“Can I see that?” he asked me in study hall. We were supposed to be working, but he’d been staring at the ceiling for the last twenty minutes and I’d been alternately writing some really bad short story and flipping through the magazine he wanted to look through.
“Uh … okay, but give it back,” I replied, as if what I had in my hands was serious contraband that would get us sent down to the principal’s office in a heartbeat. Was it an issue of Playboy? In study hall? No. It was Wizard: The Guide to Comics #21.
I’m the gabillionth person to write about this today but when I read that Wizard magazine folded, I couldn’t help but think, just like so many others seem to be doing, about the time I used to collect it and what effect it had on my comic book collecting life. I’m not one of those people who seems to be saying “good riddance” to the once popular magazine, partly because I don’t particularly enjoy seeing people lose their jobs (unless they’re the cast of Jersey Shore or something) and partly because as much as I think Wizard shoulders at least some of the blame for the comic crash of the early 1990s I stopped buying the magazine before I graduated from high school and long before I stopped collecting comics so I really can’t hold a grudge against it. Besides, I think I can add my voice to the many who say that the magazine really was a true guide to comics for me back then.
When I first got into comics in the early 1990s I was being guided along by the characters I knew from either seeing movies or watching cartoons. Batman was the first character I gravitated toward and then I instinctively picked up a few issues of Superman because I’d been a huge fan of the Christopher Reeve movies and it just seemed like you’d automatically buy at least a few Superman comics in your lifetime. I had heard of the X-Men and knew that Spider-Man was worth reading (I’d bought the “Kraven’s Last Hunt” storyline a few years earlier), but couldn’t have told you fact one about anything that was happening in any of their books. I’d latch on to the Titans a few months after I bought my first issue of Detective Comics and would really spend most of my time collecting back issues of stuff from the 1980s, especially Crisis on Infinite Earths and its related crossovers.
I am pretty sure that I would have done very little more than that had I not spent part of the summer of 1991 down in Florida visiting my friend Chris and reading through all of his X-Men comics, especially one of his five different versions of X-Men #1 as well as most of the others in Jim Lee’s Uncanny run, quite a few Todd McFarlane Spider-Man books and the first issue of a new book called Spawn, a copy of which he’d bought me for my birthday. That trip, which included spending a lot of money at two different comic book stores, was one of the most important trips I’d ever taken in terms of comic collecting for several reasons, one of which was that I got the chance to leaf through a few copies of Wizard.
I wasn’t aware at the time that there was a magazine that was all about comic books. I’d never read Comic Buyer’s Guide or Comics Scene Magazine or Amazing Heroes or any of the other trade publications that had been around or were setting up shop at the time; the only time I got to see any news regarding comic books was when something like the death of Robin made national headlines or when there was a house ad in one of my favorite books. Otherwise, I was in the dark. I’m not sure what issues he had but Wizard shed some serious light on all of it. I got to know about characters and books and whole companies I hadn’t even thought of. When I got back home and had enough money to afford the $4.95 cover price, I bought Wizard #14, which came out in October 1991 and featured a “women of the X-Men” (read: the women of the X-Men that looked good in bikinis and would sell to pubescent boys) cover drawn by Art Thibert, who was going to be the “hot new penciller” of the X-Men book that Jim Lee just vacated.
Thibert’s run lasted all of two issues before Andy Kubert took over and began a pretty long run, or at least he was still going when I stopped buying the X-books a few years later. It was one of the ways that Wizard latched on to a hot new name and hyped it, perhaps a little too much. I remember one particular instance when they started talking about a new artist named Stephen Platt. He was penciling Moon Knight at the time and had a style similar to what everyone had been seeing in the beginning of this, the “big guns/big tits” era, and all of the sudden their price guide had all of Platt’s Moon Knight issues (which I honestly can’t believe that people really were buying in droves) at $20, maybe $30 a pop.
I never really fell for that, even if I did wonder at times if I should be buying every single Valiant book or the next Death’s Head II issue because there was a really cool pinup by Bart Sears or someone else within the pages of the magazine. I did, I admit, fall for the sex appeal of certain covers from time to time. Jim Balent was one of those artists who seemed to have a knack for drawing large breasts on women (anyone who is familiar with the work of Ed Benes knows what I mean). He was pencilling Catwoman in 1993 and drew Selina Kyle way more voluptuous than I’d seen in years. She was on the cover of Wizard #33 and I distinctly remember my mother seeing the issue on our coffee table underneath a pile of comic books and asking me if that was appropriate. I replied, “It’s just a comic book.”
And it was, honestly. For as much as I bought an issue of Wizard where Psylocke was getting all “come hither” or had the Image Swimsuit Special (yeah, maybe one day I’ll write about those), I never really got off on scantily clad comic book characters. She never did have a problem with me stockpiling Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue for years. And as far as I can tell, I turned out fine. In fact, I never actually bought an issue of Catwoman that wasn’t part of a crossover (i.e., I had to buy it in order to be a completist) and spent more money on titles where action took precedent over sex (okay, Starfire was … well … and Wonder Girl was … well … but that’s beside the point).
Besides, as stupid as this may seem, I did actually read Wizard for the articles. The news about upcoming books was intruiging, the price guides were odd (especially considering the number of times I checked out the Overstreet Price Guide from the library and compared the two) but I found their sense of humor pretty fun. One particular issue I remember was issue #29, which had the typical Spawn cover (I think Greg Capullo was drawing the comic at this point), but featured an article about what 2003 would be like. Most of it was snarky industry stuff that I’ve completely forgotten, but I did find hilarious that they predicted that Deathmate: Red, the then long-awaited Rob Liefeld part of the Image/Valiant crossover would be published in 2003 with the others being reprinted in special edition. They’d been one of the heaviest promoters of Image and to see them making fun of the fact that the fledgling “rock star” comic company couldn’t get it shit together as far as shipping was concerned (and honestly, Wizard made fun of this so often it was practically schtick) made it nice to see that they didn’t take themselves too seriously.
They also took care of their fans, knowing that the people who read the magazine were indeed comics fans and not always industry insiders (though I’m sure a few of them were reading). In the years I read the magazine, they featured fan art as well as “My Kind of Hero,” where readers would create their own comic heroes and send a profile of them to the magazine in hopes of being published. Chris and I, when he came to visit me in the summer of 1992, created a bounty hunter-type of character named Rapier and sent it in. It was never published–I think they stopped running that feature soon after we sent it, which is a shame because Chris’s art was really good–but I did get my magazine in the name once because I participated in a scavenger hunt and racked up enough points to win a signed copy of Wolverine #85 (which I got a few bucks for on eBay several years later). I never did make the amount of money they led me to believe I would make off of my mint copies of all of the “X-Tinction Agenda” crossover issues, though.
I left Wizard behind sometime in 1994, around the time I started to cut back on the number of comics I was buying every month. From what I remember, girls were starting to actually become part of my life after seventeen years of jack squat, and I didn’t really have the money to spend on stuff like four X-Men books each month and a comics magazine. I picked up a few issues in the early 2000s, mostly because of articles I’d heard about and one time to get a mail-away form for Teen Titans #1/2, but for the most part I didn’t think much of the magazine and when I read this morning that it had folded I was more surprised that it hadn’t happened sooner.
Wizard magazine, to me, will always represent a rather heady time, when flash-in-the pan titles, writers, and artists could make bank, when inter-company crossovers (Spawn/Batman, anyone?) could seem like the next Watchmen and when everything that had a die-cut, foil-embossed cover was the most important book ever published. Oh, and when I was a skinny dork sneaking comics into study hall instead of reading To Kill a Mockingbird or whatever else I’d been assigned.