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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.
Looks like Wizard Magazine/Wizard Entertainment/Wizard World founder Gareb Shamus is taking a more hands-on approach to the internet component of his comics-related empire. After years of communicating with his audience (or at least putting his signature on these communications) solely through press releases, editor’s letters, and the occasional confrontation over unrefunded subscriptions to the now-defunct Wizard magazine with a white Lando Calrissian cosplayer, Shamus has started a blog and opened a Twitter account. Meanwhile, Wizard Magazine’s much-ballyhooed digital incarnation — previously touted by Shamus as “the smartest business decision I’ve ever made” — appears to have disappeared from the Internet.
On Twitter, Shamus is following a dozen people, including Brian Michael Bendis, Jim Lee, Kevin Smith, and Whitney Cummings of the NBC comedy Whitney. So far his only tweet is a retweeted link to an interview with Siggy Flicker, matchmaker and star of VH1’s Why Am I Still Single? (Ironically, perhaps, that last bit reminds me of the weird fake Gareb Shamus twitter account that’s been following virtually all of us ex-Wizard employees for a couple of years now.)
On his blog, Shamus has posted interviews with creators Bill Sienkiewicz, David Mack, Marv Wolfman, Phil Jimenez, Greg Capullo, and Kevin Maguire, as well as his thoughts on chocolate chip cookies. That’s actually a pretty fun line-up.
But Wizard World, the digital magazine that replaced Wizard‘s print iteration after it and sister publication ToyFare were unceremoniously canceled? Nowhere to be found on its dedicated URL WizardWorldDigital.com. And on Wizard’s main site, currently billing itself as the place “Where Pop Fi Comes to Life,” Wizard World‘s death has gone unnoted as well. Perhaps White Lando can direct inquiries about this matter to @gareb.
Creators | Eugene Son, a friend of late comics creator Dwayne McDuffie, announced plans to transform the writer’s website from “one that promoted his work to one that reflects his immense legacy.” The site’s blog will remain active, with plans to post old columns and scripts written by McDuffie, as well as tributes and stories from McDuffie’s friends. Earlier this week Son posted a 2002 essay he said was one of McDuffie’s most-read works, “Six Degrees of St. Elsewhere (aka The Grand Unification Theory).” [DwayneMcDuffie.com]
Publishing | Wizard has hired Kevin Kelly as managing editor of its “website, social media and digital content endeavors.” Kelly has previously worked for several entertainment websites, including io9, Moviefone, Cinematical and Joystiq, and was most recently senior features editor for G4tv.com. [press release]
Manga | Playback hosts a “Manga Moveable Feast” on Ken Akamatsu’s Love Hina, which returns to print from Kodansha Comics next week. [Playback:stl]
“The comic industry has a lot of issues that need to get solved because the sales on comics are dwindling, and there hasn’t been a leadership role in this industry to change the course of that. So from one perspective I don’t think the material and the talent and the quality of stories has ever been greater. I don’t think we’ve ever had such an exciting time in the comic book industry. But nobody is taking a leadership role in changing the course of sales. And it’s very unfortunate because the retailers are having a very tough time out there, and nobody is helping them. […] The comic industry lacks the leadership, and I’m not pointing fingers at anybody in particular. But somebody has to make sure that the comic book industry thrives.”
– Wizard World CEO, and self-described pioneer, Gareb Shamus, in an interview touching upon the legacy of Wizard magazine, criticism from former employees and more
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.
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.
Publishing | No comic cracked the 100,000-copy mark in the direct market in October, with the top title, Marvel’s Uncanny X-Force #1, selling an estimated 96,500 copies. Diamond’s graphic novel chart was led by DC Comics’ Superman: Earth One hardcover, which sold more than 16,000 copies. Retail news and analysis site ICv2.com notes that was the best number for a graphic novel since new volumes of Scott Pilgrim and The Walking Dead shipped in July. The website also pursues John Jackson Miller’s recent analysis of comics that don’t make it into Diamond’s Top 300, concluding: “Sales below the Top 300 may be growing in importance, but when we look at a fairly long period (10 months) either they aren’t big enough in the aggregate to make much difference, or their sales are changing at about the same rate as the Top 300’s. If anything, looking at year to date numbers, sales on titles below the Top 300 are shrinking faster than sales in the Top 300, at least in periodical comics.”
