March marks the 4-year anniversary of the launch of PanelsOnPages.com, and around this time of year, we tend to get super-nostalgiac. Instead of the usual PoP!-reach-around, we figured we’d go back, WAY back, to even before PoP! opened it’s doors. PoP! essentially grew from our founders’ shared interest in good ole’ Wizard magazine and the entire Wizard empire in the days prior to the fall of the House of Shamus. PoP! founders Lee Rodriguez, Jason Kerouac, Jason Knize and Rob Eddleman all cut their teeth on the Wizard Universe Message Boards and as freelance contributors to both the WizardUniverse.com website, and later, the twilight hours of the Wizard magazine, itself. Putting whatever feelings aside in regards to what the Wizard name has become (i.e., mass-produced autograph shows), one must admit that the Wizard family fostered the careers of some of the most talented people in the comics industry today.
Now, some 3 years after the magazine shut its doors, we at PoP! caught up with some of our favorite former Wizard staff members, including Brian Cunningham, Ben Morse, Rick Marshall, Jim Gibbons and Chris Ward, to see what kind of shenanigans they’ve been up to in their years since Tha Wiz!
PoP!: When did you start at with Wizard, and what was your initial job?
Brian Cunningham: I recall the exact date I started: January 25, 1993, as a college intern. It was my last semester in college. My first day, I had no idea how to dress, so I wore a white button-down shirt and a paisley red tie, and I was mercilessly made fun of. No better way to say, “Welcome to Wizard!”
The internship may as well have been a full-time job with the amount of hours I put in. It was not uncommon to work until 2 a.m. doing writing assignments or transcribing interviews. Most guys worked weekends, also — it was a labor of love, really. There were only a handful of us actually working on the magazine in-house at the time (editors and designers). So I’d go to a class or two during the day, and then go to Wizard to do some writing, some interviewing, some editing, some organizing — I began our library system that was improved upon 1,000% by Dan Reilly who arrived not too long after I did.
When I graduated that May, I was hired full time with the position of News Editor, which was a ton of fun. I was talking to my wife just the other day about that job, and I came to the conclusion that in 1993, the stuff I reported on and dug up WAS the Internet back then. [Laughs] I recall my first big story was when Image Comics had discontinued “non-founder” series such as Shaman’s Tears and Tribe. (Remember those?) And then Dark Horse’s “Legend” imprint began with John Byrne, Frank Miller, Dave Gibbons, Mike Mignola and Arthur Adams — speaking with all of those guys was pretty thrilling.
We were all very inexperienced at putting together a monthly magazine, and we made up our own way of doing it on the fly. Pat McCallum, Doug Goldstein and Gareb Shamus pretty much started it all from the basement of Gareb’s parents’ home. Pat and Doug had a very unique sense of humor that translated really well to print — the comics biz had never seen anything like Wizard.
Not to take anything away from Doug — who certainly helped establish the creative tone of the magazine — but I can’t emphasize enough how much Pat must be credited as the heart and soul of what Wizard was. Pat was the consistent creative force throughout his entire tenure. Most of every great idea came from Pat, and if it didn’t, that idea likely had his fingerprints on it in some way. Sure, I had my share of contributions, but, in hindsight, my role was more like being a facilitator of Pat’s vision. Any ideas I came up with were usually the result of those ideas fitting snugly into that vision.
Chris Ward: I was one of only, like, 5 or 6 guys who transitioned to a staff position from my pool of interns. I can’t remember the year, I wanna say late 2003. I was weird though because I was already out of college. I lived with illegals from Argentina. We had another guy later who we called “Mantern” because I think he was like 40 and was in the first Gulf War or something. Wizard would take just about anyone they could get to work for a small intern stipend, but you kind of had to fit into the culture. I remember this one kid was going with me to lunch and we drove past a “BJ Wholesale Warehouse” and I said something dumb like “I wish it was a Wholesale BJ Warehouse!” and he got really uncomfortable and looked out the other window the rest of the time. He didn’t last at the company very long. It was mostly pretty juvenile stuff like that from day to day.
