FCBD 2007: The Comics

It’s that time of year again — Free Comic Book Day is next Saturday, May 5, 2007. I’ll be helping out at Richmond Comix in Richmond (Midlothian), Virginia, so come on by! Here’s brief coverage of some of the many many comics that may be available (with the exception of the Bongo and Gumby titles, which I don’t have copies of yet):

Free Comic Book Day banner

Gold Sponsors: The “Big Three”

Gold books are required to be purchased by participating retailers, so these are the titles you’re most likely to see. They represent the major American comic publishers — or those who want to be considered top-tier by direct market retailers. Content is often chosen based on what’s got mass-media exposure, which makes sense. The whole event is supposed to attract and hopefully keep customers new to comics. A TV or movie tie-in provides a great, familiar starting point.

FCBD Spider-Man cover

DC’s got a reprint of their newest cartoon-inspired comic, Legion of Super-Heroes #1. I didn’t like the story as much as I’d hoped, since it retold the origin from the cartoon and downplayed story in favor of introductions. The multiple-character-perspective structure was unnecessarily confusing, and I reached the end without ever knowing who everyone was supposed to be talking to.

Marvel’s Amazing Spider-Man is all-new by Dan Slott and Phil Jimenez, a great team and an obviously terrific subject choice. Can’t say that I like the latest twist, but at least making that character a superhero as well is unexpected. The first story is much better than the second, a six-pager trying to interest us in the bigger continuity picture, something about Iron Man and Spider-Man fighting. It didn’t work.

Archie’s putting out a brand-new Little Archie comic. Based on my experience in past years, the Archie giveaway always makes moms and grandmothers say “oh, I remember reading Betty & Veronica.” I’m surprised they didn’t do something around their redesign of those characters. The story we do get is a simple camp exploration, well-suited for younger kids for the summer.

DC, Marvel, and Archie also have additional Silver-level titles available to better demonstrate the range of their lines. Archie’s got a new Sonic the Hedgehog (their bestseller, I’m told); DC reprints Justice League of America #0 (a talky mix of continuity clips that I fear new readers may find confusing instead of compelling); and Marvel Adventures contains an Iron Man, a Hulk, and a Franklin Richards story. They are what they are, but I like the take on Pepper, Tony Stark’s assistant.

Gold Sponsors: The Rest

As usual, Gemstone has a Disney comic, which is a helpful choice, familiar to parents and kids and good for all ages. IDW has Transformers, and Dynamite has a Battlestar Galactica/Lone Ranger flipbook. I’m not interested, but I’m sure many will be.

I’m glad to see Tokyopop in the gold tier, since at least one manga publisher should be included in the day to demonstrate the diversity of modern comics. Their “Choose Your Weapon” sampler I already have from their appearance at the New York Con, but this version has been reprinted with the FCBD banner. It’s a new direction for the company that first gained success with shojo, girl-targeted manga — now they’re into the fighting series.

FCBD Wolf-Man cover

Image launches a new title written by Robert Kirkman, sticking to what he does best: gory horror. Instead of zombies, this one is the Astounding Wolf-Man. The gimmick is that the guy becomes a superhero. Typical of Kirkman’s writing, it’s pedestrian and perfunctory. I like the art by Jason Howard, though.

Last, Dark Horse has the fuzzily reproduced Umbrella Academy. It’s notable for being written by Gerard Way, of the band My Chemical Romance. There are also previews of Pantheon City and Zerokiller included. What’s not included, and should have been, is information on what these series are, who they’re intended for (who might enjoy them), and where to find more. These books are supposed to be ads, sales pitches to convince readers to buy. If I don’t even know whether there’s going to be more or what to look for, I can’t put out money… and then why are publishers and retailers going to all this effort?

One of the other big questions I have, and why I’m reading these early, is: who should I give them to? You only have a few moments to size up a new customer and match them up to the books they’re most likely to be satisfied by. By this criteria, the Dark Horse book is also a failure. There’s no obvious target audience, and due to the content, it’s something we’re going to have to be careful giving out. (The same is true of Image’s book, which has a tad too much blood for kids.)

