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Jager and Mr. Stinkhead traveled to Philadelphia this year for the second annual Wizard World East. One highlight of the weekend was sitting down with the man who really helped bring comics further into the mainstream, Wizard founder/CEO Gareb Shamus. We got to grill the luckiest man in comics about what's next for Wizard and the industry, and what you have when you reach the top.
MillionairePlayboy.com: Over the years, comic books have become an investment, bought and sold. I just wondered if you though you've had any power, any indication, any movement in that? Specifically with your portfolios on Wizard Universe?
Gareb: We don't have the portfolio system on Wizard Universe. It used to be on a different site. We just started our new site, Wizard Universe, in the spring. But with regard to people investing, people have been investing in comic books for a long time. When you look at the secondary market for comic books, or any collectible for that matter, a lot of times it far exceeds the actual initial sales of books. With that marketplace, you take coins for instance, how much does the U. S. mint produce today relative to how much coins, trades in the aftermarket. I mean, anything that's been done before 2003 is an aftermarket sale. So you look at that, you look at sports cards, Mickey Mantles, Seavers, you look at any ball player that's pre-existing from this year's cards. The back market for collectables is usually many, many times the size of the primary market. One of the things we do is we cater to that market place. So in addition to writing about the new stuff that's coming out, we also cater to what people have, what they're worth, and work with the market place in terms of demand and supply for products. Clearly if Kevin's working on a book, and X number of copies are out in the market place, and you have twice times X people looking for it, they're going to go up in value, just because more people are looking for it than are available. People like to collect. Investment is one point, which is the sole purpose of buying with the intent to sell at some point in time to make profit on it, but I've never met anyone who buys comic books and throws them in the garbage when they're done with them, so everybody to me is a collector.
MillionairePlayboy.com: Do you have a Holy Grail? A comic or toy that's just without your reach? We were thinking there's not a lot that's outside your reach. What's something that's eluding you right now, that you've got your eye out there for?
Gareb: Well, the things that I collect, actually, are mostly two things, although I think I kind of gave up on one a little bit, which is original artwork, and the porcelain busts and stuff, which I donated practically my whole collection to the office. My office was just not big enough, and it's big, to display all these, so I took a couple of them and brought them home, and the rest I just gave to everybody. But then there's the artwork side of it. There's always something you're looking to get. I can't say that you'll ever be complete. There's always that classic cover, or that classic story, or something that you're looking for. I've got a lot of stuff that I've got a lot of friends that are interested in trading me for, stuff that I want, too, so they have what I want, I have what they want, but I don't want to give up what I got to get it. You're in this constant standoff as to your collections, and I like that stuff because it's unique, it's one of a kind. That when you have it, nobody else does. It makes it more interesting.
MPb: Well, do you have any toys on your computer? What's your deskspace, then?
Gareb: Yeah, I have a Pilgrim bust on my desk. I have the Jim Lee Batman statue now. I have a few of the Dark Knight statues. I just moved into my new office in the city, so I've got some artwork that's being framed right now for the office, but I've a got a spread from Dark Victory, with Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, which is just great. It's got all the...Batman, Joker, Robin, Two-Face, it's just great. I'm getting the Alex Ross Marvel Heroes cover that he did for us, so I'm getting that blown up, seven feet wide by four feet deep, for a huge movie poster size for my office, so I want to hang that up. I like looking at that piece. By the way I have hundreds of toys that I use for swag, for trade. So I get a lot of free stuff, I use that to grease a lot of wheels.
MoviePoopShoot: Of the things you've gotten over the years, of the things you say you wouldn't want to part with, what would you say is your most prized posession in the collection?
Gareb: There's a couple of pieces. I actually own all twelve Watchmen covers. That was an unbelievable find at the time. I bought that a while ago. It was going off at Sotheby's. What happened in the artwork market was, I was very fortunate at the time, or even still now, is I like collecting more of the newer stuff on the artwork side, whereas a lot of people were more into the older stuff. What people were buying on the bigger side purchases of artwork, they were buying more of the older stuff, so I was very fortunate that I was able to purchase something like that and not have too much competition, because that was just so new at the time. To me it was just unbelievable that they were all in one place at the same time. So it was just "Okay, I'll take 'em all." And then the second after I bought it, people were like, "Can I have this? Can I have that one?" and I'm like "No, I'm never going to break them up. They're going to stay together forever now." I also own a lot of Alex Ross pieces. I own the Heroes cover that he did for us, the big one. The big Villains one as well. Also, the one that a lot of people like too is the JLA piece that he did for us on the steps. That one is unbelievable. I was just talking to Alex today. I said, "Now you've got to paint me a DC villains." It's the only one now that I feel like I need from him to complete the collection. But yeah, I think it's the artwork. That stuff is great.
