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    Tim Looks at Comics Now! Magazine

    comicsnow-cover-issue1.jpg

    I first heard about Comics Now! magazine a few months ago when I was trolling around on the Comic Geek Speak message boards (they’re behind the magazine). I was surprised because I hadn’t heard of it before then and still didn’t until Johanna posted a review this week. Having worked on print publications in some capacity for the past 9 years, I’m a magazine man at heart, so I was very excited by this new comics mag. That is, until I bought it. I like the Comic Geek Speak guys and I like their podcast, but they have really no idea how to make a magazine.

    Bryan Deemer and Peter Rios are two of the top guys over at Comic Geek Speak and are editor in chief and assistant editor of Comics Now!, respectively. The issue is 96 pages at comic book size and has a pretty nice paper stock.

    Editorially, they open with a 12-page cover story about Nova, who, to the best of my knowledge, doesn’t have a book and is not currently in any books. It’s followed by Podcasting Communique, a story about why podcasting is neat and a runs down some podcasts — one of which is Comic Geek Speak and written about in third person, which is like Wizard magazine writing about a Wizard World convention (which they actually do in the new issue). There are also stories on keeping new readers and also a breakdown of all the Crisis books, which is actually helpful, but three times as big as it needs to be. The back of book hosts an assortment of columns ranging from the format of TPBs to Fangirl Talk! (about a woman’s point of view). There’s a 5-page step-by-step from the cover artist and the Meanwhile section. Meanwhile is interesting in that they summarize what’s going on in X-Men, Spider-Man, Superman and Batman books (read between the lines: this magazine is for mainstream comic fans). Though, a lot of these issues are quite old by now. It’s a good idea to have, but is probably best suited for online.

    The layout and design of the magazine looks something out of freshman year (high school, not college). Margins are inconsistent and they lose a lot in the gutter. There is no consistency in text styling (in font choice, point size, leading, tracking, H & J’s, etc.), there’s no discernable color palette, page structures differ from story to story, it’s often hard to tell the difference between ad and edit, and in some cases the page layout makes it difficult to even read the story. Visually, it’s an airplane crash on top of a train wreck. I’m a harsher critic here because this is my area of expertise, but it just looks like no thought whatsoever was put into the visual concept and structure of the magazine.

    Pacing is another problem area. The book opens with a 12-page story, followed by a 4-pager, a 12-pager then a 20-pager. I know they’re trying to do in-depth stories, but just because a story is 12 pages doesn’t mean it’s in-depth. it’s just a bear to get through. It becomes problematic when most of your longer stories aren’t timely or have any news peg — It realllllly makes the reader work hard to get through each story and significantly lowers the chances of someone reading the stories in their entirety.

    Running Nova on the cover was a curious decision to me. I understand the appeal of exposing the readers to a character the editorial staff likes (but who they admit is marginal), but when that character doesn’t even have a book out? (I know he was in those Annihilation books last Fall, and that this issue says it’s a Fall 2007 issue. But Comics Now! didn’t hit stands until the third week of January, and the Annihilation books were long gone by then). I just don’t see the sense in it. And honestly, I’m not sure the story accomplished its goal. It did a fantastic job taking me through the history of the character and the comics, but it certainly didn’t make me like Nova any more or less. I like that they stuck with their guns though. If promoting marginal characters that they love is their MO and they want to feature them on the cover, more power to them. Branding-wise, I’m curious why they don’t have “Comic Geek Speak Presents…” somewhere on the cover. I think their biggest readership draw would be from their listeners and that they’d exploit that as much as possible, but maybe they have a different strategy in mind. I talked to a floor worker at Midtown Comics and he said the first shipment sold out quickly but the re-order supply hasn’t really moved, for what it’s worth.

    I will say I was definitely impressed with the amount of ads they had in the book. I counted 13 ads and 6 house ads, which is a great, great accomplishment. It’s worth noting that the mag is published by Brent E. Erwin and David Hedgecock, two of the top guys at comics publisher Ape Entertainment (though the words “Ape Entertainment” don’t appear anywhere). The other connection is that Comics Now! editor, Kevin Freeman, is the managing editor at Ape.

    With all of that said, a lot of these critiques could be chalked up to first-issue woes. From an analytical perspective, I’m interested to see what they come up with next, what they learn from this issue and how their editorial evolves. You can see they’re going for a less corporate and less Hollywood version of Wizard. Sigh, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but stick with Wizard for now. I may not agree with their approach to a lot of things, but at least Wizard has a reasonable idea of how to make a magazine. Hardly any of the stories have sources and 90 percent of them are written in first person, which makes them read like really, really, really long blog posts. My recommendation to the guys (and girl) over at Comics Now! would be to put the comics down for a while and pick up some magazines. I applaud their intentions and efforts behind producing Comics Now! and I’m all for more comic magazines, but this one just isn’t there yet. The tagline on the cover reads: “The magazine FOR comic BY comic fans.” The latter part is definitely true. Just because it’s made by an amateur doesn’t mean it needs to look like it is.

    Update: Ah, it’s been pointed out to me by two very loyal Nova fans that there actually is a Nova comic series in print. My bad, I regret the error. It doesn’t really change my opinion on any of this though.

    Posted by Tim Leong on February 28th, 2008 filed in Magazines, Blog |

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