Journalism grads reach for the stars

In Arts & Life /

By Angie Damianidis

It was just like any other day. Three students were cutting class to have drinks. But the conversation shifted and the friends began talking about starting up their magazine. It was decided, then and there, to create Beer Magazine, a publication that would focus on—what else—beer.

But what began as drunk talk soon morphed into Realms, a science fiction magazine—once the creators of Beer Magazine sobered up and realized the only thing they knew about the alcoholic beverage was how to consume it with style.

That was four years ago.

Since then, the free eight-page biweekly newspaper/magazine has evolved into a 52-page glossy bi-monthly focusing on all things sci-fi, from fantasy to cyberpunk to in-depth interviews with famous comic book creators.

Realms is back and we are bigger and better than ever,” said Pete Nowak, one of the original three creators of the magazine, which was relaunched Sept. 14 at the Library Pub.

Nowak and current Realms co-editor Kenny Yum, both 26, graduated from the Ryerson journalism program in 1997 and 1998, respectively. They worked together at The Eyeopener, when Yum was features editor and Nowak was the roots editor. Yum went on to become editor-in-chief in 1998.

Now, the two are working full-time at The Globe and Mail, Nowak as the editor of the “Personal View” column and Yum as the night editor of globeandmail.com.

“I wanted to start a publication and Pete wanted to revamp Realms,” Yum said at the relaunch, adding that the rebirth of the publication began last November at Cabeer Night, a career night hosted by the journalism course union. The two were there as guests.

Together, Nowak said, he and Yum vowed to “cover sci-fi as journalist.”

And they have.

The first issue of the revamped magazine contains an interview with Todd McFarlane, creator of the comic book Spawn, guest columnists, including Robert J. Sawyer, and in-house editorials.

“I don’t know about science fiction, but I think I will read it,” 25-year-old law student Melissa Kluger said after picking up a copy at the launch party. “It looks good.”

A cover illustrated by fourth-year journalism student Valentine De Landro and creative layouts add to the magazine’s aesthetic appeal.

“Toronto needs something like this,” said University of Toronto student Samer Muscati, 27. “It’s original and it really shows their passion for sci-fi.”

The initial run for the re-launched Realms was 10,000—five times as many as before.

“I ran it like a real newspaper,” Nowak said of the first issues of Realms. Four years ago the first issue of Realms hit Toronto comic-book newsstands, with interviews with Jhonen Vasquez, best known in sci-fi circles for his work Johnny and the Homicidal Maniac, and local horror writer Nancy Backer.

At the time, The Toronto Star called Realms “small-scale but hugely impressive.”

“If the Star mentions you,” Nowak said, “you know you are doing something right.”

The sci-fi tabloid appeared in comic-book stores across Toronto every two weeks for two years, and “80 per cent of the copies were snatched up,” Nowak said.

But he put an end to the insane publication schedule after 50 issues so he could “do normal things like eat and sleep.”

Nowak gladly gave up these luxuries during the hectic two-year publishing schedule of Realms because he loved putting out the publication.

But running a magazine is not all about the love journalism—there’s the business side to consider as well, said Yum.

“We have no experience running a business,” he said, “but we are learning.”

Nowak and Yum started the magazine as a side project and are working on a three-issue plan. If the first three issues don’t leave them broke—they spent $10,000 and $20,000 of their own money just to start up Realms—they will continue with the publication.

“Three is my personal goal,” Yum said. “Overall, we both want to go as long as we can.”

They incorporated as a business last December, and they have a Web site at www.realmsmagazine.com. The next issue will be out in November.

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