24 January 2011

Wizard Magazine July 1991-January 2011

For nearly 20 years, Wizard has been "the guide to comics."  It wasn't the first print publication dedicated to the medium, but it was the one that defined readership for an entire generation.  To best appreciate Wizard, you have to do some time traveling to a period before the proliferation of PCs and Internet access in every home.  I grew up in a small town.  I've already shared about shopping at The Great Escape, and while it's true that most of my comic books were purchased there, in the early going most of my pedestrian selections were made from the meager offerings at convenience stores in our town.  Growing up, I was the only kid on my street I knew who read comic books.  Nor did I have any living relatives who were into them (my uncle shared my taste, but had passed away before I was born; I did inherit a few of his old issues, which I still have).

Alan Moore publicity photo
It was Wizard that educated me about comic books.  I could find a copy each month amongst the magazines on sale at Kroger, Walmart or one gas station or another.  Through its pages I learned the back stories to comic book characters and titles that I've still never read.  I was taught about the creators past and present responsible for the stories that captivated me.  Alan Moore will forever be defined in my mind by the publicity photograph that appeared without fail in each month's ranked list of the top ten writers.  I took vicarious delight in the annual theft of Jim Lee's bathrobe at Comic Con.  I learned about how the writers and artists of the Golden Age had been done wrong by the publishers.  Wizard instructed me in proper comic book jargon (I balk at the generic use of the term, "graphic novel" being applied to any comic book publication with an ISBN).  In short, it was my text book to the medium.

Wizard also provided one of the most meaningful elements to my time spent as an active comic book buyer and reader: it facilitated a sense of community.  Its letters column--in those days, brilliantly edited by Jim McLaughlin--compiled everything from fanboy praise to fanboy angst, all addressed with aplomb.  A stark-raving tirade would be countered with defusing humor; a sincere request would warrant an informative answer.  Creators would be directly asked questions, where applicable and if necessary.  Wizard was the high priest through whom we sinners could reach the gods.  We also got a sense of how many people out there shared our hobby.  You can feel awfully alone and even self-conscious about yourself if you're the only person you know with a particular enthusiasm, and Wizard was there to provide a supplementary reaffirmation that while we may not know anyone else in our neighborhood with a longbox full of Detective Comics back issues, we were not alone.

I could point to various reasons why I quit reading Wizard, and perhaps if enough of us had shared those reasons they could have better adapted to the times.  Suffice it to say that I simply reached a point where I didn't really enjoy comics anymore.  Ongoing crossover superhero stories became not only expensive, but uninteresting to me.  Looking back, I should have simply switched and tried other titles.  I could have been reading Bone when it was still an active book.  I can't say now why I felt the need to walk away from the industry so completely, but when I did, Wizard went with it.  By 2000, I'd gone to three successive Wizard World Chicago conventions.  I'd gotten my fill of community, and was supplementing it nicely with nascent forays into the Internet.

Wizard #70
I can't say why Wizard was so slow to embrace an online forum.  Maybe they doubted that it was relevant, or perhaps they didn't understand its potential.  It seems to me that there's still a place in the world for a periodical featuring interviews with comic book creators and thoughtful criticism of the works in print.  Unfortunately, word of mouth the last several years has been that Wizard--along with the rest of the industry--has become little more than a mouthpiece for Hollywood.  The microcosm of this relationship is still Comic Con San Diego, where the annual event has become a show room for forthcoming geek-centric movie properties; comic books are now merely one element in the synergy-minded industry.  Who needs a product catalog, when pictures of merchandise can be seen on the websites of any number of vendors?

Still, I cannot look back on my time as an active comic book reader and imagine it without Wizard.  I relished each issue, learning tidbits about characters real and imagined.  Effective immediately, Wizard has ceased to offer a print publication and is going to a digital-only format.  I sincerely wish them well with the new format, and hope that the new direction includes some of the charm and magic that once captivated me.  If the comic book industry is to survive, it needs the adolescents of this generation to be dazzled and informed and I still believe that Wizard is best suited to direct those efforts.  It would be a shame for them to fail.

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