Sunday 2 May 2010

Enjoy Free Comics Today

(Photo: © Bernard C. Cormier 2010)

May 1 will be the 9th Annual Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) at comic book specialty stores around the world that have accounts with Diamond Comic Distributors. It happens during the first Saturday, each May. As one would expect, the event results in physical movement patterns among comic fans that are similar to that of a university freshman year pub-crawl in which participants get plastered for free.

You get the picture.

Whether you "get" it or not, you'll be able to get free comics, especially printed for the event, at most comic book stores on that day, providing that the establishment you visit is participating.

FCBD is the result of North America's comic book industry attempt to profitably rebuild itself in the late-1990s and attract new clients while keeping the ones it already had. Much to their good fortune, the modern era of comic book based movies began during the same era, which resulted in a strengthening of the industry due to the publicity that the films generated. The idea of FCBD is credited to Joe Field, owner of a Concord, California comic book store.

"Actually, the idea was the answer to a deadline!" chuckles Mr. Field from his store during a telephone interview.

"I had a column when I was writing in (Comics & Games Retailer) from a retailer's perspective. I had proposed something like a Free Comic Book Day about five years earlier but it wasn't as fleshed out or as easy a concept to deal with. So, when I sat down to write my column that month and was really short of searching for ideas, and looked outside and saw that there was a line outside of my store going next door to the ice cream store for "Free Scoop Day," I thought 'you know, if they can do that for ice cream, we can certainly do it for comics!' So, I put the whole thing together, put the column together. At the same time my column was published, industry reaction to (FCBD) was published. We were able to build up steam from there! So, yeah, (the idea) came from me as a retailer."

"When he suggested (FCBD), (he was) likening it to Baskin Robins' Free Scoop Night," recalls Brent Frankenhoff, editor of Comics Buyer's Guide. "He made the suggestion and it took about a year, maybe even two, to get all of the mechanisms in place, to get Diamond onboard to help, and to get (an advisory) panel together."

The first FCBD occurred in 2002 during the first Saturday of May, thus enabling it to piggyback on the publicity of the first Spider-Man movie, which was theatrically released on the same weekend. Nearly every FCBD has been coordinated to happen during the opening weekend of comic book-based movies. That's not the case in 2010. However, the remake of "A Nightmare on Elm Street" will be released to theatres the previous day making it an "un-official" tie-in movie of the event.

The "Free" in Free Comic Book Day comes from the free comics that are given to people who visit participating comic book stores. Publishers usually use the occasion to print one-shots that promote either all of a given company's output or a specific series or crossover event. Although the comics come with a $0 cover price, retailers need to buy them. Many see the related wholesale expense as a cost of doing business and give the comics away until they're gone in a "first come, first served" manner others do not and opt to limit quantities that customers can receive.

"It's sort of a nice barometer to see where the (comic) industry's at, to see who's putting out what," says Paul Kaminski, an associate editor at Archie Comics who's responsible for Sonic The Hedgehog comics and was involved in the creation of Archie's first homosexual character, Kevin Keller, including this year's FCBD featuring the character. "The only Archie comics I owned prior to working there was from FCBD!," he confesses. Nothing in life is black or white, and that's true with FCBD, which has its own share of controversies. American graphic novelist and comic book enthusiast Jeffrey Brown sees FCBD from multiple angles.

"I'm always a little disappointed that a lot of the comics seem to be for kids and/or it's stuff that's not original, like it's just excerpts from somewhere or reprints. I always liked the idea that it would be something, you know, totally new and I know some publishers do that!

"This year, (FCBD) has a Fraggle Rock/Mouse Guard free comic that (has) all new stuff but that's related to my own personal benefit. So, maybe I shouldn't complain," says Brown as he refers to a comic he contributed to. "One thing I've seen more in the past couple of years has been fathers coming in with their kids, both boys and girls, which I think is interesting because a lot of times these are people that don't read comics as much anymore but they finally have a way to introduce their kids to comics."

Don Mann, Comic Book Accounts Manager at Gamezilla in Moncton, sees it in different ways, too.

"I don't think that it reached its full potential. I don't know if it's ever going to. We found that it does bring in readers but there's a lot of preaching to the choir," he says referring to those who are already regular readers.

Due to its original objective to increase sales and attract new customers for both the publishers and the participating comic book specialty stores, FCBD could be seen as analogous to a gateway activity to a shopping addiction of comics and related products. It could be said that the soap opera-esque nature of serialized superhero comics, like those of Marvel and DC, likely leads to spending of thousands of dollar over the span of a person's lifetime.

Kaminski agrees, "FCBD is so important because it gets you started."

Field objects to that analogy.

"Is someone overspending if they go to the golf course every weekend when it costs $100 for green fees? No. I haven't seen anybody who needs a 12-step program for comics."

Fellow retailer Mann sees things a bit differently.

"It's like 'here's your free sample' and hopefully they'll come back and spend some money later! That analogy is not completely false but I don't think that reading a comic is as destructive as getting your first (drugs) for free to come back and (get more)!"

Mann has witnessed some customers going through their mid-life crisis by buying comics. Along with other staff members, like store manager Craig MacArthur, he has to "manage" the customers in question.

"If (retailers) got people coming in because they're having their mid-life crisis, which usually means getting into something they enjoyed when they were a kid, like comics, (retailers have) got to make sure that they don't overstep (their budget) and, all of a sudden, it's not fun for them!"

Free Comic Book Day will take place tomorrow. Visit to find a list of participating retailers.

Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer, broadcaster and graphic novel critic. He can be reached at: © Bernard C. Cormier 2010