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Zedura Magazine #4 (October 2010)

A comic review article by: Kelvin Green
Dave Wallace:
Kelvin Green :


Kelvin Green: Conventional wisdom has it that the era of the newspaper and the magazine has passed, that traditional publishing is but a shambling corpse unaware of its own demise, and that digital publishing is the future. However, nobody told this to Erik Hendrix, the driving force behind this new comics-focussed magazine, or perhaps he thinks there's still life in the old dog yet.

He may be right: Zedura does seem to exploit an unoccupied niche, with production values and approach that recall The Comics Journal, but a less aloof -- dare I say snooty? -- attitude to its subject matter. I would imagine that there's also a place for the format; this issue is a dense brick of information, one hundred (ish) landscape pages of content, less for casual browsing throughout the day, and more for sitting down for the long haul with a big cup of tea. It's clear that Hendrix and his team are not content to copy, but want to provide something comics fans aren't already getting -- although it does rather remind me of the long-defunct Borderline.

Dave Wallace: I never read Borderline, but I agree with you that this magazine seems to be filling an unoccupied niche: that of a serious, grown-up magazine that deals with comics and the associated culture in a serious and enthusiastic way.

Kelvin Green: The magazine does look the part. It benefits from a near-professional layout which is both eye-catching but also simple, with none of the visual clutter of the articles in, say, CLiNT or Wizard.

Do they even publish Wizard any more?

Anyway. It's a clean and contemporary design, and I'd imagine that a print edition -- we have a pdf for review -- would look handsome indeed.

Dave Wallace: I agree. The design is strong. as you say: it looks stylish and contemporary, whilst avoiding adopting the cluttered, gaudy, “loud” style that seems to be the norm for so many magazines these days. Rather than trying to desperately grab your attention with flashy graphics, it comes off as more confident and restrained, and is instantly more attractive as a result.

Yes, there's the occasional unfortunately typo or formatting error that hints that the publication might not be quite the super-professional, slick outfit that it first appears to be (for example, the opening editorial refers to the “viscous killers” of 30 Days of Night).

Kelvin Green: Ah yes, the viscous killers! Watch out for them! They can get you into a sticky situation!

Ahem.

Dave Wallace: But these are few and far between. And I found them oddly charming in their own way, giving the mag a sense of being as much a fanzine as anything else, albeit one that's more well-written and polished than most -- and pretty good value for money at under $5 an issue for around 100 pages of original content.

Kelvin Green: Yes, there are occasional missteps, with some inconsistent design touches creeping in here and there; for example, the first few articles set a trend of having the main text accompanied by sidebars of related information, then we get to the Charlie Adlard article, which has a section of text surrounded by a box and set at a different angle to the bulk of the piece, looking for all the world like one of the sidebars seen in the earlier articles, but isn't in fact separate at all. Things switch back and forth like this throughout the magazine, somewhat undermining the overall design.

Dave Wallace: True, but given the length of the issue I think that actually provides some welcome variety. It'd get boring if all the pages looked the same.

Kelvin Green: My point is more one of clarity than uniformity. For one thing, the magazine is training the reader to read the articles in a certain way, but then switching it. The bigger problem is in instances like that Adlard article, where boxed text is being used improperly; you don't set one bit of text off in a box, and at an angle, if it's supposed to be part of the rest of the article. It's bad design, but at least here it's the exception rather than the rule.

One can't fault the variety of content though. Even though this issue has a clear Halloween theme, with lots of horror-related pieces, it is a theme rather than a focus, so while there are pieces about The Walking Dead and its upcoming TV adaptation, there's also an interview with Tim Bradstreet, which mentions his work on Hellblazer, the Vampire: The Masquerade role-playing game, and so on, but isn't about horror per se. It could perhaps be argued that Zedura goes too far in the name of variety -- the article on a small Scottish brewery comes rather out of the blue -- but on the other hand, there's no filler, no "Top Ten Exploding Midgets" nonsense on display here.

Dave Wallace: I agree. Zedura walks the fine line between providing variety whilst never becoming too unfocused or slipping into cheap filler material, and I actually think the horror theme of the issue helps to provide a strong backbone to hang the features off. I also read the previous issue of the magazine, which I felt was a little more scattershot -- but it still provided a wide variety of content.

Kelvin Green: While there is variety in the content, I'm not sure about the tone. In their aspirations to professionalism, Zedura's writers seem to be Taking Things Very Seriously, and it all comes across as a bit dry, with little in the way of irreverence and fun. Then again, I've always held the anarchic Amiga Power as the pinnacle of magazine journalism, so my perspective is skewed.

