Wizard Magazine runs out of magic

The year 2011 isn’t messing around. Just days after the end of one era (and see here for an addendum to that story), we’re met with another.

According to various reports Monday, comics and pop culture magazine Wizard: The Comics Magazine will cease publication effective immediately. Sister publication ToyFare has also been discontinued. Both now join the ever-growing list in the much theorized death of print newspapers and magazines. (Magazine Death Pool has yet to come out of retirement for this.)

While Wizard, which debuted in 1991, faced more than its share of criticism and derision (Frank Miller famously ripped up an issue during a keynote speech in early 2001), plenty of it I think justified, the magazine was easily the most high profile coverage of mainstream North American comic books in its heyday. For a while, the magazine was so successful, it outsold most of the comic books it covered. In the late 1990s, I knew several people who had given up reading comics for whatever reason, but still read Wizard Magazine so they could keep tabs on what was going on. During a time when comics had otherwise vanished from newsstands, it was the industry’s only mainstream and most accessible presence.

Before Internet was King, Wizard was the way a lot of people found out about comics industry news. Sure there were other magazines, more respectable magazines, but none so slick and perfectly suited to the popular tone and feel of comics at the time. The heady boom of comics in the ’90s seemed to be embodied by Wizard. Price guides, top 10 lists, artist tutorials, and exclusive mini-comics all usually delivered with a frat boy sense of humor. These were the benchmarks of a magazine that made no secret of their target demographic: teenage boys.

But times change. People grow up. As the new century arrived, so too did an ever-expanding industry with a deeper variety of content and style, along with a maturing comics journalism taking advantage of the immediacy of the internet. And Wizard as a whole, despite some valiant attempts by individual writers and editors, stagnated. (Many of those writer and editors moved on to jobs at major comics publishers and major comics news sites.) Over the last ten years, readership took a steady dive from well over 100,000 copies per issue to just 17,000 copies for this past December’s issue.

And so it’s come to an end.

But with everything, the end of something is often the beginning of something else. In this case, several somethings. Wizard founder Gareb Shamus was smart enough to diversify by expanding into the comic book convention scene. His Wizard World enterprise has been acquiring local cons all over North America the last year or so, sometimes controversially competing with more established and/or well-liked cons. There’s a Wizard World Anaheim Comic Con scheduled this summer that launched last year. A Los Angeles show was attempted in 2007 but apparently wasn’t successful enough to repeat.

Wizard Magazine itself will apparently be relaunched as a digital magazine retitled Wizard World next month. Although with most of the magazine staff laid off and past failures at online initiatives, it’s hard to imagine how it will work out for them. New hires certainly seem likely, what with new money coming from a curious reverse merger to set up Wizard World, Inc. There’s also the email newsletter GeekChicDaily, co-founded by Shamus, which just secured an unspecified amount of money from Hollywood investors. So have no fear. Gareb Shamus is going to be just fine.

So what about the hard working staffers? One former employee painted an unhappy picture of how the magazine was handled. But another, price guide writer Mark Allen Haverty, gave a more sympathetic view of his experience. Haverty has already resumed his comics coverage (along with other pop culture, sports and politics coverage) at his website Crucial Taunt. The Wizard staff also keeps a Twitter account and their own website PieMonkey.com independent of Wizard. Time will tell what will come of it. I hope they’re all able to create something better than Wizard ever was, which would be a great legacy for the magazine.

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