. I don’t care which. Wind them up and let them go. Let them react directly to the cover story of any given month. Let the readership see that the magazine has some journalistic integrity and is willing to print opinions that don’t follows the “editorial mandate.”

Plus, it’ll give us enough material to fill the letters column, if done right.

6. Speaking of which, I love the fact that we have a letters column and want to continue it as a feature in the front of the book. But let’s use it to seriously answer questions and not just make more frat boy jokes. Let’s use our bully pulpit to bring in creators to answer questions specific to them. Let’s connect the fans to their comics and to our magazine. Let’s have some funny sidebars. Let’s just do it in a way that’s not embarrassing.

7. It is OK to cover things other than first issues or new creative teams. Let’s reward titles with creators who stick it out longer than six issues. Let’s do articles about how the creative team keeps it fresh, how their plans have changed, how fan reaction has been, what’s coming down the pipe, etc.

8. Let’s utilize the large readership that dreams of working comics someday. But let’s also use that bully pulpit again to get things that other publications and websites can’t. Steve Grant’s recent exercise in which he brought together several artists to illustrate a sample script is something WIZARD should have done on a larger scale years ago. Why limit it to just penciling? Let’s see that idea used for inking, coloring, and lettering, too. WIZARD’s How To Draw Comics series has made for some nice books already, but let’s think more on that.

9. The magazine needs a redesign. Think more iPod and Nintendo Wii, less Technicolor vomit. I want to see page numbers on every page that’s not advertising. I want color coding across the top of the page to delineate sections or topics. I want to see white space again. I want to be able to read articles clearly, where serif fonts have high contrast over their backgrounds.

10. Let’s look more at the corporate synergy between internet and print. I’ve talked recently about the dearth of net-to-print efforts lately. Surely, the infrastructure WIZARD has built up can be utilized to do that. J.G. Jones’ weekly behind-the-scenes column for his 52 covers would make a beautiful coffee table book, if DC would permit. Let’s expand out that feature in this month’s magazine to be a whole book. The web site has enough material on it for that.

WIZARD is no Watson-Guptill, but you never know. . .

There, that should be a good start. Let’s use these guidelines to provide a more intelligent magazine that’s easy to use, informative, interesting, and on-topic.

Finally, please understand that this change will require a fair amount of patience. The sales figures won’t go up right away. We have years’ worth of damage to undo. This magazine has garnered a reputation over its lifespan, and that can’t just be undone overnight. It’s going to take a lot of hard work, strong writing, and marketing to get this ship back to being anything but a laughing stock of teenaged boy humor. I think, though, that it’s worth the effort.

BEGINNING THE TRIP THROUGH PREVIEWS

There are two things worth mentioning right off the top this month. The first, which I think is the most interesting bit of news in the whole catalog, has not made as big a stir on the ‘net as I thought it might:

Checker Book Publishing Group is printing the fifth volume of CrossGen’s SOJOURN series.

“A Sorceror’s Tale” will collect issues #25-30 of the series, featuring art by Greg Land and scripts from Ian Edgington. I’m guessing this is picking up where CrossGen left off with the collections, but it’s exciting news in any case. Makes me wonder if we won’t see more collections like this coming soon. I wonder what the rights issues were that got worked out over all of this. In any case, it’s a comic book-sized 150 page trade paperback for $18.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this might lead to new CrossGen issues — I think the universe is dead and buried, although a reunion special might someday be worked out — but it is interesting to see some fondly remembered properties creep out from under the glare of the controversial End Of Days.

I’ll let someone else start the crusade to find out if profits from this trade will be used to pay out the debts owed to CrossGen artists. I wouldn’t count on it.

Secondly, Platinum Studios has finally entered the comics production business. No longer is it merely the home of high concepts and intellectual properties from comic book types. Now it is a publisher, printing dead wood editions of its properties. Check them out in the back of the Image Comics listings. There are two books being solicited. One’s an original graphic novel, while the other is a mini-series.

That’s one less running gag the internet is going to have in the months ahead.

