Well, I didn't see that coming. . .
Criticizing WIZARD is hardly a new pursuit on the internet. I tried my best last week to keep my column more in line with how I'd change things rather than just what I'd change. If you offer suggestions, you can move the conversation along, right? And while I might have spilled a drip or two of venom out along the way, I think I remained rational.
But my e-mail box hasn't stopped receiving comments from those who have similar frustrations with WIZARD. By the end of the week, I came to realize that people really do want to like WIZARD, but haven't been given the chance to lately. An ingrained culture has set in over there that just makes it impossible to enact the radical changes the magazine needs to clean up its image. Combine that, I'm sure, with the usual battles between marketing/sales and editorial, and you have a nightmare scenario.
I'm not sure WIZARD can be saved. Good luck to the people inside trying whatever incremental things they can to make the magazine respectable, but I'm beginning to think it's just a lost cause. Time for us all to move on.
Of course, nothing I'm saying here is all that new, either. Magazine discussions in the comics world have been an on-again/off-again topic of debated for as many years as I've been a part of fandom. (I last discussed it in detail in August 1999.) It comes in waves, doesn't it? When I first started reading comics, we had THE COMICS READER and COMICS SCENE and COMICS INTERVIEW. WIZARD started just before the boom hit. The boom gave us ARENA and HERO ILLUSTRATED. When the bust happened, we were left with WIZARD and THE COMICS JOURNAL, which is as much an institution in comics as it is a magazine. So is COMICS BUYER'S GUIDE, which has been around even longer, but also recently shifted formats and frequency to keep up with the market.
Nobody challenged WIZARD for a long time. Not too many years ago, a few attempts sprung up. I was even invited to be a part of one or two of them. I did work that saw print for COMIC SPOTLIGHT magazine, a comic book-sized magazine that only lasted three or four issues, if that. Another one failed to get off the ground at all. A third shifted focus before going to print and didn't make it past issue #4.
The only successful magazines left in the comics world are those that TwoMorrows puts out. ALTER EGO, THE KIRBY COLLECTOR, DRAW, WRITE NOW, BACK ISSUE, and now ROUGH STUFF cater to specific niche audiences. They have strong production values and lots of great articles along strongly focused topics. They're excellent magazines, all, but none have the breakout potential to scare WIZARD into any sort of action.
We're lacking that general interest comics magazine to occupy the area between WIZARD and THE COMICS JOURNAL. It's the one that doesn't take itself entirely too seriously, but doesn't embarrass its readers. It's the one that understands the reality of the modern printing world (see last week's discussion of web versus print) and can adapt quickly to it. It's a pipe dream in the mind of many, lacking a Mark Alessi type with deep pockets to finance it
That's a shame.
In the meantime, the rascals over at iFanboy started a campaign to have me installed as WIZARD editor-in-chief. Or maybe I was running for election to the position. Or maybe I was fighting a war to get that job. I don't know, but it was a little bit of fun for the week. I even got my own banner out of it:
Just to reiterate: I was not behind the campaign. I did not start the campaign. But I did find it funny enough to play along with the gag. And, hey, I'd entertain phone calls. You know how it is amongst most comics professionals -- they start as computer programmers until they hit 30 and run screaming from UNIX boxes. Maybe I'm the next one. Do I need to grow a beard to fit into that stereotype, too, I wonder?
All of the discussions on the WIZARD message board and The Engine message board and in my own e-mail led me to some more thoughts on the matter.
For starters, the war within WIZARD seems to be between the direct market and the newsstand. So many of the changes in the magazine are done with a broader audience in mind. The Hollywood starlets show up on the cover to give the magazine a better chance on a newsstand packed with FHM, MAXIM, etc. Even the recent format change might have been done to make the magazine easier to deal with advertising and more comparable to other major magazines.
But that same war is what will kill WIZARD. Catering to the newsstand alienates the direct market. Catering to the direct market alienates the newsstand. Where's the middle ground? It doesn't really exist. You can be ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY if you like, but EW already exists. Ditto MAXIM and all the rest. Aiming for those goals means losing the base. Sure, that's worth it if you can truly bring in a wider audience with the new format, but I don't see that happening yet, and I don't think it can be done. WIZARD is too late to the game. All the comic book movies and science fiction/fantasy shows already have their own magazines, or are on the covers of mainstream magazines already. WIZARD doesn't have anything new to add to that mix.
