Cunningham: Off To See The Wizard
Behind The Curtain with Bill Rosemann
They mock boozing
and barfing. They're superhero junkies. They hatched the "The
Ex-Lax Brownie Affair." Sneer at the low-brow antics of the
Wizard staff all you want, but the workers behind the monthly
glossy magazine do one thing very well: they deliver exactly
what their readers want.
From just another
entry in the crowded comic book media scene to the #1 read
industry publication with massive mainstream distribution,
Wizard not only spotlights the industry's established monster
hits (like Batman and Ultimate Spider-Man), but also tips
readers off to smaller titles that deserve to be in the spotlight
(like Y: The Last Man and 30 Days of Night). Their coverage
alone does not create a blockbuster... but it sure doesn't
hurt. And in an effort to bring attention to not only current
trends, but also what has gone before, Wizard has also begun
a series of articles on "hall of fame" creators such as Steve
Ditko and Bill Finger.
Yes, they're not
a scholarly periodical that analyzes the use of feminist symbolism
in the graphic storytelling medium... but they sure know how
to get people psyched about comic books.
So who steers
the magazine that's sold everywhere from the smallest comics
shop to the largest Barnes & Noble? Who decides which characters
get on the cover... and which titles make it on the "Picks"
list? Let's find out as we go Behind The Curtain and talk
to Wizard Editor Brian Cunningham!
Curtain: As the editor of a magazine that covers comic
books (and graphic novels & movies & everything else related),
I'd imagine you have to possess knowledge both of publishing
and the comics industry. So what prepared you for this job
and brought you to Wizard?
Blame Ghost Rider. That's the guy that--after a Little League
game back in 1982--compelled me to buy my own comic book.
What's not to like about a cool, flaming skull guy on a fiery
I mean, I watched
the "Batman" TV show religiously as a kid--he was definitely
my favorite--and my first comic ever was Marvel Tales #60
(Spidey vs. Prowler!), which my grandmother graciously spent
a quarter on in 1975. So when I was 11, that issue of Ghost
Rider turned me onto Amazing Spider-Man--which became my new
favorite. Which then turned me onto Avengers and X-Men (and
haven't missed an issue of each since). And, god, even Defenders--I
wanted to like that book so bad, but couldn't stick with it.
I read mostly Marvel until Crisis on Infinite Earths in the
mid-'80s, when DC gradually took on about 50% of my monthly
So, my, uh, "education"
came from reading a lot of comics. Guys around here call me
"The Computer Who Wore Tennis Shoes" 'cuz I just remember
lots of absurd, stupid comic trivia, like who lettered a particular
issue. Ridiculous stuff like that.
Then I graduated
college with a Graphic Communications degree. I've always
wanted to draw comics, really. I used to work for a construction
company before this as a "lab technician"--which is really
just a glorified name for "janitor." I'd doodle during downtime.
I did this all during high school and most of college, drawing
my own comics at night--on 11" x 17" bristol board and everything--learning
as I went. I often wonder if I could have been a decent penciler
sometime if Wizard didn't consume a lot of my time early on.
how--and when--did you go from janitor to Wizard staffer?
I interned at Wizard from January to May 1993 (I was already
a freelance writer for the magazine since issue #2). I was
supposed to be a designer at Wizard. However, my college was
small and had exactly one Macintosh... and I never learned
how to use it while in school. The guys here had enough on
their plate than to teach me Mac design, so I turned to another
strength--writing and editing. And I just transformed into
a jack of all trades: writer, editor, researcher, spot illustrator...
I did anything and everything. There were Wizard issues where
75% was written by me--much of it in the eleventh hour! It
was a whirlwind of a time. There were a lot of nights we'd
call it a day at 2 a.m.
Then, the week
of my graduation I was hired full-time as News Editor (which
was silly since I was already working 50 hours a week as an
intern!). Within two years, the company expanded and I was
promoted to Editor sometime between 1994 and '95, and they
haven't kicked my ass out yet.
the company itself... where is the office, how many people
work there, and how would you describe its atmosphere?
Our office is about a half-hour north of Manhattan in rural
I'd say there's
gotta be something like 75 people working for us now, between
all the various magazines and departments. You only get a
sense for how many people we have at our holiday party, when
everyone shows up for the free grub.
The office atmosphere
is pretty casual, except during deadline days when it gets
very stressful. Otherwise, the Wizard office is a pretty cool
fanboy haven. I have about a dozen pieces of original art
hanging in our Bullpen, which is surrounded by every single
Marvel statue and mini-bust from Bowen Designs and Dynamic
Forces. We also hang up framed comic movie posters, lithos
and wall murals all over the office... whatever looks cool.