Before we get to Marvel and DC, a programming note: Jamie Tarquini and I recorded a fresh installment of the Pipeline Previews Podcast over the weekend. I hope to have it out by the end of the week, but we’ll see what happens. Keep an eye out on the RSS feeds. The final conversation ran 50 minutes, which is still the shortest edition of the podcast, though nowhere near as short as I’d like to make it.

In an attempt to speed things up and get through PREVIEWS in relatively short order for this column, I’m sticking with the trade paperbacks and hardcovers exclusively this month. Thankfully, Marvel always gives me something to harp on in that department each month.

The long-discussed DAREDEVIL BY FRANK MILLER AND KLAUS JANSON OMNIBUS is finally coming out in the new year. This 816 page behemoth can be used to kill a mortal enemy, stop a rather large wooden door from ever closing, and to kill a few days of free time with comic reading. I’d suggest going with that last option. I have all the trade paperbacks in this series still sitting unread in a box somewhere, so I don’t feel the need to pick this one up, but it’s there for $100 if you don’t have the series yet.

NEW AVENGERS Volume 5: CIVIL WAR is an interesting beast. After the first story arc, I vowed to stick to the hardcovers for the series. With CIVIL WAR, though, I tossed those plans to the wind and started picking up the monthlies again for this book. That’s happened with a couple of other Marvel titles, too. It just seems that the crossoveritis Marvel has includes some rather nasty side effects. I need to read these comics Right This Very Minute, and not whenever I get around to it a few months later. So I’ve read all these issues already, but they’re all very strong. I think Marvel just got another $20 of my money, anyway.

ANNIHILATION BOOK 1 hardcover is done up in the oversized format with an interesting assortment of titles inside. Keith Giffen’s DRAX THE DESTROYER mini-series is collected here, along with the ANNIHILATION PROLOGUE and the follow-up four-issue NOVA mini-series. That leaves a lot of books uncollected from the ANNIHILATION storyline for a second and third volume. $30 does seem a rather lot to pay for nine comics, though. The total book is just 244 pages. You’re paying for those oversized pages, fanboy. Or maybe the Premiere Editions have spoiled me. Aren’t there usually 12 issues of a series in each of these oversized $30 hardcovers? I suppose the projected lower sales for this “event book” comes with a larger per unit cost. Shame. I’m not sure I’ll be picking this one up.

Of course, if this event mysteriously crosses over into CIVIL WAR at the end, then we’ll all be clamoring to pick it up when it hits stands. So far, there’s no sign that that will happen, though.

I will gladly fork over the money for the BEYOND! oversized hardcover. This is the Dwayne McDuffie-penned six issue mini-series setting nine random Marvel characters (including the likes of Gravity, The Hood, and Spider-Man) on a “deadly artificial planet.” Art is from Scott Kolins. I skipped the individual issues purposefully for the sake of this book, and I’m very happy to see it’s only $20 for 144 pages. That’s a full extra issue’s worth of comic on a larger page size than the aforementioned NEW AVENGERS collection for the same price. Since this will be all new material to me, it’s well worth the price point.

FRANKLIN RICHARDS: LAB RAT is a digest-sized collection of the stories thus far of Reed Richard’s troublesome spawn. It’s 112 small pages for $8, making it the perfect gift for the child in your family. Don’t forget to listen to the Pipeline Podcast both last week and this week for my interview with the book’s creator, Chris Eliopoulos.

X-FACTOR VISIONARIES: PETER DAVID gets a second volume for issues #76-78, along with the crossover issues with HULK #390-392. It’s a strong story with lots of Dale Keown art from his prime artistic period. The book is only $16, too, so give it a shot. The first volume is also still available and worth reading.

