A Tale of Two Wizards

Our first ever Wizard Halloween party. Best of times.

I haven’t used this blog in over a year and a half but the reaction to the cancellation of Wizard and ToyFare made me want to write something, somewhere, because having been there before day 1 makes this last day very meaningful for me.

From what I’ve read online so far, there’s too much celebration of the downfall of the “upstairs” management, and not enough loving eulogies recalling the good times we had “downstairs” in editorial. It IS understandable though. As Wizard got really big and successful, people “upstairs” thought everyone should suck their assholes because their dicks were too good for ‘em. Maybe that plan works at Halliburton, but the world of comics is a small place where everyone knows each other, loves what they’re working on, and likes to keep it loose. So you can imagine management’s annoyance that their bungholes remained unsucked. Wizard began as a silly fun-time friend and ended as an adversarial bully.

Before I share my fond memories, I gotta get something off my chest and for that you need to know my place in the Wizard family. I was friends with Pat McCallum (who would become editor-in-chief, more on him later) and through him I knew Gareb Shamus back when there was only the Wizard of Cards and Comics store in Nanuet, New York. When the Shamus clan decided to launch the magazine, Pat created content and recommended me to help out. I found myself making the 2-hour drive from college at SUNY Albany every weekend to do everything from writing, updating the price guide, designing pages and antagonizing Canadians in the letters column. It such a blast, especially compared to learning Political Science, that I left college and joined full time. I’d work there for the next 13 years.

While Pat grew to be the editor-in-chief, I grew to manage production and printing, but eventually got jealous and moved back to editorial. I was the guy who handled everything the core Wizard staff couldn’t focus on. All the one-shots, most of the new magazine launches (from the great ToyFare and Anime Insider to the unfortunate Sci-Fi Invasion and InPower). I was gleefully spewing enough creative juices to put an orchard out of business. You don’t know how satisfying it was to look back and know my reading comics during class in elementary school was actually prepping me to get paid for having fun.

So now you’re up to speed when I say that I owe my coworkers an apology. Having been there from the embryo stage, I felt a very close connection to the place and thought the people hired years later didn’t have the same claim. I acted Holier-Than-Thou as casually as I drew breath (Plus, I hadn’t yet started taking wonderful Paxil for my social anxiety disorder). Those that I were friends with found me difficult at times. Those I weren’t friends with found me a full-time douchebag who liked causing problems. I need to finally get off my chest that I’m sorry for the douchebaggery and wish I could do it all over again.

So let’s review my fondest memories, bulleted for your pleasure.

1. Jim McLauchlin’s Out-Of-Context Quote File: So many bizarre sentences innocently came out of our mouths that Jim had to record them. He eventually stopped at 75 pages and I still read it for a laugh. Some classics: “I saw a 10-inch Punisher.” – Phil Colligan on action figures; “He had a colon up in his nut graph, which is great.” – Joe Yanarella on punctuation use; “I don’t have a problem with it. I have a problem that you don’t have a problem with it.” – Fred Pierce on logic; “Octobrains? Oof, you’d better have rockets.” – Steve Blackwell on who-knows-what.

2. The Booger at The Urinal: Someone was gross enough to pick their nose while using the urinal, and a painter was lazy enough to just paint right over it. So, we got to stare at that thing for years. Yummy!

3. Anthony Daniels’ Face: Matt Senreich, who was also my housemate at the time, and I had breakfast with Anthony Daniels. Matt complained about my cats’ automatic litterbox, and I explained that I didn’t clean it before it got full of poo and jammed. The face c-3po made is a fond memory.

4. The Alex Ross Special: Alex Ross is as nice and humble as he is talented, and it was such a joy to work with him on his Wizard special. The highlight was when he shipped us a large box stuffed with his sketches, designs, early work, rough layouts and more for us to pick through for various parts of the book. I was like a kid at a candy store and years later I saw much of it on sale for thousands of dollars each. I wonder what that whole box was worth.

