Sunday, February 13, 2011

Days Gone By: A Surprisingly Long Post About Wizard Magazine

Wizard Magazine is now defunct. It happened just shy of a month ago. For comic fans this is now old news. For the print industry these days such a thing is also old news.

Today I came across a significant issue of Wizard on my bookshelf while searching for my lost shaker of salt, as they say. I was in the middle of drawing a page for Teuton #2 when my mind hit a wall. Life is like that sometimes. It was like that today. All one can do is relax and regroup. So I relaxed and sought inspiration on my bookshelf.

My shelves are packed with books--graphic novels, photography collections, magazines, assorted art books. Standard stuff, I'd say. My fingers skimmed blankly along the spines of my collection and stopped in a depression like a car running into a ditch. That's where my significant copy of Wizard was, slipped between two larger magazines, unseen but still traceable in a funny sort of way. I flipped to the "Magic Words" section where my decorated envelope was printed for all to see.

Yes indeed. On October, 2004 in issue #156 of Wizard Magazine, my art had seen print, thus accomplishing a boyhood ambition of mine. More interesting however was that I had no idea it happened. There's a funny story to it. Isn't there always?

There were few other children in the building I grew up in and we knew so few of our neighbours. It was the kind of building people scrimped and saved to get out of, not the kind people put big down payments to get into. It had a billiard room I wasn't allowed in. People smoked and drank and cussed in there. Incidentally, years later I would smoke and drink and cuss in there, and never win a single game of pool, too. Go figure.

One family we became well acquainted with were Italian immigrants. The husband and wife worked as the building superintendents. My family and I would go over to their house for dinner often enough and would be treated to home cooked Italian cuisine. I love Italian food, but back then all I wanted was the parmesan, so much of it I couldn't see the red sauce below. I was only a lad of seven or eight. Their son had a good fifteen years on me. To this day he had the largest comic collection I have ever seen. Naturally he was my hero.

So it became my habit to skip over to our superintendent's apartment, sometimes without telling my Mother, to wait for her son to arrive home while she fixed me something to eat. I recall the tinny sound of a mandolin over a radio and hot bowls of pasta placed before me. And of course the small mountains of parmesan I made that poor woman grate until I was satisfied.

I try to imagine the son's dismay at finding me there in his home time and time again; a freckle-faced, curly-headed ginge no thicker than a strand of hay and paler than the mound of grated cheese he sat behind. I was eager for him to show me his comics. On his bedroom wall hung the pure decadence of 90's comic books: foil stamped, holograph covers that signaled an anniversary issue. Jim Lee pin-up gatefolds of a bold new line-up of X-Men. Or the latest by Todd Mcfarlane--in this issue Spawn dies, in that issue Spawn lives, all while moping in a back alley. It was Mecca. I was never allowed to touch or hold these books, mind you, but he was kind enough to indulge my curiosity as to what their interior pages contained. "Here Cable is revealed to be Stryfe," I remember him saying. It was all music to my ears.

Stryfe lived on the moon and was the evil clone brother of a time traveling psychic cyborg warrior sent to our present to prevent his future. It made perfect sense to a boy who then couldn't grasp multiplication.

Here I will take a merciful shortcut. Afternoons-turned-evenings with this young adult and his treasure trove of comics would almost always end in a drawing session at the dining room table next to a stack of Wizards.

For the consideration of the uninformed: Wizard Magazine had a section called Magic Words that featured copious letters from readers and, more importantly, elaborately decorated envelopes. Fan-art, basically. Back then Wizard chose five a month to be featured in Magic Words, with one shining above the rest. It would get a prize or some piece of crap. In later years the magazine would only feature one such envelope and I doubt the sender was awarded in any way. I wasn't.

There we sat, drawing super heroes on all this goodly Italian mama's stationery until one of my parents phoned demanding I come home. I doubt any of those envelopes I drew were ever sent since I don't remember finishing them. I'd always have to run home and would start a new one another night.

Later it became a summer ritual to sit down and seriously draw an envelope or two for Wizard. Each summer was the one it would happen. Now obviously it did happen eventually. When it finally did I was a year out of high school with zero prospects. I had recently become acquainted with a girl who possessed marvelous green eyes that I'd fall hopelessly in love with. I was obsessed with Kill Bill vol.1 and the only thing on my horizon was seeing Kill Bill vol.2. Exciting times, to be sure. Out of boredom I concocted a story in my head about The Bride meeting Wolverine in a barroom brawl. The envelope became an amalgamation of the two characters. Like all my letters, I sent it in and never heard back. It was the time I ever sent a letter. A year or so after that the publication quit with the envelopes altogether.

In 2008 I found the copy containing my envelope completely by chance in a BMV near the corner of Bloor St. and Spadina Ave. My then girlfriend, now common-law wife and mother of my child, worked nearby at a travel agency. I was killing time until her shift ended. BMV had many old magazines and quite a few old Wizards sitting in bins in their basement level. I picked one at random. Imagine my surprise. I reacted as if I had won the lottery. When I purchased the magazine upstairs I half expected the cashier to be starstruck by my presence. I was in a magazine, after all. Of course that wasn't the case. Of course I marched right into my girlfriend's work and made a big deal about it to her and the lovely ladies she worked with. And of course they had no idea what I was talking about.

My thunder couldn't be stolen. I went to several comic shops that week, inquiring whether they carried old Wizards. You'd be damned if I didn't mention why I was looking for them. I must have appeared quite ego-maniacal to the shop-owners. Would they be wrong? I just realized how long this post about my own glory has become.

Nevertheless, it was a great unsung victory for me personally. For a short time I felt like just a little boy drawing super heroes and not wanting to do anything else in the world.

In the span of microseconds whole chapters of my life unfolded in my mind's eye. When it was over I tucked the magazine away in its slot between the two larger ones. I realized then I am still that boy, drawing comics and not wanting to do anything else besides. The difference being now I have a young one of my own who scribbles in my old sketchbooks with crayons and calls my Batman coffee mug "Ba-Ba." Richer or Poorer, I'm doing what I've always wanted.

1 comment:

  1. I have always been in awe and very proud of your talent.
    Somewhere in my home, I have squirreled away in a spot for safe keeping, a page of sketches of superheroes from the mind of my favourite little "freckle-faced, curly-headed ginge" created at my own kitchen table.
    Even then, at such a young age, I recognized your talent, and I knew you had something special.
    I will treasure those sketches always.
    Never stop drawing.
    Love Auntie Ree