Although I hadn’t bought the magazine in years or read it in months, I’m sorry to see it go. It was a big part of my adolescence – I still have a stack of issues sitting at my dad’s – and helped shape me as both a writer and as a person.
Since 1991 Wizard has been the go-to source for most comic book fans. The monthly magazine featured news items, interviews, how-to articles, reviews, previews and just about anything else you can imagine involving comics, all in an irreverent and fun package.
It was that flippancy and sense of humour that has informed my personal and professional style. Although journalism is rarely an appropriate venue for sarcasm, it certainly has its place on this blog, on my Twitter feed, on Facebook and most especially in person.
Every so often I’m reminded of one of Wizard’s jokes or particularly funny turns of phrase and I still laugh.
For example, like the Marvel Comics of the 1980s and early 1990s, Wizard always had a page dedicated to the antics of its bullpen of staff.
In that space they often discussed the escalating prank war amongst the magazine’s different departments, including a gag where three staff members took thousands of photocopies of their faces and plastered them all over their rival’s offices. Into file folders, on computer screens, covering phones, cut into slices and taped to the individual slats of venetian blinds. Everywhere.
Years later, when my friends Wes and Ruben wanted to prank our friends Kate and Hannah, I knew just what to do. Nearly $150 at Kinko’s and hours in the girl’s apartment later, and we’d covered every square inch with black and white copies of our faces, all with the staff of Wizard as our inspiration.
But the slick magazine’s reach extended far beyond its sophomoric humour.
As Matt Demers of NerdGirlPinups.com points out “Wizard showed me that a person could take something that he/she enjoyed and make a living at it. The articles were written with passion and flair, and exposed me to the deeper side of comics' fandom.”
Basically, being a writer for Wizard was what I aspired – really, still hope - to be. It helped show me that it’s possible to make a living being creative and doing what you love.
But as much as Wizard was a positive influence on me and my work, it also served as a cautionary tale in two respects.
First, it was often criticized by comic fans and professionals alike for essentially becoming a catalogue for the industry’s two biggest publishers - Marvel Comics and DC Comics - and generally ignoring smaller or independent printing houses.
Obviously, this underscored the need not just for journalistic integrity, but to have diversity in your coverage. If you’re going to develop a beat and report on something like the comics industry, you should not neglect any corner, no matter how insignificant it may seem.
Second, despite its decidedly nerdy demographics, Wizard never really expanded on to the internet. Yes, they had a website but it never had any news or really any content beside subscription information or the details on their series of conventions.
I think this was their ultimate undoing. Wizard was in a position to get in on the ground floor of the Internet boom with a hardcore audience that would presumably be web savvy. WizardUniverse.com could’ve been ComicsAlliance nearly a decade before there was a ComicsAlliance.
Instead, publisher Gareb Shamus stuck with Wizard’s out-dated print-only business model. Ironically, they plan to launch WizardWorld.com, an online comics magazine in February, but it’s obvious to everyone that the cat is out of the bag with several competitors already well-established online.
Farewell Wizard, it’s been fun. You taught me a lot about comics, writing and journalism both in life and in death, but your time had come.
Yes, that’s right, my week in junior hockey, not weekend.
Last week I grappled with a full slate of Canadian Hockey League madness as I helped cover the Top Prospects game, junior hockey’s annual showcase of the best draft-eligible talent, for the Canadian Press in addition to my regular duties.
It all started on Monday night when I went to the teams’ practices and interviewed Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Red Deer Rebels, currently ranked third amongst North American skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting department.
I was really pleased with my finished profile. “Nugent-Hopkins focused on improving his game” illustrated how impressively modest and grounded this young play-making centre is.
“It’s been an eventful week for Red Deer Rebels star Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Just six days ago Nugent-Hopkins was ranked third among draft-eligible North American skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting department. Days later, he was named captain of Team Orr for the Canadian Hockey League’s Top Prospects game Wednesday night.
The six-foot centre is keeping it all in perspective though and remains humble about the two achievements.” Read the rest at Yahoo! Sports Canada.
On Tuesday morning I went to watch the Next Testing combine where the skaters for the Top Prospects games were put through their paces to measure and compare their skating ability through a series of drills. I didn’t have a piece to work on, I just wanted to see what it was all about and get to take in some of the best young players in the game in person.
I was most impressed with two players during the combine: Daniel Catenacci of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and Sven Bartschi of the Portland Winterhawks.
Catenacci blew me away with his speed. I didn’t have a stopwatch or anything with me, but it was clear that he was by far the fastest player on the ice that morning.
Bartschi’s seemingly effortless strides really struck me. He could keep pace with most of his competition, often peeling away from most of them, apparently without breaking a sweat. Incredible.
