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!

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Joy of Zach: December 18, 2010

I somehow let two weeks slip by without updating, so I've got a lot to tell you about! Mostly TWoP pieces, but it feels good to see how much I've done there.

- We're doing a lot of year-end wrap-ups at TWoP, including a piece on our favorite movies of the year, which I wrote maybe 70 percent of, and our most hated movies, which I did maybe 40%. What can I say, I'm a positive person.

- My reviews for the past week have been The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Tourist and, just today, Tron: Legacy. One I liked, one I loved, and one I despised with a passion. Read 'em to find out which! Next week I review True Grit and Gulliver's Travels, which I expect to be similarly divided on.

- To tie in to Tron: Legacy, I did a couple of photo galleries: the best and worst virtual realities in film, and other actors who should meet their younger, CGI selves on the big screen, like Jeff Bridges does in Tron. The latter one I'm pretty proud of, if only for the split-panel shots I put together. I also compared Narnia to Middle-Earth, and I jumped the gun and updated our best movie eyepatches gallery for True Grit. I love that gallery.

- I still haven't seen The Fighter, but that didn't stop me from writing a Mark Wahlberg set diary, and from converting my list of the best movies about fighting to a gallery, to tie in to the movie.

- Awards season began in earnest this week, and I posted my responses to the SAG Awards nominations and the Golden Globes. My comment on how wacky the foreign press's picks seem to me was interpreted as American superiority, when I merely meant that different cultures like different things. Like The Tourist, for example.

- Back in the Moviefile, with Yogi Bear coming out this weekend (I won't be reviewing), I ran down some classic Hanna-Barbera animated properties that should get the big screen treatment. I focused more on the action shows than the talking animal shows, because Yogi looks like a train wreck. Think less Hong Kong Phooey, more Herculoids. I also did a fun (I thought) piece on directors who should take over Iron Man 3 now that Jon Favreau's gone.

- I posted a rundown of all of my co-author Ruben Procopio's upcoming projects over at the Pop Sculpture blog. I was actually surprised to find out about some of them, and my rekindled love of Tron has me craving a couple of his pieces. But I've been denying myself even a $10 light-up Tron action figure, so I probably won't be buying myself a bust or statue any time soon. Let me know if the picures don't load for you, because I can't see them half the time.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Joy of Zach: December 6, 2010

Welcome back to your one-stop shop for the writing of Zach Oat! This week it's pretty much all Television Without Pity, since I've been inactive on the LAW Blog and the Pop Sculpture Blog, where Tim has been posting his multi-part Jacob Marley bust tutorial. However, since it's Krampus Day, I just started updating the @MisterKrampus Twitter account again! Naughty boys and girls, beware!

- My latest movie reviews for TV Without Pity are The King's Speech and Black Swan, which is probably my favorite Aronofsky film so far, and in support of that I came up with a list of star Natalie Portman's best and worst roles. Putting The Professional on the "Worst" list was painful, but it was something I had to come to terms with.

- The first season of The Walking Dead ended on Sunday, and it also marked the end of the writer's room on the show -- going forward, it's going to be all freelancers under showrunner Frank Darabont. God only knows how that'll work out, but at TWoP we're pretty much all in agreement that the show needs new writers. I was chosen to express our reasoning in song. Well, singable prose.

- Last weekend we lost a great actor in Leslie Nielsen and a great director in Irvin Kershner, so I wrote a couple of posts, one about Nielsen's greatest roles and another about Kershner's other two great sequels that aren't Empire Strikes Back.

- I knew it was too unbelievable to be true when I heard that the Farrelly brothers were going to try to relaunch the Three Stooges in a feature film starring Jim Carrey, Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro... and it was. The movie changed studios, and Penn and Carrey left, so I decided to re-cast the roles. My buddy Jon Abrams had his own ideas -- but we agreed on one Moe, kinda.

Next week: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Tron: Legacy!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Joy of Zach: November 24, 2010

Hey, all. I realize I haven't posted on this blog in a long time, but that's because I blog as part of my day job, and, well, I'm not usually that inspired to write on my blog once I get home. But then I realized: there's no one central place to see everything I write. Since my multi-blogging buddy Jon Abrams asked about it, and successfully posts on several blogs regularly, I figured I'd start doing a writing wround-up every week of my published (well not really published, but you know, fake-published) work. I give you the Joy of Zach!

