Jon Bradley Snyder grew up in Spokane, Washington. He attended The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington in the late 80’s where he was very involved in the music scene. “I did some intern work the music labels K Records and Sub-Pop before I returned to Spokane and was a PA on the MGM movie Benny and Joon, which filmed there on location in 1992,” he stated. He moved to San Francisco in late 1992 to work in publishing and helped form co-op small press imprint called “High Drive Publications” which was the imprint under which his first Star Wars publication Report from the Star Wars Generation was published. During this time he worked at a variety of jobs including BBDO advertising agency, Maverick Magazine Consulting, and wrote for various magazines including Rocktober, The Stranger, and Topps’ Batman Forever movie magazine. He also edited the first issues of Megan Kelso’s Girl Hero comic book. In 1995, he created the imprint Dodecaphonic Books for the express purpose of publishing a collection of Nickelodeon cartoonist Sam Henderson’s work entitled Humor Can Be Funny. In 1996 he moved to Denver, Colorado to work full time for Fantastic Media after working for them offsite for two years. “In May of that year I went to Tunisia with David West Reynolds on a Star Wars location trip that was the grand prize of the first Decipher Star Wars CCG tournament. I launched Star Wars Kids magazine for Scholastic in 1998. I then co-produced the Star Wars Celebration in 1999, and I almost forgot to mention that I was a contributing editor for Sci Fi Universe for 5 years,” said Snyder. Currently, he’s is working off-site for Fantastic Media in North Carolina where his partner, Heidi, is teaching art. They live with their 15-month-old son named Jackson. Jon took some time out to chat with old T-bone about life before and after The Insider.
(Original posting: February 09, 2001)
Let’s go way back to the beginning. Your first fanzine, Report from the Star Wars Generation, grabbed the attention of Lucasfilm. How long was it in production?
Let’s make one thing clear, because I think some people are a bit confused about this; I have never worked for Lucasfilm. I worked for Fantastic Media, which is a licensee of Lucasfilm, just like Hasbro is a licensee of Lucasfilm. I printed the first issue of Report From the Star Wars Generation back in 1991. In 1994 I started freelancing for Dan Madsen at Fantastic Media.
How much did it cost to produce?
The first issue (Vol 1 #1, 1991: B&W Xerox pages) cost nothing. I borrowed a Xerox machine. The second issue (Vol 1 #2 1992: half-sheet Xerox w/ yellow cover featuring a 3×5 photo) cost next to nothing because I worked at a one hour photo place and had some good buddies that worked at Kinko’s in Spokane, WA. The third issue (Vol. 2 #1 1993: full-color offset press cover) cost over $4,000.
How many copies were distributed per issue?
The first issue had less then 75 copies that I mostly just gave away to friends. The second issue I did around 300 copies. The third issue had almost 20,000 copies, most of which were sold to Diamond Comics. I went to offset press and a large print run on the third issue primarily at the urging of Chris Gore of FilmThreat.com fame. He and all the crew at Film Threat at that time were big early supporters of me.
Do you feel some of the content was controversial?
It wasn’t controversial to me. The first issue I did an editorial advocating that America improve the space program so that I could visit the moon. The second issue had an article describing an incident where my friends Greg and Bruce and I smuggled beer in an R2-D2 toy box into a theater to see a charity screening of The Empire Strikes Back. The third issue contained a letter someone had sent me relating a story where they had a one night stand with and actress who played an Ewok. Also in that issue was an article about Frank Allnut’s 1977 book called The Force of Star Wars, in which he described Star Wars as an allegory for Christianity. An illustration that appeared with that article depicted Star Wars personalities as characters from Jesus Christ Superstar. This upset some people, but I don’t know why. Frank Allnut was the one making the comparisons and we were just visualizing and trying subtly point out that the comparisons were a bit absurd.
I understand that at first, Lucasfilm was not thrilled with your magazine. How did you eventually come to terms?
Lucasfilm never really mentioned much about the content of the magazine to me. They were upset, and justifiably so, that I was using their trademarked name in the title of a magazine, that was published through a major distribution channel for Star Wars products, Diamond Comics. I was a young, naïve punk at the time and did not realize that what I was doing was clearly copyright infringement and could get me in a heap of trouble. The funny thing is that now, I probably could do the same thing online and nobody would care. I received a letter from Lucasfilm telling me to “Cease and Desist,” which totally freaked me out. I thought they were going to sue and I didn’t have any money because I had taken all the profits from the third issue and invested in a computer to use to make the next issue. By the time I got this letter, the fourth issue was almost complete. I had even solicited the cover to Diamond. The cover consisted of a photo of the back of some guy’s head with the Star Wars logo carved into his hair. The guy, of course, was me. I don’t think I ever needed to prove my fandom credentials ever again after that.
