Free Comic Book Day 2010 in Review

I had a very successful Free Comic Book Day. I picked up most of the titles I wanted to find, and the ones I couldn’t get, a friend lent me, since several of the stores were out of books by the time we visited them.

That was the first year I’d seen that happen. Ed Sizemore usually organizes a comic caravan, and we hit four stores in town. (We’re lucky to have such diversity in our area.) We only made it to two before lunch (due to the first store having a very slow distribution process, only one person to give out comics by hand, and a tiny space to work in), and the ones we visited after had clearly had a successful day, with many titles gone and plenty of active, purchasing traffic. I don’t mind missing out at all, since I’m an existing customer, and I hope the books went to new prospects who’ll find plenty they like to keep buying. But I do wonder what this says about the effectiveness of the event overall — see the Maybe section below for more thinking on this.

Here’s my quickie review rundown of the books, to attempt to point you towards some good titles you should check out. First thing I did, before leaving home, was sort the 33 (!) offered titles into three categories: Must-Have, Maybe, and Avoid. Since most of the shops we’d be visiting had giveaway limits (ranging from 1-4 comics a person), I wanted to figure out which books I most wanted. Although it’s counter-intuitive, I started by ruling out titles, which fell into two main groupings. (And my thanks to Dorian’s reviews of all the titles, which were very helpful in making these decisions.)

Avoid

The two types of books I knew I didn’t need to bother with were these: books clearly aimed at fanboys, emphasis on the boy, and good projects I just wasn’t interested in.

The latter were things like Boom!’s Toy Story, which reprinted a comic I’d already read, or books I knew I wouldn’t care for: Sonic the Hedgehog, for example, where I’ve had plenty of opportunities to try the character, and it’s never clicked for me. Same goes for GI Joe, The Tick, Atomic Robo, and the work of Jim Woodring. I’ve never been able to get through a Radical title, so that leaves them out, and the Overstreet Guide sampler wasn’t even a comic. Neither was much of Top Cow’s Artifacts, and I wasn’t impressed by the leg and butt shots in the rest of it.

In the former category are comics that, well, I think the covers speak for themselves. (Click if you must see the whole thing.)

That’s depressing. Let’s get back to the good stuff.

Must Haves

My very top must-have, I was lucky to already own. The wonderful Thom Zahler gave me a copy of Love and Capes #13 at C2E2, although I was saving it to read until now in the spirit of the thing. It’s the fourth FCBD edition of the title, and having it show up every year is a welcome high point to the holiday for me. Good thing, since I’ll have to be patient until December for more; that’s when the book restarts with a five-issue monthly miniseries from IDW.

Anyway, this issue picks up after Mark and Abby’s wedding and honeymoon. They’re settling into being newlyweds, but their relationship is still the foundation for great humor about life as and with a superhero. I love the details Zahler includes that makes them so real as characters — for instance, Mark is incredibly bored on a plane, and he wants to fly them home as his alter ego. Abby picks the perfect gift for him: an e-reader that lets him read at super speed without anyone noticing. And then she makes him read Jane Austen. Trust a bookseller to know good lit!

Ok, I’ve ruined one of the jokes, but it’s only four panels out of the whole book, and there’s plenty more funny to come, including some incredibly well-integrated geek references. I like the way that sequence shows just how well they know each other. It makes them believable as a couple, which provides some emotional underpinning to the jokes. It’s a great balance, with lots for any reader. Reading their interactions as new marrieds makes me say “aww” and come near to tearing up sometimes, it’s that real and loving.

Archie’s Summer Splash! was a cute little seasonal giveaway, in which Cheryl Blossom forms a girl group to compete with the Archies playing at the beach. I’d have rather seen more of the usual cast, since a very little Cheryl goes a long way with me, but she does provide some villainy in contrast to everyone else’s good humor. The message, that it’s ok to lie to people in order to get what you want, may not please every parent, though.

