Sunday, January 30, 2011

ToyFare and Wizard Memories

The Wizard, ToyFare, Anime Insider and Inquest staffs, wearing the spoils of the ToyFare Scavenger Hunt, in 2006.

Even though everyone I know has already written something about the cancellation of the print editions of Wizard and ToyFare magazines (they'll continue online) I felt I had to write something here, since I was there for a good long while. Obviously, I'm sad that some of my few remaining friends there are now unemployed, and I'm also vaguely sad about the slow death of print, but I'm also glad that I made a lot of friends in my time there. I've included links to many of their reactions at the bottom of the page, but I wanted to share some of my memories of the place. (I know it still exists as a company, but it's mostly unrecognizable from what it was, so the hell with it. Also, sorry that my visual history is mostly pictures of me.)

A mid-2000s tour of the Wizard offices with Kiel Phegley.

Throughout the 1990s, my brother and I read Wizard regularly, having discovered it at the same time Image Comics took off (WildCATs cover!), and we actually got our Hellboy custom figure featured in their Homemade Heroes section. I had only read a few issues of ToyFare when I interviewed for a copy editor position in the summer of 1999, but I had writing and editing experience, and I'd spent the summer after graduation working for a small novelty company. I started in September 1999, in time for one of the last office scavenger hunts, in which carloads of Wizardites criss-crossed Rockland County, NY, to find a list of random items. The tradition was on its way out, as was the famous Wizard Halloween costume party, but people still dressed up every year for as long as I was there, with varying participation rates. (At left, me as Ash in the cluttered ToyFare office in 2000.)
Hellboy custom figure, made from a Masters of the Universe Fisto. Head sculpted by Ash Oat.

My Halloween costume of Kraven, co-opted for a Wizard Bunny letters-column photo shoot.

In addition to appearing in photo shoots, I also assisted Editor-in-Chief Pat McCallum with them, including Twisted Mego Theatre, later Twisted ToyFare Theatre.  Eventually, it was just me working with our photographer, Paul Schiraldi, then it was just me by myself, which meant I could work into the early morning hours in a dark, creaky warehouse. (A bad habit my lovely girlfriend-now-wife Melissa eventually talked me out of.) Back there, I scared myself on a regular basis, and would regularly check over my shoulder to make sure Pat wasn't sneaking up on me, which happened more often than I liked. He was a notorious prankster, throwing dummies off of roofs and wrapping offices in aluminum foil. (Note the foil-wrapped action figure hanging from the ceiling in the Ash picture. A reminder to never forget.) He and I were also regular cosplayers at Wizard conventions, along with Research Editor Dan Reilly. Pat was Galactus, and Dan and I played Doctor Doom. Dan was the hardest-working man in show business, and he was only recently let go when the print editions ended.

Me and wrestler Mick Foley, at the JAKKS Pacific showroom during Toy Fair. 

Paul Schiraldi also photographed New York Toy Fair for us every year, but eventually Dan, research assistant Dylan Brucie and I were the ones shooting it, once Paul was scaled back to just covers and photo spreads. (To be fair, most of the photography he was doing for us -- head shots, toys on white backdrops, etc. -- was a waste of his prodigious talent.) When I became ToyFare editor, Dylan and later Alex Kropinak took over shooting TTT, with me approving photos, and Krope used his animation skills to make TTT shorts like the one below. (After watching it, find the other four on YouTube. They're all pretty special.)

Over my eight and a half years, I saw a lot of people come and go, and while many left to pursue better opportunities -- my path up the ToyFare ladder was mostly cleared by people quitting, thankfully -- many were fired. The company regularly swelled to seating capacity in times of growth only to contract to its previous size after a year or two. I saw at least two or three purges in my time there, which meant a lot of my friends were let go, although many got out ahead of a purge -- the purge of early 2008 was what prompted me to leave, since a lot of my best friends at the company were gone by that point. A group of us had a tradition of getting together every few months for a Manly Movie marathon, which ran late into the night, but without us all at least working in the same town, it became more difficult to coordinate. (Luckily, there's still a semi-regular lunch in Manhattan.)

 The Wizard gang at the first MMM in 2005. Photo and kitchen by Adam Tracey.

