- Posted by Johanna on April 29, 2007 at 7:12 pm
- Category: Indy Comic Reviews
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):
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.)
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).