When we first started up this web site, I thought it would be great to do some reviews and possibly interview people that came through the store. I didn’t expect that it would lead me into anything bigger. When the 2004 Wizard World Chicago schedule was announced, I figured I would go again and check out some things and possibly get some ideas for things to talk about on the web site. When I was ordering my tickets, though, I noticed that they had a little area where you could request press passes for the event. I figured, what is the worst they would say- “no”, so I sent in the information. Our webmaster was kind enough to get things posted for me, since it was early in the life of the page and we were just fleshing things out, so that I could show them what I was doing. About a week after that I got an e-mail informing me that my request had been granted and I was going to get my press pass. Now I thought that was pretty spiffy, but I actually got really excited two days later when I got another e-mail offering me an opportunity that I couldn’t refuse. I was offered the chance to sit down and talk with Gareb Shamus, publisher of Wizard, Inquest Gamer, Toyfair, Anime Insider and Toy Wishes. I don’t know what they were thinking, but I said I would certainly like the chance to ask him some questions. I figured I should get them to commit before they realized what they had done. I got the confirmation of the day and time for the sit down and immediately started to wonder, what the heck am I going to ask him? Sure I’ve sat down with people before and had conversations that were like interviews, but this was going to be my first real stab at something “big” like this. After a few schedule juggles, finally it was time to meet Gareb. I was a bit overwhelmed. You know how you have a mental image of people that you know of, but have never met? Well I kind of had this image of Gareb as being somewhat larger than life. When I met him, though, he wasn’t like that at all, he was kind of quiet, very well spoken and just a regular guy. It was interesting to see him as a “real” person, instead of the figure head of the whole Wizard World Empire. He took me to a room that overlooked the entire convention floor; it was kind of neat to have that kind of perspective over everything. Because a bunch of additional things had come up on his schedule, I only had about 15 minutes to talk with him.

Kevin: With Japan having one of the highest literacy rates in the world, due somewhat in part to the prolific reading of Manga titles from children to adults, what do you think that American comics can do to reach the same level of respect and popularity that Japanese Manga has?

Gareb: The thing is, we have different forms of literature that are popular amongst different age groups. You have just regular fiction or non-fiction that might be, you know, accessible to older people, while you have books, whether its “Archie” books, Goosebumps or Harry Potter that might be for a younger generation. You might have a Manga that’s more approachable for girls and guys. You have super-hero comic books which are predominantly guys. So there are a lot of different types of literature that are appealing to people in the U.S. There clearly is a lot more material from Japan coming into the U.S., and that is certainly having an effect, where certain demographics who never used to read comic books, especially like girls, really typically didn’t read comic format-like material and now they are because of the Japanese material that’s coming in. There area a lot more themes, whether it’s love or relationship type themes that are coming into books now from Japan, that they typically might not get in a U.S. book. So the genre, the format, is certainly picking up here. The ubiquity of one format is not going to be the way it is in Japan because the U.S. has diversity in it that is incredible.

Kevin: Your magazine covers some of the smaller publishers, but there really isn’t a whole lot as far as the teeny-tiny presses go. I know part of that is because they are on a shoe string budget and they can’t really get their voice out. Do you think there would be a good way to embrace these smaller publishers?

Gareb: Well, there are a couple of ways that we do that. Number one is clearly these events. It’s a great way for a smaller publisher or someone up and coming to really make a statement, or come here and really be on equal footing and get access to a lot of people. As we do more and more of these shows, we’re making more and more of these opportunities available. The second thing is that we publish a magazine called “Wizard Edge”, which we do once or twice a year, which really does showcase a lot of the smaller publishers and a lot of the works that they do. That book has actually been quite successful for us in terms of getting the word out on the smaller presses. Actually we’ve been a lot more aggressive, in Wizard, on the smaller titles. We’ve discovered a lot of titles whether it’s Scott Kurtz of “PvP”, Josh Howard of “Dead at Seventeen”, or Super-Hero Café, I think was one. There have been so many titles from small presses that have emerged through Wizard and we have a column every month devoted to the small press. The other thing you have to put in perspective is that not all of the works of these guys are great; there is a lot of crap out there. It really sifting through a lot of material, and I’m not saying that everything everybody produces is great, even the big guys, they still have characters in those books that are appealing to people.

