Sunday, January 30, 2011

Not To Praise, Nor To Bury . . .

So everyone was quite gobsmacked that Wizard and Toyfare folded last week, even those who claim that they weren't surprised (there's always at least one of them) and as the rest of it comes out--the frankly awful way in which it was done, the cost to all those poor souls who now have to find jobs in a shit economy working in print, which is a bit like being a good stable boy just as the automobile is coming in, the usual chorus of people have come up, parroting the standard line which comes up every time the words "Rob Liefeld" "Wizard" or "foil cover" come up (seriously, it's like Tourette's or a post-hypnotic suggestion. Every time someone says it, the same response, nearly always verbatim)--"Those fuckers deserved what they got, because they overheated the speculator market in the 1990s and nearly drove the comics industry to extinction (thank God we've come back from that abyss, eh?) and they sucked. Fuck them, fuck them, and fuck them again."

They also bring up the hoary old image of Frank Miller shredding a copy at the Harvey awards or whenever it was, because nothing buttresses one's point like that exemplar of rational thought self-restraint Mr. The Goddam Miller, eh?

Anyways, I'm not going to go into a defence of why Wizard and Toyfare were worthwhile. The short answer is "If you were in some remote outpost that didn't have a comic store--not uncommon then, even more common now--it provided a window to what was going on in mainstream comics in a way no other comic magazine was quite doing. Whether this is good or bad depends on how close you are to the following things: 17 years old, overcaffineated, and 1993." After all, if you liked super-hero comics, there wasn't much serving you--Amazing Heroes was about dead, Comics Scene barely had stuff about comics in every issue I had, Comics Buyer's Guide was a little too inside baseball and like it or not, for the little busters who were completely jazzed by comics in that time, this was the only thing speaking at their level about what they were into.

Of course, having driven all the kids away, there's no chance of that happening again. Rest easy, everyone!

No, I was going to talk about how the death of Wizard made me miss its short-lived but fondly remembered competitor: Hero Illustrated. Yes, I know you have no idea what I'm talking about, and no your webcam isn't on--I just know when someone's staring uncomprehending at the screen.

Hero Illustrated attempted to be a Wizard competitor at perhaps the worst time possible to be one--in 1993, at the peak of the speculator market and when Wizard was probably at the peak of its influence. It was an offshoot of the original Electronic Gaming Monthly--that venerable videogame magazine that rode the NES generation (and Street Fighter II) to pre-eminence in its field. EGM was kind of at the peak of its influence, publishing two phone book sized issues a month (though everyone I knew read it out of obligation--all the real exciting shit was happening over at GameFan where people were reviewing Atari Jaguar games bombed out of their skulls on acid) and so, they decided "Hey, comics are making a lot of money. Let's get in on that and do a comics magazine."

Again, given the state of the comics magazine market, this was as smart as strapping a solid rocket booster to a bus full of children and launching it 50 feet into a brick wall--it's bound to be spectacular, but even by the loosest definitions of "success," you're going to have a hard time spinning it as a positive thing.

Anyways, Hero Illustrated was born. It was the same size as Wizard, it had a price guide (though if I remember right they would only focus on one book or character instead of the entirety of all comics) it had little bonus tchotckes to justify being sold in a bag (ashcans, that great white elephant of the speculator days--my God, the things one could say about the boondoggle that was the ashcan and it's uglier cousin the "tourbook." Yes, these were totally things) In fact, I still have my Batman/Grendel ashcan from the first Hero Illustrated. Damn if I know where the actual magazine went to . . .

What set Hero Illustrated apart from Wizard for me was just the general agreeable sense of anarchy that floated through the pages. They would cover stuff from awhile ago, do a goofy parody of an X-Men interview (that interview is, to this day, the reason I say Professor X rides around in a bumper car) they had reviews of Japanese live-action stuff which coincided with my own interest in the stuff, and generally the whole thing seemed like Wizard, but Wizard for people for whom the overcaffeinated euphoria had passed.

Sadly, it was not to last--Hero Illustrated lasted all of three years, undone both by its competitor and Ziff-Davis buying EGM and all its magazines and . . .well, let's just say when all was said and done it wasn't the same.

But for the brief period it lasted, it was a splendid little alternative, and a few of the contributors went on to do zines and stuff and would soon move on from their to greener pastures. It's been 15 years since the magazine finished, but something about the death of Wizard made me momentarily nostalgic for a brief bygone era that seems very far away indeed.


C. Elam said...

Man alive, Hero Illustrated. I didn't really care for Wizard from the first, but I gave Hero a try and was hooked on it. How weird that Wizard in its later years tried to mimic that, and almost succeeded before morphing into a shambling afterthought.

I too have fond memories of Hero, though not a lot of copies left as near as I can tell. It ran Don Simpson's work when he was at the top of his game. It gave an outlet for Roy Ware to corrupt my mind even further. And it was just generally a fun read.

Plus, the Special Editions inspired the "Scary Metal People," one of MY personal favorite in-jokes.

I've been lucky to reconnect with one-time editor Frank Kurtz and Roy through the magic of Blogger and Facebook. I even got to tell Roy how much he influenced me by answering the letter I sent to him c/o Hero. Seriously, without Hero, I'm not sure how things would have happened the way they did.

Kazekage said...

Oh dude, I know, right? I caught the same vibe that Wizard was adopting the same style of humour about the time Toyfare was launched, which if I remember right was close on the heels of Hero closing down. I always wondered if some refugees from Hero ended up there.

I remember Roy Ware--it was good to see him get more than one column in EGM2 which was where I'd seen his work previous to that.

I do not remember that one, but I feel like I should.

I remember when you got some notice in Creepsville during our 'zine days. You notice how when you say "'zine days" it automatically sounds like we spent our twenties in a series of ever more estoeric punk bands?

C. Elam said...

I cannot dispute the claim that we were indeed in esoteric punk bands then. Heck, it would look great on my resume!

Roy is still in circulation. His blog is Black Sun, though I think he has been too busy with real life to do much writing over the last few months. Similarly, Frank Kurtz has the "Laughing Reindeer" blog that is linked over there. Both are worth a peek!

"Scary Metal People" is a phrase that turned up in a review of BRAIN BOY (who?) in The 100 Greatest Comics of All Time Hero Special Edition, and has since gone onto become the name of my fake rock band. I asked Frank Kurtz if he knew the identity of the writer, and he had a guess but wasn't sure.

I have to commemorate my word verification - "monguliz".

Kazekage said...

In fact, from here on in, I declare that we were, in fact, in esoteric punk bands in the 90's. Reality will not stand in my way. I was the bassist/lead singer for Catatonic Sturgeon, a Celtic-cowpunk band, and Chris was the keyboard player for Scary Metal People, a hillybilly/trance/doom metal outfit that was a fixture in the Lake Charles scene of the late 90s. This is completely a thing because I just said so.

I will go over there and follow that there blog. "Black Sun" was the name of his newsletter/zine or something, wasn't it?

Well, thanks to the fact that I have just declared it, you have now been anointed retroactively as part of the Scary Metal People. The way I bought it all together like that is part of the magic of the Internet.