Conventions | Wizard Entertainment has announced its acquisition of Central Canada Comic Con in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Johanna Draper Carlson also picks up on rumors that the company is adding Mid-Ohio-Con to its growing stable. [press release, Comics Worth Reading]
Publishing | With the release today in Japan of the 60th volume of One Piece, 200 million copies of Eiichiro Oda’s hit comedy-adventure will have been published. What’s more, this volume’s 3.4 million copies will break the record set by the previous volume. As of late August, One Piece had sold 20 million copies in 2010 alone — four times that of Naruto, the second-highest selling manga. On a related note, a 35-year-old Japanese man was arrested for copyright violation for allegedly distributing four manga, including the 59th volume of One Piece, online. [Japanator, The Mainichi Daily News]
Crime | Six people accused in the July robbery of a 77-year-old New York comics collector who died of a heart attack hours later could be charged with murder if police can link the crime to his death. [Democrat and Chronicle]
Conventions | Wizard Entertainment CEO Gareb Shamus announced he has acquired the two-year-old NOLA Comic-Con, which will become part of the Jan. 29-30 Wizard World New Orleans Comic Con. [press release]
Publishing | John Jackson Miller delves into September’s grim direct-market sales figures and discovers a (relative) bright spot: Sales of lower-tier titles — those that don’t crack Diamond’s Top 300 — appear to be increasing, to record levels. “How do we know?” Miller writes. “Believe it or not, a record for high sales was actually set in September. The 300th place comic book, Boom’s Farscape #11, sold more copies to retailers in September than in any month since November 1996: 4,702 copies. That’s a record for the period following Marvel’s return to Diamond. This bellwether tells us about the shape of the market, and how prolific the major and middle-tier publishers are; when many of their titles are being released and reordered, higher-volume titles tend to push farther into the list.”
However, the higher you go on the list, the worse things look: “The average comic book in the Top 25 is selling more poorly in 2010 than in 2003. At the very top of the chart, 2010’s average top-sellers are about 25% off what the best-sellers of 2003 were doing.” [The Comichron]
Conventions | Wizard Entertainment has added New Orleans to its growing convention circuit, bringing the number of events to 15 in 14 cities. The inaugural New Orleans Comic Con will be held on Jan. 29-30, 2011, at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. [press release]
Crime | Two Rochester, N.Y., men have been charged with burglary after they allegedly broke into the home of 70-year-old Homer Marciniak in July, beat him and stole his comic book collection. Marciniak died of a heart attack later that day. Authorities have determined his injuries were not life-threatening, and that his death was a result of a pre-existing condition. [WKBW.com]
Publishing | The Yano Research Institute’s survey of the “otaku marketplace” found that digital comics in Japan grew 29.8 percent in 2010 to $520 million. Dojinshi (self-published works) rose 4.7 percent to $815 million. [Anime News Network]
Diamond Comic Distributors has notified retailers served by its Los Angeles warehouse that, “due to mechanical difficulties experienced in transit,” 31 items scheduled for release on Wednesday will be delayed until next week.
The comics are:
The Amazing Spider-Man #638 (2nd printing variant)
Captain America in the 1940s Newspaper Strip #3
Dream Logic #2
The Essential Hulk, Vol. 6
The Heroic Age: Prince of Power #4
Namor: The First Mutant #1
Namor: The First Mutant #1 (Quesada sketch variant)
Namor: The First Mutant #1 (Quesada variant)
Punisher MAX: Happy Ending #1
Scarlet #1 (2nd printing-Maleev variant)
Shadowland: Moon Knight #1
Spider-Girl: The End #1
Thanos Imperative #2 (2nd printing-Sepulveda variant)
Wizard Entertainment CEO Gareb Shamus has announced an additional New York City convention set for May 6-8, 2011, overlapping with Free Comic Book Day and the premiere of Marvel’s Thor.