The magazines weren't what they once were, but it was more than just a page reduction, it was the loss of a lot of these great writers and editors. No offense to those who were, and are, still working there -- my good friend Justin Aclin was still kicking ass on ToyFare, and doing it with fewer people than I had, but now everything's changed. I'm anxious to see how the ToyFare model will change once it hits the Web, and how both Wizard and ToyFare will compete with the numerous sites out there that already do what they do.

Our first (and last) holiday buyer's guide video. After I hawk the toys, Kiel does comics.

My fellow alumni's reactions to the news:

Rob Bricken - Editor of Topless Robot, former editor of Anime Insider, and one of my best friends since 2001.
Doug Goldstein - Robot Chicken writer, former Wizard Specials editor, and my former boss.
Alex Segura, Ben Morse and Mel Caylo (industry round-up) - Former DC/current Archie marketing guru, editor and Archaia marketing guy, respectively. All former Wizard writers/editors.
Mel Caylo (in podcast form) - Still Archaia, still fluffy.
Ryan Penagos - Former Wizard price guide editor, current editor, superstar @Agent_M on Twitter.
Sean T. Collins - Comics journalist, zombie connoisseur and former Wizard editor.
Chris Ward - Former Wizard writer, current loose cannon, future musical superstar, not the rapper.
Poe Ghostal - Longtime ToyFare freelancer.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Transformers: The Marvel Books Years

I recently dug up one of my childhood story books, about the Transformers. It was a Marvel Books publication, about 10 by 10 inches, paperback -- the same size as some of the He-Man Golden Books that came out back then. (Marvel Books also did a Fantastic Four story that I have.) He-Man artist Earl Norem did the art in it, and he also did another one I have, which is the origin story. This one is about the Autobots wanting to win a road rally, because the prize is oil and gas, and the Autobots are basically homeless people who beg for food. The Decepticons try to stop them, of course, and things get pretty vicious. Frenzy destroys a bridge, Hound blows up real good, and Optimus... well, I'll let these three pictures tell the whole story. Warning: Optimus Prime has a mouth. It's frightening.

Just so you know, the evil-looking car Optimus is hitting with a telephone pole is being driven by none other than Megatron. Just in case you thought Prime was knocking his human competition into the stratosphere.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Joy of Zach: January 9, 2011

As I sat watching the mediocre first episode of The Cape, I took a moment to check out my Television Without Pity blog posting, where I said I was looking forward to the first episode. Someone named NBC Hater either saw it and hated it or was pre-judging based on extant reviews, because he called me a corporate shill. Hooray! (I still think it's better than Heroes and No Ordinary Family, but that's not saying much.) Now on to my other writing...

The biggest news of the past few weeks is that I got the opportunity to interview Ron Perlman, one of my favorite actors, in person, for Season of the Witch. You can read the interview here, although my questions have been made to sound more eloquent and less like a nervous fan talking to his idol.

My movie reviews: True Grit, Gulliver's Travels, Little Fockers, Rabbit Hole, Season of the Witch and Barney's Version. (Lesson learned from my Gulliver's Travels review: never say you're on the fence about a film that has already been mostly negatively reviewed, especially one starring Jack Black. People will call you a bad a reviewer and/or to drop dead.) I also saw The Fighter over the holidays with Melissa, and I loved it, as I do most sports movies; Mindy Monez did a great review for TWoP you can read here.

My latest galleries: Nic Cage's witch-hunting tips, the most dysfunctional movie couples and Jack Black's most annoying roles. All exhaustingly researched.

I did a more in-depth analysis of this year's Golden Globes nominations for movies, calling out which movies I thought would win, which should win, and which got overlooked. A lot of my personal picks are likely winners, although who can predict these things? Uh, I mean, who can predict them besides me?

The Winter 2011 movie previews are up, and I personally handled Animation, Action/Thrillers and Sci-Fi/Horror/Fantasy. (Mindy did Comedies and Dramas.) See what's coming up in your favorite genres!

On Twitter, I finished up this year's run on @MisterKrampus, the Twitter account of the famous holiday punisher of naughty children, and some friends and I just started @SmrtConsumer, which is entirely fake reviews of fictional products.

On a sadder note, I'll probably be ceasing work on the Pop Sculpture Twitter and blog, but the book's been out for months, and I don't have the time to promote it any more. It's like watching your child go off to college, and then cutting off all communication with him.

Back soon!