Silver Sponsors: The Best

Look for these terrific reads at your local shop:

FCBD Owly cover

Owly (Top Shelf) is always wonderful, and his gardening fable in “Helping Hands” is charming encouragement to experience nature, be creative, and not mind getting dirty. The non-verbal nature of the story provides a slight challenge, some mental chewiness to engage the brain, on top of the lovely drawings. There’s also a Korgi backup, although I’m not as sure what happened there. But it’s cute, too.

Unseen Peanuts (Fantagraphics) presents, to quote the front cover, “over 150 classic, previously lost strips from the 50s and 60s”. It’s an eye-opening exploration of creative decisions due to Kim Thompson’s explanatory essay and comments on individual strips. The cartooning, of course, is amazing, even reproduced at such small size. It’s an attention-getting package and a great ad for the Complete Peanuts line. Plus, nicely substantial paper stock.

FCBD Love & Capes cover

Love and Capes (Maerkle Press) is my favorite superhero series. Since the issues are normally $4 (and worth it!), getting one for free is a great deal. How apropos that this issue (#4) opens with the Crusader (in his civilian identity) and Abby (his girlfriend) going to see the new Arachnerd movie. Picking on a spider-character is timely and a good choice to demonstrate the series’ humor. The book also explores how a superhero in his secret identity puts up with his girlfriend’s family picnic and follows Abby to a theater audition. Aside from the funny, I love the way the two leads seem like they have a real, loving relationship.

If you haven’t read them before, Whiteout (Oni Press) and Wahoo Morris (Too Hip Gotta Go Graphics) are good books. They get bonus points for including information on how to read more of the story and other titles readers might enjoy as well.

Everything so far here has an easy pitch, a one-line description to tell the newly interested what the book’s about and why they might like it. (“Superhero romantic comedy”, “life and loves with a rock band”, “murder mystery in Antarctica”, etc.) First Second’s The Train Was Bang on Time by Eddie Campbell is nifty but gruesome, which always makes that more difficult. This is a beautiful package well-suited for the growing audience of readers interested in well-reviewed, artistic graphic novels — but we don’t tend to get many of those on FCBD, and I’m not sure it’s really aimed at them. The typical direct market comic shop still relies on the habitual series customer.

Last in this section is Comics Festival, the anthology sampler out of Toronto.

Silver Sponsors: The Worst

These titles, in my opinion, missed the point of the day:

Keenspot and Comic Genesis are webcomic samplers, so there’s nothing from them for retailers to sell the rest of the year. They’re riding the coattails to get low-cost advertising. Looked at uncharitably, they may even be trying to poach comic shop customers. I don’t know why a retailer would choose to give these out. (They’re also wildly varying in quality and printed on cruddy newsprint.)

FCBD TwoMorrows cover

Impact University, Wizard’s How to Draw, and Comics 101 (TwoMorrows) are samplers of instructional material. They’re accurate representations — I especially like the musculature lesson in the Impact comic — but in my experience, the new customer isn’t interested. They want comics, picture books, not how-tos. The audience for how-tos already reads comics and knows where to get them.

I guess I’m never going to get Nexus (Rude Dude Productions), or maybe it’s that this “greatest hits” sampler doesn’t bother to explain why a new reader would want to start reading it. It gave me the feeling of being left out of one of those “remember when we did this together?” conversations. I’m sure long-term fans are thrilled by the upcoming “first new Baron and Rude comic in 10 years”, but the rest of us… like I said, maybe I just don’t get it.

Much as I love them, Amelia Rules (Renaissance) and Buzzboy/Roboy Red (Skydog Press) fall in this category, even though I’m quoted on the back of the Buzzboy issue. Again, the point is to drive sales. If you put out only two comics a year and one of them is a FCBD edition, then retailers don’t have much incentive to promote your works when they can instead put their time and energy into books that arrive more regularly. Use the money you spent on creating a cheap comic to get your work out more frequently and consistently, and then worry about promoting it.

There are other, even more forgettable, icky titles that this also applies to. At least these two have nice collections that interested customers can be directed towards.

Silver Sponsors: The Rest

Oh, forget it. I’m not going to go over the rest of the books, many of which are aggressively mediocre. Although I did get a laugh from Boom’s promo piece, which read in part, “You’ll find the full range here: horror, comedy, science fiction, and adventure.” While Boom’s line is professionally done, they all give off the whiff to me of serving as movie pitches, and I wouldn’t exactly hold them up as a model of excessive diversity.

