I gotta be honest with you guys — I’m not above feeling a little schadenfreude when I see a yellow journalist take it on the chin. Today I take a look at why certain styles of reporting not only aren’t worth it, but can be outright destructive.
But rolling back in time, let’s go to May 11, 2005. The week after Free Comic Book Day, I took the time to look into everything that worked on that happy occasion…
Everything But Imaginary #114: What Worked on Free Comic Book Day
When people get back to work or school after Christmas, they talk about their holiday. Their trip to Grandma’s house, the snowman they built with the kids, whether or not they got that Play-Box 65 with internet connectivity, a rumble pack and automatic transmission they really wanted. Well folks, the biggest holiday of the comic book fan, Free Comic Book Day, has come and gone, and I for one think it’s worth taking the time to determine its success.
Now I don’t mind telling you that my FCBD was almost derailed. As introverted as I can be, I’m also more or less a sociable person, and I hate doing stuff like this alone, so I tried to round up my buddies Chase and Mike, the two men on this planet I am most likely to have fun arguing about comic books with, and two guys I haven’t seen nearly often enough in the last few months. But alas, Chase was offshore and Mike was laying down a new floor in his home, using the indisputable logic that, no matter how great comic books are, you can’t walk on them. So finally, I called my buddy Jason, my oldest friend and often my first call when I need someone to hang out with. The reason I didn’t call him first this time was that, for one, he’s not into comics, and also his fiancé was having some sort of crisis regarding her gall bladder or something. (I am taking her word for it, as nobody on the North American continent actually knows what a gall bladder is for.) But Jason managed to get away and hit the shop with me.
I got there relatively early in the day and was quite gratified to see the size of the crowd. Parents, children, young couples, teenagers, all flocked to the shop, sifting through this year’s offerings. Because it was so crowded, the manager was limiting us to two items apiece, which made it rather difficult on me to choose, but in the end the only thing I missed that I really wanted was Mortal Coils. I would have liked to get Sean Wang’s Runners: Remastered as well, as I’m a big fan of the series, but I decided instead to leave that and talk it up to people who were trying to decide what to pick up.
FCBD has, in many respects, become something of a mini-convention. It’s the one day a year I know I’ll mingle with other comic fans outside of my usual circle, talk, gossip and exchange ideas. Saturday was one of the first times I’ve been able to have a conversation with anyone outside of a computer forum about Infinite Crisis without them looking at their watch and suddenly remembering a pressing engagement.
But it most gratifying, to me, to see all the kids that were there. Sifting through the comics, getting Betty and Veronica, Uncle Scrooge and Amelia Rules!, looking at the toys and cards, popping open boxes of HeroClix right there on the counter – now that was a great sight to see.
So I walked out of that shop satisfied – but as I said last week, Free Comic Book Day isn’t really about me. It’s about the people who don’t go into a shop every week as though it were a religious experience. It’s about getting the kids to read it, or the adults who only read casually. It’s about boosting the esteem and profile of the entire medium. Now as some of you may know, I’m kind of a message board tramp. I post all over the place. If you added my post-count on every board I’m on, I firmly believe that I could beat the Hulk in a fight. And not just comic book boards – these are boards for books, movies and anything else that interests me. So I went to several of these boards and asked chaps of my acquaintance, including new readers, casual readers and hard-core fanboys, to regale me with their thoughts on FCBD. Here’s what a few of them had to say.
The gent known as Avalonian said:
I took my kids, and I picked up the Betty and Veronica freebie for our youngest, and I bought the 6th part of the Marmalade Boy manga series because the older two saw it and wanted it.
For myself, I picked up the Flight Primer, Ronin Hood of the 47 Samurai, and the Star Wars comic — all free. And I bought Origin, the graphic-novel collection of the Wolverine origin story that came out a few years ago. I’ve been meaning to read it for a while, and I figured, why not?
Ronin Hood of the 47 Samurai was OK, and the Star Wars comic was… Star Wars. Never could get into the Star Wars comics much. Flight was really cool, though. Great art and oddball stories. I may have to check out the rest of the series.
Av also tells me he was interested in 1602 and Warren Ellis’s Orbiter, as well as the upcoming adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and the Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale miniseries Catwoman: When in Rome. He also quite enjoyed Origin. Now this leads me to several conclusions:
1. Am I the only person in the universe who thought Origin was kind of bland and unimpressive?
2. You’ll notice that most of the stuff he got was off the beaten path. He steered right past Batman Strikes and Marvel Adventures. Now this in no way means that the superhero titles are unimportant or should be ignored, but hopefully it will remind those folks at the Big Two that there is a huge audience out there for non-superhero properties.
3. And yes. Flight was really cool.
HarleyQuinn19 informed me…
I grabbed an old (but still free) issue of The Adventures of Barry Ween and totally fell in love with the sick little kid! I so have to get those TPB’s!
Harley, it seems, hit a shop that still had some free copies left over from a few years ago, but hey, whatever works. Judd Winick’s Barry Ween comics helped put him on the map (not that a Pulitzer Prize nomination for Pedro and Me exactly held him back), and it further shows the diversity of the audience. On the flipside, Harley dismissed Heroic Publishing’s FCBD offering, Flare, because it “seemed like just another blonde bimbo in a skin tight outfit to me.” Honestly, I haven’t read Flare and it’s liable to have a lot going for it, but that goes to show you how negative first impressions can keep a potential audience at bay.
[2012 Note: "HarleyQuinn19" today is known better to readers of this column as "My girlfriend Erin."]
Ubiquitousblink had the following observations:
I haven’t read all my free comics yet but I was impressed on what the indy companies provided. Marvel kind of dropped the ball IMHO. Their “kid” books are kind of wimpy and watered down. DC is superior in this aspect. I’ve always believed that DC has been able to provide a wide variety of genres for all ages and tastes. I could read all DC/Wildstorm/Vertigo books and not miss Marvel at all (except for Bendis’s Spidey).