My initial full time gig was a Research Assistant — that’s where my boss, Dan Reilly, would say “I think there’s a picture of Bat-Mite in Batman Issue number blah blah blah, we need it for this feature,” and I’d have to go upstairs and dig around in this huge, dusty, asbestos filled library for panel art. I’d also take the company card on shopping sprees for ToyFare Visual Price Guide spreads, which was awesome fun. I freelanced in the off hours until they hired me on as a full time staff writer and ToyFare/InQuest/Anime Insider contributor. I was kind of muscled into that because I could have made a lot of money as a research assistant AND a freelancer, and it was cheaper for them to pay me to just be a writer and editor. I think I made about $24-26K, which isn’t a lot in New York. So, like a lot of the staff, I worked in the warehouse doing order fulfillment around Christmas to make extra cash to get by, and sold a lot of the comp hardcovers from DC and Marvel on Amazon, and potentially a few other illegal things I won’t discuss here.
We were all doing what we could. It was good to get out of Research though, because my boss played two CDs nonstop at Wizard: U2’s “Everything You Can’t Leave Behind” and Jimmy Eat World’s “Bleed American” and, no joke, I about lost my g–damned mind. He would occasionally play Electric Six’s “Gay Bar” because I’d jump up and do an impromptu karaoke that cracked him up. Every day at 5 pm my computer alarm would go off with Stan Bush’s “You’ve Got the Touch” and I’d get the hell out of there. Once a raccoon ran through the office and I trapped it in the closet and it piss and sh– everywhere. No one believes me but that happened. Now I’m on a raccoon tangent.
Ben Morse: I started at Wizard as research assistant, straight out of college in the fall of 2004. During my senior year, I was about to get my English degree and had literally no clue what I wanted to do, but I ran the comics section of a pop culture web site and my dad asked if I couldn’t do something with that. I got in touch with Geoff Johns, who had e-mailed the site after we gave him a good review on something, and he basically mentored me for the next several years, starting off with getting me an interview at DC that didn’t work out and an interview at Wizard that did.
I think Mel Caylo was the guy who got my foot in the door from Geoff’s initial recommendations, then I stalked Mike Cotton and Andy Serwin for the entirety of that year’s Comic Con. Joe Yanarella brought me in for an interview and Dan Reilly hired me for the research department. I moved from Boston to middle of nowhere, New York (aka Congers) where Wizard was based, lived in a motel/efficiency for a couple months then a tiny apartment in the same little trailer park type area as fellow research assistant Dylan Brucie for a few years after that (when my girlfriend/future wife moved in with me, she had us out of that sh–hole after a couple months).
My primary job for that first year was finding clip art and doing research stuff, but I was also writing news stories and then later full articles before getting promoted to staff writer. The very first day I was there I interviewed Dan DiDio, Greg Rucka, Judd Winick and Geoff about Countdown to Infinite Crisis, which hadn’t even been announced yet, and I believe I got to be the one who broke the news.
Rick Marshall: I was hired by Wizard in April 2006. My official title was a mash-up of “Online Editor” and “Online Content Manager,” as my job combined the editorial duties of an editor with the more technical responsibilities of a content manager. It’s actually funny in retrospect, as I initially interviewed for an Associate Editor position, and when they saw that I had a background in Computer Science and some digital savvy, they asked me if I’d be willing to help them launch a new editorial website instead of the gig I had originally came in for.
Jim Gibbons: I began in the summer of 2007 as an intern for Wizard magazine. It was a crazy two months filled with comics, nerdiness, ultimate frisbee, beers, laughs, and fun. I learned a lot that summer from Brian Cunningham, Mel Caylo, Andy Serwin, Kiel Phegley, and Rickey Purdin—the guys who ended up being tasked with giving me the most feedback on my work during that time period, as I recall. Good times. I guess I did all right, because a few months later when I graduated college, I was hired on as the Online News Editor for WizardUniverse.com. It was super exciting to get that gig, especially straight out of school, but man, knowing I had to fill Rick Marshall, Sean T. Collins, and Brian Warmoth’s shoes?! Intimidating.
PoP!: Who is the favorite person you met while working for Wizard?
Morse: Do you mean fellow staffer or comics creator/celebrity?
If it’s the latter, it would be a tie between a bunch of people. Celebrity category would maybe be led by Kristen Bell, who is delightful and was my favorite person to interview. Comics category would be Phil Jimenez, who I was a huge fan of growing up but has become a close friend and incredible teacher. In his own category would be professional wrestler Christopher Daniels, another guy who is one of my closest friends today.