In fact, we just received a Hellboy movie poster signed by
Mike Mignola and director Guillermo del Toro, which we're
prepping to get framed.
It's funny, the
office has such a rep for being laid back, every time my sister
calls me, she's like, "What, am I taking you away from ping-pong?"
what's the weirdest thing that ever happened in the office?
Oh god. We're constantly playing practical jokes on each other
I don't know where to start. I play some kind of role in many
of them--I either con someone to take the fall for my joke,
or I'll just help someone else with theirs. About two months
ago, I called up one of our editors and pretended to be an
AOL Time-Warner lawyer--with a very arrogant, nasally voice--looking
to sue Wizard's ass for a blunder he made in one of the magazines.
Pat McCallum and Editorial Director Matt Senreich are amazing
at this stuff. I've never met any more devious in practical
jokes than they. Once, while a big company meeting was going
on, they threw a human dummy off the roof, past the meeting's
window. Someone was in mid sentence: "And the third quarter
profits are-- OHMYGOD, SOMEONEJUMPEDOFFTHEROOF!!!"
Probably the single
cruelest joke played in the history of Wizard was what's now
known as "The Ex-Lax Brownie Affair," which I regret to say
that I was an accomplice to. Two men's rooms + 40 men = well,
you can figure out the rest. One guy could barely stumble
to the bathroom 'cuz he had a fractured pelvis. It was horrible.
horribly funny. Okay, apart from devious baking and dummy
tossing, can you give us a rundown of your "typical" day at
Every day is different. Sometimes it's pure editing. Other
times, it's more administrative, preparation or meetings.
Most days are a combination of everything.
The best days
are the creative ones. The most recent gratifying experience
was a handful of us sitting down to create "Ultimate" versions
of DC characters. That was a blast--from conception to design
to art approval... the collaboration made me feel very much
what are some of the usual staff meetings held in making an
issue of Wizard?
We have a weekly staff meeting, just to keep communication
at an optimum level, and to solve problem areas early rather
than later. We plan out issue content at least twice before
starting it. We plan at least 3-4 months ahead of when fans
read it, which is a challenge, but it's what we have to do.
Most of the fun
meetings are "best of" stuff.
how do you determine the rankings in those controversial articles?
It's a painstaking process with several meetings between several
staffers of varying expertise. I can't stress enough how much
the creation of everything in every issue is very much a team
effort. The toughest part of the job with the "best of" features
is just making sure it all comes together! The rest is the
fun part. That's when a bunch of us will sit around in a room
with a dry-erase board and just debate like crazy. Then we'll
come back and revisit what we've done so far, just to make
sure there's no glaring omissions or something that doesn't
are some of the necessary traits an editor should possess?
Here's what I'd stress:
1) Know your audience.
Give them what they want, though maybe not in the way they
2) Know the mission statement of every facet of the magazine,
and do not stray from that (unless absolutely necessary).
All your content editing will play off of that, and make it
a lot easier.
3) Communication. To both your audience and staff. If you
know a feature/dept./column's mission statement, it makes
it easier to communicate it to your audience in an easily
digestible format. It's also important to communicate to your
staff what the mission statement is, so they can fulfill their
task efficiently. The staff also needs to know what they're
doing well, and what needs improvement. And sometimes you
have to be the bad guy for the latter--but it's my responsibility
to not let down the rest of the team who work hard.
4) Play to the strengths of your staff. Some guys are stronger
editors than writers, while some may be better administrators
or can work very fast.
5) Organization. You'll have a lot of tasks to juggle.
6) Have a basic design sense. You will look at designed pages,
and you need to know what works and what doesn't. I work with
a lot of rookie designers who are learning the ropes on the
fly--and I work with our Art Director Steve Blackwell to make
the designs stronger.
7) Know your priorities with every story. Readers will skim
and key on specific things before committing to reading your
body copy. They will browse at the visuals, the title, sub
headline, captions and sidebars before ever reading anything
else. Make these strong and only then will they commit to
8) Prepare to schmooze. You will meet with reps from other
companies and you need to conduct yourself professionally
since you represent your entire company and its needs.
9) Take accountability. If you screw up, you screw up. Everyone
does, so take your spanking. That will earn more respect than
10) Know when to stop belaboring a point. Like now. I should
just move on to the next question...
is, what are some of the top tasks an editor should tackle?
My priority is Wizard magazine--making sure it looks and reads
the way it needs to in order to sell. I take responsibility
for every word and visual in the magazine, overseeing a team
of nine guys, some veteran editors and some rookies.