Wednesday was the main event. I joined my CP colleague Shi Davidi at the Air Canada Centre. He did the game story for wide release while I was responsible for the game’s sidebar and producing the agate file for paginators across Canada.
The morning was spent doing media scrums around head coaches Don Cherry and Doug Gilmour as well as Gilmour’s assistant Wendel Clark.
It was during these free-for-alls that Cherry spoke out about the lack of respect amongst players in the NHL, leading to disastrous head shots like David Steckel’s blindside of Sidney Crosby at the Winter Classic. Of course, it was a hot news item for most of the day, with Shi and I at the centre of the maelstrom.
For my sidebar I wound up doing a notebook on four of the smaller stories within the game that was only distributed to print outlets, including this bit on Shane Prince of the Ottawa 67’s:
“It was the most unheralded player at the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game game that made the biggest impact for Team Cherry on Wednesday night
Left-winger Shane Prince of the Ottawa 67's was the only member on head coach Don Cherry's squad to score in the 7-1 drubbing handed out by Doug Gilmour's Team Orr.
After Team Orr jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead by the game's midway point, Prince put Team Cherry on the board. Although it was his team's only goal of the game, the 18-year-old from Spencerport, N.Y., was glad to make a difference.
‘It's a good feeling,’ Prince said after the game. ‘It doesn't say everything about a player but it’s definitely nice to get a goal.’
When the two rosters of draft-eligible prospects were originally drawn up, Prince was left out despite being second in the Ontario Hockey League's scoring race with 21 goals and 55 assists, three points behind his 67's linemate Tyler Toffoli, who has 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points.
It took a nagging injury to Gabriel Landeskog of the Kitchener Rangers – currently ranked first amongst North American skaters by the National Hockey League’s Central Scouting – to make space for Prince on Team Cherry.
Prince is ranked 35th.
‘I completely believe in fate,’ Prince said. ‘It was definitely fate for me to be here. When I got the news I was very excited.
‘It's an experience I'll never forget.’”
All in all, it was a very busy but productive week. Lots of fun and a great learning experience for me as a journalist. Best of all, I got to see my name in print as I helped break some news, easily the biggest thrill for a reporter.
Friday Jan. 21st 2011
QMJHL: TIGRES NEED SIX ROUNDS TO DOWN HALIFAX IN SHOOTOUT
It took six rounds in the shootout, but the Victoriaville Tigres earned the win on Friday night.
Goaltender David Honzik turned aside three of the six shooters he faced and made 29 saves in regular play as the Tigres out-lasted the Halifax Mooseheads 5-4 in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action.
OHL: MRAZEK, 67'S BLANK SPIRIT
Petr Mrazek stopped all 36 shots he faced and rookie Sean Monahan scored one goal and set up another Friday as the Ottawa 67's put an end to a three-game slide with a 3-0 victory over the Saginaw Spirit in Ontario Hockey League action.
The shutout was Mrazek's third of the OHL season and sixth of his career. It came after he gave up six goals in each of Ottawa's season-high three consecutive defeats last weekend.
WHL: SEGAL EARNS FOURTH SHUTOUT OF YEAR, GIANTS BLANK COUGARS
Mark Segal made 30 saves to earn his fourth shutout of the year to lead the Vancouver Giants to a 3-0 victory over the Prince George Cougars in Western Hockey League action Friday night.
Darren Bestland, Matt Bellerive and Nathan Burns scored for the Giants (23-19-5), while Spencer Bennett recorded an assist to extend his point streak to 10 consecutive games in a Vancouver uniform.
Saturday Jan. 22nd 2011
QMJHL; TITAN SCORE FIVE UNANSWERED TO BEAT MAINEIACS
The Acadie-Bathurst Titan kept their hot streak alive with some clutch play on Saturday night.
Sebastien Trudeau's game-winning goal was one of five unanswered scores as the Titan rallied to a 6-3 victory against the Lewiston Maineiacs Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action.
OHL: ICEDOGS KEEP LEAGUE'S TOP HOME RECORD WITH WIN
The Hamilton brothers and Ryan Strome insured the Niagara IceDogs continued their home-ice domination Saturday.
Niagara maintained the Ontario Hockey League's top home record with a come-from-behind 5-4 shootout victory over the Sudbury Wolves.
WHL: BRAES SCORES OVERTIME WINNER AS HURRICANES TOP PATS
Cam Braes scored a goal, an assist and the overtime winner to lead the Lethbridge Hurricanes to a 3-2 win over the Regina Pats in the Western Hockey League Saturday night.
