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From the Publisher
By Mike Panozzo
Mike became editor of Billiards Digest in 1980 and liked it so much that he bought the company. He has served on the Billiard Congress of America board of directors and as president of the Billiard & Bowling Institute of America.


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September: If These Covers Could Talk
September 2018

This month marks exactly 40 years since the first issue of Billiards Digest rolled off the presses. The magazine was bi-monthly for the first 19-plus years, going monthly at the start of 1998. Ironically, that makes this month’s cover the 365th, or a cover a day for a year! I’ve been at this desk for all but 12 of those covers.

Covers say a lot about a magazine. Does the cover draw you in? Is the image memorable? Does it tell a story? If it does all of those things, the cover has done its job.

I’m probably not unlike other magazine publishers in that I can picture virtually every cover in my mind. And each one brings with it its own little story — how the cover idea came about, or what was special about that issue, or something about the cover subject. I hope to still be here when Billiards Digest hits 50. My plan would be to show all 485 covers in what would be a very special issue.

I could write about every one of the 365 covers, but here are just a few that stick out:

Number One. The very first issue of Billiards Digest in September 1978 featured BCA Hall of Famer Jimmy Rempe on the cover, and ushered in a new era of quality magazine coverage devoted exclusively to billiards. For more than 30 years prior to that date, coverage of pool was relegated to a half dozen pages in the monthly Bowlers Journal and Billiard Revue.

Lucky 13. That is the issue for which I became editor of Billiards Digest. Nick Varner was on the cover, having just won the PPPA World Straight Pool Championship in New York City. I remember looking at the images of pool players, dressed in tuxes, playing in the ballroom of a grand old Manhattan hotel (the Roosevelt) and thinking how cool this sport looked.

Steve. Two issues later, Varner became the subject of the magazine’s biggest cover gaffe. The issue, January 1981, actually featured a photo of woman pro Billie Billing. But Varner’s name was on the cover because we had decided to name an annual BD Player of the Year, and he joined Jean Balukas as our very first honorees. Unfortunately for Nick, his father, Nick Sr., and brother Steve were also close friends of Billiards Digest founder and then-publisher Mort Luby Jr. Somehow, Mort’s cover line came out: 1980 Players of the Year, Jean Balukas and Steve Varner. And that’s the way the issue printed. I didn’t discover the error until I was stuffing copies into envelopes with bills to the advertisers. Nick continues to use this story at speaking engagements. It always gets a laugh.

Efren Reyes. His first BD cover was December 1985. I took the photo. It was at a park in Chicago. He had arrived in the U.S. not many months earlier and spent a fair amount of time in Chicago at the Billiard Café, where he was learning one-pocket under the guidance of legends Bug Rucker and Freddy Bentivegna. Who knew then that I was photographing a player that many will call the Greatest Of All Time?

The Great Billiard Room Boom. The late ’80s saw an explosion of new poolrooms across the country, driven by both “The Color of Money” and the move of affluent young Americans back into the inner city. New rooms popped up in every city — big, elaborate and beautiful rooms that catered to a whole new crowd. Billiards Digest came out with its Top 10 New Poolrooms and Architecture/Design Issue, an annual ode to these new billiard palaces. The original Boston Billiard Club graced the October 1989 cover as the nation’s top new room. That issue also marked the magazine’s foray into newsstand distribution, an effort to reach out to an audience just catching on to our great sport.

Santa. Annuals are always fun and challenging. Same editorial focus, different year. The annual Holiday Gift Guide issue in December is always a challenge, and in the early 2000s we went nuts with ideas: one year devoted to the photogenic Jeanette Lee, another to pro players dressed in Santa and elf costumes. My favorite, however, was Carla Bonner’s inspired photo storybook of WPBA players in pool’s version of “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Magic.

Kevin Trudeau. The International Pool Tour, launched by the now-incarcerated infomercial king, was all the rage in 2005-2006. Its meteoric ascent was almost as impressive as its spectacular nosedive. A trip to Trudeau’s Ojai, Calif., home led to a November 2005 cover featuring Trudeau fanning through a wrapped stack of $100 bills. When I suggested that might make for a cool shot, he reached into a closet and pulled out a large cardboard box that was packed with just such stacks. As the photographer was shooting, I remember thinking, “He wouldn’t miss one little old stack, would he?”

Dramatic Flare. Sometimes you get lucky and a great photographer just happens to love pool. Lara Rossignol is brilliant at her craft and has shot some of the world’s most recognizable faces. Her October 2009 photo of Allison Fisher and Johnny Archer on the eve of their BCA Hall of Fame inductions — both in crisp white dress shirts with a blue sky background — is one of my favorite covers ever.

J.P. Parmentier. Over the past decade, most of pool’s most dramatic and memorable photos have been taken by the remarkable Frenchman. And Billiards Digest would have been foolish to not take advantage of that talent. JP’s first cover credit for BD came in 2009. This current issue marks his 38th cover. My job has never been easier.

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