I pick and choose
features that I wish to be directly involved in (my reasons
vary from a subject matter I enjoy, assisting a rookie editor
through a challenging story or a potentially controversial/opinionated
feature that Wizard puts its stamp on). I personally assign
covers to artists, after meeting with several department heads
to determine cover content.
I'm heavily involved
in cover/feature art direction--I give first and final approval
on every design proof in the magazine. It would be counterproductive
of me to read all first draft copy--I leave that to the individual
editors; but if I see something wonky on a designed proof,
I will ask the editor to change it or do it myself (whichever's
I'm also involved
with the production of our reprint ACE Editions and pitch
in on Special Projects as content editor for a feature or
two (my time, by this point, is limited--but these are fun
jobs and I hate to turn them down). I'm involved with hiring
and firing, act as arbiter for staff disputes, and give performance
reviews. I'm probably forgetting some other tasks, but you
get the gist.
a recent interview, an industry exec said that each of his
company's imprints needs to have its own unique identity.
What would you say the Wizard brand stands for? From the different
magazines to the conventions, when fans spot that logo, what
kind of entertainment experience should they expect?
It represents quality. For the magazines and conventions,
we all work our asses off to make them the strongest in the
field. I hope the success with our track record speaks for
heard people say that the tone of Wizard drives away female
and adult readers and instead panders to male teens who like
fart jokes. Do you think that's an accurate or unfair assessment?
I feel that's an overly simplified way to put it, and not
entirely fair. Yes, our core audience reflects that of the
comic field's core audience: primarily male, high school and
college age, and the sense of humor reflects that. But I wonder
if the people saying this stuff actually read the magazine.
I've heard many critics judge Wizard based on what they read
in the magazine five years ago. Wizard is constantly evolving
to keep up with the comics field, to inform and entertain.
You may not always agree with the thoughts and opinions expressed,
and that's your prerogative.
And that "nothing
but fart jokes" opinion makes it sound like we just crank
out each issue, when I can tell you the guys here work their
butts off. I'd argue that Wizard has the strongest feature
writing in the comics industry, bar none (and, at times, in
the entire entertainment mag biz). We have four annual Folio
Editorial Excellence Awards in the Entertainment category--beating
out all of the top U.S. entertainment magazines being published--to
support that. We've recently run excellent profiles of comic
legends Joe Kubert and Bill Finger, which our readership really
responded positively to. Not a fart joke in sight. Which is
not to say we never do fart jokes--but if you don't like them,
then maybe Wizard isn't the magazine for you.
fart = funny in my book. So what's your favorite section or
feature of the magazine?
I tend to favor the personality profiles, the more historical
stuff--I'm a huge history buff--and the "best of" lists that
what's your least favorite... and what would you change about
I don't play as many video games as the rest of the staff,
so I guess it's that section by default. Unfortunately, I
just don't have the time I used to where I can get to the
end of a "Resident Evil" or win the Stanley Cup in EA's NHL
games. Every blue moon, I squeeze in a game of "Halo", but
I'm pretty terrible against the every-day players.
And if there's
anything I really don't like about any section, I'd simply
change it. Right then and there.
#137 outlined the biggest projects of 2003. What comics are
you personally looking forward to? And is there anything that
is flying below the radar that you think will surprise people?
Two words: JLA/Avengers. I've seen pages, and they're unbelievable.
George Pérez continues to astound me--he's the only comic
artist I can think of in the biz for 30 years who hasn't slacked
off. I mean, his art just gets stronger and stronger. And
I've heard some stuff about what Kurt Busiek has planned--and
he clearly has a love of both teams, with some very funny
I think people
will also be surprised by The Flash, which is a book I can't
believe isn't selling better. Particularly after the upcoming
issue #200. Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins have been rocking
that book for over a year, and has everything you want in
a superhero comic.
Oh, and I can
promise that Wizard will have a very big 2003. Fans can expect
a huge summer event with... well, I guess that would be telling.
(Sorry couldn't resist the plug!)
tease. Okay, finally, an inquiring mind has to know: whose
office does the giant, pink bunny hang out in?
Not mine. I kicked his lepus ass out a loooong time ago. In
fact, I think our warehouse manager--a giant, Hulk-like hunter
dude--killed him, skinned him and ate him.
Yow! As Elmer
Fudd said, "Kill the rabbit! Kill the rabbit!"
see ya next week when we once again go Behind The Curtain!
During a 10
year run as "Your Man @ Marvel," Bill Rosemann met many of
the industry's most talented and cool personalities... including
several that have fallen for ye olde Ex-Lax Brownie sting.
Now living in Miami -- and keeping his eyes peeled for falling
dummies, Bill can be reached at: WilliamRosemann@aol.com.