Dave Wallace: I'm not sure I share that criticism. The tone is earnest, yes, and perhaps could do with a little more lightness, but I get the sense that Zedura is trying to provide some serious, informative (if not quite scholarly) articles on its chosen subjects without slipping into the childish, adolescent sort of features that you'd see in something like Clint or Wizard. If that means an emphasis on straight, serious writing over goofiness, I'm happy, as I do think there's a gap in the market for a comics magazine for adults that doesn't feel the need to be either tacitly apologetic or overly childish about the subject.

Kelvin Green: I feel there is a middle ground, and I do wish that the writers could get across a bit more of a sense of the fun they must be having putting this magazine together.

A more niggling flaw for me is that the content seems a bit light and... well, "fawning" would be unfair, but it is an uncritical approach. Granted, the best way to never get to interview anybody ever again is to go in on the offensive, but even so there are no hard questions asked here. It's much more a case of letting the subjects talk, and little in the way of banter, of following-up, of probing for deeper truths. As a result, the magazine comes across as a bit frothy; at first glance, Zedura looks like the kind of magazine where Steve Niles will tell the reader what he likes about the Twilight Zone format, the mechanics of that kind of storytelling, why it works, and so on, but what we get instead is Steve Niles plugging his Twilight Zone-inspired comic. It's a shame, because what I want is exhaustive analysis, not a bunch of adverts tarted up with fancy photography.

Dave Wallace: I take your point on that. Some of the interviews are a little soft, and I couldn't help but wonder how much the producers of the Walking Dead comics and TV series would have had to pay for an equivalent amount of advertising space to the many pages of features that are dedicated to the property in this issue.

However, I'm not sure I agree that the magazine is too frothy as a result. The features feel pretty well-informed: for example, there's a nice section at the beginning recommending some classic comics which feels like it's been written by people who know their stuff, with some solid choices here such as Sandman, Transmetropolitan and Alan Moore's Swamp Thing. Whilst more seasoned comics readers might find this kind of thing a little familiar and obvious, I thought it was a nice touch that could help to turn casual readers onto the wider possibilities of the medium.

Kelvin Green: I have to say that I was a little put off by that section; the “Required Reading” bit was okay, but wouldn't it have been much more interesting to have it run to multiple pages, and use the space for some proper discussion of the work, perhaps taking the place of the fluff piece about the guy who buys comic licences for Hollywood and how swanky his office is?

Dave Wallace: Perhaps, but I got the impression that the section was designed as a more easily digestible way to ease readers gently into the mag before delving into some slightly more off-the-wall subject choices for the main features. The interview with Jim Mahfood, for example, is a neat spotlight on a talent that might have passed a lot of people by. It suggests that the magazine has been put together by people who really know their stuff, but are also conscious of the need to include material with a wide enough appeal to attract a significant readership.

Also, the interviews, whilst hardly feeling like they press their subjects too strenuously, do throw out the occasional interesting nugget of information. For example, there's an section in which artist Charlie Adlard more or less slags off writer Paul Jenkins for giving him a “Marvel style” plot summary rather than a full script for a Spider-Man book they worked on together. It's the kind of candid disclosure that you might not get out of a more guarded, adversarial exchange, and justifies the interviewing style of the magazine to some extent.

Kelvin Green: I'm not sure one off-the-cuff response is enough to justify such a soft approach, but I do take your point about the contributors being informed fans of the medium. Indeed, it is clear that much of this complaisant approach is due to an honest enthusiasm for the subject matter, a wide-eyed wonder that leaves little room for true criticism. It is difficult to fault the sort of elan that has a small group of dedicated individuals -- although mention is made of "the Zedura team" , the bulk of the magazine is written by Hendrix himself -- putting in the hard work on show here. Yes, having an editor able to step back from the content may have helped to tidy up some of the glitches in the layout and text, but to put together a hundred-page magazine complete with a near-professional look almost entirely by oneself is an admirable achievement.

Dave Wallace: I agree. Whilst the credits page names several contributors, the lion's share of the work seems to have been undertaken by Hendrix, and it's an impressive achievement. And as you say, I think that much of the tone of the magazine is dictated by the simple fact that he's a fan writing about the things that he loves -- just like us -- so his enthusiasm for the subject is bound to overwhelm his calmer journalistic instincts at some points. And so it should! I'd much rather read a genuinely enthusiastic fanzine with a few errors and a slight lack of critical bite than a cynically put-together stream of puff pieces by jaded journalists looking to wring a bit more cash out of the comics-buying public.

Kelvin Green: Indeed, and that is the key strength of Zedura, I think. While the look of the magazine is almost flawless, the dedication of its staff is beyond question, and if they can slip in a bit of fun -- and yes, a bit of healthy irreverence -- into their writing, they could be on to a winner.

Zedura can be ordered directly from the publisher, here.

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