So how did “Palmer’s Picks” get started?
The short answer is that I was in the right place at the right time. Want the slightly longer version? Keep reading.
I first met Wizard publisher Gareb Shamus while still in high school. I would occasionally spend weekend afternoons helping out at the home studio of comic creators Walter Simonson and Louise “Weezie” Simonson, filing comics and organizing work papers. (The Simonsons were longtime friends of my father, who happens to be Tom Palmer, legendary inker and the reason I add “Jr.” to my name.) During one of my visits, Gareb and his dad stopped by to take some photos of Walt and Weezie to go with an interview that eventually ran in Wizard #5. While they were snapping some pics, Gareb mentioned to Weezie that he was looking for contributors to Wizard; she said that there just so happened to be a potential writer in the house that very same day. I have no idea why she would mention my name to Gareb; I don’t recall showing her any of my writing, nor do I remember expressing to her any interest in writing. Regardless, “Palmer’s Picks” would not exist without Weezie.
Walt also played an important role in the origin of “Palmer’s Picks.” While organizing his vast collection of comics and books, I began to appreciate just how wide-ranging the comics medium really is. A comic book didn’t have to just be a newsprint superhero adventure. The possibilities were really endless: science-fiction, humor, crime, autobiography. Hell, comics didn’t even have to be from this country! These might all seem like obvious things today, but as a comics fan in the ’80s and ’90s raised on Marvel and DC, seeing these different kinds of comics firsthand was truly a revelation.
It’s hard to pinpoint an exact date for when I met Gareb, but based on the publication dates for Wizard, I’ve been able to figure out it was September 1991. Gareb gave me copies of the first three issues of Wizard that afternoon, and issue 3 shipped in September. I would have turned in my first “Palmer’s Picks” in October of that year to meet the deadline for issue 6, which went on sale in December. (Fun fact: the final installment of “Palmer’s Picks” was written in July of 1997, so I spent almost six years working on the column!)
I was aware of Wizard, but by that point in my comic collecting I had moved on from superheroes. I tended to follow writers and cartoonists as opposed to specific characters or fan-favorite artists. Needless to say, I wasn’t the target audience for Wizard; I was more of a Comics Journal reader (as pretentious as that sounds). So when Gareb offered me a chance to contribute to Wizard, I was at first a little hesitant. I didn’t express this at the time, but when I got home and started thinking about it, I decided to ditch my reservations and just give it a shot.
The biggest stumbling block was trying to figure out what I would want to read in a magazine like Wizard. Even in those first three issues of the magazine, there were already plenty of column inches devoted to Todd McFarlane, the X-Men, or how much money you could make with your comic book collection. I briefly toyed with the idea of reviewing some mainstream comics and picking them apart, but I couldn’t think of a way to do that without being too negative. As I was brainstorming ideas, I thought that tone was something very important; I didn’t want to come across as a crusty curmudgeon. I got the impression that the Wizard reader was the type who just looked at the pictures in a comic or was more focused on who was cooler, Wolverine or the Punisher. So instead of trying to find a subject that would fit with what Wizard was about (or what I thought Wizard was about), I decided that I would do a little bit of counterprogramming and write about comics that were meant to be read. The problem was that most of the books I followed were not part of Wizard‘s worldview. If this article I was going to write would hopefully lead to more work, it didn’t make sense to lead off with an examination of the ultra-violent superhero satire Marshal Law or an overview of the talking penis panels of Chester Brown‘s comics, so I found a happy medium and decided to write about Sandman: a comic published by a mainstream company that still had sensibilities that were decidedly non-mainstream and was writer-driven.
Now that I had a subject, it came time to actually write something. Since this was the early ’90s, personal computers weren’t as prevalent as they are today. Instead, I had a wonderful Brother word processor; the WP-2600Q. This thing was a beast. It had a handle so you could carry it around, but there was really no need to. It was billed as being “whisper quiet,” but the daisy wheel printer sounded like machine gun fire. And it had a small screen that only displayed fifteen lines in pale yellow-green text. The one thing that made the WP-2600Q useful is that it also had a 3.5″ disk drive, which meant I was able to send my Wizard articles on disk instead of faxing or mailing a hard copy to be retyped. So this clunky device that I used for all of my school work was now going to be my gateway to being an actual published writer…now I just had to write something and hope that it wouldn’t get rejected.