Pipeline: "Wizard's" First Issue

Tue, May 3rd, 2011 at 1:58pm PDT

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

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THE FIRST ISSUE: WIZARD

As news breaks this week that Mike Cotton has left Wizard to work for Howard Stern -- no, wait. Hold on a second. Is that not the most appropriate job shift in the history of comics? Who more perfect to work for Howard Stern's organization than someone who helped shape "Wizard" magazine for the last decade? I'm almost shocked that Stern never made the cover of "Wizard." I guess he didn't have the breasts for the gig.

In his newly spared time, Cotton writes articles for Bleeding Cool filled with male genitalia references and, in a move that's classic "Wizard," references a Doctor Who television episode in his list of "10 Comics Where the Villain Gets It." You can take the boy out of Wizard, but not vice versa.

In any case, I dug up my copy of "Wizard" #1 from 1991 this weekend. What a treasure trove of material the relatively thin magazine held for us to look at and giggle with.

It was a major coup for the upstart magazine to feature an interview with the hottest artist in comics at the time, Todd McFarlane. Even more impressively, McFarlane drew the cover. While it wasn't the most comprehensive or thorough interview ("Comics Interview," "Comics Scene" and "Amazing Heroes," let alone "The Comics Journal" did betters ones around the same time), it is filled with spiffy little quotes and insights.

But, hey, Todd McFarlane looked like a Canadian Greg Brady:

That wasn't the only awkward fashion choice in the issue, but I'm loathe to pick on people who were glasses in the early 90s. I had them, too. In retrospect, we all looked ridiculous, but that's the thing with fashions and trends. They come and they go. We're all guilty.

That said, here's Gareb Shamus:

And look who one of the contributors to the first issue of "Wizard" was, CBR's very own Greg McElhatton:

His work went uncredited. I assume he did the short blurbs for the magazine's monthly picks for interesting comics.

The letters column got Punk'd early by one letterhack. Check out his name:

I'm guessing it was a friend of the magazine's and that they were all in on the joke. Does anyone know who that guy is?

Deeper into the issue, an article forecasting the health of the Direct Market with a pair of distributors leads to this brilliant pull quote:

"There will always be certain books, like, Spider-Man or an X-Force, where it seems almost impossible to get burned by speculating."

That's from a representative of Capital City Distributors. Remember them? Thankfully, the Diamond rep in the piece was far more cautious:

"I've heard it said that the industry may return to the numbers it had in the '40s, when a typical comic sold millions of copies, as opposed to the few hundred thousand a popular title sells today."

And now, 20 years later, we have months when the #1 title doesn't break 100,000 copies. But "X-Men" #1 was coming!

The back cover brings back happy memories

In a sure sign of things to come, the one non-comics article in the issue is a short interview from the set of "The Rocketeer." Still, it's like the little seed that would eventually grow to take over the magazine someday, isn't it?

Should I scan in the page where "Wizard" highlights the #1 issues for the month, with a special cover image to highlight "NFL SuperPro" #1? Nah, why pile on?

The Dragon's Den, a comic shop in Yonkers, NY, had a two page ad in the back. That store no longer exists, for reasons completely unrelated to their ad mentioning "Spiderman." UGH.

The price guide is an interesting relic of another time. It includes a detailed trading card guide, that even has the artists' names listed.

I also like the two pages at the end listing all of the local comic shows going on around the country, usually in combination with baseball cards. I miss those days in a way, speaking as someone who was a baseball card junkie before he moved to comics.

The overall magazine feels like an overstuffed newsletter, and I don't mean that in a bad way. It's a product of its time, produced in a period of much simpler desktop publishing, and not the whizbang computerized layout engines we have today with InDesign or even Quark. Articles had really big type, and were fairly short. The price guide feels like it takes up half the pages. Everything is black and white, with red spots, and a pull-out poster in the centerfold of the cover image. There are four pages almost randomly in color in the beginning and end.