If it’s the former, that’s impossible to answer. I worked with so many amazing people at Wizard. Ryan Penagos hired me at my current job and I still goof off with him every day; we’ve been friends and co-workers for nearly a decade now. Sean T. Collins, T.J. Dietsch, Dave Paggi, Kiel Phegley, Matt Powell and Rickey Purdin are among my best friends and I talk to them pretty much daily. Jodie Westhoff is like family to me and my wife. Mel Caylo and Jesse Thompson are genuinely two of the best people I know. Pat McCallum, Joe Yanarella, Brian Cunningham and Dan Reilly taught me more lessons in three years at Wizard than I probably learned from kindergarten through college. The list goes on and on and I’ll always miss a dozen people.
Cunningham: I’d have to say my wife, Paula! She worked for our sister mags IN!Power and ToyFare.
Marshall: That’s a difficult question to answer, because I feel like the digital team and I went through a war together. We were a small department that began with just myself and Brian Warmoth working out of a closet in the Wizard office, and it eventually grew into a five- or six-person team with our own dedicated intern. All of the people on that team were some of the hardest workers and coolest people I’ve ever shared a workspace with: Brian, Chris DiSanto, Suzzee Uy, Sean T. Collins, Kiel Phegley…
Brian Warmoth was one of the groomsmen in my wedding, so he’s certainly right up there among my favorite people, but I also stay in close contact with guys like Mike Scigliano and the Long Beach Comic Con team, who all came out of Wizard and are doing great stuff these days. I also chat pretty regularly with people like Justin Aclin (from the ToyFare crew), and one of the nicest guys in the entire comics biz, Archaia Entertainment publicity guru Mel Caylo.
It really feels like we all went through a very dramatic, very trying experience together, and came out with a very unique bond.
Gibbons: Why, the many most excellent members of the W.U.M.B., of course!
But seriously, I met so many great people during my time there. Between fellow staffers, comics pros, and W.U.M.B.ers, I honestly don’t think I could select any one single person. So many of those people are still some of my best friends. Much as working at Wizard lived up to its negative reputation on many occasions, it was an incredible experience full of some of the best people I’ve ever met. Would not trade it for the world.
That said, Josh Wigler and Brett White are flying out to visit me in Portland this April, so… Them, I guess. They are my favorites!
Ward: Honestly, my ex co-workers, most of whom I still talk to in daily, rambling email threads that would make amazing reading, except they’ll never be public. Most of these guys are like true brothers and the most talented people you’ll ever meet, (except for that awful, awful Ben Morse). They’ve all gone on to do amazing things. And I kid Ben Morse.
Outside of that, Harvey Pekar, Keith Giffen and Ethan Van Sciver. I was lucky to count Harvey as a friend, and I regret not writing and calling more before his passing. I actually need to call Giffen…I heard his eyeball fell out or something. But things get busy and blah blah blah. If it wasn’t for Keith I would have never gotten to written any comic books. And Van Sciver is not just the madman we need, but the madman we deserve. I’ve never loved and wanted to smack someone so much about their politics. He’s just the best. Meeting Stan Lee was amazing. Original Magic Words guy Jim McLauchlin took me to the front of the line and introduced me, and he said something like “Oh, I LOVE your Magic Words!” or something. I was like, “oh sh–…what? For real?” Oh, and Jim Lee. Jim Lee is one of the nicest, genuine people I’ve ever met, outside of Top Shelf’s Chris Staros.
When do I get to talk about my LEAST favorite people?
PoP!: What is your favorite Wizard memory?
Morse: On the one hand, pretty much every con was an awesome experience. I think the Chicago shows in 2006 and 2007 where Rickey and I got to host the Fan Awards and where somebody who will remain unnamed put a couch or something in the hotel elevator was pretty great. I had some great times at the Philly and L.A. shows too. Phil Jimenez took me, my wife, Rickey’s girlfriend and T.J. out to lunch in Philly one time and Rickey had to work. Over the course of a flight to L.A. in 2006 I developed like a 101 degree fever and we had to make an emergency stop in Colorado because somebody in first class tried to assault Bernadette Peters (no joke) and I still remember having a great time.
