Since August of 1991, Wizard Magazine has been the Official Guide to Comics for hundreds of thousands of comic fans and collectors. For nearly ten years it has endured the ups and downs of the industry, provided a forum for comic publishers and creators alike, and tried to have fun along the way.
Currently, Wizard Magazine boasts about 400,000 copies sold per month, in 30 countries and five languages. However, its founder and chairman, Gareb Shamus, has taken a lot of criticism in recent days. Most notably when, in a speech made by none other than Frank Miller himself at this years Harvey Awards Ceremony, Wizard was singled out as a "tapeworm" of the industry.
Keith Giles sat down with Wizard's own Gareb Shamus to get his reaction to this and to talk about the magazine that everyone seems to have a strong opinion about.
Gareb Shamus: Well, it is my life, you know (laughs). Other than my wife and 2 kids, of course. I started out collecting cards and comics in my younger days and somehow I've actually made it a real business (through Wizard Magazine). My passion is my career, I'm very fortunate in that. I get to work in my passion. That's a very rare thing.
KG: What made you decide to start a magazine in the first place?
GS: When I was up at college, my mom would send me a stack of comics once a month. So even though I was caught up on my reading, I had no idea what was going on, who was working on what books. I had no idea what books were hot, because if you remember, things were really heating up in the late 80s. So I wanted to start a magazine because I figured there were a lot of people like myself.
KG: How has Wizard Magazine evolved since its humble beginnings?
GS: Well, first of all, as time has gone on, we've added additional resources, hired more people, improved our paper stock, and graphics. Also, Wizard is always evolving. As things come in or out of favor, we're always right there. As times change, we're right there. Trading cards gain in popularity, drift back out, come back in. Action figures change popularity in and out too, and we've adapted very well to this. Secondly, and maybe more importantly, since we've been around so long, it's easier to work with people since they know who we are. We don't have to sell ourselves, we don't have to keep explaining who were are, you know? I mean, we're Wizard. We can work with various talents within the comic industry, pick up the phone and gain access to video game developers, Hollywood Producers, various media outlets, like Hasbro and Mattel, Sony , Nintendo, you name it. That's been a big part of our success.
KG: Have you stuck to your original mandate for the magazine, or have things changed as Wizard has grown?
GS: We've never lost sight of our initial vision. There may be those who disagree with that, but we're still not afraid to be funny or to speak our mind, or what have you. When you look at the comic business as it's changed so much over the years , at the end of the day Wizard sells better than any single comic book in print today. We sell more copies of Wizard than Marvel sells of the X-Men, or Ultimate Spiderman. We've become a staple in what people use to judge comics. We still talk to our fans the way you'd want your friend to talk to you. We won't recommend a book to be read unless we like it, regardless of who publishes it or how many copies it sells. It doesn't matter who it is. We're very true to who we are. Despite how people may or may not feel about it, that's what Wizard is about.
KG: What's the first comic you remember buying as a kid?
GS: You know, I get asked this a lot and it always changes every time I answer it. I can't really pinpoint it. It wasn't like Spiderman, which might come as a shock, I know to all those guys who see me as this big superhero fan, but it was probably an Archie book. So it's not really that exciting. So, to answer your question, it was an Archie comic. But the reality is that, in the mid 80's, I really started getting into comics. When McFarlane was on Hulk and Spiderman, when Frank Miller was doing Dark Knight Returns and Daredevil, that was when it really got exciting for me.
KG: So, being a long-time fan of Frank Miller's, it must have come as a shock to hear his comments about Wizard Magazine at the recent Harvey Awards.
GS: I always have to question where people are coming from. I see Frank all the time at shows and conventions, and he's never expressed that opinion in person. I don't like it when people don't like what we do and then they never express it. If you've got a problem, tell me and we can try and fix it. If you don't ever tell me, then what am I supposed to do about it? I just don't know where it comes from. I see him once a year and he's never mentioned anything like this to me. Once people do say things like that in a public forum, it's out there and you can't take it back.
