“Someone has mixed an ‘Amazing Spiderman’ in with the ‘Peter Parker – The Spectacular Spiderman’ series. This will not stand.” — Comic Book Guy, “The Simpsons”
May 5th marks the eleventh annual Free Comic Book Day in many comic bookstores across North America. Every year, on the first Saturday of May, comic book retailers, publishers, suppliers, and distributors endeavor to attract new readers while simultaneously rewarding comic veterans with a selection of free comics.
Many of these comics are created as a promotional effort in conjunction with the release of comic based films (Spiderman, Iron Man, The Avengers, etc.). However, these promotional efforts have been criticized in the past because many feel that such gimmicks belittle the comic book industry by implying that the medium only has value when linked to film. However, Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) has proven in past years that even without a comic book themed major motion picture release, the event is still a major draw in participating shops, and even offers a chance to demonstrate that the comic book industry has more to offer us than movies and cartoons.
Kris Randazzo, media manager for The Joker’s Child in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, and Sean Rothwell, co-owner of Level Up Entertainment in Mays Landing, New Jersey, were kind enough to give me their perspectives on FCBD.
Sean explains that for a small business, “FCBD is a fantastic opportunity to bring in new customers and reward loyal customers. It’s a chance to bring people into the store and introduce new and old readers to the world of comics. Comics have an amazingly broad appeal, but unfortunately they frequently carry a “nerd” stigma and the steep barrier to entry that all long running serialized stories face. FCBD is a way to say, ‘Don’t worry about having missed 600 issues of Spider-Man, here’s one for free.’ We like to use it as a chance to run a sale on pretty much everything in the store to make it even easier for people to catch up on series or try new ones they would be more hesitant to explore at full price.”
Kris adds that FCBD “is a fantastic event that the comic book industry has been hosting for the past ten years. It’s far from perfect, but it does seem to go a long way toward getting comics into the hands of prospective new readers.” Kris feels that FCBD is an important event for the comic book industry, especially with the shift from print to digital media: “With books, movies, music, magazines, etc. going digital, comic books are probably the last bastion of printed media. There is something about the format of comic books that is intrinsically different when converted to digital media, and it is our opinion that as far as comic books are concerned, print matters. What FCBD affords us is an opportunity to get printed material into the hands of kids and adults alike for the lowest entry fee imaginable.”
The event itself is optional for comic book stores to participate in because, while free for the consumer, the comic books available are not free to the shops. Kris goes on to say that “any comic book store worth its salt should be doing whatever they can to take advantage of this event. That isn’t to say that it isn’t without risks. Every piece of signage, every t-shirt, every balloon, and most important, every comic book has to be paid for, and that cost falls on the stores. I can understand why some might want to skip the day entirely due to the potential cost, but in my opinion, the potential return far outweighs it. If we manage to hang on to just 10% of the people we see that day as returning customers, I call that a win.”
Sean agrees on this issue of cost and adds, “Level Up Entertainment has never considered not participating, simply because it has always been one of the best days of the year for us in terms of sales. It gets people in the door with very little prompting, it’s hard to say no to something like that.”
When asked what comic book enthusiasts and those interested in broadening their literary horizons can expect this Saturday, Kris explains that while we can expect comic books that coincide with Marvel’s release of The Avengers and Spider-Man films, DC is also “showcasing from their immensely successful New 52 line, Archie is promoting Mega Man and Sonic the Hedgehog, and there is even a hardcover Mouse Guard book this year! The goal is to give people something for free that is easy to read and leaves them wanting to read more.”
Regarding the free hardcover being offered, Sean says, “It’s something that you would expect to pay $15, not get for free. That one is from one of the smaller publishers.” In regard to the other titles being offered this year he states, “As far as Marvel and DC go, their offerings vary widely. Marvel has recycled stories before and released smaller sized issues in the past, so it doesn’t always feel like they’re going the extra mile. Both publishers have kicked off major story lines through their free titles in the past and those tend to be worthwhile.”
When asked what he expects from this FCBD compared to years past, and whether it is something the industry anticipates or dreads, Sean says that he “expects this year to be the biggest yet. We went out of our way to promote this and turn it into a huge local event. We even have some big guests coming, including Larry Hama, the writer of the Marvel G.I. Joe comics in the 80s and the current IDW series. There’s also the fact that we’re getting some really huge comic book movies, including The Avengers opening the day before. I’d like to think that the industry in general anticipates the day. I’m not sure why anybody would dread it, it’s great for everyone involved. I mean, free comics! Who wouldn’t love that? With this, three huge comic book movies this summer, DC’s very successful relaunch of their series, and Marvel’s Avengers vs. X-Men crossover event, it’s a really cool time to be a comic book fan.”
While you’re browsing in your local comic book shop for this year’s FCBD event, Kris has a few reading suggestions if you’re stuck for what to read next: “This has been a very good year for comics. Avengers vs. X-Men has been selling absolutely phenomenally. Personally, my favorite title right now is the newly relaunched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from IDW. Other favorites at the moment are Batman from DC, and Wolverine and the X-Men from Marvel. But seriously, TMNT is AMAZING!!!”