It's not an easy time for the publishing world. Magazines, newspapers and major book chains are all getting kicked in the teeth by the international economic crisis - as is the comics industry. So it's odd to find a comics-focused magazine that's going under not because of financial failure, but because of business success.
But that's exactly the fate of "Comic Foundry," whose founder Tim Leong is having to discontinue the magazine because his burgeoning career no longer allows him the time to publish it. CBR News caught up with New York City's Leong and his senior editor, Portland's Laura Hudson, for a post-mortem on the acclaimed but short-lived comics lifestyle magazine.
"Comic Foundry" started publishing in September 2007, and released five quarterly issues; the final edition shipped last Wednesday. The magazine grew out of the "Comic Foundry" the website, which Leong started in 2005. In its original iteration, "Comic Foundry" was intended as an educational resource for aspiring comics creators. It featured a forum, a job board, and weekly articles and interviews. The articles were only intended to boost traffic - but they soon turned into the site's biggest draw, necessitating some changes.
"After a year or so, we repurposed the site to be more of an online magazine, and scrapped the educational element," Leong told CBR. "We did that for eight months until we decided it was time to take 'Comic Foundry' to print."
Leong and his staff of contributors saw a demographic of comics readers who weren't being served by the two leading industry magazines. Wizard covers mainstream superheroes, and The Comics Journal caters to indie and small press aficionados - so what about the people in the middle? People like Leong himself?
"I didn't just read 'Batman' - I read indie books and manga too," Leong said. "I basically wanted to create a magazine I'd be excited to read," something he describes as Entertainment Weekly-meets-Wired, but about comics.
Leong also felt like there was a hole in comics coverage itself, and designed "Comic Foundry" to fill it. "We didn't just want to talk about what was going on in the books," Leong said. "We also focused on how comics affect our everyday lives - through fashion, dating, drinking, decoration, etc. It might seem like a stretch, but it worked."
Indeed, "Comic Foundry" ended up with 2008 Eisner Award nomination for Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism, alongside established industry news sources like The Comics Journal and The Comics Reporter.
What ended up doing the magazine in was a piece of good news - Leong's promotion to Design Director of men's lifestyle magazine Complex. The promotion set "Comic Foundry", Leong's labor of love, against the career he'd been building for the last decade. "My work responsibilities were just too great for me to be able to spend significant amounts of time elsewhere," Leong said. "My philosophy is that if it's worth doing, it's worth doing well. And I couldn't live with the idea of putting out an issue without [having] 100 percent attention and concentration behind it."
"Comic Foundry's" senior editor Laura Hudson agrees with Leong's decision to discontinue publishing. "I've had people ask me if I'm upset with Tim for leaving CF," she told CBR. "But there's really nothing else that he could do given his position. He works ludicrous hours for his day job before CF even comes into the picture, and he was sleeping two or three hours a night for way too long."
Leong is aware that he and Hudson may be getting out while the getting's good. "Financially, we were doing well... we were in the black every issue, and our circulation went up every issue," he said.
But with the magazine business - and the comics direct market - in the state they are, that was unlikely to last.
"I'm sure even if we did everything right, sales, subscriptions and advertising would be down - a magazine's three core sources of revenue," Leong said. Plus, he points out, paper costs have risen and the price of shipping is a factor - as is Diamond Comic Distributors' recently instituted time limit on periodical orders, by which retailers now have only a 60-day window after each new issue is released to order or reorder it. "That might sound like a lot, but when your magazine is a quarterly publication, you need all the time you can get."
The end of "Comic Foundry" may be, as Leong and Hudson say, a necessary decision. But that doesn't mean they're happy about it. "I'm incredibly sad to see CF go," Leong said. "I've had a pretty great life that's been rife with a lot of success, and CF folding just makes me feel like a giant failure. I feel like I've let down our amazing readers, the dedicated contributors and, in a way, the industry."
Hudson seems to feel the same way. "There was a reason that Tim and I poured so much of our lives into 'Comic Foundry,'" she said. "And it was because it really was the magazine we'd always wanted. It wasn't out there, so we made it."
She's also unhappy about the timing. "We were really only [now] hitting our stride and building a readership, and I think we could have done a lot more if we'd had the resources and time to keep it going," Hudson said.
Still, Tim Leong doesn't regret his choice to put "Comic Foundry" to bed. "I feel quite horrible about it," Leong said, "and it's a sucky decision. But at the end of the day I stand by it."