Comic Con NYC — not to be confused with rival Reed Exhibitions’ New York Comic Con, certainly — will be held in the newly renovated Penn Plaza Pavilion, which will play host in October to Shamus’ Big Apple Comic Con.
“Response to last year’s Big Apple Comic Con and advance interest in the show this October has been so strong that we had to add the Spring event,” Shamus said in the announcement. “Everyone – the celebrities, the fans, the dealers, manufacturers, artists, and the entire community we deal with was begging us to bring a huge Spring event to New York. And now we have Wizard World Comic Con NYC.”
Rich Johnston suggests the date might be “ideal” to tempt Marvel back into the Wizard fold. However, it’s tough to imagine Marvel viewing as some sort of olive branch an event that stands to compete with Thor‘s opening weekend, at least regionally. What’s more, the studio doesn’t need Wizard World to market the movie — to its core audience, no less — particularly that late in the game.
What may be interesting to see is reaction from New York-area retailers regarding the possibility of the convention siphoning off Free Comic Book Day traffic. I don’t know, maybe some attendees will still wander over to Midtown Comics or Jim Hanley’s Universe to pick up free comics before heading back to the Penn Plaza Pavilion.
“We’re not done with Philly per se, but we do seem to be done, at least for the moment, with the Wizard conventions.”
–Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort, answering a Formspring question about Marvel’s third Wizard World Philadelphia no-show in a row by making Marvel’s severance from Wizard’s convention wing more-or-less official. (On its blog, Wizard reports that this year’s Philadelphia show “broke ever [sic] attendance record EVER!! The show was a HUGE success!”)
The battle of New York is over without so much as a shot fired.
On its convention website, Gareb Shamus’s Wizard Entertainment announced this morning that it is rescheduling its suite of Northeastern comic conventions, eliminating the head-to-head, same-town, same-dates match-up between its Big Apple Comic Con and Reed Exhibition’s New York Comic Con on October 7-10. Now, the Big Apple Comic Con will now be held on Oct. 1-3, the New England Comic Con on Oct. 15-17, and the New Jersey Comic Con on dates to be announced later. In addition, Big Apple has changed locations from Pier 94 to the Penn Plaza Pavilion, while the New England show will be hosted at Boston’s John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center. It’s unclear whether the New Jersey con’s date change will lead to a move from Edison’s New Jersey Convention & Exposition Center upon rescheduling.
Wizard made headlines, and drew a significant industry backlash, beginning late last year by making a series of aggressive scheduling moves against veteran convention promoter Reed and its slate of comic and pop-culture shows. Most notoriously, Wizard scheduled its Big Apple show the very same weekend as Reed’s New York Comic Con, October 7-10, and in 12th Avenue venue literally blocks away from NYCC’s Javits Center location. Later, Wizard scheduled its New Jersey con for the following weekend. Ever since, guest-list comparisons and official industry presences have weighed in mightily in Reed’s favor.
Conventions | On the eve of the inaugural Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, the Chicago Reader examines the escalating competition between convention owner Reed Exhibitions and longtime Chicago Comic Con organizer Wizard Entertainment: “It’s but one battleground in a war the two powers are waging across the country — an epic struggle that some observers see as a contest between the forces of good and, well, not so good.”
Writer Deanna Isaacs touches upon the rise of Wizard’s Rosemont event to the second-largest comics convention in North America, and its more recent decline. She quotes a couple of local retailers who have become “disenchanted” with the show. But Wizard CEO Gareb Shamus shrugs off the complaints: “Everybody’s going to tell you this or that. You’re talking about one person. We have 1,000 vendors at our show in Chicago, and they make a lot of money.”
The Daily Herald interviews C2E2 show-runner Lance Fensterman, who says he expects between 35,000 and 40,000 attendees this weekend. The Chicago Tribune, meanwhile, offers its own preview, with eight “must-see” convention events, and brief Q&As with Alex Ross and Jeff Smith. [C2E2]