The Pocket-sized No Gloss or Glitz Beginnings of Wizard Magazine

Wizard magazine is a publication that is now often talked about in a negative context by most of the same people who didn’t like the half decade or so that Wizard reflected and even influenced the comic book medium and culture, and many who never read the magazine in its prime who echo anything negative because internet.

I don’t really want to get into that discussion and instead just want to highlight a recent acquisition.

To many, however, Wizard does represent an era of bombast, of image over substance, of hot artists and writers, chromium and die-cut covers, accompanying trading cards, that comics almost didn’t survive, even as many made millions.

Wizard didn’t start like that though.

Hell, it wasn’t even in color.

Growing up Wizard was one of my handful of automatic buys. If you couldn’t afford a comic or a lot of them Wizard was just a great bet to add and indulge in everything going on and coming in mainstream comics.

In later years the quality of magazine would fall because of a combination of a lack of  talent working in it or at least talent not directed properly by editorial, and it started covering mediums that comics were expanding to or tangentially related to (goddamn Doctor Who) that it simply couldn’t compete against already existing major trades and sites who specialized in those larger mediums, who had more talent, experience, access, and budget when it came to covering and writing about film and television.

Wizard, however, was very good at being a part of the mainstream comics world when actual comics were perhaps at its brief height. X-Men and Spider-Man ruled the world, IMAGE and VALIANT launched, and DC would begin to put their iconic but stale characters in transitions to get them back in headlines against their long time Big 2 rival and the younger upstarts who owned all of the talk and publicity, even while DC was a stalwart as the #2 comics publisher in volume.

Wizard was among my top shelf gets if a new issue was out and was such a value at its price point when you consider how large the magazine was in its prime, the extra goodies in a market where non-sports cards were booming, not to mention the ashcans that I still collect today.

While I have my share of Silver and Bronze age comics and dabble in Gold, I’ve always been someone who was more interested in my own era of reading, no matter if the better buys from an investment pov were older comics, though luckily I’m in a position to indulge whatever fancies me.

From an interest stand point the older eras of comics have been well documented and it really wasn’t until the ’90s where so much product in so many forms was being released that we are just recently catching up to all the variants, ashcans, preview editions, game and toy inserts like Pressmans, regional and store exclusives, foreign comics, Mark Jeweler variants given out to overseas military bases (how I read comics as a kid), that add so many possibilities and variables to what may be our collecting focuses and it’s really within this era where you might still have a white whale comic amidst the massive overprinting in the hobby at the time.

When it comes to earlier eras, minus a select handful, the only toll for that comic you want is literally money. You either have it or you don’t. And I say that is a person well aware of exceptions as I still try to finish a Rex the Wonder Dog run.

Back to Wizard, it started as a pocket sized, kinkos-put-together looking McFarlane Spidey adorned gem that was sent to retailers letting people know what was coming. There was actually a price guide in it too. Also, within the interior, was Captain America.

wizard captain america

While mainstream as mainstream gets they had occasional wonderful spotlights that introduced me to many indie comics, and while I know there were other publications who did that better, people have to understand how much more potent such features are when in a mainstream publication and how they can matter more.

For me, the wonderful Cerebus, while something I was obviously aware of, wasn’t a thing until he appeared in the pages of Spawn. I know that elicits eye rolls but whatever gets fresh eyes, a large number of them, on something different is much more valuable than preaching to a choir in a church no outsider will ever visit.

Grendel, Stray Bullets, Usagi Yojimbo, and Concrete, were just some of the titles I was introduced too and even comics I didn’t get into immediately like Love and Rockets (which I now love and obsess over), I became aware they existed, that they were even out there for me to look out for in a pre-internet search world.

There was also an incredible write-up on one of my favorite writers of my early childhood, Bill Mantlo.

A lot of people learned about his plight when Guardians of the Galaxy was released in theaters but I learned about the tragedy that befell him reading an incredible article about him in Wizard. I have to admit it was soo good even I was like this seems a bit out of place here lol.

The letters and answers though, sure, completely idiotic, no defense there. They made you feel dumb for being a comic book fan and to be honest seeing how some of those kids grew up to be 40-year olds who are now on social media acting like they act they were and are dumb as fuck.

I think I might go back and reread some Wizard now. I wish Gareb would have put the back catalog online. Short-lived, but I think there’s some magic in those pages worth revisiting or maybe I’m wrong and I’m just the latest incarnation of the mort of the month.

Editor’s Note: There is a great youtube channel and podcast called Cartoonist Kayfabe that chronicles issues of Wizard – highly recommended.