Look! Up on the internet! It’s another installment of Ad Nauseam: tediously long articles where I take the form of an elderly man sharing his geeky recollections of “the good ‘ol days” that nobody asked to hear! It’s been a while since I buckled down to write one of these, so I figured my subject matter better have quite the fat to chew. And our issue today is nothing short of obese, folks. I mean, I can practically hear it wheezing. Let’s set the scene for February 1998:
You’re bummed on the bus ride home from school because your Tamagotchi died for the sixth time this year. As you prepare to get off on your block, Josh the bully, compares your body shape to that of a Teletubbie. Embarrassed, you scurry off with clenched fists. It’s Monday, so you look forward to a new episode of WCW Nitro to cheer you up. You get home and open the door to your room, admiring the new “I Want To Believe” X-Files poster you bought at Spencer Gifts last weekend. You carelessly throw your backpack to the floor, pick up your Gameboy, and fire up your newest savepoint in Pokemon Red. The music of the Spice Girls hum from your clock radio. You hope they play some of The Offspring next. Nope, it’s Alanis Morissette.
Frustrated by the sleeping Snorlax ignorantly blocking your way to Lavender Town, you turn off your Gameboy and decide to finally study. But just as you’re about to open your backpack you spot the newest issue of Wizard Comic Magazine on your nightstand. You begged your mother for it, just as you do every month, during another insufferably mundane grocery store trip. “Homework can wait” you think as you delve into another issue, losing yourself in a world of halftone fantasies where you always felt more accepted.
Wizard Magazine #78: February 1998
Wizard was a monthly magazine about comic culture featuring news, previews, and interviews. It boasted price guides, advice columns from industry professionals, and contests packaged in its own slew of offbeat humor. It was also a spotlight on the comic community with monthly sections showcasing fanart, costumes, collections, polls, and reader mail. It ran from July 1991 to March 2011. To admit that “Wizard Magazine was my bible” would be a severe understatement. From my preteen years until my early twenties, it was a respite from the norm. This was long before cinematic and television “universes” and the ability to connect through social media to discuss them all. This was a time where mentioning “Iron Man” was met with blank stares, collecting action figures was a dark hidden secret, and no one noticed you quoted Yoda in your cover letter.
You can download a PDF of this entire issue here! Although I don’t remember having this issue in particular, you bet your bippy I transformed into my childhood self (sans a Godzilla ‘98 shirt) thumbing through it’s digital pages. Understand this is a 200+ page magazine. I’m not going to cover every advertisement offered. I’m certain that would kill me. But I did cherry pick what I could gab about most complete with bad jokes and embarrassing childhood memories. I recommend reading this while sipping your favorite beverage from a Disney Animal Kingdom McDonalds Collectors cup for a true 1998 experience…
Tomb Raider II Video Game
Looking back, it’s sort of wild realizing nearly every male with a Playstation crushed hard on a video game mascot that looks like she’s made out of cardboard boxes. But that’s Lara Croft, baby. Of course, as video game consoles progressed to increase polygons, Lara increased on the Babe-O-Meter. But even in the early days of Tomb Raider, she was still viewed as the sex icon of gaming. Maybe if Samus and Zelda wore some booty shorts and showed off the midriff they’d be in the same discussion? I was aware of Tomb Raider even though I had yet to play the games, and that’s mostly due to seeing ads like these…which involved Lara in some sort of cheesecake-pinup-pose. They certainly get your attention…but, at the time, I didn’t know what these games were about.
If you never played the Tomb Raider games…imagine an Indiana Jones adventure presented through a mosaic filter…but the protagonist is a rich British babe…and she controls like Frankenstein. Take note this wasn’t just Tomb Raider II…this was Tomb Raider II starring Lara Croft. The character had become so hot that her name became part of the title. And, on top of that, she was getting her own action figure just 2 years after her initial debut! Sure, she ended up looking like Michael Jackson’s mugshot, but it was the only way you could finally wrap your Dorito crusted fingers around a real physical Lara Croft. She’s at her peak, boys. And it’s simply not the late 90’s without Tomb Raider.
