Axel-In-Charge: Facing the 'Divided' Marvel NOW! Future
Gareb Shamus, divisive founder of the once-influential Wizard magazine, has resigned as president and chief executive officer of Wizard World Inc.
The publicly traded company announced the move in documents filed Thursday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. “The resignation is not the result of any disagreement with the company on any matter relating to the company’s operations, policies or practices,” Shamus wrote in his two-sentence letter of resignation.
Michael Mathews, the former CEO of interclick inc. who joined Wizard World in March as chairman, will oversee the day-to-day operations of the company until Shamus’ replacement can be found.
Shamus founded Wizard: The Guide to Comics in 1991, overseeing the rise of a magazine whose prosperity was inextricably tied to the speculator boom it helped fuel with its price guides, creator hot lists and enthusiastic coverage of new publishers like Image Comics and Valiant. By 1997, Wizard Entertainment had added Inquest Gamer and ToyFare magazines and extended its reach with the purchase of Chicago Comicon, later rebranded Wizard World Chicago, setting the company on its long, and occasionally rough, path to becoming a major organizer of regional conventions (earlier this year Wizard World briefly trumpeted 12 cities before slashing that number to eight).
However, the following decade wasn’t as kind to Wizard or the comics industry, with the magazine seeing its circulation dwindle to about 17,000 copies by December 2010. A month later, Shamus abruptly announced the closing of Wizard and ToyFare, the company’s last remaining magazines, and the subsequent launch of an online magazine, a move he later characterized as “the smartest business decision I’ve made in years.”
But about two weeks ago, the digital magazine that Shamus had boasted reached “millions of people” apparently disappeared from the Internet, just about the time that its founder launched a blog on the Wizard World site. Now that, too, is gone. His new Twitter account remains — although he hasn’t written an update since Nov. 28.
Wizard World hopes to have Shamus’ successor in place by Jan. 15.
And then there were two — it looks like Wizard’s editorial staff has been cut in half, as two of the four people listed on the masthead for the now-digital magazine were either fired or are leaving on their own this week.
Current “Co-Chief of Pop Culture” Justin Aclin confirmed on Twitter that he gave notice and is leaving Wizard at the end of this week. Before its cancellation, Aclin was the longtime editor of ToyFare magazine and was the head writer for the popular “Twisted ToyFare Theater” feature. Aclin, who is also the writer of such comics as Hero House and S.H.O.O.T. First, is moving on to an as-yet-unannounced new gig.
Second is Creative Director James Walker, who, according to sources, was fired earlier this week. Walker seems to confirm this on his own Twitter account with several messages, including one that seems to confirm he was fired over the phone: “this apprentice show is strange. people are actually fired FACE TO FACE! what a strange concept.”
According to the masthead, that leaves Wizard World Digital with an in-house editorial staff of two: the second Co-Chief of Pop Culture Mike Cotton and Senior Associate Producer Carlos Mejia.
Broadway | Michael Coehl, lead producer of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, has responded to the thrashing the $65-million production received this week from some of the country’s top theater critics. The Julie Taymor-directed show, which finally opens on March 15, was labeled by The New York Times and The Washington post as one of the worst musicals in Broadway history. “Any of the people who review the show and say it has no redeeming value are just not legitimate reviewers, period,” Coehl told Entertainment Weekly. [PopWatch]
Publishing | Wizard World CEO Gareb Shamus gives another interview about the abrupt closing of Wizard and ToyFare magazines, his expanding stable of regional conventions, plans for a weekly online magazine, and the state of the industry: “The market’s changed. When I started 20 years ago, I was pioneering in the publishing world in terms of creating a product that got people excited about being involved in the comic book and toy and other markets, and we could do a lot of really cool and innovative things. Unfortunately right now being involved in the print world is very stifling, in terms of being able to leverage your content and your media and your access to the world out there.” Meanwhile, Tom Spurgeon and Martin Wisse comment on Shamus’ previous interview, which is pretty much the same as the new one. [ICv2.com]
Last week’s news that Gareb Shamus was shutting down the print versions of his long-running magazines Wizard and ToyFare to pursue a new business model centered on digital publishing, conventions, and a reverse-merger-based penny stock was the talk of comics. This is hardly surprising, given not only Wizard once-outsized influence on and increasingly maligned role in the field, but also the vast number of former Wizard staffers and freelancers populating the industry. Many of those ex-employees, myself included, hit the Web with their thoughts on the demise of the publications they once worked for.