Strangely enough, though, one of if not the worst days I worked at Wizard is also one of my favorite memories, and that was the day Pat McCallum got let go. The memory of Pat leaving is obviously awful. He was an amazing boss who used to grab me after work to hang out in his office and just talk about comics for hours, which was like nirvana for me because this was the guru to me when it came to super heroes and he actually cared about my opinions. So yeah, when he got let go, it was terrible. But the part of that day I remember as being awesome was that after work we all went down to the local bar where Pat was waiting and just spent the whole night reminiscing about all the stuff he’d been through over a decade-plus at Wizard and really came together as a staff and a group of compatriots. Pat had the best attitude, and even though a lot of us were losing it with rage or sadness, he was just smiling, telling stories, giving pep talks. So yeah, even though that day sucked, I remember that night as being amazing, because Pat would never let anything beat him and I feel like he instilled that same spirit in a lot of us on his way out, which was an incredibly selfless gift.
It’s a weird ass favorite memory, but I’m pretty weird.
Gibbons: Probably Wizard World Philly, both in 2008 and 2009. That 2008 show was the beginning of a lot of lifelong friendships, lots of fun during and after the convention, and—if memory serves—the last show before the massive layoffs really kicked in. Then, in 2009, the staff at Wizard was much, much smaller, but a lot of former Wizard guys, either working new comics jobs at Marvel or DC or just down as fans and friends, ended up at the 2009 show. It felt like the good ol’ days again.
Marshall: My favorite Wizard memory is a montage of all the people I met outside the company, to be honest. Meeting so many people from the Wizard Universe Message Boards (WUMB) during conventions was actually a REALLY BIG deal for me, because let’s face it: they were the people who were personally affected by the work I was doing. They were the people reading everything we did on the site (more so than anyone else at the company, in fact), and I felt a real connection – and a sense of community – with many of them. Having drinks in a Chicago hotel lobby with WUMB regular Sal Loria was a great memory, as well as meeting the PoP! crew at C2E2 years after I left Wizard.
Cunningham: My memory for this stuff is really shaky. I’m sure if I was put into a room with a bunch ex-Wizard guys, those stories would flow endlessly.
Ward: That might be impossible to narrow down. Some of them I am not at liberty to discuss. I wish there was an archive of the original Wizard message board. But, of all of them, the Phantom Sh–ter sticks out in my mind.
Brian Cunningham comes down and says “Conference Room. Everyone. Five Minutes.” And we’re all like “oh f—, someone’s getting fired.” And this was before it was like “Well, it’s Tuesday. Someone’s getting fired so whatever.” So we all march up there and I’m kind of sweating bullets. And Brian is this laid back, pretty relaxed guy and he is f–ing KEYED UP. So we all get in there, and Brian smacks his palms on the table, and says “We have a Phantom Sh–ter. Someone has been sh–ting on the walls, on the floors, and putting toilet paper in the toilet and sh–ting. On. The. Toilet. Paper.” And he is red. He is becoming the Cunning-Hulk. And we are all holding in this atomic laughter deep in our gut, squeezing it inside like a fart in church because he is majorly pissed. And then Brian, with great resolve, says “Make no mistake: This person WILL be caught, and they WILL be fired” like in the same way Bush is talking about Bin Laden. When I got out of the room I lost it I was just f—ing dying.
And, really, that was Brian’s one big failure as an editor: no one ever caught the Phantom Sh–ter. And to this day, no one knows who the Phantom Sh–ter was. We are 60% sure it was a psychopath who worked in the warehouse. But whoever it was: I applaud them. I applaud them so hard. Part of me hopes Brian is still looking for the culprit with all these bizarre charts and maps in some locked desk drawer, like a filthy scat version of Zero Dark Thirty.
PoP!: What is the coolest piece of swag you brought home from working at Wizard?
Gibbons: I think the stories and memories are the best takeaways from my time at The Wiz. Getting to meet the cast of Battlestar Galactica, nights spent at convention bars with buddies… stuff like that stands out most. But I did earn a rad Gentle Giant Star Wars animaquette of an Ithorian Jedi for helping Zach Oat and Adam Tracey organize some ToyFare warehouse stuff. I still have that.
Marshall: Beyond the boxes and boxes of comics that I ended up with, I didn’t actually receive very much swag during my time with Wizard. The ToyFare crew got the toys, the InQuest crew got the gaming stuff, and the Wizard Magazine and Price Guide crew kept a pretty tight grip on everything else that came into the office. Honestly, I’d say that my favorite piece of swag from my time at Wizard was the cameo I made in one of Rickey Purdin’s comics about life and his crazy experiences with the company. I loved reading his “Diary” comic, and he probably doesn’t know how thrilled I was to be included in it.
