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.


Brett said...

Great post! Reading all these "eulogies" has helped me process my own feelings, definitely. I'm glad to see the tour video is still alive and kicking, I have been trying to find it to show people where I used to work but to no avail.


NjDevGrrl said...

I remember it was around 1998-ish and I was reading my monthly toyfair mag from cover-to-cover (cause at that time, you had to read it that way to catch all the funny inside jokes) and I saw that the mag was made only afew miles from Palisades Cntr (where I was working at EB.) No shit, I applied there..umm, like 10 times for any random position including warehouse cause it seemed like THE place to work.. Now seeing how things turned out and how theres no more mag, im kinda glad it never happened. My taste for toys and comics never got ruined by getting fired/getting shut down. Im really sorry that things turned out how it did, but all the toyfair/wizard guys (n gals) should be so very proud that they turned out an amazing product!

Esbat said...

I will forever worship your mutton choppy goodness.

I think the last issue of Toyfare was my last issue before my sub was going to run out, also, which made me sad since I kept putting off upping my renewal due to weather/laziness/disease/mego-aquaman-won't-stop-whispering-where-to-bury-grandma

Toyfare was always good times, even during the Monthly Rag stint (The superhero "Ass Busts" still makes me laugh). Never has there been a sexier magazine than Toyfare. (Smuttier, yes; sexier, no).

Aww, now I'm all misty eyed... I guess I should go cheer myself up by making some Girl Toys Kiss.