There's something wonderfully homemade about this issue. Wizard grew up fairly quickly in its first year, getting to square bindings and full color sooner rather than later. It was a product of its time -- debuting in the early 90s speculation market and catering to that brand of consumer. No wonder it hit so big and lasted as long as it did. Actually, it's remarkable that it did last so long, but part of that might just be because it outlasted everyone else and basically cornered its market. None of the competitors lasted that long, and there were plenty of them, including "Arena" and "Hero Illustrated" and "Inside Comics." They all came after "Wizard," though, and couldn't catch up fast enough. (I wrote about "Inside Comics" back in March.)

"Wizard" also hitched its star quickly to the artists who would be the Image founders, and benefited greatly from that. Their early Rob Liefeld interview, featuring a cover with Shaft and Cable, was a landmark piece for them, I have to think. Liefeld talked candidly about things I had never seen him mention before, and "Wizard" threw the spotlight on it. For a good long while, they were the magazine of record, but all of their annoying little habits soon took over the magazine and became Big Glaring Issues, including their dependence on Hollywood-driven content over comics content and the immature sense of humor and editorial guidance.

Two decades later, "Wizard" is dead, the victim of a marketplace that doesn't want magazines in a digital era. A digital replacement was launched a couple months back, but even that's bleeding employees.

CATCHING UP: INVINCIBLE

Sometimes, you fall way behind on a comic series, and it gets harder and harder to catch up. The good news is, the catching up is the best part. In the last couple weeks, I've run through the last 15 issues of "Invincible." It reminded me of why I should be keeping up with the series better. I'm a fool for letting it lapse so long.

On the other hand, as a reviewer, reading a big batch of issues like this at once gives me better perspective. As much as I enjoyed the roller coaster ride of a story that Robert Kirkman lays out leading up to and including the "Viltrumite War," it was Ryan Ottley's art that kept standing out. I've always enjoyed his art, but the last year on this book has been very kind to him.

It's one of those rare cases where I'm happy to say that the artist's line work has "tightened up." Usually, it's a negative thing that an artist is getting too fussy with their work and sucking all the life out of a line to get "the perfect line." It's going back to that whole, "Perfect is the enemy of the good" stuff. But with Ottley, who's been a solid artist for the series for longer than 50 issues now, the improvement in his art is only making it better, keeping the energy and the action, but making the final piece look slicker and stronger. In particular, the Viltrumite War is a ridiculously cool looking piece of action. Near the end, when it's utter chaos and the double page splashes kick in, the effect is breathtaking. The starry backgrounds, the rubble floating through space and the people manically beating up on each other look cool, like they're in 3D, without any special glasses.

I also think it's now possible that no artist in comics has drawn more moustaches than Ottley. He'd be a shoo-in for a Bluewater Tom Selleck project.

I went back to the bookshelf to check out Ottley's earlier work on the series and the difference is immediately recognizable. The older stuff is more open with more simplistic backgrounds and brief moments of well-detailed and exciting stuff. It's almost like Ottley's confidence has grown with his art, and he's not afraid to draw more detail into his backgrounds and to make the characters emote even more when they're doing things. It no doubt helps that Kirkman has given him some extreme situations to draw. If nothing else, "Invincible" is good for a few gallons of blood spewing forth in each story arc.

Kirkman's story keeps the characters moving along, creating high tension and enacting change in addition to merely the appearance of change. There was one moment in the War that caused me to stop in my tracks and just stare at a page for a minute before I could move back on. For a second, I really thought Kirkman was going to pull the proverbial trigger, but then thought it might be a bit much in addition to his recent "Walking Dead" changes. In the end, it appears that both gruesome injuries may not be fatal. (See Kelly Thompson's review of "The Walking Dead" #84 for an excellent summation of the shortcomings of that cop-out.)