Most of their posts focus in large part, or even in full, in praising the work and character of their co-workers. (There are exceptions, of course: Writing for Bleeding Cool, recently laid-off freelance price guide writer Mark Allen Haverty mostly praises the work and character of…Mark Allen Haverty.) And no one — not even writer Chris Ward, whose comments about the Shamus Brothers are among the most scathing you’re likely to see — has come forth with the full-on “here’s where all the bodies are buried” piece some folks are no doubt waiting for. Nevertheless, the picture that emerges when the remembrances of the Wizard diaspora are pieced together is a clear one: Wizard and its related publications employed a staff talented enough to land on their feet in positions across the length and breadth of the comics industry and pop culture at large; a staff whose bonds of mutual admiration and respect last to this day; a staff that has high hopes for the employees who were let go in this most recent spate of cutbacks (laid-off Research Editor Dan Reilly, an 18-year veteran of the company, and still-standing ToyFare editor Justin Aclin are repeatedly singled out for high marks); a staff that includes many who feel their potential and that of the publications for which they worked were consistently squandered by what they deem the erratic and unscrupulous management of the company. In a way, they indicate that while the death of Wizard is unfortunate, the death of the alternate-universe Wizard that might have emerged from a better marshaling of their talents may be the bigger loss.
Below you’ll find links to a comprehensive list of posts by former Wizard, ToyFare, Anime Insider, and WizardUniverse.com editors, writers, and contributors. It will be updated as more become available.
Publishing | More details have begun to emerge about the abrupt closings of Wizard and ToyFare magazines, and the announcement of a new public company headed by Gareb Shamus. ICv2.com reports that Wizard World Inc. was taken public through a reverse merger with a shell company, a failed oil and gas venture known as GoEnergy Inc., which acquired the assets of Kick the Can, a corporate repository for the assets of Shamus’ Wizard World Comic Con Tour. Following the acquisition, GoEnergy’s chairman and chief financial officer resigned and was replaced by Shamus. In the process, the new company raised capital through the issuance of $1.5 million in preferred stock. Meanwhile, an anonymous Wizard staff member reveals to iFanboy he was informed that the magazine had folded during a phone call Sunday evening, and was not permitted to collect personal belongings. A freelance contributors writes at Bleeding Cool that he learned about the closing through a Facebook message on Monday morning.
The comics Internet is swarming with reaction pieces: Andy Khouri points out the huge number of comics editors, bloggers and journalists who got their starts at Wizard; Heidi MacDonald does the same, noting that it was “a total boys club”; Albert Ching surveys numerous creators and editors; and Robot 6 contributor, and former Wizard staffer, Sean T. Collins comments on the magazine’s demise and rounds up links.
Wizard magazine has ceased publication after nearly 20 years, laying off its remaining staff and canceling freelance assignments. Its sibling publication ToyFare also has closed.
CEO Gareb Shamus followed a morning filled with reports of the magazines’ demise with a press release announcing the February launch of “an all-new digital magazine called Wizard World” that will target the same audience. Curiously the release, which you can read below, doesn’t mention Wizard magazine. Instead its focus is on the news that Wizard World Inc. is now a public company with Shamus as its president and CEO.
Wizard World has since confirmed the closings of Wizard and ToyFare: “Wizard Entertainment is ceasing publication of the print magazines Wizard and ToyFare. Wizard World, Inc. will begin production of the online publication ‘Wizard World’ beginning in February. We feel this will allow us to reach an even wider audience in a format that is increasingly popular and more readily accessible.”
Calls to the Wizard offices this morning office went unanswered. The Wizard bullpen blog Pie Monkey has been taken offline, with assurances from its Twitter feed to “Please stay tuned — there’s a good chance we’ll be up and operational in the next 24-48 hours.” The link to magazine subscriptions on the Wizard website is also dead.
Launched in 1991, Wizard was once a dominant, if controversial, force in the comics industry, with its price guides, Top 10 Writers and Artists lists and annual Wizard Fan Awards carrying significant weight. But in recent years the magazine’s star faded even as its scope expanded — it rebranded itself as “The Magazine of Comics, Entertainment and Pop Culture” — becoming known more for its staff firings than for its exclusive coverage. ToyFare debuted in 1997 as a companion publication devoted to toys and collectibles.
Related: Charts watcher John Jackson Miller chronicles the circulation decline of Wizard, from an estimated 100,000 copies in October 1998 — not the height of its popularity, but the last month it broke the 100,000-copy mark — to just about 17,000 copies in December 2010.