5. The Spider-Man Photo Shoot: In a Spider-Man special we had a photo feature of Spider-Man showing us around Marvel’s Manhattan. So we hired the official guy who Marvel uses for Spider-Man events and hit the city. This guy trained at Juliards and was totally into character, so wherever we went, cars honked, people shouted at us and kids went apeshit. There was a wedding party, tuxes and gowns and all, taking photos in front of the flatiron building — they freaked out when we turned the corner and he ended up in their wedding album. Awesome.

6. The Games: Thank god for InQuest magazine. Those guys had to play games as research for the mag and I just had to join ‘em: Magic tournaments during lunch every day, and often huge chaos games in the conference room through the night; Month-long Diplomacy games with one move a week and secret meetings every day; So many Magic ripoffs we played and laughed at. Thanks to them I’d spend more than 4 grand on my Magic collection, which I eventually sold and bought a 65-inch TV with. Whee!

7. Halo: Speaking of games, Pat McCallum had a TV and an xbox in his office. When Halo came out we’d play it every day after work. Every day. For like a year. It was the origin of the phrase “I hate you in life,” for when you were killing someone so often in the game that they just fucking hated you. Best game ever.

8. Killing Time In the Weekly Meeting: Every Thursday morning, all the editors and other department heads had a meeting, with Gareb at the head, to review things. It was agonizing because there were a few people there who were terrible, just terrible at everything, but could do no wrong because they were the yes-men to the right people. So you’d never know what asinine, disruptive comment they might make about your update that could end up ruining your day. So we found ways to keep it fun. We editorial types all sat at the far and of the table, so we’d secretly keep tabs on how many times certain people told Gareb he was right, or how many times a certain consultant would start a very authoritative-sounding thought, but pause mid-way expecting someone else who actually knew what’s what to finish it for him (I think his record was 5 times in one meeting). One day a dummy was thrown off the roof past the conference room window, timed exactly so that everyone saw it and freaked the fuck out. Shit that was good.

9. Hugging Stan Lee: Okay this happened after I left Wizard to work at Robot Chicken, but it kinda counts. We had him come in to record dialogue for the show and I told him I wanted to thank him, since my whole life unfolded because of his work at Marvel. I read Marvel comics as a kid, became close friends with fellow comics fans as a teenager, one of whom got me onboard Wizard, where connections made Robot Chicken happen, so I moved to LA where I met my wife. He then smiled and said “Well then, can I have twenty bucks?!” I tried to give him a twenty but he was kidding and, with permission, I hugged the guy. One of the nicest men on Earth, I wish we were related.

10. My Proudest Moment: A few weeks after 9/11, I volunteered to work the overnight shift at a National Guard relief station downtown. Like a MASH cafeteria, we served hot food to relief workers, soldiers and cops in a big green tent. I poked around during a lull and went to check out a row of teddy bears strung across a wall. They were kids’ teddy bears mailed in to the workers with crayon-written notes like “This is my teddy bear he makes me feel safe at night I hope he makes you feel better.” Well, I almost lost my shit reading that and did a fast 180 to clean up the tables. I straightened up a few magazines on one table — two copies of Time and… a Wizard. To think that something we made was something some of those folks wanted to flip through for a moment of escapism… well, it’s a singular memory that outshines anything that was ever bad about that job.

That’s about it. I know there won’t be much more chatter online about Wizard’s cancellation since it’s already been a couple of days, but I think it would be nice if anyone who’s saying “good riddance” has gotten it out of their system. Let’s go out raising a glass to a great magazine and to a bunch of hard-working guys who made it happen.

17 responses to “A Tale of Two Wizards

  1. Hey Doug,

    This was a great read. Loved to hear about your fond memories and apologies for any perceived douchebaggery. It’s fascinating to see how intertwined work and play can change your life.

    -Nic

  2. As one of the later hires, I never found you douchey. I thought of you as one of the guys who went out of their way to include the new guys in on the fun. Novemberfest was open to all. In fact, it was some of the later-later hires who acted a bit Holier-Than-Thou.

  3. As one who work with you and under you, sometime doing the impossible that you and pat came up with. I am glad I was there helping you create something that meant alot to a huge audience. As for the douchebaggery, we all had our moments but I would not change a thing.

