Free Comic Book Day Depends Heavily on Licensed Works

Free Comic Book Day is scheduled for May 7, 2011, the first Saturday in May. This edition will be the 10th anniversary of what’s become comics’ national holiday, so congratulations, everyone, for keeping it going!

Free Comic Book Day logo

The Gold Sponsors for this year have been announced. Books from these 10 publishers must be bought by comic book stores in order for them to participate in the event. (There will be additional Silver books that are optional for stores to purchase and offer. And really, any shop can claim they’re participating — but official listing depends on a minimum purchase of the Gold books.) These 10 Gold sponsors are the major periodical comic publishers for a mass audience.

DC is promising “A SPECIAL TOP SECRET PROJECT TOO BIG TO ANNOUNCE!” Yes, in all caps. Which either means they’re offering a tie-in to a big crossover they will be announcing next year, or they haven’t yet figured out exactly what they’re doing. (I kid.)

Kung Fu Panda FCBD coverRichie Rich FCBD cover

Image is similarly keeping details tight, stating only that they’ll have a “Robert Kirkman kid-friendly title”. Good adjective there, since that’s also one of the rules, that books be suitable for an all-ages audience, after some difficulties in past years. Picking Kirkman is interesting, since he’s best-known right now for The Walking Dead TV show, which is distinctly NOT for kids, but it’s good to see Kirkman putting his money where his mouth is, as he’s been publicly claiming how the industry needs more comics appropriate for kids for several years now, although it often comes out sounding like “and those guys over there should do that while I continue on with my adult works”.

OK, now on to the people who HAVE said what comics they’re doing.

  • Ape — Flip book, Kung Fu Panda and Richie Rich
  • Archaia — Flip book, Dark Crystal and Mouse Guard
  • Boom! — Flip book, Darkwing Duck and Rescue Rangers
  • Dark Horse — Flip book, Avatar: The Last Airbender and Star Wars: Clone Wars
  • Papercutz — Flip book, Geronimo Stilton and the Smurfs

The Dark Crystal FCBD cover

Notice a trend? These are the kinds of properties that may entice a non-comic reader to pick up a comic, if they’re already familiar with the brand being shown. However, it makes comics look like they’re completely unoriginal, just a way to slap a license into some other space beyond the movies and TV shows and toys and video games. (Because I didn’t know this, Geronimo Stilton is a kids’ book series with 45 (!) volumes.)

I hate flip books, by the way. They require twice as much display space, and I get confused over whether I’ve seen the comic already or not. But publishers love to put two of their expensive (presumably) licenses in front of the public, with twice as many chances to get their attention. I am glad to see some of the publishers pairing up a media license with their own comic title, as Archaia is doing. Maybe that can introduce some readers to a comic-focused property, although it’s a shame to see Archaia hasn’t released that side of the cover yet.

Locke & Key FCBD cover

As for the others, Marvel is putting out a Spider-Man book — traditional, but it’s what the audience wants, and the character is getting plenty of publicity lately, even if it’s not entirely favorable — while Archie is sticking with old favorites Betty and Veronica, who also star in a new magazine-format comic launching around the same time as Free Comic Book Day.

IDW is the outlier, with a Locke & Key issue that’s not a flip book and not yet a multimedia property, although a TV show has been optioned.

Said FCBD spokesperson Leslie Jackson in the press release, “We are always honored to present comic book fans and new enthusiasts with some of the best comics available and hope that this year’s lineup will attract even more customers than ever before.” THESE are some of the best comics available? I’m not knocking reliable, comfortable entertainment, and goodness knows non-comic readers may be more interested in works they already know, but if licensed stories are the best comics available, no wonder the industry is dying. If that’s what publishers are chasing, they’re turning comics into a multi-platform sales channel instead of an artistic medium.

11 Responses to “Free Comic Book Day Depends Heavily on Licensed Works”

  1. Dave Roman Says:

    Licensed comics have long been the main focus of kids comics, which are often the front runners in comic book outreach.

  2. Tommy Raiko Says:

    Regarding flip books, I had thought that the rules for FCBD participation explicitly forbade flip books. Am I misremembering? Or perhaps that rule has changed? Or does not apply to Gold-level sponsors?

  3. Bill D. Says:

    Flashpoint is supposed to be the next big Geoff Johns/DC thing, right (assuming the Flash series, with the now ironic “Fastest Man Alive” subtitle, ever gets back on schedule)? I’m thinking it may be that.

  4. Johanna Says:

    Dave, that’s an excellent point — parents are almost always more reassured with a property they’ve heard of and feel comfortable with.

    Tommy, I haven’t heard of that rule, but I’d love to know more if anyone knows about it.

    Bill, I would be surprised if DC didn’t do something featuring either Superman, Batman, or the Justice League for visibility or Green Lantern because of the movie. But if Flashpoint incorporates the entire DCU, that may be a possibility.

  5. Tim Rifenburg Says:

    I think if the companies really wanted to help themselves they would make all the stories around the time of FCD done in ones or stand alone stories. Nothing turns me off more for FCD to be interested in a character and when I seek out the book I’m lost because there is a long term storyline playing out. (Yes I know I can get a trade but if I’m just getting into a character I don’t want to lay out 15 bucks or more to do so.) I can think of only one FCD book that made me seek it out and take a chance on the trade. That was Love and Capes, and it had been something I wanted to check out anyway. I was sold by the FCD issue. I think shops would benefit from the fact that they have accessible issues to sell to new converts or those wanting to try a new book, but don’t want to be lost.

  6. James Schee Says:

    I’m surprised that IDW isn’t doing a Star Trek book, that’s their biggest licensed book currently I would think.(or GI Joe or Transformers) Plus theres supposed to be another movie next year.

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