Obviously, I don't think they see the business the same way we see the business. I do my job. I put out a great product. I make sure that Wizard is in the hands of Hollywood Executives and Software Developers, and things like that. I'm doing my job. Certainly if anyone has an open door to Wizard, Frank Miller knows damn sure that he can come to us anytime and get his voice heard. We're out there in the community. It's not like people can't email or phone or fax us if they want to have their opinion heard. You can't please everybody. My relationships within the industry are good. But, I need to put out a great book.
KG: So, you're not afraid to mention this kind of negative thing in the Wizard forum?
GS: Feedback is something we take seriously. We always look to do as good a job as possible. I mean, honestly, publicity is publicity, you know, all I ask is that you spell my name right. If somebody does something, or says something, I'm going to think of a way to bottle it and sell it. If it's Quesada and McFarlane airing their beef in our letters column or McFarlane and….anybody else. I want to provide the forum for them to duke it out. I'm not going to not talk about it. If it's stuff that's going to get people excited, I'll cover it.
KG: Does this mean you'll print Frank's speech in the next Wizard?
GS: We've already posted a response letter to our website, and you know people have written us email about it saying, "What did Frank say?", they don't even know what we're responding to. When you look at Wizard, we've got one million people a month reading our magazine. We make sure we write about what a million people are interested in, not in what a hundred people are interested in.
KG: Would you ever consider publishing Wizard without the price guide, to make more room for editorials, or regular columns or just more content in general?
GS: The price guide is very important to Wizard. It's the most read portion of the magazine. It's the part that's the most referred to when you're going to Convention, wanting to sell your comics on the web or in the newspaper, whatever. There's no Wizard without the price guide. Now, I don't have to put every single book in Wizard's price guide. We list about three times the number of comics online than we do in the magazine. We've done a lot more analysis in the magazine lately, if you've noticed. We don't just publish a list, we talk about what's going up or down, we provide a checklist of books for certain creators, instead of just printing a plain price guide.
KG: I hear a lot of criticism on the various message boards…
GS: Oh great, here we go (laughs).
KG: Well, people are accusing you of having a conflict of interest in that you publish a price guide that affects the industry, and you also allegedly own a retail comic shop at the same time.
GS: Here's my response to that, this issue keeps poking its head up. I just had to answer this one from CSN this week, too. I started out collecting sports cards and comics as a kid and it became such a big hobby that my family opened a store and I was 14 or 15 years old. I used to work there, it's where I got my start, so to speak. My Mom runs the store. So, there's been a store in my family since that time. I started Wizard Magazine years later and there's no interest shared there. I do not buy and sell comics. The value of the magazine and what I do is worth so much more than what I could make selling books (at retail), and I'm not going to throw everything I built on the magazine away on that. Even if I did buy and sell comics, so what? It's only one store, not a chain. I do not want to be in the retail business.
KG: So, you don't have a chain of mega stores that are slowly creating a monopoly on the lucrative comic shop franchise?
GS: No. Every year that rumor goes around. That one and the one about me owning DC, or Marvel owning Wizard or Image owning Wizard. All of it is false.
KG: There seems to be two kinds of comic fan out there. One guy is the speculator. He buys comics for the explicit purpose of seeing them rise in value so he can re-sell them at a profit later on. Another guy is just the regular comic fan. He might board and bag his comics, but he's not looking to sell his collection. Do you feel that Wizard Magazine serves the needs of both type of comic fan?
GS: First of all, I don't personally know anyone who buys comics and then throws them out. No one does that. No one. Everyone is a collector. Whether you read books that sell a hundred copies or books that sell two hundred thousand copies. There are some in it for business and we absolutely appeal to them. We help them with a better sense of what it is that people are looking for. Fans look to us as well for this info. The reality is, everything that people collects hinges its success on what sells and what doesn't and selling to people who want to buy. Whether you're buying as a speculator or not, I mean, people will do that with or without Wizard. They'll always do that. And they collect Barbie's and coins, and stamps and action figures and that's what people do. Everybody buys product because at some point in time they won't be able to find. Or, if you don't get it now the price is gonna go up or it will be worth more money or be harder to find. It's all B.S. Everybody collects, it's just a question of, is it a hobby or is it a business. People will always collect. It's what people do. And when it comes to comics and cards and action figures, Wizard reflects that trend.