Landon Oslanski also had a three point night for the Hurricanes (16-22-9) with a goal and two assists.
Sunday Jan. 23rd 2011
QMJHL: SEA DOGS DOUBLE UP RIVAL REMPARTS
The Saint John Sea Dogs dealt a blow to their closest Quebec Major Junior Hockey League rival on Sunday afternoon.
Zack Phillips' power-play goal with seven seconds left in the second period stood as the winner in Saint John's 4-2 triumph over the Quebec Remparts.
OHL: STORM RALLY LATE IN THIRD TO STUN 67'S
Taylor Beck and Cody McNaughton scored 20 seconds apart in the final minute of the third period to lift the Guelph Storm to a 4-3 come-from-behind victory over the Ottawa 67's in Ontario Hockey League action Sunday.
The Storm (21-19-5) trailed 3-1 heading into the third period before Beck scored during a 5-on-3 power play to cut the lead to one.
Last Tuesday was the one-year anniversary of this blog's creation. For the past year this website has been a place to work on my writing, talk about things that interest me and show off my various professional projects.
I’ve been really pleased with this site and with how my career has developed over the past year. In particular, I’ve been touched by all the positive feedback I’ve received from people. I’m always surprised with how often friends or family mention that they love my writing here. It’s nice to see my hard work appreciated like that.
To me, the most incredible thing about this blog is all the people who’ve read my posts that I don’t know personally. According to my metrics, I’ve had 16,688 unique visits and counting. When I started this site a year ago I never thought I’d have that many visitors.
Thank you for all your support.
To celebrate this blog’s anniversary I thought I’d list the top five most popular articles on this website.
But before I do, I want to mention two in particular: "Bill Simmons’ Twitter idea might be a game-changer" and "Sandwich Review: KFC’s Double Down". These two posts are the two biggest spikes in readership I’ve had over the course of the year. In both cases my readership doubled or even tripled the day they were posted.
Here are the top five most read articles of JCH.com over the past 365 days, in ascending order:
5. "Bill Simmons’ Twitter idea might be a game-changer" – May 14th, 2010
As mentioned above, this article was one of the first big spikes in traffic this blog saw. Collecting a total of 202 unique page views since it was first published, this was my first serious stab at discussing the evolving role of media in sports.
“An interesting experiment occurred on Thursday night as the Boston Celtics eliminated the Cleveland Cavaliers from the National Basketball Association’s Eastern Conference semifinal with a 94-85 victory.
As league MVP LeBron James stepped up to the free throw line in the second half the Boston crowd began to chant “New-York-Knicks! New-York-Knicks!”, referring to one of the more moribund destinations that the soon-to-be free agent might head to in the offseason.
Later, the Celtic faithful began to chant “MSG! MSG!”, the acronym for Madison Square Gardens, the home of the Knicks.
This was all part of a grand scheme concocted by ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons, Boston’s most famous sports fan, and it may just revolutionize spectatordom.”
4. "Sandwich Review: KFC’s Double Down" – Oct. 19th 2010
I’ve reviewed a lot of things on this blog: comics, books, the occasional movie and even some baseball stadiums. But my look at the controversial Double Down sandwich at KFC was the first and last crack at being a foodie you’ll ever seen in this space. That review was particularly timely, earning some buzz and a spike in readership, eventually tallying 214 reads.
“It took months to make it possible, but yesterday I finally ate a Double Down from KFC.
Normally, reviewing a sandwich is not my bag. After all, my good friend and neighbour John already does a bang-up job over at In Search of a Sandwich. Why would I want to compete?
But the Double Down - KFC’s bacon, sauce and cheese sandwich that substitutes the bread for pieces of deep-fried chicken - transcends a normal sandwich. Just as the Double Down pushes the envelope of sandwich technology, I must expand my blogging horizons for this fast food delicacy.”
3. "Three ice dancing performances I’d like to see" – Feb. 23rd 2010
I blogged throughout the Vancouver Olympics, usually in response to a significant event at the games. By far, the most popular of these pieces was my suggestion for three ice dancing routines that would set the performers apart from the cliché-laden pack.
When I posted this link on Twitter it was quickly picked up and retweeted by many of my friends, making it as close to viral as this site has ever been. That buzz resulted in a total of 313 views to date.
Oddly, and somewhat creepily, “Princess Peach” is by far the most popular search on this website, all thanks to this article.
“Like many Canadians, I was thrilled by Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s gold medal ice dance performance on Monday night.
I would never call myself a figure skating or ice dancing fan – I find that too often the judge’s decisions are political – but I was impressed with the athleticism and technique of all the dancers in the competition.