Oni Press put out two terrific comics: the all-ages anthology Free for All! and the first issue of the supernatural Western The Sixth Gun. The three stories in the first include new tales of Matthew Loux’s Salt Water Taffy; Ray Fawkes’ Possessions (a new fave of mine); and Chris Schweizer’s Crogan Adventures. The stories are full of creativity and adventure, just the thing to seize imaginations. Smartly included in this comic are ads for related titles, as well as a lovely note from the company’s Editor in Chief, James Lucas Jones, thanking retailers for participating and talking about Oni’s goals in participating.

The Sixth Gun (by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt, who previously worked together on The Damned) is the first issue of the upcoming series in full length and full color. No better sample than a real issue, although it’s not my kind of thing due to the genres, but good for them putting out different publications for different ages and audiences.

Top Shelf took a similar approach to Oni’s anthology with Owly and Friends, marking its third year as a FCBD title. I love Owly, whatever the format or story, and I was charmed watching a child indulge in Johnny Boo, which pleased him. Korgi isn’t quite my taste, but the dog drawings are lovely. And where else can you see a worm flying a kite, as Owly’s buddy does?

I also enjoyed these samplers:

* IDW’s Library of American Comics, which reprints a number of classic comic strips. Although it’s basically a jumped-up catalog, I enjoyed seeing the Archie, Polly and Her Pals, and very earliest Blondie samples.

* YOW! A John Stanley Library Grab-Bag. It’s always great to see Stanley’s work, on a variety of characters from Nancy to Tubby to Melvin Monster, but I wish Drawn & Quarterly would get over the “let’s make it look so much like an old comic we even use yellowed paper” kick. It goes beyond fidelity to a kind of fetishism.

* The DC Kids Mega-Sampler, mostly for the Tiny Titans piece. Their goofy jokes always make me laugh.

Plus Marvel, gearing up for next week’s movie, had two Iron Man comics: One with Thor, for adults, and one with Nova, for kids. I liked the kid one better, because the Thor one, while it revolved around some interesting ideas, mainly had people standing around talking at each other. Not enough superheroics, although the Thor approach was intriguing, emphasizing his “not from around here” godhood. The Nova one, on the other hand, had a goofy-but-dangerous premise of keeping super-apes from escaping a zoo. Plenty of humor and adventure and powers AND a shape-shifting baboon with a scary knowledge of the Marvel universe. Fun! After finishing it, I wanted to start reading it again. (I just don’t understand why Marvel makes these giveaways littler than standard comic size.)

Maybes

This is where the system of limiting the number of giveaways falls down. I had to get the issues with my favorites, as seen above, so those known quantities were top of my list. This category is where a comic store has a chance to convince me to add something new to my shopping in the future. Even though I went to multiple locations, there were so many must-haves, that I only ended up with a couple of the items on this maybe list. I wound up having to borrow the others I wanted to sample from Ed, who had paid to get a complete set.

This seems counter-productive. I understand that a shop doesn’t want to encourage free-loaders, and limiting people forces people to focus only on what they really want, and working within a budget for the event (and avoiding too many leftovers) is very sensible business, but if people can’t try something new — and truly new customers were walking out with Iron Man, Superman, Archie, and the one with Lady Gaga, because that’s what they knew, and with the first two at least, that’s what many existing shops are most comfortable selling — then how is this marketing event going to build long-term business?

I’m now wondering why publishers don’t make the free giveaways available to customers after the event. If you missed out, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to read the comics as PDFs online? That might sell some more comics. Especially since many of the books seem to be aimed more at getting existing customers to try work from a particular publisher instead of convincing non-comic buyers to start.

(Wow, it’s later than I thought! I’m going to have to talk about specific books in this category in a part two. Watch for that tomorrow!)

Additional Thoughts

Thanks to Caroline, one of my fellow travelers in the comic caravan, I was finally able to check out the Escape From Alcatraz comic by Sara Ryan and Steve Lieber. (There’s a descriptive review online with sample art.) She had a copy I was able to read during our journeys.