Then, a fellow at Lucasfilm named Allan Kausch, an old Bay area punk rocker that was way into Phillip K. Dick, bought a copy of Star Wars Generation. He knew that it was a bit out of control from a Lucasfilm standpoint, but thought that I had brought a refreshing slant to Star Wars fandom. He brought me to the attention of his boss, Lucy Wilson. In August 1993, I went out the ranch with my boss at the time, David Latimer, who was also interested in the project, and met with Lucy and Allan. The end result was that, after meeting me, Lucy and Alan were convinced that I wasn’t a freak and that I was somebody who could be good for Star Wars. They hooked me up with Dan Madsen at Fantastic Media and I went to work for him on the official magazine a few months later. Dan took a chance on me. I will always be thankful to him for that.
What were your first steps at Fantastic Media?
1. Free up Dan so he could focus on other aspects of the company.
2. Get rid of the previous designer. His work was boring and he charged too much money.
3. Add more humor and irreverence to the magazine.
4. Perk up that sleepy letters column. There were too many Star Wars changed my life letters (Duh! If it didn’t why were you reading the magazine?) and add some controversy.
5. Help get a new printer.
6. Find new contributors.
Were you given any direction from Lucasfilm?
Well, essentially the magazine is done all on our own. Lucasfilm would help with getting photos, setting up some interviews, and whatnot. Allan Kausch was always a great person to bounce ideas off of.
How did you choose a staff?
There wasn’t any staff to speak of until Scott Chernoff came along in late 1996. Almost everything was freelancers.
When did you first meet Dan Madsen?
Dan was there way before I was. Dan Madsen started Fantastic Media in his parents’ basement in 1979 with the Star Trek Fan Club. I first met him in Colorado in 1994, so he didn’t really become involved—he was always involved. He had edited every single issue of the Lucasfilm Fan Club since it started in 1986 to when I came on board. Dan carried that magazine on his back for years when the biggest thing Lucasfilm had to promote was Tucker or Maniac Mansion. He exponentially expanded the membership of that Fan Club during the hardest years when nobody cared about it. It’s really amazing when you think about. The club and the magazine would not be here today if it wasn’t for him. Dan had faith that George Lucas would return to Star Wars one day, and he was right. I don’t think there is a person out there that has seen more or knows more about fan culture than Dan Madsen. He has been doing this for over 20 years now.
What are some of the rarest issues of the Star Wars Insider?
Here are the top ten:
1. Issue #7 of the Lucasfilm Fan Club Magazine with the Harrison Ford interview done by Dan Madsen. The print run of the magazine was only 5,000-20,000 copies the first few years Dan was doing the club. All issues under #19 are similarly rare, but this one was sold out before I came to work for the company.
2. Issue #31 (Printing Variant) There was a 2nd run of only 5,000 copies of this issue which featured a color photo screened back on the contents page depicted a little boy playing with a Skyhopper toy. On the common version of the issue there is a plain white background on the contents page. Almost all of these issues were sent to Lucasfilm. Only a few went to customers.
3. Issue #32 This was the first issue with the new logo that had the Rebel Pilot Reunion story. It sold out immediately when the Special Editions came out.
4. Issue #24 Ralph McQuarrie cover.
5. Issue #27 David West Reynolds Return to Tatooine story.
6. Issue #35 TIE Fighter Pilot cover version only went to subscribers.
7. Issue #43 Darth Maul cover with gold logo was a Diamond comics exclusive. Only about 15,000 were made.
8. Any Issue of the Scholastic version of Star Wars Kids (original trilogy, not Episode I). The issue with Wicket on the cover is IMPOSSIBLE to find.
9. Issue #49 The Empire Strikes Back 20th Anniversary issue.
10. Issue #47 The Mara Jade cover. Sold out almost as fast as #49.
Who had the idea to change the name of the magazine to The Star Wars Insider and what prompted the decision to publish bi-monthly?
I think Lucasfilm came up with the name. I can’t remember exactly. We decided to publish bi-monthly because it is hard to make money on the newsstand with a quarterly magazine unless you are charging a bundle for it. Plus, fans seemed to love the magazine and want it more often. It did mean more work and more deadlines, but that just meant finding more contributors.
