If I ran Wizard…

There’s been a lot of buzz over the “parting of the ways” of Editor-in-chief Pat McCallum and Wizard magazine and the direction of the magazine in general. Having worked for an industry-type magazine for a year and in marketing and public relations for the last ten years, as well as a subscriber to Wizard (and several other magazines) for the last several years, I think I’m qualified to give an informed opinion on the situation.

As I look at the last two issues of Wizard (182 and 183), I’m struck by a little something that I had not noticed before: the tagline changed. Wizard used to be The Guide to Comics. Now it’s The Magazine of Comics, Entertainment and Pop Culture.

I need a game show buzzer to make that annoying sound.

Wizard cannot be The Magazine of Comics, Entertainment and Pop Culture. That crown is firmly on the head of Entertainment Weekly and People. It can’t even be a monthly version of EW or People.

My biggest complaint with Wizard is that it’s predominately filler on a monthly basis. It’s unabashedly sophomoric and caters to DC and Marvel like nobody’s business.

If I had the reins of power, this is what I’d do:

Complete Redesign
Visually, Wizard looks dated. I’d hire a design firm to completely re-imagine the look and feel of the entire magazine. The color and font pallet needs to be modernized to the 21st century. I want color-coded sections like EW. I want page numbers on every page that isn’t an ad. Lose the price guide. One page table of contents. One page of letters (and no snarky comments). One page of Gareb and the masthead. More single page columnists (I’d have at least three). Less filler.

Only Comics
Wizard has to be only about comics in all its glorious variations. If there’s not a comics angle, there’s no story. Jack Bauer may be a super-hero archetype, but covering 24 like TV Guide is not what you should be spending your time on. Talking about 24, CSI, Battlestar Galactica and the Heroes comic books based on the TV shows make sense. The same goes for movies, video games and toys.

Editorial Tone
The tone of the magazine is all wrong. Wizard simply can’t be another PR tool for DC and Marvel. Cheerleaders are fun, but the drama is on the basketball court. Can we have a Lewis Black type columnist who puts things in perspective? This guy gets the last page of the magazine (see EW or Sports Illustrated as examples). Why do I have to read only about the accusations of discrimination and rape within the industry only online? This is ripe for investigative journalism.

I want complete articles that tell me something new. I want fresh perspectives on the industry. Don’t give me two page spreads of who wears pink in comics. I’m also sick of Q and A stories. Could you please write a full article or make it a sidebar? Or better yet, put that type of article on the web.

No More Fraternity Filler
The dick and fart jokes work in Kevin Smith movies, not so much with the written word. I would never give Wizard to my 60-year old father who collected comics for close to 40 years. He would wonder why I was reading this crap. Identify the character by her butt? No more.

Just stop it.

Expanded Coverage
Coverage has to expand. I know DC and Marvel have 95% of the market, but there’s 5% that’s pretty cool too. Pay attention to smaller works by smaller publishers by big name creators (or soon to be big names). Make comics that people didn’t know about previously interesting. Walk down artist’s alley and learn about self-publishers. You need an advocate of independent comics writing articles.

Focus on Readers and Wannabes
People love behind the scenes stuff. Have sample page scripts. Show how a page of rough pencils becomes a comic page. Lets look inside the offices of DC, Marvel and all the other publishers. Lets look inside the offices of creators. Lets talk about the differences in art styles like its cinematography. Lets talk about pacing and angles and story beats in comics like they do about movies. Lets talk about more “Easter Eggs” in comics. Have featured reviews and small, quick reviews.

Utilize Print and Web
The same firm that’s redesigning the magazine will also redesign wizarduniverse.com. It is an eyesore of epic proportions and pretty much end-user repellant. There are features on the web that should be incorporated in the magazine (Bendis interviews) and vice versa (nearly all the stupid filler). I’d dictate how this would fall out.

I would also archive each month’s wizard as a downloadable PDF and have people pay 99 cents for that version, albeit a month old. That way you get readers into your magazine at an inexpensive price and maybe they’ll buy the paper and staples version down the line.

Wizard Weekly
My biggest change, other than editorial slant, would be to stop monthly production and create a weekly publication. You can’t compete on a monthly basis with magazines that come out weekly, let alone the daily consumption of daily (sometimes hourly) internet news and entertainment.

I’d create a lean, mean 70 page publication with 17 pages of advertising (counting inside front, inside back and back and not counting less than full page ads). Wizard currently is at 144 with way too much filler for a monthly magazine and only 26 pages of ads (utilizing the same criteria as above).

Wizard, I think, is aspiring to be a more comics-oriented version of Entertainment Weekly. The problem is that EW is way too diversified. I’d rather it be like Sports Illustrated and focus on one thing in all its incarnations. I’d focus on the big time stuff coming out of DC, Marvel, Image, Dark Horse and stories about creators and other personalities, comics you’ve never heard of before and in-depth coverage on breaking news. A comics fan would get everything they’d ever want: something about comics they’re interested in, something about comics they’d never heard of before and in-depth coverage they can’t get online.

My point is Wizard can become a “real” magazine that covers the industry in a mature and interesting way. It needs to grow up.