Wizard World Chicago ‘98 Convention
Besides magazines, Wizard also held some of the largest countrywide comic conventions in the 1990s through the 2000s. Chicago Comic Con started back in 1972 and was purchased by Wizard in 1997. Rebranded as “Wizard World Chicago”, it became the homebase for Wizard Magazine and its award ceremonies. It grew to the third largest pop-culture event in the country, only behind New York and San Diego Comic Con. The first comic book convention I ever attended was Wizard World Chicago (though I was late by a couple years to this particular con) and it was something that rocked my fandom to the core. It was as if the world I had been reading about came to life and charged me money to go inside of it. And although I’m used to paying to go inside things, I always got more than my money’s worth in terms of fond memories and special moments when it came to Wizard World..
With this ad, you can’t get more “1998” than Todd Mcfarlane’s dramatic mystery face. The guy practically was the comic industry at the time (for better and for worse). Spawn disappointed us all with his big silly Hollywood movie the summer prior yet was still hotter than Hell (ha!). Mcfarlane’s toy company was busting out affordable collector figures with detail like we’ve never seen before. And Image comics was puffing out its chest to bigwigs like Marvel and DC boasting some of the most popular comic characters at the time (#YoungbloodFan4Life). Nowadays, unfortunately, Todd Mcfarlane has been less “let’s revolutionize the comic industry!” and more “My mouth writes checks that my ass can’t cash!”. There was a time where I daydreamed about being this guy…but now I sort of treat him like grandpappy saying racist things at the family Christmas party. Smile and politely excuse yourself.
Believe it or not, this was a time when comic book conventions were about the comic book industry. A big convention like this would cost you $10 a day or $25 for a 3-day- pass. And you could actually walk around once you were inside. Today, a comic convention is an event in which you put a 2nd mortgage on your house to wait in a line for 16 hours to get a picture with one of the kids from The Stranger Things. It’s worth the “likes” though, isn’t it guys?
I’m not bitter you’re bitter.
Toyfare Magazine Ad
Imagine Wizard magazine but it’s 100% about toys. That’s Toyfare magazine. It’s published by Wizard, so it literally has the same flare, humor, and layout. In fact, I used to get these magazines mixed up all the time. The main difference? I would never buy Toyfare Magazine. Why? Because I was too embarrassed! I could never convince my mom to slap down some hard cash for a subscription, so all my copies of Wizard came straight from the grocery store magazine rack. And this was before the days of self checkout. At the time of Toyfare I was clearly a boy that was approximately “Too-Old-To-Play-With-Toys” age. So the embarrassment of walking up to the cute checkout girl and give her five bucks in exchange for a magazine exclusively about spandex clad plastic people was too much for a shy nerdy 13 year old to handle.
I had to quickly rifle through the magazine in the store. Quickly scanning each page and absorbing it’s information like a Johnny Five robot obsessed with capitalistic garbage. I had no time to be taken aback by surprising figure releases. Excitement was saved for a safer time. My precious moments were spent cementing release dates in my brain for action figures I pined for. Triple H Wrestlemania 16 Attire? Summer 2001. Now Playing Series 1 Darkman figure? Spring 2005. Scanning. 12 inch Power of the Force Boba Fett with real cloth costume? February 1998. All this data processing being absorbed before my mom waltzed around the aisle with her grocery cart. When she entered within range to command a “C’mon, lets go…” little did she know my knowledge of future action figure releases increased tenfold since we entered the store prior. I had an updated list of future figure daydreams. I could not simply abandon the mission. The future of creating new and robust playtime adventures was at stake.
I’m pretty sure typing that reinstated my virginity.