How closely did you work with Starwars.com and the staff?
Not very closely, especially after Mark Hedlund left in 1999. I don’t think they have ever figured out a strategy for how the magazine and the website could support each other. Lucasfilm puts a lot of restrictions on the magazine that the web site doesn’t have.
Did it bother you that most of the prequel news in the magazine had been on the Internet months before each magazine was released?
Yes. We knew all that news before it ever reached the net but we weren’t allowed to do anything with it. I felt bad for our readers. They still wanted to see more news in the magazine.
What was the most exciting thing that happened to you during your years with the Star Wars Insider?
One of the most exciting things I did while with the Insider actually had nothing to do with Star Wars. I went to Disneyland for the opening junket for the Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. That was a blast. I got to see all the celebrities come check out the ride, including Wayne Gretsky and Carrie Fisher. When someone in the press asked Carrie Fisher what she was expecting from the ride, Fisher responded with her trademark deadpan stare, “Nothing short of orgasm.” Of course, I couldn’t print that in the magazine.
Disney, being smart as they are, made sure every journalist who came to this junket had the time of their lives. During the day we had our own private escort who could get us to the front of the line on any ride we wanted. At night they closed off Adventureland for a big party. You could go on any ride you wanted, plus they had live music and DJs with cast members whose only job was to dance with you. There was terrific food, not the park food mind you, but fabulous California gourmet stuff. There was all the free booze you could drink. My friend Chris and I got roaring drunk and went on the new Indiana Jones ride over and over again until the wee hours of the morning. I could live until I was 300 and never have more fun at Disneyland.
What were some things you wanted to do with the magazine that got shot down?
Lucasfilm was pretty good about letting me do some of my more nutty article ideas, including “Star Wars Tattoos,” “Star Wars Rocks,” an interview with the band Weezer, and “The Cult of Wedge.” There was a point when they would not allow us to break news in the magazine anymore, which was a really bad idea. We were the magazine for the official Star Wars Fan Club. We represented the most devoted fans. Many of our readers had been members of the Fan Club for years. These people deserved to get a scoop now and then.
Do you think that’s because they wanted to use Starwars.com as the vessel for breaking news?
Yes. I don’t think there was ever a firm grasp of how print magazines and the web interact, and the magazine suffered because of this policy. Oddly enough, I think the web site suffered too. I was always fighting to get more in the magazine. I hope that’s how people will remember mine and Fantastic Media’s time doing the magazine which we always tried to make the best magazine possible for the fans.
If you could go back and change one thing you did with the Insider, what would you change?
The Star Wars Celebration. I would not do that. That took ten years off my life.
What was your favorite Insider article?
There are a lot. Scott Chernoff’s piece we did in #30 about people who never saw Star Wars was an excellent piece. What Chernoff is doing right now with the 2-1B letters column is hilarious. All of David West Reynolds’ articles were great. The Simpsons cover story for #38 took almost a year to do, but it was well worth it.
Who chose the subject matter for each issue and from where did you get the information?
Basically I did. I would come up with ideas and then pow wow with Dan and he would have good additions and suggestions. Then when Scott came on board it was the two of us. Sometimes Lucasfilm would suggest we interview a particular person, or arrange a news story for us to cover. If we needed photos, Allan Kausch and Tina Mills were two of the best people you could ever hope to work with in that regard. If there were delays it might be something beyond their control, like the pictures hadn’t been taken yet or the actors hadn’t approved them, or ILM had to add effects or something.
How do you feel the Star Wars Celebration planning went? Who came up with the idea for it?
I thought the Celebration went incredibly smooth considering, a) the ENORMOUS constraints we were under given the fact that we had to produce the biggest event in Star Wars history from start to finish in less than 5 months (!), and b) the weekend of the event Denver received more rainfall in one weekend than it had in almost 100 years. Dan Madsen and I submitted a proposal to put on a Star Wars fan event over two years prior to the Celebration. The proposal didn’t get a green light until less than five months before. After that, Lucasfilm’s involvement was limited.
Did you have to pay Lucasfilm to rent the props and things from the Lucasfilm Archives?
Why hold it in that hangar in Denver and not in a Convention Center?
There isn’t a convention center in the world that is available for a weekend with less than five months notice.
There were lots of vendors, lots of things to buy, but I got the feeling that someone had to have lost some money someplace. Can you elaborate?
Yes, that’s right. No, I can’t.
When you first saw the rain and knew it would be a rainy few days, did you get upset or start getting nervous?