- This week, I have reviews of Love and Other Drugs, Faster and Tangled up at I loved Tangled. Best non-Pixar Disney movie since The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The others? Not so much. Also, I reviewed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows last week , and I hope to see it again with the missus.

- I also posted my reaction to the Green Lantern trailer. I'm gonna see it, and it looks like fun, but I still think Ryan Reynolds (whom I love) was miscast, and Blake Lively looks awful.

- My massive holiday movie preview is also up, showcasing all the big movies coming out between Thanksgiving and New Year's. I gotta say, besides Tron: Legacy and Black Swan and True Grit and maybe Somewhere, there's not a ton I'm excited about. Although that's plenty, I suppose.

- Tim Bruckner and I've been doing a lot on the Pop Sculpture blog, since the book came out a month ago (less than that on Amazon, due to some kind of glitch), and the last thing I did was an interview with contributor Jim McPherson, who's a digital sculptor at Gentle Giant. He also used to sculpt makeup effects with Rick Baker, and he actually sculpted stretchy-face Ash in Army of Darkness, which makes him aces in my book.

- I also post on the Real LAW Blog along with some of my writer friends, and we take turns picking characters to draw. The last pick was the Ghostbusters, so I drew them fighting Geist, from Justin Aclin's Hero House. I'm probably going to back off for a while, and give some of the other guys a chance to post their drawings, but you can see my older stuff here.

Well, that's it for this short week, but here are a couple of Thanksgiving cartoons I drew last year for a contest that I've never published anywhere. Zachsclusive!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pop Sculpture is On Its Way!

So my book is almost done. It's written and designed, and it's getting redesigned as we speak, but Tim Bruckner, Rubén Procopio and I have decided to start the buzz early and build to its October release! To that end, we've created a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a blog. I highly recommend following one or all, because we're gonna have sneak peeks (not sneak peaks, which are surprise mountains) of the book, and nuggets of wisdom from our various contributors for the next six months, and probably beyond that.

I also highly recommend you check out the LAW Blog, which is where I and a bunch of my friends and former co-workers have been posting our artistic interpretations of comic book and cartoon characters. If you think a blog where a bunch of writers post their drawings sounds lame, you are dead wrong.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Zach Oat to Appear on 'Idolz'

Very often, someone will ask me to loan my artistic talent to a project. ...No, not really. It rarely happens. It's never happened, in fact. And sometimes the seething jealousy as I was overlooked in favor of more important and better-trained people threatened to consume my soul. So when the guys at Idolz Toyz asked me to customize one of their posable, stackable, tiki-inspired Idolz for them, I was instantly filled with a sense of vindication, and swore to do my very best.

Sadly, I didn't take into account the holidays, the surge of Oscar-quality movies hitting theaters and the fact that I was the father of a one-year-old. So I got delayed a bit, but the New Year gave me the time off necessary to finally complete my design! In addition to a couple carded versions of the first release, Gruntor (in camo, above), I was sent a totally blank version to paint however I wanted. After briefly considering making a Zach Oat Idolz, which my wife Melissa roundly discouraged, I settled on my favorite comic character, Hellboy, who is similarly craggy-featured.

I wanted to use the removable arms, so I passed on the sideburns in favor of the stylish BPRD trenchcoat. I tried to find a good-sized version of the Samaritan pistol, but ended up just using the included hammer, which I can only assume is magical, and kills Nazis. I'm pretty happy with it, and I think it stands up to some of the other Idolz customs out there, including Iron Man and Spider-Man. You can see those great customs on the Idolz Facebook page, and you can buy your own camouflage version at! (No blank ones for sale yet, but maybe someday!)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Zach's Toy Review: Indie Spotlight Maxx and Shadowhawk