And a big thank you to Richmond Comix, who was hosting artist Franco (Tiny Titans, Patrick the Wolf Boy, and Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam) for the day. During a lull in kids asking him for sketches, I got him to draw one for me. His characters are so cute! And the kids love them, too.


25 Responses to “Free Comic Book Day 2010 in Review”

  1. David Oakes Says:

    Hey now, no holding out! What sketch did you get?

  2. Johanna Says:

    I’ll tell you in tomorrow’s post. It’s kind of a surprise, and I don’t think I’m risking the recipient finding out, but just in case…

  3. Caroline Says:

    Glad I could be part of it and could share the Alcatraz comic (plus lots of good conversation) with you.

  4. Caroline Says:

    Also, I’m going to repeat my comment that I dearly wish Marvel had chosen to promote the upcoming Young Allies title, at the very least with reprints of the excellent work Sean McKeever has been doing with Nomad, Firestar, Arana, etc.

  5. Anthony Says:

    My shop gave only two comics per person, but *five* if you were wearing a comic-related T-shirt; fortunately I had on my Superman T-shirt. Books obtained: Archie, Iron Man (the “adult” one I guess), Love and Capes, Magnus Robot Fighter, and Toy Story.

  6. Tim Rifenburg Says:

    I went to two stores (my regular haunt and one that is nearby but comics are not the main focus)and was able to get most of the titles offered. I stuck to titles I was interested in and wanted to try. I was finally able to get a Love and Capes book and that is one I will be making sure I seek out in the future. Loved it and feel dumb for not seeking it out before.

    I have to wonder how FCBD is for the stores and titles. I know the shops I went to were busy and had good traffic. My regular store was smart and had older stock as freebies and discounts for kids. Plus sales on back issues and half price trades. I wonder if stores get repeat business and if titles see increase in sales.

  7. Johanna Says:

    Stores that do sales on the day (such as some percentage off everything, or off particular categories like collections) are definitely smarter than those that don’t.

  8. Matt Kramer Says:

    I really enjoyed the Iron Man/Nova book as well. I mainly picked it up for the Craig Rousseau art, as I’m a big Perhapanauts fan, but found myself really enjoying the story as well. I haven’t read the Love & Capes book yet, but like you say, it’s always a highlight of FCBD for me, as is the Bongo book. I think the highlight of the day for my wife, on the other hand, was the Lady Gaga comic.

  9. Johanna Says:

    Go Perhapanauts! Thanks for pointing that out — I hadn’t noticed the credits.

  10. Tommy Says:

    I’m glad you guys had fun yesterday because I sure did! Franco, Jamie Cosley and Chris Burke (he had to go before you guys got there) really helped make the day special for a lot of kids (and adults, I got a Robin sketch from Franco and a superhero bunny from Jamie) but I hear your concerns and I thought I would try to address them from my point of view as a retailer. As you know a lot of our regular customers use Previews to order the comics they want every month, this also applies to Free Comic Book Day comics. I know you have done that in the past and while you have stopped filling out Previews, it would still be perfectly fine to send us a note the month the books are solicited to say that you wanted them. I know this can take away from some of the spontaneity of FCBD but the upside is that instead of lamenting the fact that you missed out on a book you wanted, you would have the book set aside for you.

    I can’t wait to hear how KC’s FCBD was. I hope he had as much fun as we did.

  11. Johanna Says:

    Honestly, I didn’t realize that you guys would order FCBD books for customers until Ed mentioned it. That’s a terrific service and very nicely handles the issue of an existing customer who wants to widely sample what’s available. I’ll definitely keep that in mind for next year.

    If I remember correctly, Tommy, your specific store doesn’t have a firm limit, instead just trying to match readers and product correctly. Did you do it that way this year as well? When we got there, you were out of lots of stuff, but that’s our fault for leaving the best location for last.

    Leaving aside the issue of any specific store or its policies, what I was trying to get at was how this event has to serve many different audiences with varying needs. That’s a tough balancing act. Having so many different titles available is a good thing, bringing variety, but it’s also a touchy thing when a store sets limits on the giveaway.