Julie Strain Posters and Lithographs
I decided to include this ad for several reasons…the first being it’s colorfully ugly…the second being I don’t understand what any of it means…and the third being it features an awkward looking Mark Hamill drawing. It’s three ads in one. Each one being more confusing than the last. So let’s try and make sense of this together…
After some research…Julie Strain was a Penthouse babe in the early 1990s. Think of Penthouse as Playboy’s younger not-as-classy coke addicted brother. And if you really wanted to bring that “sexually frustrated” aura to your room , you can buy some racy original artwork featuring her likeness. But if your parents believe the “Miami weed dealer” aesthetic has no place in their house …well you’re in luck! Because artist Rob Prior replaced all that nudity with 90’s sci-fi fodder! We have some laser guns, Vampirella attire, probably some power crystals (pretty sure she’s wrestling a dinosaur in one). They’d look great hanging next to your gas station velvet tiger painting. The pinups have a bit of an ugly retro charm to them. As for Julie Strain, she made “headlines” earlier this year by simply being alive. God bless, Julie.
The two other comics advertised have little to no online presence to be researched. I can find next to nothing on the artists either. The “Lost Heroes” comic starring Mark Hamill is pretty interesting because, despite being a futuristic setting featuring demons, Hamill is just drawn wearing a t-shirt on every cover. It’s clear they reached out to license his likeness for marketability, and Hamill just sent them 4 modern 8×10 headshots and cashed the check.
Hangar 18 Toys & Collectables
Wizard issues often featured some ads for “local” businesses such as this one. Of course, with this magazine being nationwide…”local” was a matter of opinion. Although I can’t recall ever seeing a store from my neck of the woods, I still loved seeing what others had to offer. Take “Hangar 18” of Wichita, Kansas offering a peripheral “Who’s who” when it came to a 1998 toy aisle. Star Trek, Babylon 5, DC, Marvel, Star Wars, and Spawn. Also Puppet Master showed up for some reason. Who invited that guy? Do you kids notice anything peculiar? There’s no website! No pre orders either. If I wanted that Violator action figure, I had to call that number, get mailed or faxed an order form, send it back with payment, they process my payment, and finally ship my toy. The whole process could take months. With no guarantees if it would still be in stock either. A Violater of my time perhaps!
Out of all the figures offered in this ad, I believe I only had a handful of Star Wars “Power of The Force” figures. The electronic X-Wing pictured here was a birthday gift I cherished way longer than necessary. It was possibly one of my favorite toys growing up. I looked up “Hangar 18” and, unfortunately, they no longer exist. What’s sad about a lot of these “pre-internet” businesses is there’s no sign of them existing unless you came across a random ad such as this. A couple years back I bought a couple dozen old Fangoria horror magazines. It was disappointing looking up so many of the “Cult Video” businesses advertised with virtually zero acknowledgement of their existence. Besides these little physically printed nuggets, the internet has been a broom to their footsteps. So tonight, my homies, pour out some Patron in remembrance of your favorite forgotten collectable store. Word up, my brothers-in-plastic-articulated-arms. Your essence lives with Wizard.
As absolutely syrupy as this sounds, Wizard Magazine was much more than a magazine to me. It was a ticket to another world I’d visit a few hours a month. A world where my interests and hobbies were not insulted or looked down upon…but instead celebrated. An issue of Wizard was always carried in my backpack or messenger bag throughout my life. And it’s a piece of media that has very much shaped the man I am today in too many ways to list. In the words of Egon Spengler “print is dead.”, so the need for this magazine to exist in modern society is moot. But that doesn’t mean I can’t miss what it was.
To be real, I enjoy looking back as a hobby. Nostalgia is a fun thing to experience from time to time. I haven’t looked through a Wizard since it was currently in publication. And going through this particular issue really gutted me. Every page brought a flood of memories back in a way that no “Ad Nauseam” article had done prior. This was a really bittersweet experience. And I don’t think I can go through another Wizard issue for a while. I’m a person thats always been about moving forward. But nothing has quite sent me the message of “The Past is Dead” like this issue and article.
Thanks for cracking open a 22 year old magazine with me. You’ll always find articles on the remnants of comic culture right here on ChrisDoesComics. Now, excuse me, I have to go purchase some LR44 batteries. My Tamogotchi isn’t just going to revive itself now, is it?