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Friday, January 06, 2006
Searching for Content in Wizard
One of the things that always bugged me about Wizard when I still worked in comics retail is how you can read through the entire magazine and come away feeling like you know less about comics than when you started. It's not because simply reading the magazine saps away brain cells (though I suspect that's true...), but because the bulk of the magazine is, well, fan-service fluff disguised as actual information. So, I've been meaning for awhile to sit down with an issue of Wizard and go through it and see what, if any, actual content the magazine has. I've even given them the benefit of the doubt and chosen their "2006 Preview" issue, in the expectation that this will at least contain information about comics I could buy in the next 12 months.
First of all, I'd like to say something about the cover. It's a close-up picture of Brandon Routh dressed up as Superman. This immediately brings two thoughts to my mind, neither of them inclining me positively towards the upcoming film. One, they're doing that thing I hate with super-hero costumes where they make all the seams visible in an attempt to make the costume look "realistic." And two, Brandon Routh's package has no definition in that outfit.
Secondly, let's look at the ratio of ad pages to editorial content pages. Not counting the covers, the magazine has 152 pages. 21 of those pages are out-right ads, counting the "shows and cons" and "classifieds" pages as paid advertisements. That's pretty good, better than I expected actually. But, wait, 10 of those ad pages are for Wizard-related events and publications (11 if they have anything to do with ToyWiz.Com), not actual paid advertising. And 13 of the editorial content pages have 1/3 to 1/2 page ads on them, again with Wizard-related ads making up the bulk of those. Still, that's a pretty good ratio of "content" to "ads." I can't help but take the noticeable lack of paid, outside advertising as a bad sign. The only non-comics related ad I saw was one for a video-game. This suggests to me that advertisers do not wish to court comic book fans or their money.
Now, on to the actual editorial content. We've got two pages serving as an index, and one more serving the "letter from the editor" and staff roster/copyright information. This counts as content, sort of, but it's not the slightest bit interesting and if the "funny jokes" were removed this could easily be condensed down to two pages. Next we've got six pages of letters to the editors. Again, this barely counts as content and I strongly suggest against reading the letters if you entertain any illusions that comic book fans are rational and level-headed.
And then there are 27 pages about the upcoming Superman Returns film. The first two pages are filler, serving as an introduction the film. Not, in the end, content. Next are several pages interviewing Brandon Routh, Bryan Singer and Kevin Spacey. My initial inclination is to discount these pages, because they're about a movie, not a comic book, but given that it's a film based on a comic book, I'm going to let it slide and judge these pages as content. Then we have two pages of discussion about Brandon Routh's costume. It's fan-wank, and therefore not real content. As is the two page poll. And the two page discussion of previous film incarnations of Superman. This sort of thing reeks of filler. Next we have two pages about the new Superman video game. This comes closest to fitting the category of "unpaid advertising." Again, not actual content. And finally we have a page of Superman trivia. It borders on fan-wank, but I'm not quite prepared to call it filler outright. There is a kind of postscript to the section, detailing upcoming films based on DC Comics properties. The information tends to be vague and brief, but it's mostly factual and informative, so it just barely counts as content.
We've got a two page discussion of one still from X-Men 3 next. There's no actual information here, so I have to declare this filler. We have a two page explanation of the DC Multiverse which isn't necessary information by a long shot. I have serious difficulty believing that anyone who reads Wizard doesn't already have some passing familiarity with this subject, so it's filler. We've got another two pages discussing, in as vague a manner as possible the "One Year Later" status quo for DC. It's too vague to be useful, and if you have an internet connection and know the URL of even one comics "news" site, none of it is revelatory, but it's still not quite filler. Content, barely. Moving on, we find a page about the upcoming Marvel "Civil War" event which tells me absolutely nothing about the event. So, I'm going to go ahead and call it an unpaid advertisement. The "Superhero Registration Form" is one of the magazine's occassional attempts at humor, but it's just sophomoric fan-wank filler.
A comparison between Astonishing X-men and All Star Superman is largely the kind of editorial content I'd expect from a magazine like Wizard. It's fairly non-offensive and it's designed to get the readership excited about the subject. The following ten pages are devoted to interviews with comics creators, namely Brad Meltzer, Jeph Loeb and Mark Millar, about their upcoming work. As with the AXM vs. ASS debate, it's the kind of editorial content I really should be expecting to find in a magazine like this. You'd expect the three pages (four if you content the full page of art) about 52 to be content, but in 52 paragraphs very little information is actually revealed. The closest descriptor I can find for this article is unpaid advertisement. Sadly, the next five pages, with their focus on Spider-Woman, New Avengers and Stephen King's 2007Dark Tower comic also are more suggestive of unpaid advertising than actual informative content. The two pages Sentinel breakdown is mere filler, and the list of House of M spin-offs and depowered mutants is more unpaid advertising.
We've got three pages of unpaid advertising for the Ultimate Avengers DVD, and then we've got one of the things I really hate about Wizard. As a retailer, the fact that Wizard isn't very good at communicating the difference between factual information, speculation and crap they made up, and the "Casting Call" feature is one of the worst offenders. Every single time Wizard would run an article like this I'd get customers who just had to tell me how excited they were about the cast of the upcoming film that wasn't actually going to be in the film that wasn't going to be made.
Four pages of Alex Ross pictures tying into the Justice series crosses the line from "content" to "filler." There's barely enough information in the article to fill one page, and it gets four? The two page "interview" with Grant Morrison about his upcoming run on Wildcats is entertaining filler, but it's still filler. In fact, it probably amounts to more unpaid advertising. The two page interview with Michael Turner is just barely content, but its right on the border of filler given its lack of specificity.
The following fourteen pages with short snippets of news about upcoming comics counts as content, if only for the sheer volume of vague information it contains. The "index" for the 2006 preview section is flat-out filler, as is the examination of Thomas Church in his Sandman costume.
The ten pages of brief promos for this month's comics straddles the line between content and unpaid advertising. If there was more of a review-type approach to the material I'd be comfortable calling it content, but as it is...
Twenty pages of price guides probably make up the most contentious aspect of the magazine. I find that it encourages a speculator mentality in comic readers and is too unreliable and easily manipulated. But, to be honest, it's really what most people buy the magazine for. So...against my better judgment, content. Except for the pages about slabbed comic prices. Those are just enticements to greed.
The last page joke makes me weep bitter, bloody tears at the folly of mankind. Filler.
So, in my final count, we've got about 50 pages of actual, informative content out of 152, removing the price guide from the tally. Or, about one-third of this issue of Wizard isn't filler or advertising material, paid or otherwise. Informative content you could just as easily find on-line. And, usually, without the sub-frat boy level humor.