What is “Palmer’s Picks”?

Welcome back to “Palmer’s Picks.”

Wait. Welcome back?

An explanation might be in order. “Palmer’s Picks” actually began over twenty-five years ago as a monthly column in Wizard: The Guide To Comics. The column was devoted to independent/alternative/self-published/literary comic books and their creators, and, against all odds, it became one of the longest running features in the magazine. Over the span of almost 70 issues, I interviewed and profiled a long list of creators including Chris Ware, Adrian Tomine, Jeff Smith, Charles Burns, Harvey Pekar, and many more.

If you’re looking for a little more background on Wizard and how it all started, keep reading. If you know all of this already, bear with me as I try to set up what I hope to accomplish with this blog. The name Wizard is more familiar now as the owner of the Wizard World pop culture conventions, but the company actually began as a magazine publisher. Their flagship title was launched in the early ’90s, right in the middle of the speculator boom and the dawn of Image Comics. Before Wizard, the landscape of magazines that covered comic books basically consisted of the black and white weekly newspaper CBG (aka Comics Buyer’s Guide), slick full-color newsstand magazine Comics Scene (cousin of sci-fi mag Starlog and horror mag Fangoria), and Fantagraphics Books‘ pair of black and white publications, the mainstream-focused Amazing Heroes and the cantankerous (in a good way!) The Comics Journal.

The iconic cover of the first issue of Wizard by Todd McFarlane, published in the summer of 1991.

Wizard: The Guide To Comics grew out of an 8-page newsletter for the Wizard of Comics and Cards store owned by the parents of publisher Gareb Shamus. The first issue of the full-sized Wizard debuted in July, 1991 (with a cover date of September) and was an attempt at an all-in-one monthly magazine. It offered creator interviews and character spotlights in the style of Amazing Heroes side-by-side with industry news à la CBG, all wrapped up in a full color package similar to Comics Scene. Oh, and it also included a price guide.

Before Wizard debuted, the annual Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide was the undisputed authority when it came to the collectible side of the hobby. Overstreet also put out a few different periodicals that mainly existed to offer updates to their pricing data, but their inches-thick annual Guide was less a magazine and more of a reference book used by store owners to price their back issue stock or collectors to evaluate their collection. Along came Wizard as a monthly competitor to Overstreet’s reign, but not without some controversy. Wizard was launched by a comic store, after all, so they weren’t exactly an impartial observer of the market.

The covers from some of Wizard‘s contemporaries, also published the summer of ’91.

Wizard also gained a reputation for the content and tone of the magazine. Like many of the popular mainstream comics of the ’90s, Wizard was seen as all style with very little substance. The magazine was funny, but oftentimes the humor was crude and demeaning. They fueled the “bad girl” craze with the many half-naked women on the magazine’s covers and the regular “Hunk and Babe” department. The Top 10 Comics and Hottest Artist lists always focused on the flavor of the week and led to many superstar artists who preferred to draw big splash pages that they could later sell to original art collectors instead of telling a coherent story.

But despite all of this, Wizard was popular. At its height, circulation approached 200,000 in comic stores, and it routinely outsold many of the comics it covered. It had newsstand distribution that helped it reach a global audience, and the popularity of Wizard led its parent company to launch a full line of magazines focusing on action figures, gaming, anime and other segments of pop culture. But one thing the company never got right was an online presence. Wizard debuted before the Internet explosion, so its first online presence was actually a section of the old America Online “walled garden.” Wizard’s first website wasn’t launched until much later, well after newer online competition had emerged. The immediacy of the Internet news cycle meant that Wizard the magazine no longer had its finger on the pulse of the industry. By the time they fully embraced the Web, it was too late. After almost 20 years and over 200 issues, Wizard folded in 2011.

Cover of the 21st Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide from 1991.

Because of Wizard’s lack of a web presence, much of the magazine’s content is only available in print. Very little is archived online. I hope to remedy part of that with this blog by revisiting each original installment of “Palmer’s Picks.” Along the way, I’ll give some background for each column to explain my selection process and discuss any notable things that happened along the way. Since I started “Palmer’s Picks” at the ripe old age of seventeen, I’ll also point out some of my horrible writing and hopefully illustrate how my “voice” developed over the life of the column. One important thing to note about this blog is that it is not in any way affiliated with Wizard past or present. It is my own personal website designed to showcase my writing and hopefully provide some insight for anyone who is interested. I should also note that I am not going to use this blog as a platform to dish out any behind-the-scenes dirt on Wizard. While I did eventually become a full-time employee of Wizard (for it’s ToyFare magazine), I wrote most of the run of “Palmer’s Picks” as a freelancer and was therefore not involved with the day-to-day happenings at the Wizard office. My plan is to update this blog twice a week, so that will give me around eight months of content (next up is a brief look at how “Palmer’s Picks” began, followed by a look at the first column from Wizard #6). After I’ve exhausted all the original columns, if there’s enough interest, maybe I’ll continue with some new picks. So please spread the word about this blog. This time I don’t have a high circulation magazine as a venue; I’m just a lonely little outpost on the information super-highway!

Tom Palmer Jr
Tom Palmer Jr. is a writer/editor/web developer. He also once had a job filling perfume bottles on an assembly line.

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