What did not impress me was their lack of creativity or originality. Most of the performances bled together. Virtue and Moir stood above the rest of the competition because they didn’t rely on clichéd music like the themes from the Phantom of the Opera or Requiem for a Dream. They weren’t covered with sequins and feathers. Their performance truly distinguished them from the rest of the pack.”
2. "Toronto has two strikes against it for most professional athletes" – Mar. 9th 2010
I wrote this piece between Roy Halladay’s departure to the Philadelphia Phillies and the National Basketball Association’s free agency period that saw Chris Bosh take his talents to South Beach.
It’s a topic I’d like to revisit sometime, especially since one of my commenters pointed out that my math on the differences in taxes between the United States and Canada might be wrong. Despite the possible error, this post has been read 417 times.
“This summer could be particularly heart-breaking for fans of the Toronto Raptors as they face the prospect of forward Chris Bosh, arguably the best player the team has ever seen, leaving the city as a free agent.
Toronto Blue Jays fans can sympathize with their basketball neighbours – this summer they lost ace Roy Halladay in a lopsided trade with the Philadelphia Phillies and Seattle Mariners.
It’s a familiar story for Torontonians. One of their teams will draft a player who becomes a star, but the franchise player eventually begins to grumble and complain about greener pastures, eventually demanding a trade or letting their contract expire and moving on via free agency.”
1. "Book Review: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Wells" – Sept. 15th 2010
I try to review every book that I read, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with the general themes of this blog like sports and pop culture. But the incredible success of my review of the Glass Castle shows that maybe, just maybe, I should review literally every single thing I experience. Not just books, but music, food, furniture, public transportation, whatever. Although it is the second-most recent post on this list, it’s garnered far and away the most views at 1,106 and counting.
“I never thought that I’d enjoy Jeannette Walls’ "the Glass Castle", but I was wrong.
On the surface, it looked like it was more for stay-at-home moms. It was one of Heather’s Picks at Chapters-Indigo Bookstores and reeked of Oprah’s Book Club. But once I started reading it I appreciated Walls’ writing and was moved by her story.
Like Frank McCourt’s ultra-popular Angela’s Ashes, the Glass Castle is a dark memoir about a dysfunctional family crippled by the father’s alcoholism and the mother’s loose grip on reality.”
But Bill Simmons’ magnum opus, although entertaining and somewhat informative, fell short of my expectations.
You see, like most Canadians, I don’t know a lot about basketball. Sure, I watch maybe a game per week, I know the big name players and I certainly respect their athleticism and the skill necessary to play in the National Basketball Association.
But that level of interest pales in comparison to my obsession with hockey. That’s just the sad truth: In Canada, basketball always plays second fiddle to hockey. From an early age we’re all ingrained with an understanding of hockey that fuels our fascination.
It’s hard for any sport, especially one that runs at roughly the same time as the National Hockey League, to gain any kind of popular traction amongst Canadians.
What it boils down to for me is this: if you gave me a TV with only two channels, one broadcasting the classic 1986 NBA Finals with Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers facing Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics and the other showing a pre-2004 lockout game between the New Jersey Devils and Minnesota Wild, I’d probably end up watching the hockey.
However, I’m always trying to broaden my horizons, especially when it comes to sports and writing, and so I want to expand my basketball knowledge base.
Further, Simmons has always impressed me as an imaginative writer who can inform and amuse. Anyone who’s read his blog or followed him on Twitter knows he has a deep and abiding passion for basketball, so it seemed like reading his tome would be the perfect way to familiarize myself with the game.
There’s no denying that I learned a lot from Simmons’ 736 page treatise on every imaginable detail of professional basketball. His meticulously researched book does a lot to explain the evolving styles of play as well as the different personalities that have made up the NBA and American Basketball Association.
His lengthy footnotes and parenthetical asides made me laugh out loud and his pop-culture references are always on point. He’s got a gift for keeping sections that would otherwise be deathly boring fun and fresh. Unfortunately, they also add about an extra 100 pages to an already lengthy book.
That’s just one symptom of this book’s fatal flaw: it is poorly edited. Simmons should’ve been reined in to try and keep the book and more manageable length.
Further, a more consistent naming protocol should have been used. Player’s first names, last names and nicknames are used interchangeably from paragraph to paragraph, sometimes sentence to sentence. Although it can lead to some echoes in the writing, sticking to a standard would have lowered the word count - and in a book this big that could end up cutting some pages – and would have made the book more accessible.
This is where the book ultimately failed me.
As a survey of the history and players of professional basketball, the Book of Basketball seemed like the ideal entryway for a novice fan trying to learn about the sport. But it seems as though Simmons never really decided who his target audience was going to be, and so his narrative swings from being explanatory and appropriate for the new fan, to detailed and filled with in jokes only a long-time NBA fan would get.