Morse: Technically I didn’t bring it home, but there was a full wall of framed Alex Ross paintings of all the Silver Age DC heroes in the lobby of the Congers building, and when they moved to New York City, I wanna say it was Andy Serwin who grabbed the Flash painting for me. By the time it got to me, the glass was broken and the middle was creased to sh–, but it’s still technically framed and I’ve got it hanging in my house.
Ward: There was a Wizard Fan Award for Alan Moore under my desk for years that he didn’t want or something. I just took it on my last day for my bookshelf. When I left, all my co-workers got together and bought me a commissioned Michael Kupperman piece with Snake, Bacon, Mr. T and Pac-Man. I’m glad I got to be part of that tradition: the 2-weeks notice, the goodbye dinner, commissioned art, the whole thing. A lot of other departures were…. unceremonious.
Cunningham: This might sound strange, but I don’t even possess a single copy of the magazine anymore. I’ve moved around so many times that lugging around several heavy boxes of magazines just didn’t appeal to me. I regret not saving them now. I would have liked to have scanned in some of the stuff I’ve participated in during my tenure there. When I think back at all the genuinely entertaining material we did, I feel a sense of accomplishment. I never did feel that way while I was in the trenches doing the monthly grind, but I definitely do now.
Maybe someday I’ll buy up old back issues and start scanning in old articles I’d like to keep. Of course, I’d be very willing if PoP! stalwarts would donate scans of certain articles, as well! [Laughs]
PoP!: What is your favorite piece of work you did for Wizard?
Cunningham: Wow. That’s tough. I usually look at the work with a critical eye considering all the things I might have done differently had I had the life experience I have now compared to then.
That said, interviewing Frank Frazetta on the phone as he was watching a Mets game was pretty amazing.
Y’know what? If I could go back in time to my 15-year-old self and tell that awkward kid that he would have conversations with both John Byrne and Frank Miller, just seeing his face would be worth any destruction to the space-time continuum.
Marshall: I had a few favorite pieces of content. First, the “Brian Bendis Presents…” interview series that I helped create for the site and moderated. (I was almost always on the phone with Bendis and the people he interviewed – Stan Lee, Patton Oswalt, etc – and occasionally helped shape the conversation.) I was really proud of how that series came together, and it was a real labor of love for me due to how long it took to transcribe the interviews and get them on the site. I’m not even sure if Bendis knows how much of a one-man gig that was at times.
Another favorite piece of content was the recurring “Cursory Conversations” interview series that Brian Warmoth conducted with webcomic creators. No one will ever know how much of a struggle it was to get that series approved for the site, and what a major shift in perspective it required for the company. I championed that series for a long time before it actually got to the site, and Brian Warmoth pulled it off masterfully week after week.
And finally, the one piece of content I’m most proud of writing for the site is an interview I did with Warren Ellis during San Diego Comic-Con. Ellis is one of my favorite writers on this planet, and our interview started off a little rough due to his negative feelings about Wizard. (I think he joked about “ripping me a new arse” when I was introduced as an editor for Wizard.) But I brought him a Red Bull and we started talking about Doctor Who, and everything from that point on went better than I hoped. Sometimes when you meet the people whose work you admire, a bad experience can really turn you off to something you previously enjoyed. In this case, my rambling conversation with Ellis about his current comics work, Doctor Who, and the political landscape at that time made me an even bigger fan of the man.
Morse: I’ve got a few .
The Crisis on Infinite Earths Directors Commentary was great because it’s one of my all-time favorite stories and getting to talk to Marv Wolfman and George Perez about it for three hours (and get paid to do so) was surreal.
The Oral History of Captain America, which came out right after Steve Rogers died and we had pretty much every Cap writer ever telling his story over like 20 or 30 pages was a beast. I got to do more editing than writing because I was taking interviews a half dozen people did and splicing them together, and I dug that. I also got to interview Joe Simon and somehow be the first person to ever tell him that his old assistant Stan Lee had killed Bucky (which he found hysterical).
But getting to do human interest stuff, which I never thought I would be any good at, turned out to be the most rewarding pieces. I did an article about the late Seth Fisher, talking to his family and friends about his life and the bizarre circumstances surrounding his death that I was really proud of and then many of them contacted me after to thank me for telling his story. My biggest regret is the story I never did about the career of Bill Messner-Loebs; I flew out to Detroit and spent a day with Bill and his wife Nadine and thought I had a great story, but for various reasons it never came together, which I’ll always feel bad about.