KG: From your unique perspective, how do you see the industry changing in the coming years?
GS: What's going to change, number one, is that companies are going to become much more realistic about what they do. Already you can see that (the Comics Publishers) are figuring this out, it's very important to put out a great product. We've already got a level of quality out there that's better than it's been in along time. We're in a good position. Secondly, the Internet is going to play a bigger role in being bigger and stronger in a marketing aspect. Print media is never going to go away, it's still the best place to advertise your website. From a collector perspective, you're collecting what you can touch, what you can read, what you can put up on your shelf, whatever. There are 90 million collectors in the US and that's about 165 billion dollar a year collectible business! We're talking about things that people collect physically, and that includes comics. The Internet will never replace that.
KG: So, you see the Internet as more of a tool to reach the potential fans that are out there?
GS: Exactly. You can use the Internet to market much faster to your fans. The sellers market, via the Internet, is also much more explosive. We're playing a very large role on the Internet right now. Wizardworld.com had over 350 thousand unique visitors to our site last month, and we'll probably double that in the next few months. Our numbers are growing incredibly.
KG: How much has Wizard grown over the years?
GS: Wizard is sold in 30 different countries and five languages. We're known throughout the world and the website now allows us to access our market in ways we never could before. Now fans can find us when they can't get the magazine. We can speak to our audience in a more direct manner.
KG: What other resources are available on your website?
GS: On WizardWorld.com you can keep track of your comic collections' value and our database can track and manager and organize what you have. We're also allowing you to buy and sell what you've got or what you're looking for. We're now making that easier. Right now, people have over 11 million items in their portfolio and about 250 million dollars value on our site alone! We have over 250 thousand items for sale. That's three to four times the amount on Ebay! We've been able to create an online product that works hand in hand with our magazine.
KG: You've received a lot of criticism lately, even been blamed for most of what's wrong in this industry. In your opinion, what's really wrong with the Comics Industry?
GS: Marketing is the problem with the industry. Every other entertainment business spends a lot more money than the comic industry on marketing. If a record company has a new Cd they're releasing, they print ads, they send promos to radio stations, they set up interviews, they spend money. The comic industry doesn't do anything by comparison. Every other industry out there does more than the comic publishers!
KG: Since you believe marketing is key, do you think that Quesada has the right idea over at Marvel?
GS: Queasada is, and not to knock Bob Harras, but Quesada is taking a new and different marketing approach. Joe's also able to bring in new talent that didn't want to work at Marvel before, and he's able to get them excited to work there and take chances and do things. He's got nothing to lose and everything to gain. He's going to do great things, just because he's new and change is good. As long as you embrace that fact, that change is good, you can succeed.
KG: Is this something you think that DC can learn from?
GS: DC can do a lot more, like Image. I mean, it's not that they're putting out bad products, they just have to get people excited about it. It takes a lot to promote so many titles, like Marvel's got like fifty titles now, and it's going to take a lot for all of them, not just DC, not just Image, for everyone out there publishing comics.
KG: Do you have a personal favorite issue, article or interview?
GS: Other than the first issue, I can't say there was one issue in its entirety that stands out, but, there's lots of pieces of books that stand out. Like many covers are amazing to me. All the Alex Ross stuff, the first 1/2 offer we did, Maxx , we sold a lot of those. The mail was an avalanche, the scavenger hunts! We got mounds of boxes that could fill up an 18 wheeler. The official launch of Image comics. The picture of all the founders that has been used 1000 times was taken by me at Marc Silvestri's house, The memories go on and on. It's also, not just what's in the magazine, but what happens around it, the shows and Cons, the set visits. I just went to the SpiderMan movie set twice. Can you believe it, after all these years? Every year there must be a 100 things that I can't believe I get to do or people I get to meet.