July 13, 1999:
–NEWS RELEASE from SkyJammer Enterprises–
I’d like to announce the latest offering from SkyJammer Enterprises.
It was to be the latest offshoot of CMTF, but instead, it has taken a life of its own.
Introducing — Altered States Magazine, the newest online ‘zine about Transformers and Transforming robots.
It’s unique because it’s not a parody or a news-only site. No, it’s opinions and fun stuff that you’ll enjoy reading — and contributing to. It will cover all aspects of Transfandom — from G1 to BW and beyond.
And with that, ASM was born! Twenty years ago, I set forth into motion a project that has both underperformed my ideas and surpassed my wildest imagination.
Twenty years ago, I decided to try to make a name for myself online. Back then we had alt.toys.transformers and the other Usenet newsgroups. We had some webpages, and some rudimentary message boards. But I felt I could turn the idea of my old Prodigy club into an online magazine.
Little did I know the journey I’d embark on.
That first “issue” was a blueprint that I intended to follow every month or two. Yes, back then updates weren’t expected daily (or instantly). Online media still followed print media rules. I had been part of a print fanzine (The Informer), but CM Magazine was going to be my brainchild. All Transformers, news, features, fanfic, fanart – what a fanzine was made of.
I spent hours on the logo, learning how to do different effects with Paint Shop Pro. And when I finally had a look I liked, I decided CM Magazine was not a good name. So, close to the release I changed it to “Altered States Magazine.”
No, I didn’t know of the drug connotations. I led a sheltered life, apparently.
A name change, a directory on my Linux box, and hand coded HTML pages for frames and no frames version — these are the things I was working on in my spare time.
I decided to go with a feature story on the unseen voice actors of “Beast Wars”. These days, we all know what our actors look like and what they do. But back then we didn’t. The article had appeared on Robert Jung’s website prior, but I had an ace up my sleeve — I had pictures that Robert didn’t. (We had worked this all out, by the way. No animosity.)
Throw in a new fanfic I had started writing, several other items, and I had a fanzine!
So, twenty years ago, I posted to alt.toys.transformers, and ASM was alive!
That format lasted the first issue.
Free time has always been the bane of ASM’s existence, and I didn’t get another issue out until February, seven months later. That came about when Daniel Lipkowitz mentioned over IRC that he might be able to get Transformers Toy Fair pics. Would I be interested?
Oh, would I!
You see, fan sites weren’t normally at Toy Fair. It truly was industry and some big media only. So to get any Toy Fair news was truly special. ASM wasn’t the first Transformers site to get to the fair — I believe Ben Yee and BWTF had that distinction three years prior — but we were one of the first (if not the first) sites to truly get detailed pictures. And lots of them. Over 120, that issue proclaimed!
And thus began a relationship with Toy Fair that I am proud to say continues to this day.
After a few goes of one or two issues a year of Toy Fair coverage, ASM would start to evolve. We’d post some news. We’d post reviews. We’d change our look. We’d get a domain name.
We’d change our domain and our name as well. Dropping the Altered States Magazine and becoming ASMzine and then ASM (although even a decade later we still get called our original name on occasion). We’d change our logo several times. We had taglines of “You Deserve the Details”, “Your Future Nostalgia – Today”, and “The Geekly Rewind.”
We’d even start using a content management system that I cobbled together. After years of hard coding full web pages, I created a system that would use standard templates and dynamically read in story content.
Finally after nearly a decade, we moved to WordPress for blogging, although our Toy Fair coverage would still have some hand coded HTML for years to come.
We had a lot of downs. The first one was during one of our early Toy Fairs when the My Little Pony fandom found our coverage, loved it, and then sent so much traffic to our online dynamic gallery that our hosting provider shut us down. A frantic plea and bargaining got us back up as long as I did not turn the gallery back on. Back to handcoding pages…
As I said, the lack of free time has been our main nemesis. For a long time we were cruising along at a great clip. Then I lost my job and ended up at a new place with a long commute. Then my computer died. These two incidents about five years ago really changed how I could do ASM. Add to that a growing family, and my priorities shifted a lot, rightly so.
But I’m going to focus on the good times. When we decided to start showcasing toy lines other Transformers, that opened up the door to a whole new ASM. Suddenly we were larger players in the toy coverage scene. People came for our coverage because they knew the quality they’d get.
We started making business connections, reviewing toys, getting press releases. We found ourselves talking with TV show producers and seeing prerelease products.
And when we moved to news postings and the blog, that was when we were at our prime. We got into more conventions. We were part of special reveals. We branched out into TV and movie reviews.
It was the best.
So what does the future hold for ASM?
To be honest, I don’t know. When I started the countdown, I thought I’d have a decision made by the time I was writing this post. But I don’t. The site is in massive disarray. Lots of things don’t work, and it may never work the same again.
But boy I love having ASM around. It’s brought me so much joy over the years. It’s allowed me to make friends and see things and take part of so much. It’s hard for me to just shut it down.
So… The future is unknown. I hope I can think of a way to revive it in a way that keeps up the quality you expect in a fashion that allows me to produce content more frequently.
Looking back, I am extremely proud of ASM. Sure, our output frequency was never consistent. But when we were posting, we were good. I’d say our Toy Fair coverage is unmatched for a small, independent site. I’d say our passion for the details made us loved. And it opened up so many doors, especially for me personally.
And my God, we got to interview John freaking Barrowman and Carole Barrowman in person! Little old ASM, interviewing one of the big names in SciFi TV. Who would have thought?
And we did it without any advertising. Okay, we did put Allspark up in our cobranding coverage. And there was one time I ran ads but the site I was advertising never followed through so I don’t count that. We stayed independent through all twenty years, even when offered to be purchased and bundled as part of other companies.
We’ve seen toy lines rise, and toy lines fall. Sometimes we’ve seen them rise and fall again. We’ve seen Transformers rise to the top, and we’ve seen Star Wars return. We’ve seen Funko and vinyl figures soar in popularity while the 3.75″ action figure languishes. We’ve seen Usenet give way to web boards give way to instant messaging give way to MySpace give way to Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and all sorts of social media.
And I’ve seen ASM go from a small TF fanzine to a geek website read the world over.
I am incredibly grateful.
I am damn proud of everyone who helped with the site in some fashion: My wife Sara for being supportive both behind the scenes and writing and taking pictures for the site. Daniel and Amy, who opened the Toy Fair doors and took so, so many pictures. Matt and Douglass who provided years of additional coverage. Matthew K who provided interviews and other material. Steven and Penelope who took up the Toy Fair mantle this year. Ant and Chris and the folks at The Allspark who provided assistance and news when needed. I couldn’t have done it without you.
And I am eternally in debt to you, the readers. Through thick and thin, you’ve been there, reading and posting and tweeting and emailing and sharing and commenting. ASM is a labor of love, for each and every one of you. Thank you.
And ASM is a labor of love for me. I love the site. I love writing and creating for you all. I love seeing the reactions. I love being a part of the fandom.
Here’s to twenty years, ASM. Thank you for taking my life in exciting and unexpected places. And thank you all for reading these past two decades. I couldn’t have done it without you, and I am eternally grateful.
Let’s see what the future holds.