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.