Ward: I’m most proud of the Harvey Pekar profile piece I did. That was my favorite. Other than that, I’m still pretty proud of most of the humor stuff. I really liked the Ethan Van Sciver feature because we screwed around at Universal Studios all day. And definitely my contributions to Twisted Toyfare Theatre. I think we made some of the recipes once in the cookbook DC Comics put out in the 70s, and made the “Batman Banana and Bacon” something or other, and I threw up when I ate one.
Gibbons: As an intern, I got to write a Book of the Month review on Nova that got a full spread in the magazine. That was a pretty big deal. Fun to write too. Kiel and Rickey took me aside on that one, gave me a ton of great notes, and really helped me as a writer. It was like one 15 minute meeting with those dudes, nothing fancy, but it was a big deal for me at the time to get to write that piece and an even bigger deal that those two dudes, whose stuff I’d read a bunch of in the magazine, were giving me notes.
Towards the end of my time at Wizard, I worked with designers to do a rad, two-page web diagram of all the relationships between the characters that developed during the first year of Amazing Spider-Man: Brand New Day. It was in Wizard 216, I believe. That was a fun one.
PoP!: When did you leave Wizard, and what was your final job?
Morse: I left in the fall of 2007, almost three years to the day after I had started. I was still a staff writer at that point, and myself, Kiel and Rickey were getting to more or less outline the magazine every month with Mike and Brian making the final calls, which was cool for us particularly given how young we were. I don’t remember what the very last article I worked on was, but I was on the Marvel beat at that point, so it was probably something to do with Secret Invasion or something. I had just done a pretty cool “Day in the Life of Marvel” story not long before I left, which was exactly what it sounds like (I think).
Marshall: I left Wizard in November 2007. My final job for them was to train my replacement, which I didn’t realize was happening while it was going on, but that’s how things work sometimes.
Ward: I left Wizard…umm, 2007 or 2008? I can’t remember. I did a lot of freelance for them from Illinois after my last day there. I got paid 1000 bucks — 1000 BUCKS — to write Magic Words and do a handful of freelance things after that. In freelance dollars, that’s huge nowadays. And for doing almost no work. Hell, we made up letters when not enough people wrote in that month. Plus, what publication devotes 4-5 pages to a letters column anymore? It couldn’t last. Luckily, around the time I was looking to move on (I got a job running a narcotics vault as a Certified Pharmacy Technician) they were looking to cut Magic Words. It became “POOFT!” or something after that. And then it all went POOF.
Cunningham: I was fired on August 14, 2008. By that time, I was Wizard‘s Executive Editor.
After 15 years there, I had amassed so much STUFF over the years that I had to come back some weeks later to clear it all out of my work space. I had a boatload of Bowen Designs statues and mini-busts, frames with original comic book art on the wall…I’m grateful I was given the opportunity to come back and get it all!
You’d think I’d have an office now without a lot of stuff, but I have a ton of trade paperbacks and art books on shelves in my office that I use as daily reference. I’ll never learn.
Gibbons: I was an associate editor on the magazine when my time at Wizard came to an end. It was in September 2009.
PoP!: What have you been up to since leaving Wizard?
Morse: I left Wizard because I got a job at Marvel as assistant editor at their web site, working under Ryan, and I’ve been there for the past five years, climbing the ranks.
Cunningham: I’ve been at DC Comics pretty much ever since, living the dream of editing comics! I’ve been very fortunate to still be in the comic book business, something I never take for granted.
Marshall: I spent a while as the editor of another comics site, ComicMix, and more recently spent three years as the editor of MTV News’ Splash Page blog, which was initially launched as a news site covering the overlap of comics, movies, tv, and related geekery.
Gibbons: I really lucked out. Right after I was let go—or downsized or whatever you want to call what happened to the staff between 2008 and 2010—Wigler, one of my best buds that I met during my time at Wizard, dropped me a line to let me know that Dark Horse Comics was looking for a PR guy. Going from Wizard into PR at a comics company, like Ryan Penagos and Ben Morse did, seemed like it could be a perfect move for me. And it was definitely perfect timing. People had heard I had been let go, so as soon as the news got out that I was applying to Dark Horse, many of them put in a good word with friends and contacts at DH—Brian Cunningham and Mel Caylo, specifically.