  4. I came to Wizard in 97. Eventually I ended up in your late position of production. As a later hire who worked with you & Pat, I gotta say you weren’t douchey at all. At least not to me. I often enjoyed your response of “good morning”, no matter the time of day it was, rather humorous.

    I think it’s great you shared this with everyone. It’s fun to go back & reminisce about our time there. It holds a lot of great memories for me.

  5. To quote one of my oldest friends (you), 2 things:

    1) We really did have a blast. It was a high pressure situation and environment, but aside from the occasional outburst, all that pressure was focused with laser-like intensity into making the best products and editorial environment we could. We should all be proud of what we accomplished. When I say ‘we’ it’s the downstairs family we. (We let a few of those pesky 2nd floor people into the family but they had to keep it a secret. Like you up there, Meghan. ;) ) The good memories and accomplishments far outweigh any bad. The place was a magnet for comedy, too. (The controller before Ed being labeled “Snack Tray Ass” for example.) There was so much stuff to laugh at from someone who shall remain nameless taking pizza into the bathroom stall to Ex-Lax brownies being served when there are limited places to poop, there was always laughter. I owe a lot to Wizard, not the least of which is the privilege of being able to work with some of the most talented and passionate people I could ever hope to meet. I have made many lifelong friendships through that place. I was extremely fortunate to have been able to work in that environment for 15 years.

    2) Apology accepted. ;) C’mon. Someone had to do it.
    But seriously, we were all difficult from time to time, Doug. The reason for most fireworks was usually because people really cared about what they were doing but saw things from a slightly different perspective. The goals were the same among us Editorial types—to make the best product we could. To this day, most of the team is more like a fraternity than former co-workers. We all share a common history that binds us. Who else but a former Wizard staffer would get references to stuff like “Rock” & “Roll”, Blond Frankenstein , ‘I’m D-U-N done!’ or the Mad Shitter? In the immortal words of a former Direct Sales guy, “Yakabooooooo!”.

  6. Great post, Doug. I was a freelancer for Wizard, Toy Fare, et.al. for a number of years and have some fond memories. In fact, my fondest is writing for the “unfortunate” Sci Fi Invasion magazine! It was that mag that got me a press pass to go see a new Star Wars exhibit at the Smithsonian. In line for my creditials, I was right behind two reporters from the Washington Post and Newsweek. Then I get up there and say I’m with “Sci Fi Invasion.” It got some chuckles from the Mainstream Media. But I had the last laugh since that was where I got to interview Frank Oz and George Lucas! Thanks for that!

  7. Doug, many people don’t know that I owe my career at Wizard (and my eventual employment within the comic book industry) to you! I remember that my reference to obscure character actor Udo Kier during my interview sold me as your next copy editor for Wizard Specials. What geeks we are—and proudly so! I never, ever found you “douchey,” and I learned so much from you. I am proud to be your friend and thankful I’ve been there for some of the important moments in your life—getting the greenlight for “Robot Chicken,” driving to cross-country to move to LA, meeting and marrying Rebecca, the birth of your beautiful baby—and I hope to be there for more! Thanks for posting this. I’ll always remember Wizard for the good times.

  8. I’ll echo others and thank Doug for posting this. It’s easy to recall the negatives, but the positives shouldn’t be forgotten. Company-sanctioned scavenger hunts, inter-office foosball tournaments, the N64 wrestling league, halloween costume contests (Mike, I’ll still never forgive you for trumping my wheelchair-bound Captain Pike with your actual-foliage-sprouting Swamp Thing)…

    And Steve is dead-on with his comments about the team being more like a fraternity than former co-workers. Four years after leaving the company I still run fantasy football and baseball leagues which are primarily comprised of members of that fraternity. So although it’s something that will only be known or have been experienced by a relatively small group of people, perhaps Wizard’s greatest legacy is the bonds of lasting friendship it created.

  9. You were never a d-bag, dude, but I’m glad you find Paxil to your liking! I certainly had my moments.

    Remember when I flipped out on Steve over something random and Steve shouted right back and Pat had to come out of his office?