There was no time. I was too busy working to get upset or nervous. I didn’t sleep for more than 4 hours a night that whole week.
Did you get much feedback?
Yes. We got some really good feedback in the exit surveys we did. People had some great suggestions on how to do things differently, but we had a lot of people who just thanked us for putting it on.
Do you feel the Celebration was a success?
It was a success. With over 30,000 people attending it was one of the biggest Sci-Fi conventions ever held in the United States. Thousands of people got to interact with Star Wars in a way that they never will again. It was an intense bonding experience for a lot of fans. It provided Anthony Daniels with an opportunity to give one of the greatest performances I have ever seen. Daniels and Dan Madsen were the glue that held that show together. The X-wing Fighter that was trucked in for the show is still on display at the Lowry Air and Space Museum.
Would you do it again?
No. Once was plenty.
What was the best thing and the worst thing about the Celebration?
Anthony Daniels was the best thing about the Celebration. At the risk of sounding too show-biz, he is a 100% class act professional who worked his heart out that weekend. The worst thing was that Brian Blessed got frostbite on a trip to the North Pole and couldn’t attend. That man is one incredible personality and I wish he could have been there.
So why did you finally decide to leave Fantastic Media?
It was a good time to move on and do something different. I had been doing Star Wars for almost seven years. When you make a big change like that it is always hard. It’s going to be very strange to see an Insider come out that I don’t have anything to do with. The good thing is that Scott Chernoff is still working on the magazine, as well as many of the freelancers that I first hired. I will always look forward to seeing their stuff.
Where are you living now and what will you be doing for a living?
I’m going to be moving back to my hometown of Spokane, Washington soon and I’m looking forward to continuing to work off-site for Fantastic Media from there. We have some cool projects coming down the pike that should be announced soon.
Has working on a fan magazine given you a different perspective of Star Wars fandom?
Yes. Working on Star Wars day in and day out can sometimes make it harder to be a fan. It sounds like a fan dream job, but there are many times when it is not. My desire to work on the fan magazine comes not just from being a fan, but also from being passionate about publishing. I love bringing creative people together to work on a single project from start to finish, which is what I did on the magazine. Star Wars fandom is a huge universe. Its been fascinating to meet so many different people and see the different ways they interpret the movies and different things Star Wars means to them.
What did you think of Episode I? You were an extra, I believe?
I enjoyed Episode I. When it comes to Star Wars I’m not very critical. The best thing for me about Episode I was that it was more Star Wars, and honestly that was enough to make me happy. At no time did I ever expect Episode I to even approach the exhilaration I felt when seeing the original film in 1977 at age 8. No movie in my lifetime will ever affect me the same way the first Star Wars movie did—not even another Star Wars movie. As for being an extra in the film, God, that’s a whole different interview. Lets just say you won’t see me in any of the Naboo celebration scenes I was in because my sideburns were too big at the time and didn’t look very “Nabooian.” We shot two straight days of long medium shots of us Nabooians celebrating, so there is a ton of extra Naboo celebration footage that isn’t in the film.
Were you on the set any other times?
Yes. I came over to Leavesden in May 1997 on my way back from Tunisia and met with Rick McCallum. Rick is an extremely hardworking and busy guy and it was very nice of him to take time out to meet with me. At that time things were just starting to get cranked up there.
What’s your favorite Star Wars related memory?
Waiting in line for six hours with all my grade school buddies to be the first person in line to buy a ticket for The Empire Strikes Back in Spokane. I was interviewed on three radio stations and two TV stations.
From what you know, is Episode II going to be great?
All I’ve been hearing are good things about the film. We sent Scott Chernoff and Hugh Fleming to visit the set in Australia and they were psyched about everything they saw. I think Hayden Christiansen is a great choice for Anakin.
Do you think the mixed reactions to Episode I will cause movie studios not shy away from opening another film against a Star Wars film?
They shouldn’t have shied away in 1999. The truth is that often when a blockbuster action movie like Star Wars just kicks butt at the box office, it gets people so excited about movies that they just want to go see more movies. There can be this kind of positive ripple effect. People don’t remember that Titanic and a James Bond movie both opened on the same weekend to 30 million plus box office. That can happen again. I think it’s going to be an exciting year for movies.
Many thanks to Jon for taking the time out to answer these questions and I’d like to also give a shout out to my friend Mike Rex for setting up this interview. You can check out Mike’s site over at http://www.michaelrex.com. He writes and illustrates children’s books and they are fantastic.
(Original posting: February 09, 2001)