They’re better known these days for Con Wars and layoffs, but the magazines of Wizard Entertainment have long been capable of producing some pretty funny stuff. Exhibit A: the comic-strip mash-ups artist Ryan Dunlavey has posted on his blog–here and here. Generally written by the ToyFare magazine editorial staff and illustrated by Dunlavey in impeccable approximations of the original styles, the comics take classic strips and mix ‘em up with superheroes, science fiction, and general nerdery, resulting in such mash-up masterpieces as The Thunderkatzenjammer Kids, Spy vs. Spy vs. Alien vs. Predator, Orlando Bloom County, X-Nuts (will Phoenix ever let Good Ol’ Charlie Xavier kick that football?) and much more. Alas, my all-time favorite of the ToyFare/Dunlavey efforts, Ellen Ripley’s Believe It or Not, has yet to be posted, but the rest are still well worth checking out.
According to an email sent to various industry contacts, Wizard Associate Editor Jim Gibbons was let go by Wizard Entertainment after work hours last night. Meanwhile, ToyFare Associate Editor TJ Dietsch indicates on his blog that he was let go as well. The pair are the latest in a long list of staffers (myself included) hemorrhaged without replacement by Gareb Shamus’s publishing, convention and online-retail enterprise — a list long enough, frankly, to defy the bite-sized blogging format. But sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.
This photo of Wizard’s creative staff — editors, designers, researchers and staff writers — was taken in the summer of 2006 to celebrate the completion of a ToyFare reader scavenger hunt (hence the 3-D glasses, corncob pipes, and Burger King crowns, all mailed in by contestants). Of the 34 employees pictured here, only two — Wizard Features Editor Andy Serwin and ToyFare Editor Justin Aclin, plus the absent Wizard Editor Mike Cotton and the shot’s photographer, Research Director Dan Reilly — remain with the company. Today, including subsequent hires not seen in this photo, Wizard’s total full-time creative staff for its three magazines — Wizard, ToyFare and FunFare — numbers in the single digits.
As one of the many, many people in that picture who’ve since parted ways with the company (that’s me throwing metal in the front row), I hope you’ll indulge me when I say that whatever the company’s problems — and those of us who’ve worked there are more cognizant of them than you probably think — the personal and professional caliber of the vast majority of its creative staff is higher than that of any other place I’ve worked. And judging from the number of people in that picture who’ve since landed at DC, Marvel, Archaia, MTV News, Television Without Pity, Maxim and other industry publishers and news outlets, including here at CBR, I don’t think I’m alone in that assessment. Here’s hoping that my friends Jim and T.J. have similar luck.
As he said last month, Justin Aclin went to the San Diego Comic-Con both to promote his new graphic novel from Arcana, Hero House, and to cover the con for his day job with ToyFare Magazine. I caught back up with Justin after the show to see how everything went on both fronts.
JK: Unfortunately I was already on my way home when you were doing your signing on Sunday for Hero House. How did the signing go?
Justin: The signing was great! Obviously no one had the chance to read Hero House yet, but I was able to meet a bunch of really nice ToyFare fans who were willing to pick up the book and give it a shot. At one point I had one Twisted ToyFare fan standing at the table while I signed his book, and another walked up and started talking about his favorite Twisted ToyFare moments, and it just became a conversation between the two of them, quoting their favorite jokes. As a comedy writer who never gets to see an audience react to what he writes, it was a very gratifying moment. We also had our artist, Mike Dimayuga, sketching at the signing, which brought in even more curious onlookers.
Justin Aclin is no stranger to the San Diego Comic Con. As the lead editor for ToyFare, he’s covered the con for the magazine a few times. But this year will be the first time he’s going to be there as a comic book creator, as he’s written a graphic novel called Hero House, drawn by Mike Dimayuga and published by Arcana Comics. The book doesn’t come out until November, but attendees can get a copy early at the con.
Justin is also the head writer of Twisted ToyFare Theatre, and the latest collection, Volume 10, hits comic shops on the first day of the show, with an introduction by Joe Quesada. I spoke with Justin about his plans for the con, both in terms of covering it and promoting his new book.
JK: You mentioned over email that you’ll have copies of Hero House, your new graphic novel, at the Arcana booth in San Diego. What’s the concept behind Hero House?
Justin: Hero House is about Epsilon Epsilon Psi—a college fraternity that trains the superheroes of tomorrow. It’s not nearly as wacky as my day job comic strip, “Twisted ToyFare Theatre.” There’s humor in it, but what I was really hoping to do was just tell a fun superhero adventure with memorable, relatable characters, and luckily in the early reviews, people really seem to be responding to the characters. If you’re a superhero fan, a Twisted ToyFare fan, or you’ve ever been in college, I totally think you should check it out. And it’s been mentioned before around these parts, but you can find out a lot more about the book by checking out my production blog, aclincorp.com.