Now personally, there are several Marvel books I would miss if I walked away from the publisher altogether – Young Avengers, New X-Men and Fantastic Four topping the list. But I get what UB is saying here. I’m hearing from a lot of readers that DC is taking the edge in terms of quality. They’ve also got a wider assortment of books geared at kids – Marvel’s offerings are almost entirely kiddie versions of their preexisting characters. DC has some of that, but also opens their ranks up to stuff like Looney Tunes, Powerpuff Girls and Cartoon Network Block Party. In fact, stuff like the Cartoon Network comics seem to be some of the only anthology comics that sell very much these days at all.
Comixtreme’s CXPulp‘s own Walt Kneeland made a lot of intriguing comments in his own LiveJournal, but the one that I found most interesting was…
Should have picked up Runners #1. Offhand, other than Uncle Scrooge and Ronin Hood, that was the one I’ve heard the most about/remembered the most….but maybe I’ll find a copy later if stuff gets dumped into a quarter bin or otherwise becomes available somewhere. I know last year I missed a couple FCBD issues, but wound up getting those at Origins and Gen Con.
Oh, Walt, but you should have gotten Runners. The good news is, a trade paperback of the first miniseries will be coming out in a few short months.
On the other hand, I was quite gratified to see how many older readers were compelled to sample Uncle Scrooge. I am an unabashed fan of Walt Disney comic books, particularly the works of Carl Barks, Don Rosa, William Van Horn and Pat and Shelly Block. This year’s FCBD offering was Barks’s first-ever full-length Uncle Scrooge story, “Only a Poor Old Man” from Uncle Scrooge #1, and it is considered by many to be one of the best. If you got it and read it, by all means, let me know what you thought.
And finally, I thought it would be good to get the perspective of, not just a reader, but a retailer. So I asked my good buddy SSJGOKU555, who happens to be majority owner of his local shop, to tell me how FCBD went for him.
Free Comic Book Day is one of the best days of the year for me. One I’m a comic geek and I love getting free comics. Two, all of the people who normally don’t buy comics stop in to pick a freebie and maybe one or two titles to check them out. And finally, I run a comic shop and I like making money.
FCBD is one of the most brilliant things ever devised. It brings in new customers, brings in old readers, brings kids into comics. My shop opens at noon daily and FCBD we had a line waiting for the store to open. All the normal customers, but what I was happy to see was a lot of new faces and a lot of kids maybe 8-9 with their mother or father. From what I saw, the mothers were reluctant to buy any comics due to the fear of violence and sex while the fathers typically knew there was an entire kids rack and headed right for that. Of course this wasn’t always true though. After I showed them the kids rack, the parents took the free comic and saw familiar faces such as Scrooge McDuck, Archie, Sonic the Hedgehog, the animated version of Superman, etc. These are people that normally don’t come in and did because of FCBD. This is what needs to happen more. The comic industry needs more new, young readers to pick up a book here and there. And parents should encourage it, if for nothing else a young child can go read a comic with a cartoon character in it that they know and they can pick up a few reading skills and learn to enjoy reading.
My customers seemed to be in very good spirits, getting free stuff usually does that to a person. We had music going, games, prizes, etc. Customers got into it, had fun, won TPBs, action figures for the kids, etc. Sales were were great due to the free stuff. We gave away so much free stuff we ran out of the free comics and wound up giving out second printings of Green Lantern: Rebirth #1. It’ll remain to be seen whether or not the new customers come back, but for getting new readers into a comic shop, FCBD definitely succeeded. I can’t wait for the next one.
So there you have it folks, straight from the horse’s collective mouths. In short, is Free Comic Book Day working? Yeah, I think it is. The progress is slow and it’s an uphill battle, but I think it is bringing in new people and re-exciting old readers, and those are the two most important things that could possibly happen in the world of comic books right now.
So let’s start getting ready for next year.
FAVORITE OF THE WEEK: May 4, 2005
It wasn’t even a contest, folks. Not Superman, not New X-Men… not even Villains United could have wrested my “Favorite of the Week” award from The Complete Peanuts: 1955-1956. The third volume in a 25-book series, this is a concerted effort to reprint every Peanuts comic strip the legendary Charles M. Schulz ever did, in their original order, as restored as technology and archival records will allow. This volume contains such notable events as Linus’s first words, Snoopy’s first impressions and the first time Lucy pulled that darn football away from good ol’ Charlie Brown. To a Peanuts lover like me, reading these books is nirvana.
FAVORITE OF THE YEAR: Free Comic Book Day 2005
And now for a special bonus! While I wasn’t able to get every Free Comic Book Day comic this year, I managed to get a few and read a few others, and my favorite hands-down has to be Jetpack Press’s Johnny Raygun Freebie. This comic is a great lighthearted sci-fi superhero title about a teenage secret agent in a world full of mad scientists, monsters and superpowered kids. I’ve never read a Johnny Raygun comic before, but the story of his sister trying to join the esteemed Nuclear Kids left me grinning from ear to ear. I’m going to make an effort to find the first several issues of Johnny’s quarterly title, and I’m almost certainly going to add this one to my pull-list. Invincible fans take note – this is the kind of thing I bet you’d really dig.
Blake M. Petit is the author of the superhero comedy novel, Other People’s Heroes, the suspense novel The Beginner and the Christmas-themed eBook A Long November. He’s also the co-host, with whoever the hell is available that week, of the 2 in 1 Showcase Podcast. E-mail him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com and visit him on the web at Evertime Realms. Read past columns at the Everything But Imaginary Archive Page.