MTV Geek Exclusive: A Talk With Wizard World Inc.’s Gareb Shamus

By Valerie D’Orazio

Gareb Shamus has been in the news quite a bit lately — what with his Wizard Magazine and Toyfare ceasing production, his new company Wizard World Inc. going public, and the large influx of cash pouring into his e-newsletter venture GeekChicDaily. We took some time to have a candid chat with Shamus about the future of Wizard in digital, the Wizard World conventions, GeekChicDaily…and even about some of the criticism leveled at him in the comic book media.

MTV Geek: After two decades, how does it feel to no longer have a print edition of Wizard Magazine?

Gareb Shamus: There’s certainly part of me that feels that print is this incredible media – and it’s something I built my life around – but when you look at my life, as being a pioneer in so many different types of media, I’m very excited about the opportunity that not having print enables us to have. So from that perspective, yes, there’s a part of me for which having the magazine in printed form is very exciting – but there’s also a part that recognizes print has a very limiting factor that prevents us from reaching our full potential, and our full audience that exists out there throughout the world.

Geek: What do you feel was Wizard Magazine’s legacy to the world of comic books?

GS: I actually think it’s extraordinary what we have been able to do in the comic book industry, and when you think about how we’ve influenced generations of people and their tastes – what they’ve been interested in and excited about, or what got them into the business and what got them into reading comics – we’ve had a significant impact in the way generations have grown up, and have consumed this content out there. I can tell you that for many many years, up until recently, Wizard sold many more copies than 95 percent of the comic books out there. So from that perspective, Wizard, right up until we ceased publishing, reached more people than 95% of the comics out there. So when you look at that, we’ve had an influence over everything in that regard.

And when you look at the landscape today, with all the movies and television and video games and toys and how these characters have populated the landscape – we’ve had a significant impact on that. The people who were buying Wizard are now directors and producers and actors…I’ve had so many people over the years tell me that if it wasn’t for Wizard, “I wouldn’t have been read this or that, known about this artist or writer or company.” I’ve heard countless publishers tell me that if it wasn’t for us they wouldn’t have been around…even IDW told me that if it wasn’t for the exposure in Wizard, not as many people would have known about “30 Days of Night,” which launched their company and their careers. Companies like Image, and Top Cow, and even a lot of characters in the Marvel and DC Universe, who wouldn’t have gotten the attention if it wasn’t for us.

Geek: There’s been some criticism from certain bloggers and commentators about Wizard recently following the shuttering of the print edition, and there are some people who are ex-employees- or who anonymously claim to be ex-employees -who say that they have been treated poorly by you and your company. How do you react and respond to that, on a personal level?

GS: First of all, people criticizing what we’re doing is nothing new. It’s been going on since the day we started the magazine. From the first day out, it was “how could they be writing about this; we like the comic creators from the past, how could you be writing about these new comic creators like Jim Lee, and Todd McFarlane, and Rob Liefeld?” So since the day we started, we’ve been criticized. But you can’t be pioneers -you can’t be breaking new ground, you can’t be forging ahead – without people talking negatively about what you’re doing or how you’re getting there.

But when you look at the flip side of that, the magazine was extraordinarily successful over a long period of time because that’s not how the masses felt – that’s how a few vocal individuals felt. And when you look at the new shows we’ve built with Wizard World, none of that criticism is reflected at our events. People show up in droves; the lines are huge to get in, to meet the talent, to buy products, to attend the panels. So you can’t look at the voices of the minority to get a true picture of our impact in the marketplace. And I think that’s true of everyone…I’m sure when you go to Justin Bieber’s message board, you’re going to find people talking about how he sucks, and how he’s this and that – and in the meantime he’s selling millions of albums, and his concerts are selling out in 22 minutes. So you can’t look at what people say as a reflection of what you’re doing out there.

And when it comes to ex-employees, you’ve got to understand that they’re ex-employees: they’re people who have just lost their jobs. And it’s very unfortunate, but unfortunately you’ve got to take what they say with a grain of salt. You’ve got to understand where it’s coming from. It doesn’t diminish their contribution to what we’ve done, it doesn’t mean that I didn’t appreciate their hard work – but when you look at the landscape of comic books today, a lot of these people wouldn’t even be working in this business if it wasn’t for Wizard giving them their first start.

So, when you look at a lot of the people saying those things about us, if it wasn’t for us transplanting them from where they existed – from jobs that weren’t even in comic books, where they were in school and looking for their first opportunity – they might not even be in comics now. So in a sense, I’m really happy – we’ve been able to influence so many different outlets out there, and we gave a lot of people out there a chance to be involved in this industry.

Geek: How will your new Wizard World digital site be like – and perhaps unlike – Wizard Magazine?