Why does Antarctic’s book have a 50-cent price tag on it? Someone not clear on the concept?

I’m going to have a hard time giving some of this away, but maybe we’ll get some Witchblade readers looking for something new (Aspen) or someone who wants a comic that looks just like what he read in the 70s (Liberty).

38 Responses to “FCBD 2007: The Comics”

  1. Mikester Says:

    The fifty cent price tag on the cover of Pirates Vs. Ninjas was apparently an error…retailers received a notice about it last week.

  2. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez Says:

    I think you’re being a little too hard on Amelia Rules! and Buzzboy, both of which have at least a couple of solid TPB collections to direct interested readers to. FCBD isn’t, or shouldn’t be, just about the floppies. Why would you look at either of them as being any different from the Unseen Peanuts promo which you highlighted favorably?

  3. James Schee Says:

    See I sometimes wonder who FCBD is REALLY for to tell you the truth.

    I know it was originally intended for completely new readers who just saw the latest superhero movie. Who then see an ad telling them about where they can go get a free comic similiar to what they just saw.

    I wonder across the country how often that really happens though. I know I’m always amazed at the stories you tell each year about the kids who appear, with adults who remember reading Archie as kids. When I’ve found stores that actually do participate, I don’t see that at all. Maybe its a big city thing?

    It just seems like each year the books seem more and more targeted at the already existing audience. Usually including stories and approaches that would only interest the diehard fan who is already into comics.

    So things like explaining what new series are, which would be key to newbies who wouldn’t know the monthly ordering thing. Aren’t really needed as the diehards know how to order, and these are just free samples to try and get them hooked on more series.

  4. James Schee Says:

    Ooops I hit send to soon. To show that I’m not being down on the diehards, as hey I’m one too.

    I know I want to get:

    – Love & Capes because I LOVE that series as it has such heart.
    – Owly since it is just so cute.
    – Nexus as I’ve really enjoyed the cheesy dated sci-fi stories from the archives.

    None of which I will, since the shops that do participate in the area usually only get the big guys.

  5. Ray Cornwall Says:

    When I worked in a comics shop, instructional material was a big seller. Kids love to draw comics, and a kid-friendly book about drawing is always a draw. I think the TwoMorrows book will be a big hit in that regard.

  6. Chris Says:

    Hi Johanna,

    I was wondering– did you dislike Comics Festival so much that it got a deliberately neutral statement? I’m a big boy, I can take it if you’ve got comments/criticism. Lemmie know!

  7. Johanna Says:

    Guy, I think the situation is different because AR and BB aim much younger. An adult who starts buying the Complete Peanuts because of the sampler has seven books to start with, and they’re capable of understanding an every-six-month regular release schedule. A kid intrigued by AR has 3 books, BB only 2, and then it’ll be at least another year before there’s another book. Will the younger set be patient and still interested when that time rolls around? I don’t know.

    Personally, I’m sure my own feelings are also a factor. I adored the early Amelia Rules, where Amelia learned to deal with a new town and family structure, but the latest stories, which have put much more focus on Reggie and pals pretending to be superheroes, haven’t kept my attention nearly as well.

  8. Johanna Says:

    James, you make a great point — too much comic marketing is aimed not at the wider audience but at grabbing a bigger share of the existing market. And I’m sorry that you won’t be able to see the books you want because of your location.

    Ray, I thought the same thing, but experience, at least in my location, doesn’t support it.

  9. Johanna Says:

    Chris, thanks for asking. I thought Comics Festival would be perfect for the TCAF, where the artists are appearing and the whole collection serves as a memento/sampler.

    For this, I’m not sure it’s as well-suited. A half-page single strip, sometimes reprinted from online, is barely enough of a taste to know whether I’d want to seek out more work from that person. For several of the contributors, the sample isn’t even reflective of their-best known works on the shelf.

    We’ve also had a hard time giving out adult-aimed anthologies in past years. Many of the non-comic-reading adults we get are there just to bring the kids. If we can get them to take a comic, it’s easier with a media tie-in or obvious genre work. (I’m thinking more like John Grisham than literature, you know?)