I sent in a resume, benefitted from the good word of some awesome former Wizard folks, and—in another stroke of good timing—I had just written a Book of the Month feature on DH’s Conan the Cimmerian for Wizard, so I even dropped a line to the editor at DH (Philip Simon) I worked with on that one… A lot of good stuff came together at once. Good timing, like I said.
Shortly after that, I was hired on as a publicity coordinator at Dark Horse Comics. After doing that for a year, I moved over to the editorial department as an assistant editor and, recently, was promoted to associate editor.
Ward: After Wizard and a lot of freelance dried up (as companies moved from the strategy of paying me $600 for a video game column to offering 10 bucks per blog post), I just didn’t have the desire to grind it out as a freelancer. I lived in Springfield, IL and worked full time as a Certified Pharmacy Tech, where they let me handle the good drugs. I wrote a Barack Obama biography for Bluewater, and it sold really well, got some good press and cameoed on Conan O’ Brian. I got totally screwed by them on payment, but it was fun.
I drove around the country and filmed Junior Dance Competitions, which was a living, dancing nightmare. I was the top Jimmy Johns delivery driver for a few months. Got divorced. Cat died. Recently got on a Smoothie Regiment. Became “Funniest Tweeter” according to the Riverfront Times. Oh, and I wrote a charity album about Gareb Shamus that didn’t do very well on the charts.
PoP!: What are you up to, currently?
Cunningham: I just got promoted to Senior Editor here at DC, so it’s nice that they are at least tolerating me.
Morse: I just got promoted to full Editor of Marvel.com after being associate editor for a couple years. I oversee all the daily content and manage the freelancers who write for the site, plus I co-host the weekly podcast This Week in Marvel with Ryan, work as a producer on the Marvel Super Heroes: What The–?! stop motion series—which is animated by another Wizard alum, Alex Kropinak, and we’ve recently been joined by Todd Casey, another ex-Wizard guy—and do a bunch of other stuff in and around Marvel.
Gibbons: I’m working on books like sellout success The Black Beetle, The Strain, Captain Midnight, the Eisner and Harvey Award-winning Dark Horse Presents, and The Massive. Plus, of course, a few other exciting secret projects.
Marshall: I’m currently a full-time freelance writer, editor, and producer (and occasional “consultant”) for a long list of print, online, and on-air news outlets. (I post excerpts of my work on my personal website at www.mindpollution.org.) My focus continues to be on the growing overlap between comics and various other media, though I’m doing a lot more movie coverage lately than anything else. I also have the dubious distinction of being labeled a “Professional Geek” by ABC News – a title which seems to have stuck and been recycled for a few other TV appearances I’ve made. But hey, I’m not going to complain about it. “Professional Geek” is actually a pretty great job description.
Ward: Now I’m the head of marketing and communications at 88.1 KDHX in St. Louis, which is the absolute best independent radio station around. There is nothing like it. Pretty soon I hope I’ll have my own show. I really, really love my job and I love St. Louis. So many amazing things happening in this city, and I get to be part of it. I’m always trying to get my pals to move here. At the station, our volunteers put out a ton of content at KDHX.org, and we are in the process of raising money to move into a larger location with a concert venue at ForKDHX.org.
Sometimes, I’ll be working and then I’ll get to go downstairs and see some of my favorite bands — Of Montreal, the Walkmen, David Bazan, The Ravonettes, Handsome Fur — and just hang out in-studio. And I throw St. Louis’ biggest party — Midwest Mayhem at the City Museum, a place that is like Pee-Wee’s playhouse on steroids — every year for our members. Last year Wayne Coyne from the Flaming Lips wandered randomly in and was like “what is this”? I said “It’s like one of your shows, but crazier.”
PoP!: What has been your favorite post-Wizard opportunity?
Cunningham: I still find it kind of amazing that I speak with writer Geoff Johns at least once a day, sometimes 2 or 3 times. And those creative conversations have been a lot of fun. I’ve learned a lot by working with him.
Morse: Getting the chance to do stuff beyond just writing and editing, whether it’s What The–?!, the podcast or whatever. I’ve gotten to do on-camera hosting of our convention coverage, which used to be pre-taped, but which we now stream live, and I feel very comfortable doing that and enjoy it a lot; I’m finally getting to use my dual theater major that I dropped sophomore year because a wise professor told me half an English degree and half a theater degree would get me nowhere.