GS: So we’ve ceased publishing Wizard and ToyfareMagazine, and my new company Wizard World Inc. will be publishing a free digital magazine called “Wizard World.” And from my perspective, it’s going to be very different from the kinds of things I’ve done in the past. And because we have a digital playground and format to work with, our reach will be significantly higher throughout the world. We’ve been reaching millions of fans throughout my two-plus decade career in comics and character-based media, and now I get to leverage that in a digital way. And I think people are going to be pretty excited and jazzed to see the kind of things we do in a digital format that I wasn’t able to do in print, for us to be able to reach out to our audience in ways that I haven’t been able to do in the past with a printed magazine. So it’s an unbelievably exciting time for me to be able to use the digital magazine as a digital canvas to forge ahead and to show people things they haven’t seen yet.

Geek: Can you comment on the recent 1.5 million dollar in financing for GeekChicDaily raised by Legendary Pictures and others?

GS:My friend Peter Levin and I started that with Peter Guber, and it has been a dream project for us, because here was our opportunity to reach out to this audience on a daily basis with something cool. And to be able to put the type of partners together, and the weight behind it, to attract the level of companies in the entertainment world…GeekChicDaily has been a testament to how incredible a job we’ve been able to do, not only in putting it together, but to getting out to the audience a compelling and exciting and unique product.

And because it’s an e-newsletter, only those people who opt in get it, so from a marketing and advertising perspectiveyou’re talking about a very targeted, active user who wants this content. The people who subscribe are influencers: they’re the people who, when they find out about something, will let all their friends know about it, and the impact something like that has is tremendous out there in the marketplace.

Geek: What is the future of Wizard World conventions, and will you continue to expand in that arena?

GS: Absolutely, when you look at the direction that we’ve headed in, the convention business has been greatly expanding for us. It’s an incredibly exciting business for us, because there’s nothing like seeing your fans right in front of you. And when you talk about people liking us or not liking us or wanting to be involved with us, there’s no greater vehicle and opportunity than people coming out to see you. And therein lies the true essence of what we do. When you look at these shows, people are leaving their homes and paying money to see us and spend time to have fun with their friends – and what’s more compelling than that, than consumers voting with their dollars in regards to our products? And they’re voting in record numbers, and they love what we’re doing. We just had a show in New Orleans that was an incredible success. People showed up, and the community got behind it; we had over a hundred artists and writers in our artist alley, and the show worked out great for them. Our Austin show was very well-received, and Chicago was off the charts; people came out of the woodwork for that one. Philly: lines were stretched around the block.

Geek: What’s your take on the state of the comic book industry today?

GS: That’s an interesting question. The comic industry has a lot of issues that need to get solved because the sales on comics are dwindling, and there hasn’t been a leadership role in this industry to change the course of that. So from one perspective I don’t think the material and the talent and the quality of stories has ever been greater. I don’t think we’ve ever had such an exciting time in the comic book industry. But nobody is taking a leadership role in changing the course of sales. And it’s very unfortunate because the retailers are having a very tough time out there, and nobody is helping them. From my perspective, when I try to sell tickets to my shows, I do everything I can to do that – and I don’t feel that the comic book industry is doing everything they can to change their course. And at the end of the day I don’t produce those products, so I can only talk about what’s going on, and shed light on the talent and the creators and what we like. But someone has to take the role in changing the course.

Geek: Do you think it’s going to be a comic book publisher, or someone outside the traditional comic book industry?

GS: I know that in the toy industry, Mattel and Hasbro spend a lot of money to support the toy industry. And even if there is no direct benefit for them in that, there is a benefit to making sure people are excited about buying toys every year, that people are going to the retailers, that people are going online to shop and get great toys. And those two companies take a very proactive role in the toy industry to make sure that people are excited; and sure every other toy company gets a benefit from that, but it’s very important to make sure that the toy industry is a thriving industry. The comic industry lacks the leadership, and I’m not pointing fingers at anybody in particular. But somebody has to make sure that the comic book industry thrives.

Geek:What’s next for Gareb Shamus?

GS: Well I can’t tell you how excited I am about what we have going on. I undertook Wizard World as a public company now, so we have a very exciting future ahead of us, with the launch of our new digital magazine, all the events that we have, and with GeekChic Daily. It’s an incredibly exciting time to have this direct access to our fans all over the world without having to have intermediaries, or people that get in the way of our direct connection with our audience. When you look at the events and the digital stuff we are doing, we are going right to our fans, right to our audience. We’re going right to the people who love what we’re doing – and that’s really fun for me.

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Wizard Magazine Ends Print Edition, Goes Digital + Reactions

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