    Remember when Pat, Matt and Joe convinced me I’d greenlit a bobblehead price guide, and I called a big meeting to rant about it? When they fessed up, I remember you simply turning and walking out, possibly shaking your head.

    Remember when you tried to take us all out to dinner after a tough close, but the Italian restaurant was “closed,” and the one we ended up at was cash only, but you didn’t have any cash?

    Most of my fondest memories of Wizard involve you somehow, so thanks for keeping me around and shooting straight with me.

  10. I really don’t think “douchebaggery” is a word.

    Minus five points for spelling.

    Jim MncLauchlin

  11. Though I left before things had become really grim (from what I heard) and got bent over on the way out, I felt no joy on hearing the news.

    During the golden age of Wizard/InQuest/Toyfare it was a blast to work there and I feel lucky to have been part of it for eight-plus years. Living in the South these past seven years I’ve learned that working with intelligent, creative, or even literate people is not the natural order of things.

    Instead of a douche, I always thought of you as one of the major creative forces at Wizard Ent. Once you and others began leaving the writing was on the wall. So, in a way, the whole thing is your fault.

    Kinda like the time you let in the season-ending goal in the foosball finals. “Jesus On Parole” shoulda taken the title.

  12. Pingback: The death of Wizard and ToyFare, from the inside ReadWrite.US - Something For Everyone... - ReadWrite.US

  13. Your blog captures perfectly the atmosphere and fraternity-like environment that Wizard used to be. There were lots of young brilliant guys there doing what they enjoy, and getting paid for it. I’d name them all but would hate to offend anyone by forgetting to include them. Most of the editors (Pat and Jim for sure), some of the designers (Steve and others), and perhaps contrary to your article even some upstairs people fall into that category. The point is, the joy was contagious and was reflected in sales and in how the fans felt about the magazines and the company in general.

    It was not unlike the early days at other creative and successful companies from Pixar, Dreamworks and Lucas Films, to Marvel, Image and yes even Valiant Comics. I have great memories of company softball games, company picnics, foosball tournaments, Flag Football games (in NY and in Canada), Magic tournaments, the N64 Wrestling League, lots of convention adventures (what happens in Chicago, stays in Chicago… or Dallas, or Philly, or Boston, or Long Beach, or San Diego, etc), and even some of the ones you mention– scavenger hunts, halloween parties, etc. I do harbor some ill will toward whoever insisted I play with the worst foosball players in the company, so middle of the pack players could win the tourneys, but then in the Unlimited Tourneys I always seemed to choke anyway and come in second. (thanks in no small part to Mike Searle being really good)

    Most everyone at one time or another took their turn earning the label of Douchebag, but a lot of that depended on one’s perspective. I prefer not to dwell on the negative. And no, you were not accused, at least to my knowledge, of earning that label any more than anyone else… and much less than some who wore the label proudly.

    The title of your blog, A Tale of Two Wizards, to me wasn’t so much upstairs vs downstairs. That was always a (business vs creative) distinction that I thought was bad for the company from the beginning. Not everyone downstairs was all that creative, and not everyone upstairs was a corporate ass kisser. Personally I didn’t care for the separation and I always wanted to stay after and play whatever games were going on, but being married with kids (unlike most of the staff at the time) sometimes made that difficult. There were good and bad on both floors, trust me on that. To me the real “second” Wizard was the one that evolved from declining sales, bad decisions and desperation.

    In that Wizard, the innocence and the joy was gone. Replaced by people of questionable competence and ethics. Whatever “talent” that remained was discouraged so often that they soon had no enthusiasm for their work and it showed in the meeting rooms, in sales and even in the dwindling product and willing business partners. It is a natural evolution for a small company (especially in the magazine business today) to experience lows after a prolonged period of highs, and the staff inevitably grows up and turns over. This story happened to have more extreme lows than most.

    I’m not going to analyze the business and say where I think things went astray. That would be long column that I don’t wish to write. But I will say it is too bad that such a great place to work, no longer exists (at least not in the way I care to remember). I am happy to have worked there and to still have so many good friends from those days.

    Thanks for the blog.