Marshall: I’ve really enjoyed visiting the sets of movie and TV projects like The Walking Dead and Skyfall, and having the opportunity to interview three of the 11 Doctors from my favorite TV series of all time, Doctor Who. So many of these experiences would’ve never come my way at Wizard, and I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to take a more active role in generating cool content. Working at MTV News was a tremendous learning experience, and going freelance has been fantastic (so far).
Gibbons: Not to sound too cheesy, but I’m living it right now. While at Wizard, I learned a lot more about what comic book editors do and I thought that’d be a fun gig to have one day. It seemed like a long shot, but a fella can dream, can’t he? Now, I’m working as a comic editor for a living. Like a lot of ex-Wizard folk, Wizard was a great experience for me for a time, and then it offered a great springboard to better opportunities. It got me to DH, and now at DH, I’m doing the exact job I want to do.
PoP!: What has been one of your favorite post-Wizard run-ins with a fellow former staff member(s)?
Morse: I dunno, I literally work with or see these guys and gals just about every day. Rickey and I lived a couple blocks away from each other for years and would take the train in and out of NYC together with him going to DC and me going to Marvel. I have fun any time a big group of us hang out. Even though I’ve only been to like two, the Manly Movie Nights we have are great. I went to a crawfish cookout at Adam Tracey’s a few months ago. Having everybody at my wedding was pretty great.
I’m not really coming up with a good answer here because I feel like we don’t so much have “run-ins,” we plan to see one another. Like I said, a lot of my best friends came out of those three years.
Cunningham: Working with Pat McCallum at DC for the past few years has been really fun. Pat’s just one of the smartest and most creative guys I’ve ever known, so it was a hoot to be able to transform “what if?” conversations from 15 years ago into real creative conversations about the real characters and comics.
Pat recently left the Editorial Department for a new DC post on the West Coast, but now I have another former Wizard staffer Mike Cotton to have similar conversations.
Marshall: Traveling to the West Coast to host a live interview series at Long Beach Comic Con with the LBCC team is probably my favorite post-Wizard experience with the old crew. If you enjoyed a Wizard convention at any point in the past, you probably have the people who run LBCC to thank for that experience. They were the heart and soul of the Wizard conventions, and I always marveled at how well they did their jobs despite all of the internal and external pressures they faced. Heading out to their convention last year brought back a lot of positive memories for me, because the show managed to capture all of the stuff I liked about doing the Wizard convention circuit years ago without carrying over any of the negative baggage from those experiences.
Ward: C2E2, every year, is the best. It’s like a big family reunion and I love seeing everyone. I’m glad I don’t have to work a booth or schmooze or go to company dinners. It’s nice to just be a dumb civilian. I have two other favorites. The first is when I surprised my friend Ryan Penagos by flying to New York for his birthday. Most of the old Wizard guys met at a deli in Times Square and I came shambling in wearing this whole skeleton get-up with this gross cardboard sign that said “Dancing Skeleton, Please Give” or something. So I did this awkward, truly terrible, uncomfortable dance and everyone sat there like “What the fuck is this.” I held out my hand for change and Ben Morse gave me a quarter. I took off my mask and said “You cheap motherf–kers!” And everyone flipped out. Then we all partied:
The other is on my 30th birthday when Jesse Thompson and his wife visited me on my birthday in Illinois, and then Alex Segura and Rickey Purdin came walking in the door out of nowhere with their happy asses grinning from ear to ear. Penagos was supposed to come, but his cat got sick. He had a ticket and everything. No one’s ever done anything like that for me before. It was the best weekend I’ve ever had.
Gibbons: At one point last year at San Diego Comic-Con, ex-Wizard guys Justin Aclin, Steve Sunu, Kiel Phegley, me, and maybe Josh Wigler and Kevin Mahadeo as well, all started chanting “Bros! Bros! Bros!” in a bar crowded with fellow nerds. It was a great moment.
Very special thanks to Brian Cunningham, Ben Morse, Rick Marshall, Jim Gibbons, and Chris Ward, for not only taking part in this feature, but for helping shape what PanelsOnPages.com and The PoP!ulation are today.
Enjoyed catching up with some of your fave former Wizard staffers? Would you like to see more? What Wiz-Alum are you most interested in catching up with? Tell us in the comments!
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