EXCALIBUR CLASSIC Volume 3 is the beginning of the Cross-Time Caper. You may think that the Spider-Man clone saga is the best example of a Marvel storyline that ran out of control without ever ending, but you could be wrong. Mutant fans would point to this storyline for that honor. Chris Claremont wrote it all. Art in the issues (EXCALIBUR #12-20) come from Alan David, Ron Lim, and Rick Leonardi. I thought Chris Wozniak did an issue or two in there, too, but perhaps that’s coming up in the third volume. I hope these collections keep going, because I want to read Alan Davis’ glory years on the book from the 40s and 50s. There’s a section in the middle that’s not worth collecting, so maybe they’ll skip ahead to then.

Meanwhile, DC leads off strongly with ABSOLUTE BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN for $75. This is the 13 issue mini-series from Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale that lit up both their careers. The original hardcover collection of this book is still one I hold in high regards. It looks and feels like a “real” book. From the spine, you couldn’t tell that it was a comic collection. It just felt more professional. I got mine signed by Sale and Loeb in San Diego a few years back, so won’t be letting go of it. Sale’s art is big and bold, so seeing it at this size should just amplify the overall effect. Don’t know if I’ll be spending the money for it, but it’s a worthy addition to any serious modern comics library.

The only other collection from the Batman family of titles to talk about is ROBIN: WANTED. It’s a 144 page trade paperback collecting ROBIN #148-153. Written by Adam Beechen and drawn by Freddie Williams II and Karl Kerschl, these issues have won some praise in comics review circles in recent months. It’s not a series I’ve been keeping up on, but this trade might be my chance to sample the new direction.

On the other hand, I already know NIGHTWING: BROTHERS IN BLOOD is a trade paperback I don’t need to add to my collection. Bruce Jones’ first two or three issues were bad enough, thanks.

ALL STAR SUPERMAN Volume 1 is a new hardcover collecting the first six issues of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s current series. It’ll retail for just $20. Here’s a title that would be a gimme for ABSOLUTE status if the creative team hangs around for a full twelve issues. I wonder if Quitely’s pencil art would work as well blown up to a larger size?

I should mention that most of the books I’ve mentioned here from DC are not actually shipping in February. Most are advance solicited for March and April. Check your local listings for details.

ACTION COMICS #847 has a 3-D section from Adam Kubert and Ray Zone. That’s cool enough for me to break format for a moment to mention. OK, back to the collections:

I’ve only picked up one of DC’s SHOWCASE books so far. That’s HOUSE OF MYSTERY Volume 1, collecting the horror series of the 70s, featuring art from the likes of Sergio Aragones, Alex Toth, Neal Adams, and more. Come March, we’ll have a second volume to throw onto the bookshelf, collecting issues #195-211. Again, it’s only $17 for 552 pages of black and white story. Very nice.

Finally, THE BOYS gets its first trade paperback at the end of March for issues #1-6. I know it’s had a rocky start in many eyes, but the last couple of issues have really started to move the story forward. It’s more than just the shock value. I’m not saying the criticisms against the book aren’t valid, as I’ve agreed with them on more than one occasion. I just think we’ll be able to tell with the sixth issue if Garth Ennis has a solid direction for this series, or if it’s just a case of monthly pokes at the world of superheroes, with beautiful art by Darick Robertson. Stay tunes. This first trade will run you $15.

Next week, I’ll try to work my way through Dark Horse, Image, and the rest of the catalog. There’s lots of interesting stuff in there, including plenty of high profile monthly titles I didn’t have time to mention here today. Pick up your own copy of PREVIEWS, play along with this column, and pre-order what looks good to you. It’ll make everyone a little happier.

Tonight’s podcast will feature the second part of my interview with Chris Eliopoulos, focusing now on his lettering, Marvel policies, and a random assortment of questions wildly off the topic of comics.

The Pipeline Podcast returns tonight with the second part of my interview with Chris Eliopoulos. We have more FRANKLIN RICHARDS to discuss, as well as a lot of lettering chit chat.

Be my friend? This offer is only good if you’re an actual person, not a comic book character or business. Thanks!

My blog, Various and Sundry is still updating daily, and the Nintendo Wii is a big topic of interest.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 700 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They’re sorted chronologically.

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