Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Chris Alexander Era at Fangoria

The editor is gone, long live the editor.

It's not got quite the ring of the king's death, but you get the point. When an editor leaves a publication, especially if that editor has been there a long time, it's a momentous event. It can be an exciting time for readers, as they wonder what will change. Will their favorite parts of the publication be ruined? Will their most disliked parts of the magazine be remedied? Will the changes be refreshing?

Some magazines barely change when there's an editor. For you old-timers, do you really remember a change in Omni or Future Life when their editors switched? Of course not. And until recently, Playboy's editors (called editorial directors, because Hugh Hefner really calls the editorial shots) were somewhat commoditized. But for many periodicals, a new editor is an opportunity to take a fresh look at things. Sometimes that means things that were hallowed for good reasons are given short shrift; other times things that were ignored or given short shrift finally get their due. That's just life.

Earlier this winter, Tony Timpone gave up the reigns of Fangoria magazine, the horror film bible. Timpone joined the Starlog Group (then known as O'Quinn Studios) family as a contributor, first as a freelancer, then as a junior staffer. When first Bob Martin and then David Everitt left their Fangorian editor's desks in the mid-1980s, Starlog editor David McDonnell temporarily took over editing Fangoria while a young Timpone was brought up to speed. (Or so goes the lore.) Timpone then assumed command, after a bit more than a year of McDonnell's leadership, and remained there for about a quarter century.

In this past decade, Fangoria ran into a rough patch, not unlike that faced by many periodicals publishers. At its height, Starlog Group published dozens of magazines a year. As of 2000, it was publishing about a dozen (let's see if I can remember them all: Starlog, Fangoria, Comics Scene 2000, Teen Girl Power, Black Elegance, Belle, Wrestling All-Stars, TV Wrestlers, Wrestling Scene, Fight Game, Sci-Fi Teen, Sci-Fi TV, and probably some more (there were a number of wrestling titles I don't remember nor do I care to). Then the financial rug was pulled out from under the company, and it was sold to Creative Group, with only Starlog and Fangoria ultimately surviving. A few years later, Creative Group itself went belly-up, and the two magazines were bought by former Creative Group executive Tom DeFeo. And there you are, up to the present.

I started this blog post by noting that sometimes a change of editors doesn't make much difference, but that does not seem to be the case here. Alexander has been putting his stamp on the publication, and he promises to keep changing as he goes. His initial moves appear to be focused on moving away from a frantic coverage of every possible major film of the day (though Fango still covers them), and more toward a wide-ranging coverage of the horror – for lack of a better word – lifestyle. Music. Classics. Monsters. Exploitation films. Games. We can probably expect that mix to change over time, as Alexander gets his editor's feet underneath him and as the horror film and TV worlds evolve. But for now, it's a nice change, especially if it results in one less article about some tortured-teens movie.

Like most readers, I like some and don't like some of what he's doing. (I would, for example, dearly love to see the magazine redesigned; it's about 15 years behind schedule for a visual revamp.) But I am pleased to see he's confident enough to make changes, so that makes me, as a reader, confident enough to sit back and see what he continues to do with his new baby.

We're also seeing a lot of Alexander in the current issue (number 294); his byline (solely or shared) is on about seven feature articles (depending on how you define some of the articles), not counting departments. That's a lot of Alexander in one magazine, but it's not unprecedented. As former editor Robert "Uncle Bob" Martin has written elsewhere, he and his co-editor David Everitt were writing practically the entire magazine back in the early 1980s. Sooner or later, Alexander might crack, and police will find him on the top of a high-rise with a dangerous weapon. But for now, this ├╝ber-hands-on approach will also help him really establish his mark on the magazine.

Fango itself will continue to change, of course. Fangoria #294 is the first one I can think of that includes an ad (a one-third pager) for adult videos; even Playboy doesn't advertise X-rated products, so Fangoria's powers that be have obviously chosen to go in a direction never before visited by this magazine, as far as I know. But when times are tough, as they are in almost every business these days, it's hard to say no to almost any ad.

I'm sure some readers, who grew up with Timpone's Fangoria, will be sad to see him go. Others are probably eager for a change. I have no horse in this race. I only tangentially met Timpone; I was being given a tour of the Starlog Group offices in 1999 by a former publisher, when he engaged Timpone in an animated discussion about David Cronenberg's latest film. (Always being more a Starlogger than a Fangorian, I was more excited about seeing all the cool space art paintings on the wall and seeing Starlog editor David McDonnell's office. Sorry, Fango Faithful.) And I have never met Chris Alexander. (I mean, we're best buds on Facebook, but by that measure, I'm pals with Barack Obama, too. Me and 8 million other people.)

However, I am currently a magazine editor and have served in various editorial positions at publications for more than two decades. So I kind of instinctively sympathize with -- and envy -- anyone who gets the chance to sit in the editor's chair of a publication. Especially if that publication focuses on horror, fantasy, or science fiction. How much more fun can life be? My web site sports the following quote from German politician (and future post-war chancellor) Konrad Adenauer in 1917: "There is nothing better that life can offer than to allow a person to expend himself fully with all the strength of his mind and soul and to devote his entire being to creative activity."

If you love and enjoy genre entertainment, what better thing in life is there than editing a leading magazine that covers these topics?
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