Kevin: Since you are basically “the” main stream comic book magazine available, you seem to be the one that has survived, how do you keep your content as unbiased as you possibly can? I’m sure you have companies like Marvel and DC saying things like “Here’s our new book, what do you think?”

Gareb: The thing is, at the end of the day, our service is to our readers. If they don’t like what we’re writing, they aren’t going to buy our book. If we told them to buy something and they didn’t like it, they aren’t going to buy our book. If we told them that we didn’t like something and they turn around and like it, they aren’t going to respect our opinion. So our service is to our consumers. We’re not going to do anything that disrupts our relationship with the consumers. So, regardless of what Marvel or DC are pushing, we’re still going to push what our consumers will like and then we’ll also look at all those other things they are pushing as well. But at the end of the day, our relationship is with our consumers.

Kevin: Lately it seems that the comic book industry has been falling back on its old tricks with the variant covers and incentives for ordering. Do you think the publishers may be heading, not necessarily in a bad direction, but in doing that kind of thing again, “hamstringing” themselves?

Gareb: Well, I think that as long as a publisher is aware of what they are doing and not doing 10 covers on a book kind of stuff, I think creating variations in the marketplace…You know, look, if consumers want to buy it they’ll buy it. If they don’t want to buy it, they shouldn’t buy it. But I do think that publishers do need to be careful about really stepping over the edge and doing too much and getting too crazy and falling back into the traps of trying to create crazy versions of things as opposed to actually something the consumer may want. They are adding extra materials or doing other sorts of things that really enhance whether it’s a second print or variant version of something.

Kevin: The comic shop I go to- the demographics are typically from 20 years old to their 60s, you don’t see a lot of kids.

Gareb: Right, its guys 18-34- the main demographic.

Kevin: What do you think that comic companies can do to corral the kids in? I know Marvel is trying with the Mary Jane title and Marvel Age line, while DC is bringing back “Johnny DC”, but do you have any ideas that you think they can use?

Gareb: The thing is, that people may think the comic format is the appropriate format for kids, but it may not be the appropriate format. It may need to be another format that gets the kids interested in these characters. Whether its coloring books or sticker books or all other kinds of book, you know, that Schoolastic is very famous for. It just may not be the comic format that gets the kids excited or interested in reading. You’ve got things like Harry Potter, the Goosebump series, and all other kinds of series of books…Lemony Snicket, there’s just so many other types of material that has been appropriate for younger kids, that they’re interested in. The other thing is making the product like Spider-Man or Batman or Superman, that is appropriate for a younger kid. You know, maybe the words are bigger, the print is bigger, or the art is more inviting; or to do things that are more licensed oriented. Dark Horse is doing a “Shrek” comic book and Marvel is doing some of the younger books they are doing, and DC with the Hannah Barbera/Cartoon Network material.

Kevin: Back when I started collecting, over 20 years ago, covers used to give you a little hint about what was inside. You had captions- Just last month’s “Captain America” book had an image of Batroc the Leaper on the cover and it kind of drew you in. There’s not much of that going on now a days, do you think something like that could help draw readers in?

Gareb: Those are all things that can enhance the sell through of a product- not necessarily the sell-in of the product. So that’s one of those things that, once it’s already on the shelf, can that really help sell the product? You know, help get somebody that’s not currently buying the book, to pick it up. There might be something about it. That was a very successful sales tactic they used on comic books, that publishers have gotten away from. I think now and again, they are always trying new things in terms of how to do that. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Kevin: 8 years ago you started this convention by buying the Chicago Comi-Con. Did you every think it would just keep growing and growing year after year?

Gareb: It’s very interesting, but it’s…I don’t really ever look like “Oh my Gosh, look at what we did,” it’s always look at what we want to be doing- you know moving forward. It’s weird, but I hardly ever look back and say “look at what we just did, isn’t that great?” It’s “we’ve got one show, but we’re not in this market or that market- how do we get into that market?” There’s always more things we’re striving for, you know, to get our message out, whether it’s comic books, toys, or games- or what more top celebrities we can bring in, what top artists we can bring in- Guys from the toy industry or gaming industry. It’s never really us resting on our laurels, even though you have a magazine like Wizard with no competition out there, we still have to strive to put out the best product we can, regardless of what is going on in the market place. We still want to make sure we have a great product every single month. We’re always pushing forward, so it’s very rare that we look back, it’s always “what more can we do?”