MPb: What would you say is the most important element to making a great comic, professionally or personally?
Gareb: You've got to have something that people care about, and it's very difficult to do that. It's very difficult to do that in any medium, any product, anything that you create. It's creating a product that people are going to want. It's got to strike the right chord, so you've got to do it the right way. I've seen a lot of ugly looking books, but it strikes the right chord. And I've seen a lot of great looking books that don't strike the right chord and don't work. The same thing with movies. You can have a beautiful looking movie, but if the story stinks, it doesn't strike the right chord, you don't care about the characters, it's worthless. It's really finding that voice that you can reach your audience with. Having something compelling is really the most important thing. When you look at books, artwork might be the first thing you look at, it might be the first thing that gets your attention, but at the end of the day, you've really got to have a compelling story in there, and characters that people are going to want to identify with or like.
MPb: With all of the pressures of your job, what made it rewarding? What's the first time that made you say, "Wow, that was worth it."?
Gareb: You know, it's an ongoing thing. There's not one specific event, but it's a series of events. Whether it's opening up a new retail outlet for your products or being able to get some artist that you've been working with for a while to do some really great piece of artwork, and it comes in, and you're like, "Holy crap! We finally got this guy to do some unbelieveable piece for us!" Or you've been working hard to get a certain advertiser into the magazine, and you finally crack it. Or an event like Wizard World, where you see a lot of people show up for it. There's just a whole series of rewarding events. I can't say there was one single factor, where you look back and you say "Wow, if it wasn't for that..." It's always just a series of events. Every day you have your "Wow, I can't believe we broke this," or "We broke that." Now, after this show, we've got a lot of companies to commit to it, and then we're starting a show in Dallas. We're getting a whole bunch of people to commit to that. I'm even going to pat you guys on the back. When Kevin says he's going to come to the show, that's great. We know that there's going to be a lot of people that are going to come here to see him. It's one of those events that you know makes the show worthwhile, because you know a lot of people are going to show up to see Kevin, to see Alex, to see Stone Cold. There's just three events where you know you're putting together something that, all of a sudden, people are going to get a great experience, and they're going to want to come to your show.
MPb: I've always wondered how far ahead are you guys in your reading?
Gareb: We're probably... it depends on the book. It's definitely in the weeks to months range. We might see it before it goes to press. In some cases we see it when you guys see it. But if it's something that the publishers really care about, that they want to promote very far in advance, the earlier they let us in on the process, the better. We might not see the actual book, but we might know the story, or the creative team, maybe know what the character's going to look like if they're going to change the costume. A lot of times we'll look at the first sketch, we'll laugh sometimes, because we'll have a sketch of the Cat... we'll be the reason why the companies will see the first sketches of those characters. Wizard's got a deadline, and it's got to get into the magazine, and they kind of use us as an excuse to get some work done. But it all depends on the book. A lot of times, the earlier that we see it, the more we can talk about it. And we also like to create campaigns as well, so a lot of times we might actually have the stuff in advance, but we'll hold it for the appropriate time to get the biggest bang out of it.
MPb: We can tell from reading the magazine that you guys have a great time at work. Can you relay a story that happened in your office that just couldn't happen anywhere else? Make us jealous.
Gareb: So one night I'm getting ready to leave, and I see this pizza guy walking in. He's got like ten pies in his hand, or maybe like six or seven pies, and he just walks right in the front door, he knows exactly where he's going in the building, and whatever, the guys are working late, no problem. So the next night, same thing happens. I'm walking out. This guy with six or seven pizzas walking in the door, he knows exactly where he's going, so I'm like, "That's it, I'm going to follow him, see where he's going." So they happen to be having this massive tag team wrestling match on the video games, and half the office was involved in this thing, and they were playing until all hours of the night, and it was just hysterical. They were like, "Hey, Gareb! What's up?" But that kind of stuff is fun. That stuff is great. We've got a foosball table in the office, we've got pinball machines, we've got all this stuff in there, because we're in a very fun industry, we're in a very fun business, and if we're not having fun, then it really shows, so we really try to create an environment where people can read comic books at their desk, or play with toys, or they're playing games, and they need to be the experts on this stuff when it first comes out. It's important for people to be up on that stuff. So that's encourage as opposed to discouraged, but at the end of the day, the magazines still have to get out, so however that gets done, they make sure they get it done.
MPb:What is the next step for Wizard Entertainment?
