From Wizard to Starlog to Hero Illustrated, I grew up surrounded by geek magazines. They were so important to me, but not for the obvious reasons.
If you were a lonely kid in pre-internet times, those magazines felt like travel brochures to some alternate universe where you and your bullshit were mainstream. At least for me, the reason I was so into collecting nonsense and obsessing over particular movies was because I had so many holes to fill. To some degree, geeky hobbies took the place of actual friends.
…but then you’d pick up an issue of Wizard, or Fangoria, or Comics Scene or whatever, and you’d feel some weird sense of camaraderie. It wasn’t the idea that liking comic books or certain movies made you an outcast, but moreover the sense that whatever was wrong with you was also wrong with anyone else who was “too into” those things. Which then made whatever was wrong with you seem less… well, wrong.
While paging through those mags, your world felt like a world and not just an escape from it.
Especially in the early ‘90s, I lived for those mags. I even planned entire days around them. On a Saturday morning, I’d waddle my ass to the nearest comic shop and buy as many magazines as my budget would allow. I wouldn’t let myself read them until dusk, when the fact that I had nothing “real” to do on a Saturday was stinging hardest. They weren’t mere distractions — they were ways to feel like I belonged to something when I needed to most.
The fact that some were written with a dash of edge and humor helped, too. Actually, I’d go so far to say that the overall tone of many of those mags involved a fair bit of posturing — a jokey frat house vibe that hasn’t always aged well, but was pretty effective in making nerdy garbage seem cooler. (…to my thirteen-year-old brain, at least.)
I’d milk those magazines for all they were worth, and that went well beyond reading them. Heck, just knowing that they were out there somewhere gave *me* a reason to be out there somewhere, biking to faraway pharmacies or pleading my way into chauffeur service to the mall. Chasing them down was its own sort of activity.
Then there were the ads. All of those magazines were littered with ads, and I’d order from them as often as I could. Sometimes I’d order junk that I was barely even interested in, just to have something to look forward to. Did I really care enough about a bag of sharks’ teeth to wait 6-8 weeks for it? No, but it didn’t matter when that 6-8 week wait was the draw.
When I was done reading the magazines, I tore out key pages to tack all over my walls. Many came with tear-out posters, but I didn’t stop there. It got to the point where I was stapling stuff to the ceiling. Add a red light bulb, and my bedroom would’ve looked like one of those places detectives pore over in the first act of a horror movie.
I was a kid during the comic book boom, which peaked in early ‘90s. At its height, new comic stores were popping up everywhere. I had four dedicated shops within reasonable walking distance, which was insane for my city. (And that’s not even counting the many corner stores and delis that suddenly dabbled in comic books, sticking those spinning book racks between the piles of bread and lottery machines.)
Those stores were my preferred haunts. Only in retrospect do I realize how annoying I must’ve been to the various shopkeepers, who had to deal with this idiot kid taking 3-4 hours to spend a grand total of five dollars. In truth, I wasn’t nearly that particular — I just liked being in those stores because I felt like I belonged there.
Those magazines were a way to bring that feeling home with me. In pre-internet times, it was so important. Think about your weirdest passions, interests and even hangups, and how you’ve used the internet to stay in the orbit of the like-minded. Back then, those mags were my version of that — not nearly as effective, but soooo much better than nothing.
So hey, the phone’s not ringing and my parents are bogarting the big TV, but at least I’ve got Cheetos and the latest issue of Wizard. If I stare too long and eat too much, I won’t want to be outside, anyway.