Kevin: You don’t ever take a moment for yourself and say “we did good”?

Gareb: (Laughs) Certainly, right after the show we look back and recant stories about what’s happened, things that were funny- we can’t believe that happened or that guy showed up and they were funny or that happened. But then that’s it, we’re on to the next thing. There is always something else. We put a magazine a week out of Wizard and it’s 4 shows a year, and our company attends over 20 shows a year so it’s- we’re always out there on the road meeting people.

Kevin: OK, an easy one- or maybe not that easy: Who would be your dream team on a book? Characters, writers, artists…

Gareb: You see it’s a little bit different, because, if it was a situation where I had an existing character, it would be one thing- like Spider-Man or Batman. The other thing would be if I had an existing, like with my own stuff, Black Bull, it’s who we get to work with. A lot of times it’s just...right now we’re working with Phil Noto right now. He did “Beautiful Killer” and he’s doing a new book we’re working on, and we’re working with Jimmy Palmiotti- in that situation, even though it’s not Jim Lee or Alex Ross, these are guys I like, guys who do a great job. I love the process of it. It’s really, to me, who’s going to put out a great product, that you are really going to enjoy doing it with. So that to me is more…I’m a huge fan of Jim Lee, a huge fan of Alex Ross, a huge fan of Joe Quesada, um…I think that Jeff Loeb is incredible, especially with Tim Sale as a partner. There are just so many guys, I think Cassaday is phenomenal, there are just so many guys out there that are talented. At some point in time I would like to work with all of them, and luckily through a vehicle like Wizard, I can.

Kevin: Any comic book movie you could see made- What would it be?

Gareb: Well, I am looking forward to X-Men 3, there’s no question that after the second movie, we all know what story line they’ll be discussing in the third movie- the Phoenix one. I’m really looking forward to that. I’m trying to think what else- I’m looking forward to seeing Batman and obviously Superman, especially with Bryan Singer on there. It’s a shame to see him go from the X-Men, but it will be great to see him on Superman. He has a lot of experience with that type of material and hopefully will do a good job; which he’s done with the X-Men.

Kevin: The comic book industry surviving the next few generations- what do you think they ought to do?

Gareb: I think the industry just needs to keep reinventing itself; coming out with new products-new materials; keep the talent emerging. I think we’re seeing two kinds on the talent side. There is clearly the “Hollywood” talent coming into this industry. Certain guys have achieved a certain amount of success in Hollywood and feel like they can come into this industry. They certainly aren’t doing it for the dollars, but it’s because it something they want to do. Certainly Joss Whedon isn’t writing X-Men for the paycheck- he’s been a comic book guy for a long time. Same thing with Kevin Smith and Geoff Johns and Jeff Leob, they do well financially, but you know they certainly do better in other industries. The other thing is, as time goes by, the emergence of new talent, coming into the companies especially on the art side- as long as the companies keep fostering their growth and bringing in fresh ideas and new talent, the industry will continue to grow. Also the demographics are also getting spread out. When Wizard first started the average age was 14, today it’s in the mid 20’s. Now the industry, I think keeps producing material to satisfy many generations, not just the one that grew up with it. They’re servicing new generations. We’re starting to see that, that’s why a movie like “Hellboy” can be made. It’s not a super-hero movie but yet it’s not a super-hero movie that still has a place in this world. A movie like “Road to Perdition,” there’s a lot more divergent material there, that’s appropriate for everybody.

Kevin: Last Question- In a fight between the Wizard Bunny after going on an all night bender, and a monkey with a knife, who do you think would win?

Gareb: Bunny- that Bunny can be nasty.

Kevin: The Bunny? We were betting on the monkey.

Gareb: I would not bet against the Bunny.

It was both nerve-racking and great experience being able to sit down and talk with Gareb. I appreciate having the chance to ask him some things that I was wondering about and that I hope you all find a bit interesting. I do want to thank Mark, Terry and Dan for helping me with some of the questions and Al for having the site in the first place and allowing me the opportunity to actually do something like this. I am already looking forward to next year’s convention (August 5-7, 2005).



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