It seems as though "Invincible" has been lost in the shadows of "The Walking Dead" recently. That's a shame, as "Invincible" is a book that keeps getting better and better. It just doesn't have a Hollywood deal exciting the general populace over it. (That MTV motion comic didn't break through. Shock!) As a comic, it stands alone as something special, the inheritor of Erik Larsen's chaotic and character-packed "Savage Dragon." With a large cast, dramatic shifts in tone, and some lighter classic superhero fun mixed up in it, "Invincible" is riding high and worth a good read. Flip through it, at the least, for some amazing art by Ryan Ottley.

RANDOM DISCONNECTED THOUGHTS

  • You might have heard that ABC announced the cancellation of two of its long running soap operas. Oprah said she wouldn't pick them up for her network because there just aren't enough people who care about the shows anymore to make them viable. So the fans set out to prove her wrong and held rallies outside the ABC studios in Chicago and New York City. 30-35 people showed up in each location. Even "Spider-Girl" gets more letters of support every time it's cancelled. See? Comics aren't on their last leg, after all!

  • "Secret Warriors" is soon to end after a two year run. Is there an Omnibus edition in that title's future? Since the series is supposed to comprise one giant story with an actual beginning and ending, I would think it would be ideal. I'm not sure that the monthly sales, though, would inspire the confidence needed to get the approval of the budget-minded folks. We'll see, I suppose.

  • Did you know that the "Dylan Dog" movie hit theaters last weekend? Of course you didn't. Nobody did, and the movie didn't break into 1000 theaters. Its opening weekend failed to take in a million dollars domestically. I hope Dark Horse didn't print too many extra copies of their omnibus. Poor Brandon Routh is starting to look like a franchise killer. What hope did Dylan Dog have in the face of Superman?

  • The 15 year old Augie is thrilled to see Cardiac return to Marvel. I'm such an Erik Larsen fanboy.

  • WizardWorld raised the white flag of surrender officially last week, announcing that their New York City con is moving to the spring for good, thus avoiding the NYCC conflict of recent years. They also plan to move the Atlanta convention to a date as yet unknown, and they're thinking vaguely about maybe starting a con in Edison, New Jersey. That date has been in limbo for a year now, after announcing the show's mere existence 15 months ago, when it was originally scheduled for mid-October 2010.

  • Part of me wants to be negative over the upcoming relaunch of the Ultimate Universe at Marvel. Thing is, it's just the thing I think the whole line has needed for a couple of years now. The series of miniseries format and irregular creative teams and mega-crossovers have really deflated the entire line in the last three years. If they can "start over" and re-commit to a regular schedule and sets of creative teams, then it gives the line a new chance. I hope it succeeds, because "Ultimate Spider-Man" was definitely my favorite monthly series of the 2000s. So I'm crossing my fingers and hoping for the best here.

  • The PRISM Awards gave an award to the infamous "Roy Harper Swinging a Dead Cat and Doing Drugs" storyline of 2010, "Justice League: Rise of Arsenal." Which is more relevant now: The Grammys, or the PRISM Awards?

  • It seems like I ask once a year "Whatever happened to Chris Wozniak?" Now we know: he moved to Alabama just in time for a tornado to throw a Krispy Kreme truck through his front door. He lost everything, though he, his wife, and dogs are OK. If you have a few bucks to spare, there's a fundraising effort to help Wozniak and his wife get their life back together. Minor lesson learned: He pronounces his last name with a long "O," not the short "O" like Apple founder Steve Wozniak uses.

    I almost want to go back and pull out some issues of things he drew now, but they're few and far between. I remember him best at this point from an interview in "Marvel Age" magazine where he discussed his career path from bicycle delivery boy (illustrated medical text books, as I recall) to comic book artist.

  • 20 minutes' worth of video of Scott McCloud teaching how to letter comics? That got my attention fast.

  • Four years ago, I filed a column on my wedding day. Ha! I forgot about that. Jonah stepped in to review my wedding. He gave the wedding ceremony a 10 for its brevity. I agreed.

Where else I hang out: AugieShoots.com || VariousandSundry.com

How to get in touch: Twitter @augiedb || E-mail || Pipeline Message Board

TAGS:  pipeline, wizard magazine, x-men, invincible, ryan ottley, robert kirkman

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