Everything I learned in life, I learned from Wizard
I feel pretty confident in saying that Wizard: The Guide To Comics is responsible for the bulk of my identity. When it comes to pop culture and the way I interact with it, when it comes to my sense of humor, when it comes to my very personality - Wizard shaped me.
The magazine got me into comic books in a big way as a kid and helped guide me to the books I should read - from PREACHER to Y: THE LAST MAN to SANDMAN. CLERKS was my gateway into independent and outsider film and I learned about Kevin Smith from Wizard. Wizard is responsible for me first steps into the internet - thanks to free AOL subscription discs, I would log in and immediately make a b-line to the Wizard chatrooms. Almost everything I enjoy today has its roots in that first issue of Wizard I bought on a lark at my local Wal-Mart when I was in fifth grade.
I'm not sure exactly what prompted me to buy that issue of Wizard in the first place - I read comics a bit growing up but never collected to the point where I would need a price guide (the bulk of Wizard, for those unfamiliar, was dedicated to a price guide that would let you know how much your comic book collection was worth). If I had to come up with a theory, I think I bought that issue because I was about to go on a road trip with the family and was looking for something longer to read - I could normally go through a standard comic book issue in 15 minutes.
Whatever the reason, I was hooked. The magazine was filled with colorful images, lengthy articles about books and heroes I had a passing familiarity with (but was interested in learning more about) and - most of all - Wizard's trademark humor. Captioned images, charts and lists - all full of dick and fart jokes. This was print nirvana for a teenage boy.
I quickly made buying the newest issue of Wizard part of my monthly routine. I would go to Wal-Mart or HEB to pick up the latest issue or - if I was feeling exceptionally impatient - I would trek out to the local comic book store where I knew the issues were released a few weeks earlier than newsstands. I would pore through each issue - reading every article on every page and annotating the issue. Yes, I said annotating.
I would keep notebooks with lists of books and films and toys and whatever - stuff the magazine told me I should buy. And I listened. I would buy Star Wars toys and books - not necessarily because I was a huge Star Wars fan (I'm not) but because it seemed to be a requirement for the identity Wizard was helping me shape for myself. I read novels and watched movies that the magazine writers casually name-dropped in the letters column, I obsessed over TV shows because their actors were suggested to play X-Men in the magazine's popular Casting Call section (a speculative fan-cast before the Internet made such things commonplace). I found myself stealing jokes I had read in Twisted Toy Fare Theater (I even clipped my favorite jokes from the magazine and glued them into a notebook for easy reference). My walls were covered with the free posters that came with the magazine - supplemented with full-page ads for movies, video games, and albums I had torn out of the magazines because I apparently had some kind of vendetta against empty wall space as a kid.
I read Wizard religiously all the way up until college. I subscribed for a time but it became too stressful when the magazine occasionally arrived late (I was sure that the postman was stealing them and would grow agitated when I saw the magazine at a store before my subscription copy had arrived). When I was in college and didn't have a car, I would walk five miles to the nearest comic book store to pick up my copy. Seriously! No kidding!
Despite my obsession with Wizard, I felt self-conscious about my fandom for the magazine - and my fandom in general. I mean, some stuff I should have definitely felt self-conscious about - annotating the magazine in spiral notebooks, stalking my favorite writers and finding their AOL screennames and trying to engage them in unsolicited conversations, spending hundreds of dollars on crap I didn't want or need because Wizard told me I should own it. All that stuff was weird, awkward, and unpleasant to think about now in retrospect.
But I felt weird about buying the magazine as a kid. Remember, this was before Marvel superhero films were the pop culture juggernaut they are today. Kids in my school would pick on me for knowing too much about comic books, I had to keep that shit on the DL. So I would trick my sister into buying the magazine for me - giving her cash and asking her to wait in the checkout line because I "suddenly was struck with a need to use the restroom." I would hide the magazine in textbooks while I read it outside college lecture halls or after tests in high school - not because I wanted people to think I was studious (I slept through most of my classes, nobody thought I took school serious) but because I didn't want to be known as the guy who read comic books. And Wizard certainly didn't make it easy to be proud to be known as that guy.
I'm sure it was necessitated by sales but at a certain point Wizard began to position themselves more and more in the realm of lad magazines like Maxim and Stuff. Covers of Superman and Spawn were replaced with covers of Jessica Alba in a bikini or Catwoman playing volleyball. It's one thing to be known as the guy who reads comic books, it's another to be known as the guy who reads comic books with fictional cartoon characters sexed-up and tarted out on the cover.
Wizard and I began drifting apart about the time I was ready to graduate from college. I had stopped buying comic books regularly due to budget constraints (I once maxed out two credit cards and my bank account with weekly comic book store trips that consistently cost me $40 to $50). I briefly entertained the idea of going to work for Wizard after college. I had worked at my school paper and was determined to go into print journalism after graduation. Wizard offered me an unpaid internship but I didn't have the savings to be able to make a move to the outskirts of New York work. For a year, after I turned down that internship, I struggled with whether or not I had made a major mistake. Wizard was such a huge part of my life growing up - surely it had all been preamble to me actually working for the company. Had I made a mistake that would send my life spiraling horribly out of control until I had given up on all my hopes and dreams?
For a while it sure looked like it - I quit my job at the local newspaper to work an office job that I hated. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life and I drifted from one terrible job to another. I had completely given up on my dreams of being a journalist and was just starting to dip my toes into the world of online blogging when I heard that Wizard was shutting down their magazine. So many of the writers I had read and admired growing up had long left the magazine but now everybody was without a job or purpose. Just like me.
Flash forward fifteen years. I hadn't thought about Wizard in years and then, in a bout of insomnia-fueled insanity, I bought a lot of 100 issues of the magazine on eBay. They arrived a few weeks back but I've been so busy I've only been able to crack open a single issue and leaf through it. When I finally did start to flip through the magazines, everything came rushing back - the annotations, the comic book obsession, the humor (not nearly as funny as it had been when I was in grade school, unfortunately). The embarrassment.
So much of who I am today is because of a single magazine. That's both special and weird. It's inescapable, though. It's part of my identity - Wizard is responsible for my sense of humor, my tastes, even my self-loathing when it comes to my hobbies and passions. Wizard helped shape me in my formative years and now I can't escape its shadow - no matter how much I try. But you know what? I'm done trying to escape. I've decided to embrace this weird, probably slightly autistic relationship I had with a silly hobbies magazine. I'm going to save these issues (I threw away my complete Wizard collection years ago during a move). I'm going to reread the magazines as somebody else might flip through a diary. I'm going to try and piece together the evolutionary steps that made me who I am. Maybe I'll even make peace with a few things.
I really do owe it all to Wizard. Without the magazine, I probably wouldn't have the job I have today. I wouldn't have met the friends I've made throughout my life. I certainly wouldn't know the phrase "nonsense biscuits." I wouldn't be the Robert I am without the weird relationship I had with that magazine.
So thank you to all the writers, editors, and artists that worked on that magazine. You guys helped shape me just as much as my parents or teachers. I hope I made you proud.