Gareb: Like I said before, where there's looking back, there's always a progression. There's always more to be done. It's very rare that you look back and say "Wow, look at what we've done." Japanese Animation has really been emerging, so we started that magazine, and that book is really doing well, and our gaming magazine, Inquest, is doing well, and we've got Wizard and ToyFare. We've created a magazine on the hot toys for the holidays that comes out twice a year. It's not even a magazine that this industry sees a lot of, and then we also create a huge PR event for that where we really are the source for the media, both on television and in the newspapers, on what to buy during the holidays. I mean, we'll literally do hundreds of TV interviews. So that's another area that we're going to be doing more in, and there's certainly an opportunity to do more magazines, so if there's any trend, or anything that's emerging in our markets from a product side, or from a media standpoint, it's something that we're always looking at, trying to test new things. And then also more conventions. You know, that's another area where we certainly see a lot of growth, especially since we've been fortunate enough to be able to provide an environment like this, now in three cities. We'll do it in Philly, Chicago, and now Dallas, where we can basically bring our magazines to life. It's really a live version of what we do. It's great. It really puts it out there, to say, look, take Wizard, for instance. We sell 200,000 copies of Wizard a month, and at this show, I don't know the exact numbers, but we're expecting 20,000 people this weekend. Multiply this by ten, and that's what happens every month when our magazines come out. Just look how excited people are, look what they're interested in, look who they're with, so there's just so much excitement that comes out, and it's exciting to see. So if we can now take that model, and replicate it in a bunch of cities, people love it. To be able to bring the guests, and the dealers, and the companies, and all kinds of programming to someone's local marketplace, people love that. That's great. It's fantastic to go out there and talk to people. They're so happy that you can bring this to their town. If we can replicate that now across the US, that'd be great.
MPb:You know what's going to happen with the fads and trends. Is there one that you see that you're like, "Oh, man." Like we see the 80's coming, we're pretty excited that we know what's next. Is there a trend you're not looking forward to?
Gareb: Not looking forward to, I don't know about, but looking forward to, I really think that what WizKids has done has been incredible in terms of being able to establish a new format for game play. That concept of one-click gaming, really taking the concept of putting role-playing in three dimensions. They've completely eliminated the hours concept or days concept of being able to play games. That's going to be growing. There's going to be a lot more companies, and more from WizKids in terms of being able to take advantage of that type of gameplay. They've gone from zero to a lot very quickly, and that trend is definitely going to continue. I don't know what future licenses they have, but as they add more licenses, that's definitey going to continue. That's one thing that we're really looking forward to. Also, there's the trend towards a lot more trade paperbacks. Those sales have been increasing dramatically. The market in the US is starting to be a lot more open to accepting that format, especially in the bookstores. I don't know if you've seen this trend in Europe, but that's basically where the European market has gone. Ten, fifteen years ago, it used to be the single copy sale. People used to read the comic books coming out each month. It's now become this trade paperback market. It doesn't even come out in single copy, not that often. Occasionally you'll see it, whether it comes out in softcover or hardcover, in that format. People like to buy it, to collect it in the trade format. That trend is certainly happening a lot more here, where stuff might go straight to trade paperback. People still like the comic format, I like it too, and I don't see that going away, but it certainly opens up the opportunity for leveraging the sales of your book. You know that if you can get the ancillary sales on a trade paperback, you might be more willing to go and publish a comic book. It'll certainly lead towards more people taking a chance on creating a comic book, the chance that they can republish in trade format.
MPb: As our site is MillionairePlayboy.com, we have to ask: Millionaire or Playboy? You're walking down the street, somebody says, "There's Gareb." Millionaire or Playboy?
Gareb: I don't know. I'm such a low key guy, I don't really think of myself as either. I just take every day as it comes. I'm married, I have two kids, I certainly enjoy life.
MPb: What's a normal day like for you? Do you adhere to a normal, businessy schedule for business purposes?
Gareb: I keep myself fairly flexible. I mean, I certainly have a lot of meetings throughout the day. I work in our New York City office. I do know that there's a lot of things that have to do with the magazine that I have to be basically on call for. When it comes to all kinds of things that people see in the market, whether it's covers, or stuff like that. I need to be very flexible, because I'm involved in all of that kind of stuff. My job, though, is less on the day to day, and more on the future of the magazine. The publishing, and the conventions, and stuff. I'm more worried about what we're doing in six months, or a couple of years from now, so that two years from now we aren't saying "Oh, we should have done this." I'm making sure that anything that could be on our radar years from now, that we're setting the seeds for it now, so that two years from now, when we get there, we're not kicking ourselves for not thinking of it two years ago. It's really big, it's really hot now, we should have been there, we should have done that. I'm exploring all of those opportunities. I also work a lot on our relationships as well, with the other companies we work with, figuring out how we can just do more with them. How we can take advantage of what they're doing, and how they can take advantage of what we're doing, to make something bigger.
Check out the rest of our Wizard World East coverage here.
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