    And I want to reiterate: I’m glad you and other stores in our area did well with the event, and I’m glad so many people got sample comics to try, especially if they’re potential new customers.

  12. Tommy Says:

    It is a difficult thing to balance as we get a few people who think Free Comic Book Day means that everything in the store is free and just start yanking things off the racks and then we get those people who have never read a comic before and just hear “fee” and then we get those people who love comics and want to check out previews of upcoming stuff… well you get the idea. There are a LOT of people and all of them want a little something different. For our store, the big focus every year is the kids books. We ordered three times the amount of the DC Kids Mega Sampler as we did the Avengers book and we ordered three times the amount of that than just about everything that wasn’t “kid friendly.” We pick our focus and order heavy there and then gauge the amount of other books by what we think the interest might be. On top of that we try to give out everything on FCBD so we don’t want to order so much that we are stuck with books that we can’t really do anything with. Every year we learn a little more and shift our orders accordingly.

    As for the limit for books, early in the day we do have a 4 book limit (this year the DC Kids Mega Sampler wasn’t part of that limit because we wanted everyone to have the book Franco worked on) but once the initial insanity is passed and the crowd settles into what it will be for the rest of the day (around 11 or 12 usually) we lifted the limit and let people take what they want. Its a tricky system but one that we’ve honed over the years so that its pretty much a science to us now.

  13. Johanna Says:

    Thanks for explaining that — I’m glad you’ve found a system that works for you.

  14. James Schee Says:

    Sounds like a fun day, I had to work so wasn’t able to hit any of the shops. Though apparently I didn’t miss much, as I did make some calls on a lunch break to local shops.

    Only 2 participated and they didn’t get anything but DC, Marvel, Archie and licensed ones.

    I’ll have to catch the Love and Capes one (my favorite ongoing series) in trade I guess.

  15. Johanna Says:

    Thom always does a retail edition of the Love and Capes FCBD issues, which should be available on his website very shortly, if you want to order the issue. I’m not sure how this issue will fit into the collected editions, since V2 (out this summer) will have 7-12, I believe.

  16. Prankster Says:

    You don’t like The Tick, Atomic Robo or Jim Woodring?!? Is that physically possible?!?

  17. Johanna Says:

    There are an awful lot of comics out there, and not everything works for everyone. I liked the Tick TV show, if that helps? :)

  18. Prankster Says:

    ATOMIC ROBO WORKS FOR EVERYONE. THAT IS WHAT HE IS BUILT FOR.

  19. Kat Kan Says:

    In my small town in the Redneck Riviera, FCBD has been the day that freeloaders come to the shop and grab what they can and not buy a danged thing. They show up every single year. My main LCS tried to have an FCBD with no set limits one year; the locusts wiped him out in less than an hour. Since then, he has set a limit on how many items people can take. This year, it was 3 items per person (he also had the War Machine Heroclix figure and some of the Lantern rings from Blackest Night). After 1:00 pm he planned to allow people to come back and take what they wanted; the idea is to make sure he’s got enough of the FCBD titles for everyone who comes in for the first 3 hours. I have volunteered at his store for the past 4 years; I talk with people, recommend titles to them, encourage them to check out the new comics on the wall. This is the first year more of the new customers actually bought comics and other merchandise.
    BTW, I’ll be having my own mini-FCBD at my school on Monday; I bought a bunch of the kid-friendly titles at a discount from my LCS, so I have plenty for my students in pre-K through 8th grade. This will be my third year doing it, and the teachers love it; they get free comics from me, too.

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  21. Thom Zahler Says:

    The retail version of Love and Capes #13 is now available for purchase on the http://www.loveandcapes.com site. As far as collections go, assuming that IDW does a third (which is the intention, but I don’t want to assume for now), it’ll be the first part of that. So it will be LNC#13 + LNC:Ever After #1-5, for a total of 6.

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