WoQW: The Pop Culture Column For Men!

Words of Questionable Wisdom: The Pop Culture Column For Men!
By Paul Sebert

Ok fellow nexus fans it’s been awhile. I’ve been held back from writing for this site by a month-long internship for the fine folks at The Herald Dispatch, a family vacation, illness, and a general malaise of mediocre comics. Writing a weekly column on comics is easy back when you have extremely good (ex. “Sentinel“) or extremely bad (“Batman: City of Light“) books coming out this week but well it’s hard to get pumped up writing a column regarding a middle of the road book like “World War Hulk: Gamma Corps.” Plus in recent years there’s been a slew of books which were so bad I actually felt sorry for everyone involved. I was tempted to do a column about the ending of Amazons Attack but making fun of that book is like picking on a mentally challenged youth.

But I’m back. I’m tanned, rested, and ready and here with an all new column. Enjoy.

“Words

Stop the presses… Wizard Magazine, formerly “the guide to comics” formerly “the comics magazine,” formerly “the magazine of comics entertainment, and pop culture” is re-branding itself as “the number 1 men’s pop culture magazine!” Yes now pages of Wizard Magazine formerly dedicated to such inconsequential subjects as indy comics, manga, and web cartoons will now be used to cover such manly, manly subjects as monster truck rallies, mixed martial arts, power lifting, and how to properly fry a beer-battered steak. Yes the all new Wizard Magazine will be your guide to all things testosterone filled!

Wizard 194 Cover Ok time to be serious. This is just the latest example of the long, agonizing decline of what was formerly one of the most entertaining publications of my youth. An issue of Wizard Magazine was one of my first comic related purchases. It was through Wizard, I found out there was an entire world of comic books that the spinner rack at my local Waldenbook wasn’t carrying. It was Wizard that led me to discover Image, Valiant, Malibu, and all the other weird publishers popping up in the bastard age of comics.

You see the thing that really reached out to me back in the day about Wizard was that it was a magazine for fans. Each month you would get to see fan art, illustrated envelopes, and customized action figures. For awhile here was even a section where fans could send in their own original super hero character drawings, where their characters would have trading card style profiles. It was an honest magazine, and if the staff thought a particular storyline sucked they would let the readers know. The book became notorious for actively mocking the Marvel’s clone saga, even before the public turned against the storyline. It also had an irreverent sense of humor, hiding jokes in the price guide, in contest legalese, and other unexpected places.
Wizard #1 But as the years progressed the fans interaction sections disappeared, the humor disappeared (or at least stopped being funny), and the magazine which so ferociously criticized The Scarlet Spider and Heroes Reborn lost it’s teeth. Month after month I’d read the magazine for some sign of it’s former personality. For some writer willing to take a stand. At least one column where the author wasn’t convinced that Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis, or Civil War was the greatest thing since sliced bread. By 2004 or maybe 2005 I was pretty much fed up with the Magazine. It was bad enough 80-90% of the magazine’s coverage was now dedicated to Marvel and DC, but they wouldn’t even bother themselves to cover books like Sentinel, Gotham Central, Araña, Plastic Man, etc. The Marvel and DC books I actually gave a damn about. But for old time sake, I would still pick up an copy every now and then usually if a creator I liked was interviewed.

So now Wizard has gone and re-branded itself as “a men’s pop culture magazine?” Particularly after offering female comic readers survey cards at conventions earlier this year. What would compel them to do this? Well a number of comic bloggers have expressed their outrage and their theories on the matter. Here’s what Ragnell had to say.

“Its not hard to arrive at a working hypothesis here: Sales were falling. They needed a way to bring them up. They could expand beyond comics or try to capture more of the comics-buying community. They explored the option of opening to a wider comics-reading audience and surveyed female convention-goers.

They looked at the results of the surveys and realized they would need to change things they didn’t wish to. Maybe they were just too chickenshit to risk a change, or had no faith that the male audience would be willing to read news and views without round shiny breasts next to every paragraph, or maybe they just didn’t care enough to make the effort.

So they went and decided to go beyond the comics-reading community to pander to the lowest common (male) denominator everywhere so they wouldn’t have to be a magazine for everyone who reads comics. Just men who have interest in comics-related things.”

You can find plenty of other voices on the subject over at When Fangirls Attack.

Wizard #11My own theory my own theory as to why they chose to do this has less to do with overt sexism than a desperate attempt at cranking up advertising revenue. Ok it’s still pretty damn sexist and stupid, but here me out on this. A magazine can sell a million copies a month and still go down in flames if isn’t supported by ad revenue, and well let’s face it. The market for comic based advertising stinks. Print advertisers clearly don’t “get” comic books. The only print advertisements you see in Marvel and DC books are for other comic books, or other comic shop related products. The few truly outside of the industry advertisements you see are by companies who still believe the average comic reader is six years old, which is why this month’s issue of Blue Beetle features a six-page advertisement for goldfish crackers.

So what does Wizard do about this? They hire former FHM editor Scott Gramling, put a few sexy pictures of Kristen Belle inside of it, and rebrand the publication as a Men’s Pop Culture Magazine. Then say “hey we’re not a silly kiddy comics magazine, we’re a Men’s Pop Culture Magazine.” That way the people who advertise in Maxim and Stuff will buy expensive ad space for Toyota Tundras, Ax Body Spray, Gillet Fusion Razors, and other macho manly things in Wizard!

Who knows. It might be crazy enough to work…

But at a time when female comics fandom is more united than ever it comes across as incredibly boneheaded. I mean can someone give me a rational explanation as to why Mother Jones had enough time and space to do an article about the Steph Brown controversy, yet Wizard still hasn’t? (Hey Ben Morse? Care to chirp in on this?)

Furthermore this is a big insult for longtime readers such as myself who have for years been complaining that Wizard doesn’t dedicate enough space to comic coverage anymore. Or cover manga. Or cover enough independent comics.

Plus Wizard’s no longer competing in a one horse race. For a long time, after Hero Illustrated folded Wizard was the only comic news magazine widely available. Now with Comic Buyers Guide in mainline bookstores, plus new publications like Comics Foundry, and Comics Now popping up can Wizard really afford to give up any more readers?

And really would it kill them to bring back the fan art?