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.)
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.
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.)
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!)
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.