Shadis: History of AEG #1

I am a big fan of Sunday morning news shows.  I appreciate a show that gives me highlights of the things, good and bad, that happened during the week, and then do an hour and a half of feel-good stories about things I would normally not follow-up on but enjoy and make me smile.

Dave Seay and Jolly Blackburn

Dave and I were part of the same D&D group growing up. Our D&D group was a real cross section of high school cliques, and Dave was the cool kid.  The only thing Dave and I had in common was D&D, which was fine since we played 2 to 4 times a week. When our group went its separate ways a few years after graduation, Dave and I barely stayed in touch.  

As noted in my first blog entry, I met Jolly by chance in a print shop in Myrtle Beach, SC.  He was working at the shop and using their presses to make the first issues of Shadis in off hours.  I took a free issue back to my hotel and came back to meet the writer after reading it cover to cover.  I liked Jolly right away, and he gave me the other copies and I took them with me back to California.

Something about Shadis just stuck with me, and when I got home I started talking to my old buddies.  The idea of helping Jolly sounded like fun to Dave and I, so I did some research with other game companies.  I learned that if the magazine was standard size, 8 1/2 by 11, many game companies would buy ads. So we pitched Jolly on the idea of us helping him, and it was a long process to get Jolly on-board.  For Dave and I it was just going to be a fun thing to do to reconnect with gaming.

We decided our big debut would be Gen Con 1993.  We had never been to Gen Con, but we knew it was the best place to reach gamers and it was a dream trip.  On the promise that we would give away 10,000 issues at Gen Con, game companies purchased ads in Shadis #9.  Dave found a local printer (Shout-out to Reed Printing in Ontario, CA) who did marketing news flyers as their main business to print our 64-page “debut” issue.  Jolly, Dave and I loaded up a broke down pick-up truck and U-Haul trailer with 10,000 copies of the magazine. It was the kind of dumb thing only young and ambitious people do.  The truck was dangerously overloaded. Two of us in the front and the other had to lay down in the back on blankets over the magazines under the hard top in a makeshift bed. It was a long trip. We were even pulled over in the middle of nowhere and luckily Dave played the “I’m an off-duty cop” card and we made it to Gen Con. (I wish I had pictures of that truck.)

We survived the trip, found our booth, put up our makeshift banner and unloaded 10,000 copies of Shadis. We were pumped and ready for the first day.  

Gen Con was in Milwaukee at that time. And as it turned out, most of the events were spread out in other parts of the convention center.  It became pretty obvious about halfway through Day 1 that 10,000 people were NOT going to walk by our booth. We scouted outside the booth and found long lines of people waiting for RPG events and other activities.  On Friday we had a new plan. Take the magazine to the people. We left one man in the booth and two of us would run out with two bundles of 50 magazines and find lines of people and hand them out.

That was essentially our first Gen Con.  Running magazines out to players during most of the day. In between trips I would drop by booths and hand out copies and tell potential advertisers to check it out for future ad possibilities.  It was exhausting, and on Sunday just before the hall closed we gave away the last copies.

I am pretty sure that impressed people who saw our booth on Thursday and thought it was an impossible task.

You won’t be surprised to know that Shadis was not the big news at that show.  It was the release of MAGIC THE GATHERING.  We acquired the list for the first set and published it in issue #10 of Shadis.  We did not have to give away those 10,000 copies.  By the grace of the gaming gods, we were in the right place at the right time and we were off to the races.  

My journey with David and Jolly was filled with ups and downs, as you will see if you follow this story. Partnerships do not always last, but they usually start because of deep friendship and/or a shared vision.  I could not have asked for two better people to partner with.

David Seay: I do not say it lightly when I say that Dave is a true hero type.  He was a police officer in a very bad part of LA when we started this journey. I got a very small peak into the darkness and downright evil that Dave had to deal with in that job, and I know that gaming was a light to that darkness.  We struggled to figure out AEG for a lot of years, and Dave played any role necessary and helped sustain us while we sorted things out.

Jolly Blackburn:  Jolly to this day is one of the funniest and most talented people I have ever worked with.  He would lock himself away and work crazy hours to hit the Shadis deadline, and the final product was always better than we had imagined. We had a tough partnership break-up, which is a story for another day. I remember saying to Dave on our last day, “Holy crap, our partnership with the most talented guy we know is ending.”  I am glad the story had a happy ending.

David, me, and Jolly at Gen Con 1993

Next Sunday I’ll talk about how AEG’s first interns’ choice to wear a tie changes a bunch of lives forever.  


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