    The comic-reading adults, meanwhile, already know what they like. We’ll probably get a few requests for it from the more alternative readers, but they aren’t a large customer group at this particular shop, and they’ll look for it out of curiosity more than anything else.

    To sum up, this strikes me more as a sales tool for your festival than for comics.

  10. FCBD: What About the Girls? » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] Lots of discussion already about the Free Comic Book Day comics I covered yesterday, but I wanted to raise a related question… and I can’t believe it took me this long to notice: What am I supposed to give girls? […]

  11. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Apr. 30, 2007: I’d hit that Says:

    […] Johanna Draper Carlson previews this year’s crop of offerings for next weekend’s Free Comic Book Day. […]

  12. Karen Gownley Says:

    Hello Johanna!

    It’s always good to read your insights on Comics Worth Reading.

    I wanted to clarify some things for your readers.

    Of course you know that we recently launched our three graphic novels, available in both hard and softcover editions. As always, all Amelia Rules! comics are in beautiful color with high production values. Amelia Rules!, as you know, is written, drawn, colored, lettered, and published by a single individual. There are no other children’s comics on the market which can claim that. Our apologies if productivity doesn’t match what is put out by a team of people from a large production house.

    We are very lucky in this industry to have a great deal of very saavy retailers who know that such releases can make for key sales in a very important demographic – namely, young people who may not have read comics in the past (especially girls).

    That is why so many retailers stock-up on Amelia Rules! FCBD editions. They know they can then show them the graphic novel collections, which provide kids with entire storylines of the Amelia Rules! series.

    Our graphic novels sales have been climbing steadily since January, 2007 and we are pleased to report sales are exceeding our expectations! You mentioned on your site that you weren’t sure if only graphic novels could drive sales, and I am here to tell you, yes! They absolutely can with the right product. There is an excellent model for this kind of children’s entertainment – it’s called books. I don’t think anyone questions whether a popular children’s book series like Harry Potter, Judy Moody, or Ramonda can keep the attention of kids if they aren’t coming out monthly or bi-monthly. When children find a series of books they enjoy, they will remember them and are quite capable of finding the next in the series – even if it is a year between books.

    On a personal note, you also expressed disappointment over recent storylines which simply follow the superhero adventures of Reggie. I was afraid that might be confusing to your readers, who would see that and then think that our most recent graphic novel, “Amelia Rules! Volume 3: Superheroes” was simply a story about Reggie & G.A.S.P. adventures. Your review made it sounds as if you hadn’t read past the title.

    Of course as you know, “Superheroes” is, in fact, a metaphor for finding the courage to face our fears, and discovering who among us are the real Heroes. In the story, Amelia braves the dark ‘Greenbelt’ on a dare, Reggie’s perception of Tanner as a superhero is shattered, and of course, at the heart of the story is Trish, a little girl facing a terrible illness, who must conquer her fear of death.

    I also want to add that the 48-page special Amelia Rules! with a cover by Terry Moore is now available in stores. June, of course, will see the release of “Amelia Rules! The Things I Cannot Change” which deals with a girls’ father being sent overseas. This important, timely issue is being guest edited by an Iraq War Veteran and his 10 year old son. Original art from the issue will be auctioned off with monies going to a veteran’s charity.

    Thank you for allowing me to clarify these points. For a small publisher like us, it is VERY important that misinformation is quickly clarified, as even the slightest confusion could potentially cause devistating effects to our company. Please keep this in mind as you compose your blogs, and please do not hesitiate to contact us if you ever have any questions concerning our current releases, sales trends, or storylines.

    Take Care,
    Karen Gownley
    PR/Marketing, Amelia Rules!