  14. Doug, Darren and Steve:

    You guys made it a great place to be even when it was a hard place to work.

    I know my time there was a sprint compared to the marathons some of you ran but it really did change my life and I am glad I was able to be a part of it and work with some of the best people in any industry.

    No matter what anyone else says I will always be able to look back on my time at Wizard and say that I got to make out with Claudia Christian at Chicago one year (true story) so I call that a win.

    Hope you are all doing well!

  15. I have fond memories of the Wizard of Cards and Comics store.

  16. Having been lead to your blog through a random link, I’m glad I was able to read this and decided to comment on it, even though it’s over a year old.
    I have always love comics and I started reading Wizard around issue 8 or so, Toyfare from issue one, and I continued reading them(Hell, I even found them at the PX where I was posted in Iraq in 2008) until a few months before their cancellation; at that point I had become so disgusted with what had happened to both magazines that I just couldn’t read them anymore. Wizard felt like one huge soulless ad, TTT had become hit or miss for funny(mostly miss) and the new format of both sucked ass.

    When I was younger, I dreamed of being a Wizard staffer someday. I spent most of my teenage and early 20′s never missing an issue of my beloved Wizard and Toyfare. I felt like most of the people who worked at Wizard were, in an odd way, my friends, even the damn Bunny. They helped shaped my lingo, inspired my sense of humor, and gave me years and years of entertainment. Wizard was one big, slightly dysfunctional family that produced a labor of love every month.

    I never had an opportunity until now to personally express my appreciation and gratitude to one of those people who worked at Wizard and made an impact on my life, not to mention made me laugh my ass off for over a decade. And I’d like to extend that appreciation to all of those Wizard Entertainment staffers who commented on this thread, because they were part of it too.

    Thank you, Doug.

  17. You were totally a douche!! You big Q-Tip. :)

    Glad to hear you are doing better, cannot forget those marathon Magic Games in the Boardroom. Me dropping dark, almost purple beer on the white shag carpet.

    It’s shame how things have ended up. In a perfect world I would have liked to see the failure have happened much earlier to Gareb (now there’s a douche IMHO). Then Bi-Polar Pat, Douch-bag Douge, Silent Blackswell, Rockin’ Rocha (spelling) in Finance, Mr. McLAUGHLin, and too many more to name, or remember this late in life, could have run with it on their own. Because lets face it “management” acted as a Pharaoh riding a golden chariot pulled through success by YOU all (again IMHO).

    I was only on staff for a few years early on, doing “IT” stuff, mostly playing Doom after hours. I still remember showing up the job interview with Brenda in a suit, and I think it was Steve who hit me in the head with a Nerf football. The football in the hallway was not the thing I remember as much as is what Steve was wearing. Steve looked at me, eyebrows up to say “can I get that back”, wearing fuzzy bear slippers, a ripped T-Shirt, and what looked like pajama pants(I assume now that he was sleeping under his desk to get the issue to bed on time). Pretty clear I was over dressed for the interview.

    I remember having a staff lunch at a Sushi joint, conning Mark into eating a big blob of wasabi, by telling him it tasted sweet. He did his best exorcist impression, including the regurgitated liver, then proceeded to first call me every name in the book, then stopped speaking to me for two weeks. In my defense Pat told me to do it.

    I remember I got a two page spread, with my long hair and beard scruff, I looked like a degenerate. I think about the same time I did a blow in add with Dee Schneider, where we hung the library kid by his ankles, his change falling from his pockets. The tag line was something like, “pay your subscription or these two guys will show up to your house.”

    For the Wizard Alumni/Survivors, I hope you and yours are safe, healthy, and doing well. For the FanBoys and Girls out their that sat on the outside and never got to ride the Crazy train you missed out, and all that gooey stuff about you and yours as well.

    For me Wizard is a chapter in my life I look back on Fondly, even tell a few big fish stories about, as one of you lives out here in TX with me.

    Maybe someone like Buddy should write a book, interview us all, and make damn sure a certain family gets zero royalties. (Why am I so bitter? I need visit my shrink)

    Ciao All.
    Peace and Love, Peace and Love.

    Ben

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