It's my opinion today that WIZARD needs to retrench. It's OK to placate the newsstands in small ways. The page size is fine. Having Hollywood starlets on the cover for the newsstand market is fine, since it's just cover shine, and not indicative of content. A quick example: The British PRACTICAL WEB DESIGN magazine features a comely (though not gratuitously sexy) female model on every cover,usually with a laptop. That doesn't mean that she's interviewed on the inside. No, the magazine is still devoted to issues of web design, but it uses a little extra eye candy to get your attention. The model may show up as set dressing around an article about Web 2.0 or community gathering or AJAX. But she's not interviewed for her opinion on things she doesn't know anything about. The magazine doesn't serve the cover. Its own editors admit that the models are just there to dress things up a bit. In that context, throwing up Jessica Alba in costume is fine. Don't waste page space on a vapid interview with her that's put together by the publicity department and filled with clichéd stock responses to the same old ten comic book questions every Hollywood actress is asked when starring in a comic book movie.
Don't let the newsstand dictate your content, or else you're rapidly made redundant. Be a strong comics magazine. You don't have to adjust your focus all that much to include better interviews with comic artists and writers. You don't need to analyze storylines in literary ways, but you do need to stop insulting your audience's intelligence.
And you may not even need to fire the whole staff to get the job done. Just redirect them.
In short, there is a WIZARD WAR going on, but it has nothing to do with me. It's about the newsstand versus the direct market. Wizard needs to be asking itself: Whose Side Are We On?
For more of this discussion check out the podcasting section of this column a little further down the page.
MORE PREVIEWS FOR FEBRUARY 2007
I covered Marvel and DC in last week's column, leaving me with, well, the rest of the catalog for this week. If the thought of reading all of this makes your eyes glaze over, might I recommend the audio version? The monthly Pipeline PREVIEWS Podcast was posted over the weekend, with Jamie Tarquini and I spending 50 minutes hashing through the catalog and running down a wide variety of interesting titles. While these two columns are exhausting, the podcast is even more exhaustive, as we can cover a lot more without my typing fingers getting too tired.
Dark Horse starts of the catalog with EMPOWERED, the new original graphic novel from Adam Warren. It's 248 black and white pages for just $15, and it looks beautiful. If you liked LIVEWIRES -- and I know I did -- I think you'll see something to like in this "superhero lampoon" story. It's printed directly off of Warren's pencils, straight down to the penciled hand lettering. Looks great.
Image takes over publishing duties from Kyle Baker so that he can finish and release NAT TURNER BOOK 2: REVOLUTION. This original trade paperback will run 94 black and white pages to conclude the story Baker started a couple of years ago in single issue format. The art looks great, and having a conclusion to the story is exciting. It's ten dollars for this book, but the first one is also still available through Image. I can't imagine that there wouldn't be a collected edition putting it all under one cover out there eventually. I'll guess Summer 2007 for that. It would be an easy sale at the San Diego Comic Con, wouldn't it? Baker is a regular there.
If you've missed Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba's CASANOVA, shame on you. But it's not too late. While not a trade paperback, Image is offering up copies of the first seven issues of the series for just $10. You'll save a bunch of money and get the entire story to date all at once.
Platinum Studios is not just publishing comics now through Image. No, they even have their own section with their own page design. Not surprisingly at all, the page design incorporates rolls of film into the borders. Platinum is, after all, all about gathering intellectual property for Hollywood. They have two books this month. Check out pages 164 and 165 for all the details. Hey, it's just good to see them printing comics at last.
This write-up is going too quickly, isn't it? Like I said, listen to the podcast. There's a lot more books covered in there.
A publisher named Abrams tickles my funny bone with their new line of MANGA SHAKESPEARE graphic novels. It's just what you'd expect it to be with a title like that. The first two releases are for HAMLET and ROMEO AND JULIET, each 208 pages for $10. That's the power of public domain stories, folks -- you can turn them into anything without paying royalties. It does make me wonder about something, though. I've talked here about all the sequels done by creators for the WIZARD OF OZ and ALICE IN WONDERLAND and miscellaneous fairy tales. But why doesn't anyone ever do that for Shakespeare? There are no ROMEO AND JULIET sequels. There are no prequel stories in bigfoot style. It's always a straight ahead adaptation, or a translation of setting. Why can't Hamlet meet a Merry Wife of Windsor or something? Is that just too geeky? Is Shakespeare just not as familiar as OZ, so can't be properly mined for material?
