Where to begin?
Yesterday, the news broke that Wizard was shutting down Wizard Magazine and ToyFare and moving on to do something in the digital realm. I’m not going to analyze the news. There are much better places to get that information from.
The news took me by surprise, even though I guess it shouldn’t have. Wizard hasn’t exactly been selling like it used to, and it felt like every other day I’d find out a friend or former colleague had been laid off. Still, I’d kind of taken Wizard for granted, assuming it’d be around for a while longer. Now it’s gone in a hurry and I’m sitting around and thinking about my time there.
I was only at Wizard for a little over two years as an Associate Editor. But in that time I made some of the best friends of my life, many of whom I still talk to today. Hell, I live with one of them – Ryan Penagos.
I started out at Wizard as a wide-eyed twentysomething who’d never really seen snow or mountains, loved the Talking Heads and Chris Claremont’s run on X-Men. Not much of that has changed – I still don’t know how to dress myself in the winter time and read X-Men Forever – but I did leave the magazine much wiser, and with what felt like a decade’s worth of experience in the comic book industry. Without that time at Wizard, I doubt I’d be where I am today, with comic books as a career and a base of contacts and friends that I can never fully list.
I wouldn’t have made it to Wizard – and maybe comics, period – if not for Joe Yanarella. Joe took a chance on a newspaper editor from Miami who’d written for Newsarama. He ignored the fact that I was nervous and skittish during my in-person interview. He let me get settled over a few months instead of judging me right out of the gate. Joe’s good people. We have a lot of the same sensibilities when it comes to journalism and putting out a good product. He was a fair and level-headed boss. I’m happy to still call him a friend.
It’s tough to sum everything up into a few paragraphs. I feel like after my time at Wizard, I came back home stronger. I’d basically gained a handful of family members that I could now count on for the rest of my life. I don’t think I’d have made it past my first month on the job if not for people like Jesse Thompson. Jesse was the first person to be nice to me at Wizard and welcome me as a friend. He kept me sane when I basically just worked or went home to my tiny attic apartment (above a crazy elderly couple, natch!). Jesse was, and still is, a booming, awesome voice of reason. Sensible, loyal, funny as hell and true to his word, Jesse’s the kind of guy I’d like to be someday. I’m really lucky I had him sitting a few feet away from me those years. I’m still lucky to have him as a friend now.
Chris Ward was the little brother I’d never realized I wanted. We clicked from day one, laughing at the same stupid shit, talking about music, fretting about getting older, our insecurities and just bonding. We were two scared kids from different parts of the country in a weird, alien place and we got through those early months because we had another pair of ears to listen to our paranoid dramas. I saw Chris about a week ago and I thought to myself, “Wow, we’re so different now, but we’re still the same.” We’ve kind of grown up together, even hundreds of miles apart. I’m really proud of Chris. Have been for a long time. One of my favorite moments at Wizard was convincing him to take a pause and write an honest-to-God, serious interview for the Spider-Man Special I was editing at the time. I also realize how ludicrous it is to type that. But, regardless, he knocked it out of the park and proved to the higher ups that he was more than just the “funny” kid in the research department who could fill in word balloon gags. I love reading his writing. I know a lot of talented people, and he’s near the top of that list.
Ryan Penagos started out at Wizard as a Price Guide Assistant. One of my first assignments was coordinating the editorial side of the Wizard PG, which basically meant I helped come up with the funny /informative sidebars while the Price Guide Editors actually did the grunt work of, well, getting the prices. I popped into the cave-like office Ryan was working from and heard he was playing Pretty Girls Make Graves. He lent me the CD and we became fast friends. I still have the burned copy of Sage Francis he gave me. He’d give me shit for not listening to it enough. He liked good music, worked hard and we were both huge geeks. Not much has really changed since. Ryan’s one of the most optimistic and genuine people I know. He takes people at face value, is the first to lend a hand or offer help and acts like it’s nothing. I remember lots of lunches, stupid jokes, laughter and friendship. Like I said, not much has changed except where we work and where we live. Friends, man.
It’s a testament to how nice and awesome he is that one of the most vivid memories I have of working with Rickey Purdin at Wizard was the one time I pissed him off. Rickey was on his second Wizard internship and crashing on the couch of the house I shared with Mike Cotton and James Walker. We were making plans for the following day’s drive to the airport – I think we were heading to Wizard World Chicago or something. Rickey – very politely, as he is with EVERYTHING – asked if he could hop in the shower first before we hit the road. I said sure. The following morning, though, I blanked and just hopped in the shower. I got dressed and as I was exiting the bathroom, found Rickey sitting on the stairs with his towel in hand. Instantly, I knew I ‘d fucked up. I felt terrible. Leave it to me to piss off the best guy in the office because of something straight up stupid. Rickey’s the nicest person you’ll ever meet. He’s just this big, huggable pile of goodness. He’s always sincere. Always thoughtful and always a friend. He also got me into Kanye West, so double-win.
I’m having trouble summing up these friendships because they’re not finite things. I talk to these guys every day. I hang out with them all the time. The relationships I built at Wizard are ongoing and fluid. I learned a lot from people like Mike Cotton, Andy Serwin, Dan Reilly, Joe Yanarella, Steve Blackwell, Pat McCallum, Mike Searle, Brian Cunningham (“Segura? SEGUNDO?!”) and Matt Senreich. I’d like to consider them friends. I left Wizard on good terms and, most importantly, on my own terms.
Even better, I’ve become close friends with other fine folk who made Wizard their lives at some point – Sean T. Collins, Zach Oat, Justin Aclin, Rob Bricken, Kiel Phegley, Mel Caylo, Ben Morse, Rich Ho, Alex Kropinak, TJ Dietsch, Adam Tracey, Brendan McGinley, Todd Casey, Alejandro Arbona, Andrew Reedman, Jon Gutierrez and Dave Paggi. I didn’t even WORK with most of these guys. And some of the guys I did share space with, I didn’t really become close to until years later. But through our shared bond, we became friends. We were all in the trenches at different times and with different iterations of people, but at the end of the day, we got to be part of something cool. Sure, it was work and stressful and crazy and sometimes frustrating – but that’s life. I met so many great people and really laid a foundation for my career thanks to the years I spent at Wizard. I’m grateful for that. I’m reminded of it every day when I exchange words with people I care about that I met thanks to that tiny, inconspicuous building in Congers.
And yeah, I did a lot of cool stuff while at Wizard – got to interview Sarah Michelle Gellar, met a ton of awesome creators and celebs, traveled around the country and networked like crazy. But the moments I miss – the ones that still get me choked up in a happy, “Damn, those were good times” way – are the little ones. Laughing over our lunch break. Hanging out after a long week. Those quiet seconds between conversations when you’re just sitting around and basking in the fact that you’re surrounded by people you care about. That’s what I’ll remember most, and I’m thankful for that.