Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Adios, Wizard: The slow fade of the comics magazine

PhotobucketI love comic books and have since age 11 or so, but if there's anything I love almost as much as reading comics it's reading about comics. The comic-focused magazine is a admittedly bit of a niche market, and this week we saw the death of what was once the field's heavy hitter, Wizard magazine.

Wizard was bloody huge in the 1990s, a comics magazine that took advantage of that whole speculator boom to become about as big as any comics mag ever did. They were glossy and enthusiastic but often juvenile, pandered shamelessly to what was hot and rarely engaged in any serious criticism, but if you read comics for a while there it was pretty much impossible not to give them a read, even if you shook your fist at how idiotic the mag could be. I often felt vaguely unclean reading Wizard. But then amidst the dross you'd occasionally find some sterling pieces; I still remember my old small-press bud Troy Hickman getting a nice shout in there. Wizard lost ground to the Internet as a source for breaking news and their over-reliance on price guides and comics as investment doomed them -- the last time I picked up a Wizard a few years ago I was stunned how small it was. It was a mercy killing.

PhotobucketFortunately, the excellent TwoMorrows publications are still turning out their magazines Back Issue and Alter Ego which focus more narrowly on comics' rich history -- I absolutely love Back Issue, which sticks entirely to comics of the 1970s and 1980s with exhaustive articles on things like Daredevil's relationship with Black Widow or the Japanese Spider-Man TV show. It's basically in spirit a fanzine done up nice and fancy but Back Issue is such a rewarding read every month or two that it pretty much fills my comics 'zine needs. TwoMorrows is smart, too, how their publications basically avoid breaking news, focusing on lengthy homages and analysis of days gone by.

PhotobucketThere have been a lot of comics mags over the years. One of my all-time favorites was the old Amazing Heroes which during the 1980s was like a more mature, thoughtful Wizard, combining solid journalism with great historical pieces, mixing coverage of both superheroes and then-"alternative" comics skillfully. I picked up a ton of these on eBay about 10 years back and was sorry to have to leave many of them behind when we moved to New Zealand. You can still read an Amazing Heroes about American Flagg and Secret Wars II from 1985 and enjoy it if you're a big enough comics geek. I also loved the old weekly newspaper Comics Buyer's Guide, which I subscribed to for years. It started in 1971 and it's still going as a monthly magazine, albeit probably struggling -- but I admit I haven't really read it in a while either, as the last time I looked it seems geared at an older version of the Wizard fan, and is a bit of a shadow of its old self.

PhotobucketAnd then there's the Comics Journal, which I've always had a complex relationship with. At its peak it's the most vital, insightful mag ever done about comics. Fantagraphics is a priceless company in the comics industry, both for its championing of artists like the Hernandez brothers, Daniel Clowes and Peter Bagge and for its fantastic reprinting of classic comics and comics strips. But the Journal often was a bit schizophrenic for me, often hugely entertaining but sometimes a bit too sneering and mean-spirited for me. I love both Spider-Man and Clowes, and a fan like me sometimes felt excluded by their tone. The unreadably pretentious essays by Kenneth Smith sum up what turned me off about the Journal; space-wasters geared at showing how intellectual the mag could be. I usually cherry-picked the Journal, picking up issues only with subjects that particularly interested me, and they did depth like nobody else could. A big Comics Journal interview remains the definitive statement of any comics creator's work. Sadly the 'print' Comics Journal has more or less died too, down to semiannual publication -- it's been a year and a half since #300 came out, but Fantagraphics promises a gigantic 600-page #301 is coming soon. I'll definitely pick that up just to see what they come up with, as I do love a good comics magazine read.

It's a shame, though, that the glory days of the comic-book magazine seem to be over. I doubt any publication will come along to equal Wizard's mainstream success, even though I won't particularly miss the magazine myself.


  1. Yup, if it weren't for Jim McLauchlin and that four page spread, I might never have had the chance to do the stuff I've done. So I'll always have a soft spot for that mag...

  2. I too had a complex relation with the Journal. Always liked Amazing Heroes, tho. And maybe because it always corresponded with the deification of all things slick that led to the comic book crash, always HATED Wizard