Monday, July 20, 2009

Wizard Features That Never Were: Checkmate/Outsiders chessboard

A quickie today, but one that's been on my mind lately for no particular reason.

Back when DC kicked off their One Year Later event in 2006, myself and Andy Serwin of that Legion feature that never happened fame (man, Andy and I did not have a good track record together) agreed that without question the re-imagining of Outsiders by Judd Winick and Matthew Clark was one of the very best of the OYL titles (honestly, it was my favorite DC book by far for quite a few months). We loved Judd's raw approach to traditional characters like Nightwing and the clever but ethically murky decisions being made, and Clark just rocked it on art.

(My love of this era of Outsiders was both a bit of a surprise to me as well as pretty high praise in my opinion as the "pro-active team" book is one my most despised cliches in comics, but I digress)

Anyhow, Andy and I really wanted to get Outsiders some coverage in Wizard, but it was tricky since the first few arcs following the re-boot were high quality, but mostly world-building, which doesn't make for the best feature pitches.

Fortunately for us (or so we thought), about a year in, a big crossover was planned between Outsiders and Greg Rucka's Checkmate, a rad super hero/spy hybrid we also had great affection for. On their own, a full-blown feature on either Outsiders or Checkmate was a tough sell, but with the two coming together in the cleverly titled "CheckOut," we were pretty certain we could pitch at least a two-pager for one of the seemingly endless preview issues that were constantly being thrown our way (Year Preview! Spring Preview! Summer Preview! Fall Preview! Year Ender!).

But what to fill the two pages with?

Doing a back and forth Q&A with Winick and Rucka talking up their respective teams would seem the obvious approach, but it also seemed too conventional. This was during a era in Wizard where we were experimenting a lot with different formats and types of ways to cram as much information as possible into smaller spaces (we would swing between this and "longer features with more meat" every few months it seemed, but again, I digress), so particularly with titles we wanted to get more attention for, we looked for cool visual ways to make their coverage stand out.

Suddenly, like a bolt of lightning from on high, inspiration struck: we would do a Checkmate/Outsiders chessboard!

The Wizard family of magazines had a proud tradition of faux board games centered around comic events, more often than not drawn by the incomparable Ryan Dunlavey. However, Andy and I both felt the tone of the two books in question begged a more serious layout, even for a goofy board game knockoff. We pitched a fairly elaborate visual presentation (I'm pretty sure I drew it up) with Checkmate members like Amanda Waller and Mr. Terrific as well as Outsiders like Nightwing and Grace done up as chess pieces. We struggled a bit with what the text component would be, but figured we could just have Judd and Greg discuss team strategies, or do little bios on their "pieces."

We presented our idea several times and it was not met with overwhelming support. Most of the Wizard staff at that time either shared our high esteem for the two books or just didn't read them, but they were also realists, and reminded us that neither title was a huge seller, and thus it was tough to justify spending the money to get an original art spread (which are quite pricey) done, particularly if we were insisting on a more "real" style.

Undaunted, we pitched the idea several months in a row, but were consistently met with interest...just not enough. More than once the feature was penciled in but then cut at the last minute due to space issues.

I swear that somewhere along the way I got so caught up in wanting to get this feature done that I convinced myself we would somehow get Outsiders and Checkmate pewter chess figures out of this.

That did not happen.

Ultimately, the feature didn't make it out in time for the crossover, though ironically I think we did do just a straight Winick/Rucka interview in the News section. Nonetheless, we made Outsiders a Book of the Month and pimped it as best we could (though Judd ended up leaving the book the month after CheckOut there ya go).

Andy and I never learned our less about pitching ideas together though...but that's another post.

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