Where is the comics version of ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD?
Cinebook has done a great job in translating Euro-comics into English and presenting them here in North America. I'm most excited this month for MELUSINE: HOCUS POCUS, a new 48 page trade for $10. Melusine is a teenaged witch, basically, who gets in trouble.
Last year, I picked up a French language edition of a MELUSINE album to read. My bare bones French was good enough to pick up a lot of the jokes in the book, and I had a great time with it. When learning a new language via foreign comics, pick ones aimed at a younger audience and not melodramatic. The language tends to be simpler.
The cartooning is excellent, with color that's bright and attractive. It's a good looking book, and worth a ten spot if you're looking for something new and fun. In fact, here's part of the solicitation text for you:
". . .the charming little witch is working as a nanny in a castle in Transylvania. The lady of the house is a very bad-tempered phantom, her husband is quite a cool vampire, and the footman is a sort of Frankenstein with an exceptionally limited intellect. In short, nothing out of the ordinary."
I love it already. More info (in French, but with lots of scans) can be found at this fan site. And the original publisher's web page for the book -- the seventh in the series, actually -- has a couple of sample pages.
IDW is doing something different with Beau Smith and Eduardo Barreto's COBB mini-series. The three-parter is being collected in February, but not as a standard trade paperback. No, this one is arriving as an oversized comics magazine formatted thing. Measuring 8-1/2 by 11 inches, the book contains all three issues, plus an additional few pages of background notes, sketches, etc. It's ten bucks for the whole package, or about two bucks cheaper than the original issues. It's worth giving a chance for that alone. The story, itself, is a fun action romp centered on government agents, the Russian mafia, a kidnapping, some terrorists, and a whole lot more. Beau Smith and Eduardo Barretto packed it all in there.
Pure Imagination Publishing is publishing a good chunk of Alex Toth's comics artwork from the early 1950s. They say there's 400 pages of stuff from 1952-1954 out there, and they aim to bring all of it together in three trades. The first, ALEX TOTH: THE EDGE OF GENIUS Volume 1 is a standard size trade paperback running 160 black and white pages for $25. Greg Theakston provides an overview of the various genre stories you'll see inside.
Villard Books is publishing the complete ELK'S RUN series as one graphic novel. It's $20 for the complete 208 page story, in full color. The book was an internet talking point for a little while there, before a few bad experiences with different publishers took it out of the spotlight. I remember reading and enjoying the first issue, but I understand the story took a couple of more twists and turns after that. Now, at long last, the whole thing is available in one easy book, with the original three issues and 100 pages of new stuff, including the conclusion to the story. Sounds good to me.
But, then, when it comes to comics, my eyes are always bigger than my stomach.
How's that for a mixed metaphor?
As always, I highly recommend picking up a copy of PREVIEWS for yourself. I can't cover it all there, and there's bound to be something else in there that will excite you. Pre-order what you like so you'll be guaranteed to get it.
BUSY PODCASTING DAYS
To sum it all up:
The monthly Pipeline PREVIEWS Podcast went up on Sunday night, wherein Jamie Tarquini and I assess the February 2007 scene for new comics. That one ran about 50 minutes, but it is a far more detailed look than the text columns can provide.
Tonight, as usual, will be the weekly Pipeline Podcast with a look at the ten most interesting releases of the new week -- December 13, 2006 in this case.
And in the next day or two, I'll be posting a special one-off podcast I did with Ron Richards of the iFanboy podcast. (They'll have it first in their feeds, and may already have it there, if you're subscribed. Update: It's now up.) In it, we discuss the whole WIZARD situation, the fall-out from last week's column, and his semi-insane "I'm With Augie" banner. We giggle like little school kids through most of it.
Hey, at least it's all fun! Next week, Pipeline Commentary and Review will return with something new. The week after is Christmas week and I'll be following up my recent letterhacking column from a couple of weeks ago.
My blog, Various and Sundry is still updating daily. For all your non-comics talk needs, that's the place to be. I tend to focus a lot on odd web stories, Apple, Nintendo, and TV shows, though.
More than 700 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.