Guest review: Champion! magazine

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by Matt Demers

[Recently, a new comics magazine for iPads was announced, Champion!, created by a crew that includes many ex-Wizard magazine staffers. Since it's iPad only and we don't have an iPad, reader Matt Demers volunteered to write a review.]

The other day, The Beat covered the launch of Champion!, a new iPad-only magazine that’s being staffed by a number of former Wizard personnel. As a huge fan of the latter, I decided to load up the free preview issue and give it a look.

Inside, I was treated to a number of different features, including interviews with Jim Lee and Will Friedle, spotlights on toys and t-shirts and a number of off-beat features (such as comic creators’ first books) that Wizard was famous for. However, capturing the spirit of the old magazine isn’t the only good thing that Champion! is managing to pull off.

Champion! is doing something that a lot of other magazines aren’t, in that they’re realizing that the digital medium isn’t just a place to copy-and-paste they would post on a blog or publish in print. They seem to have nailed the balance of interactive elements to text and images, so as to not overwhelm the reader with glitz.

A typical page will have a number of interactive elements that supplement the text, including audio and video which don’t require you to leave the app (big pluses!). Having two Twitter feeds that you can follow and reply to (again, without leaving the app) were also welcome additions. Even though they looked exactly like Twitter.com’s web layout, they fit it with the rest of the issue, which can be a bit challenging to pull off. Other widgets, like a spin-able 360-degree view of a Rocketeer statue, add some great value to the consumer: I mean, what toy collector wouldn’t want to see all of a product before he/she buys it?

Sadly, not all of these features work as well as they could – sometimes it’s quite difficult to get rid of pop-up word balloons in order to read the article underneath. While the magazine offers a helpful “how to read” page, there could be some way of indicating some of the more hard-to-find interactive elements, like scroll bars or different coloring.

Ultimately, these problems are indicative of the youth of the medium and not the ineptitude of the creators, as they’ve been prevalent in other publications, as well. It’s kind of a difficult balance to strike: do you sacrifice form for intuitiveness, or the other way around?

Hopefully that balance is something that Champion! will be able to fix, as they’ve been able to capture the spirit of Wizard otherwise, if not with a little bit of maturity thrown in. I really felt like I was opening up an old friend who had taken steps to fix the problems he had gone through in the past, and was looking to make a fresh start towards the future. I felt like I was fifteen again, reading about the first rumblings of Batman Begins.

There is no word on how much the magazine will cost when it eventually starts offering paid issues, which needs to be done right in order to secure the reader base they need to succeed. Though the magazine is fancy, the content takes time and effort to produce; hitting a (presumably) monthly quota with limited capital will be difficult.

If the price point is too low, Champion! won’t be able to support itself, and if it’s too high, the userbase won’t follow it and produce much-needed revenue. The fact that the magazine appears to support (non-intrusive) ad pages should give it some wiggle room, however.

It may be too early to tell, but as far as I’m concerned, Champion! is worth reading. It has put effort into making a good first impression, uses the medium well and is more than a glorified PDF viewer, which is more than what I can say for what Wizard World is doing these days.

[Matt Demers is a Toronto columnist and Wizard fan who writes about comics for a number of sites across the Internet. You can find more of his work on his Twitter, or personal Tumblr.

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