    Amelia Rules!
    P.O. Box 5060
    Harrisburg, PA 17110

  13. Chris Says:

    Hi Johanna,

    Thanks for your feedback. I appreciate that you’re coming from a position of experience of giving out these comics, and I similarly hope that you’ll appreciate my own experience has been considerably different than yours. I’d like to respectfully disagree on a few points. The big one, about it being promotion for TCAF rather than the creators in it, I feel is false. I really tried to work for a balance, and asked the participating creators to do material that would feed into their existing work. I feel that all three of the longest stories–Darwyn Cooke’s, Bryan Lee O’Malley’s, and especially Hope Larson’s–are excellent introductions to their respective ouevres. I do agree that the comic strips are not full introductions to the work, but much like the comic strips in your daily/weekly paper, they aren’t meant to be. It’s more like “if you like what this has to say, there’s plenty more out there”.
    Oh, and all of the material in the book is brand new, none of it is reprints (the pixels on a couple of the strips are stylistic choices owing to their origins as webcomics).

    I’m obviously very biased on this subject, but I’m also quite proud of the book and the folks that contributed to it. I think handing COMICS FESTIVAL 2007 to a teenager or adult will yield some very positive sales results, and both Hope & Mal’s strips (amongst others) will appeal to teen girls and women, something you mentioned in another post this morning.

    You’re right in saying that the book I put together isn’t for someone who won’t pick up a comic unless it’s a tie-in to BATTLESTAR GALACTICA or TRANSFORMERS, and I honestly couldn’t be more proud of that. We decided that we’d put our best foot forward and show off some great Canadian cartoonists (all of whom have more work in print!), and used in that fashion, I think you’ll find it quite successful. At the very least, thanks to the new Darwyn Cooke cover and story about Alex Toth in the book, your existing comics fans might be turned onto something else in the book and the store.


    – Christopher

  14. The Thom Zahler Weblog » Blog Archive » FCBD Review Says:

    […] Draper Carlson has some nice things to say about the Free Comic Book Day issue of Love and Capes at Comics Worth Reading. Love and Capes (Maerkle Press) is my favorite superhero series. Since the issues are normally $4 […]

  15. Ray Cornwall Says:

    Karen, I don’t think you read Johanna’s words at all. Regarding Amelia Rules 3, she said that, while looking for FBCD books for girls, she didn’t think the book fit because “they’re less about Amelia’s experiences and more about Reggie”. I don’t think she said the book was ALL about Reggie. The review didn’t make it sound like she hadn’t read the book, as you claimed; it sounded like she read the book and didn’t find what she liked in the earlier AR! books, which happens.

    I understand it’s a bit nerve-racking when a prominent critic isn’t in love with your book, but I think a bit of calm is in order.

    Best of luck with your promotion.


  16. Karen Gownley Says:


    We welcome reviews of all kinds, certainly! It’s a great way to see how our books are resonating with various folks in the industry. Trust me, we’ve had our share of both positive and negative reviews.

    But I do disagree that Amelia Rules Vol 3 is more about Reggie than Amelia. In fact, I don’t see that at all. The book focuses on Amelia’s relationship with the Ninjas and her finding out about Joan’s illness.

    In our view, it isn’t at all about Reggie and his Superhero exploits. I simply wanted to clarify that point for readers who may not have read it yet….as I understand the title “Superheroes” may lead some to believe it is simply a story about Reggie playing in G.A.S.P.

    I apologize if it seems I need “a bit of calm.” I honestly was just trying to clarify points about the plot and about how FCBD edition does, in fact, promote the products we have on the market.

    All is good here!

  17. Lea Says:

    I can’t say what the content of Impact’s FCBD offering is, having not seen it, but I do know that there IS a market/interest in how-to books.

  18. Johanna Says:

    Karen, I know Jimmy does it all himself, and I know that that takes time, especially on top of a day job. Time isn’t the problem; missed promised delivery dates are. My take on it is, publish when you can, but if you solicit an issue, it should come out when you’ve said it will. Amelia Rules has had way too many cancelled orders, which just results in disappointment.

    I loved that Amelia was a great book for girls; it’s just that lately, that focus seems to have been muted, in my opinion. Perhaps it’s just that my interest is waning with the latest storylines, and I’m unfairly generalizing, but that’s all I have to go on. I’d rather see more stories about her life (such as her grandmother’s passing and her first kiss, a great recent tale), fewer about putting on a cape and running around fighting kid ninjas (of all things!).

    (Of course I wouldn’t comment on the stories if I hadn’t read them, several times in fact. I think your implication that I would comment based solely on title is a bit unfair of you.)