Writing a book for the sophisticated fan is fine, but it should be advertised as such and be consistent in its level of accessibility. Unfortunately, the Book of Basketball is all over the map in comprehension, making it a frustrating read.
Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball is funny and smart, but could’ve used a more firm editorial hand to rein in some of the author’s lengthier footnotes and asides to make a slightly more concise book that is accessible for all readers.
It’s been too long since I did one of these posts, and for that you have my apologies.
The Canadian Hockey League takes a break every year over Christmas, which means, by extension, that I also get some vacation time.
After that, all three member leagues crank out games at an epic rate from Christmas to New Year’s Eve because the players aren’t in school. It’s also an opportunity for some of the lesser lights on the club teams to shine while their all-star teammates are playing in the World Junior Championship.
That run of games meant five consecutive shifts for me, and it was simply too daunting to recap in one of these blog posts.
Anyway, I don’t mean to offer up excuses, merely explanations.
The Canadian Hockey League season is now around its midpoint and it’s hard to not write about the top teams night after night. I could, in theory, make every round up revolve around the Quebec Remparts, Saint John Sea Dogs, Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors, Ottawa 67’s, Portland Winterhawks and the Saskatoon Blades.
That’s why I was so pleased with this past weekend. Sure, I still touched on those teams in the toppers of my roundups, but I also shone a light on other teams like the Shawinigan Cataractes, Gatineau Olympiques and Sudbury Wolves.
It can be tough in the bleak midwinter, but for at least one weekend I managed to keep things interesting.
Friday, Jan. 7th
QMJHL: HODHOD LEADS CATARACTES TO UPSET OF REMPARTS
The Shawinigan Cataractes cooled off the Quebec Remparts on Friday night.
Samuel Hodhod had a pair of goals as Shawinigan upset Quebec 4-1 in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action.
OHL: SIX DIFFERENT 67'S SCORE IN VICTORY OVER PETERBOROUGH
Petr Mrazek stopped all 23 shots he faced Friday night and the Ottawa 67's received goals from six different scorers on their way to a 6-0 victory over the Peterborough Petes in Ontario Hockey League action.
The shutout was the second of the season for the Czech netminder, who backstopped the 67's to a sweep of the home-and-home series with the Petes.
WHL: FERRARO LEADS SILVERTIPS TO WIN OVER AMERICANS
Landon Ferraro broke out of a massive goal-scoring drought, finding the net twice to lead the Everett Silvertips to a 3-2 victory over the Tri-City Americans on Friday night in Western Hockey League action.
Ferraro, Everett's captain, had gone 20 games without scoring. But he ended his drought when he scored on his own rebound late in the first period to open the scoring. His power-play goal midway through the third period proved the difference.
Saturday, Jan. 8th
QMJHL: SEA DOGS CRUISE PAST MOOSEHEADS ON ROAD
The Saint John Sea Dogs continue to dominate the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Michael Kirkpatrick had back-to-back goals and two assists as the Sea Dogs crushed the Halifax Mooseheads 9-2 on Saturday night.
OHL: SUDBURY UPSETS LEAGUE-LEADING MAJORS
Andrey Kuchin scored twice, including a power-play goal, as the lowly Sudbury Wolves defeated the Ontario Hockey League-leading Mississauga St. Michael's Majors 6-5 on Saturday night.
Captain Marcus Foligno, Eric O'Dell, Mike Lomas, and Alex Racino also chipped in for Sudbury (13-24-2). Mathew Campagna and Josh McFadden both had a pair of assists.
WHL: AMERICANS CRUSH HURRICANES
There's no place like home for the Tri-City Americans.
Brendan Shinnimin and Adam Hughesman each had two goals and Mason Wilgosh had a goal and three assists to lead the Americans to a 9-4 victory over the Lethbridge Hurricanes in Western Hockey League action Saturday night.
Sunday, Jan. 9th
QMJHL: OLYMPIQUES WIN NINTH STRAIGHT GAME
The Gatineau Olympiques are rolling their way up the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League standings.
Raphael Lafontaine scored at the 11:30 mark of the third period as the Olympiques disposed of the Montreal Juniors 5-3 on Sunday afternoon.
OHL: TOFFOLI NETS HAT TRICK, ASSIST AS 67'S GET BY ATTACK
Tyler Toffoli had three goals and an assist as the Ottawa 67's earned a big 6-4 win over the Owen Sound Attack in Ontario Junior Hockey League action Sunday.
The four points give Toffoli an even 200 for his OHL career. He is in his third season with the 67's.