Whoa, since when does Zach do toy reviews? Since he got the action figure he's been waiting for for years, that's when. I'm talking about the Indie Spotlight figures -- specifically The Maxx -- by Shocker Toys. And when I said I've been waiting for this figure for years, I don't just mean "any Maxx action figure, as long as it's better than the McFarlane version." No, I mean this specific figure, which has been in the works for a while. A highly poseable, super-articulated Maxx with interchangeable heads for city and jungle living, so I can re-create my favorite memories from the Image comic book and the MTV cartoon. Shocker totally nailed the sculpt, and the articulation allows for a bunch of great poses, even ones outside the traditional "I'm squatting and giving you the middle fingers" school of thought, although that was certainly comic artist Sam Keith's old stand-by.
The scale seems pretty good to me. He may be a little large for some fans -- even crouching, he's the same size as Big Daddy from Body Bags, and I imagine he similarly dwarfs Colossus (a lot of my Marvel Legends and Legendary Comic Book Heroes are in storage, sadly). So if you always thought of him as a homeless guy in a suit, you might be put off by his sheer size, but if you saw him as a magnificent guardian of the world of dreams, you probably won't care. (I certainly don't.) As I mentioned before, he comes with his alternate, lion's-maned head, the one from the dream jungle, and it looks like the paint has changed from the promo pics, but it's for the better, in my opinion. The bright orange wasn't working for me, and this feels more natural, although I haven't exactly been scouring the web for comparison art. Other accessories include a black Isz, a white Isz and a pink, floating girl Isz that I don't remember and, frankly, am perfectly happy to have missed. She's creepy.
The articulation, as I said, is great. His massive feet have a couple of layers to them, so they level out nicely, and the knees are double-jointed. To deal with what would probably have been annoying top-heaviness issues, the head, arms and torso have been rotocast, so they're hollow and therefore incredibly light. The transition is seamless, and the top actually features some of the best articulation of the figure. The ball-jointed neck allows the head almost an entire hemisphere of movement, and the torso can twist nicely. The head is, of course, removable, but so are the rest of the parts on the top half -- some easier than others. Some may lament the impermanence of some of the joints, but it's a small price to pay for a well-balanced figure. I've paid a lot more for vinyl toys that do the same thing, and I love the feel of it.
Shadowhawk -- actually, Shadowhawk II, since I got the variant version, which wears the outfit of Shadowhawk's successor -- isn't as deluxe as The Maxx, but he's certainly well-articulated. The new hip joints Shocker is using are seamless and smooth, and poseability is overall very good. Ball-and-socket joints are used in place of hinges wherever possible, and while it doesn't give you the widest range of movement, you can certainly capture all of Shadowhawk's "look at me, I'm edgy" touchstones. His torso is surprisingly flexible -- think some of the more poseable Spider-Man toys over the years. A joint may pop out once in a while, but I'd rather have to pop a joint back in than have it snap off clean, like on some other lines I can mention. Ditto the clean paint job, which has no real problems that I can see. My photography is weak, but he comes with a clip-on wrist-launcher accessory, with a grappling hook captured mid-launch, and a single white Isz to go with the Maxx's three.
All in all, the Maxx is definitely worth the price of purchase over at the Shocker Toys store. Shadowhawk, too, as long as you love the character and were as disappointed by McFarlane's offerings as I was. They both fit into my collection of roughly-6-or-7-inch superheroes pretty well, and I can't wait to get Scud and Kabuki, although it looks like I'll have to wait until the new shipment arrives in June to snag them. Hopefully, Series 2 won't keep us waiting as long as Series 1 did.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Harold & Mod Squad

Wow! This is my 100th blog post on Buster of Chops, and I apologize that so many of them are merely links to articles I've written on another site. (There's actually a reason I post my Chops links on Facebook, and not direct TWoP links -- it has to do with how the page names appear. But I digress.) I figured I'd commemorate the 100th post with an interview I was particularly excited to do. Remember last week, when I grumbled about getting to interview an Unusuals cast member, and getting stuck with Amber Tamblyn? Well, only one week later, I managed to snag Harold Perrineau, star of Lost, The Matrix Reloaded and Oz, the latter of which I never watched. Anyway, he was very nice to me, and seems like a swell guy, and his show is very funny and you should watch it. Read about the pilot he did that you'll never see over at!

Walt! In the Name of the Law! (The Harold Perrineau Interview)