    I’m looking forward to the upcoming June issue. Thanks for sharing your viewpoint.

  19. Johanna Says:

    Chris, I’m not surprised that our experiences differ so greatly — I suspect, based on what I’ve read about your work at the Beguiling, that the stores where we’ve gained them are rather different as well in audience, location, and aims.

    Thanks for clarifying the reprint issue — when I saw a strip from a known webcomic, I assumed otherwise, and I shouldn’t have.

    We’ll definitely be giving out Festival, but I think it’ll be “oh, try this one too” instead of a primary choice. (How did I miss that that was about Toth? I thought he was writing about himself.)

  20. Johanna Says:

    Lea, oh, totally. Just not, in my experience and at the store I help in, as much on this particular day as I’d hoped. (Enough qualifiers? :) )

  21. Jim Kosmicki Says:

    I want to jump in on the Amelia Rules! discussion. I’ve followed Jimmy Gownley since Shades of Grey, and really enjoy the Amelia Rules! book too. I’m very happy to say that the local library’s copies of the AR books seem to circulate regularly. I also have two boys, 13 and 10. I couldn’t get them to read AR. That is, until Superheroes. The ninjas and heroes reminded them enough of Codename: Kids Next Door (a favorite cartoon show) that it made the entry point for them to learn about the other characters and their stories. They’ve since gone back and read the other volumes. So, from an actual parent, the slight change in storytelling emphasis helped. sometimes you have to put a little cheese on the broccoli.

  22. Scott Meyer Says:

    Johanna, how could you!… Buzzboy is the BEST of FCBD, and the only reason that my wife and I will be driving all over town for FCBD this year will be to pick up Buzzboy. I understand your concern about the book coming out on time, but I’d rather get Buzzboy twice a year than Superman or Spiderman twice a month! Buzzboy is the greatest book out there, I couldn’t recommend it any higher. Get the trades, people, if you don’t have them already. Hopefully, the free Buzzboy floppy will attract alot of attention to the awesome trades, and with a larger fanbase, we’ll be able to see more and more of Buzzboy, which would make us all happy.

  23. Johanna Says:

    Jim, that your boys didn’t like the series until the current storyline I think supports my point — or at least your kids share my perception. :)

    Scott, great to see such enthusiasm!

  24. Ray Cornwall Says:

    For me, Saturday is Not Free Comic Book Day. My big package of books from Mail order Comics arrives Thursday, and my wife will be out of the house all day. So I’ll be reading all the trades I paid for, including Absolute Batman- The Long Halloween, Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus, and a slew of others. Who needs free comics when you have piles of comics you’ve paid for? ;)

    Besides, this is the day for stores to get new customers into their house of fun. I’m already hooked on comics. I hope all the publishers who invested time and money into FCBD increase their readership.

  25. Al Nickerson Says:

    Hi Johanna,

    I don’t think I agree with you concerning the Nexus and Buzzboy/Roboy Red FCBD comics. Along with Wolf-Man (which looks spectacular), these will probably be the only three FCBD comics that I’ll be picking up.

    Nexus is one of my all-time favorite comics. I am so happy to finally have Nexus return. Yes, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen a new Nexus comic… ten years, in fact, but Nexus is one of the greatest comics ever produced. Plus, no one draw comics like The Dude!

    Buzzboy stands out like a big, shiny spotlight in a time when most comic books aren’t so much fun. How often can we find a comic that’s accessible to all ages and still be enjoyable to read? Not too often, I think. I’m always thrilled with reading the adventurers of “The World’s Most Upbeat Super Hero!” Hopefully, the FCBD issue will make more readers aware of the Buzzboy trade paperbacks.

    Thanks for the reviews, Johanna. I hope all is well.

    Al Nickerson

  26. MonkeyBoy73 Says:

    What did you think about Ape’s Entertainment’s Comic Spectacular?

  27. Lisa Lopacinski Says:

    You may want to be cautious in who you give Wolfman to – there is a short sampler after for another comic called Britt – and there are a lot of dildos in the panels. Just so you know.

  28. Johanna Says:

    Thanks. I’d already determined the Image comic was inappropriate for the young because of all the blood — but sex-related content will definitely disturb more people.

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