Free Comic Book Day 2014

FCBDFirst held in 2002 to capitalize on the anticipated release of the first Spider-Man film, Free Comic Book Day has grown into one of the most celebrated annual events in comics. For some comics shops, FCBD has turned into a comic con in miniature, complete with artist signing, cosplayers, and food vendors; for others, it’s more of a low-key excuse to come in on a Saturday (and hopefully put comics in some new readers’ hands). Living across the country, we of course had very different experiences this FCBD. Here are our thoughts.

slim-bannerSpencer: I remember being a little disappointed the very first time I attended Free Comic Book Day (nearly a decade ago!) and realized I couldn’t have any comic I wanted for free. Since then, though, I’ve come to appreciate how magical FCBD truly is — especially as done by my local comic shop, Captain Blue Hen Comics in Newark, Delaware. FCBD is a Comic-Con in miniature, a chance to unite a community of nerds of all shapes and sizes, and a glimpse at the next generation of comic book readers as they begin to fall in love with the medium. I couldn’t have had a better time.

Captain Blue Hen is fortunate to have a large parking lot and neighbors who don’t mind sacrificing it, because this place was packed.

the line

You can only just begin to see the line for the free comics in that photo, but it stretched clear around the building. I waited in it for an hour, but never once was I bored. Local restaurants sent out food trucks, and I enjoyed some Oreo gelato as I waited. The Martial Arts dojo held an exhibition match for us to watch, and also started up a few rounds of comic book trivia (I won some Archie trading cards!). I even got to achieve my childhood dream of being Batman for a few moments!

bat-spence

my attempt at an angsty face didn’t go so well. I am not the night; I am barely the evening

While waiting, though, there were two things that stood out to me more than anything else. One was the camaraderie. I hit it off with an awesome couple of guys standing in front of me whose names I unfortunately forget (if you’re somehow reading this, hit me up in the comments!), and the hour flew by as we chatted about custom t-shirts, the brilliance of Jeff Lemire’s Trillium, our favorite Star Wars quotes, and the possibility of a Scott Pilgrim sequel taking place in outer space (I wish!). It wasn’t just the three of us hitting it off, though; everybody in line was making new friends, and I loved seeing it, loved seeing old friends reunite, loved seeing entire families show up in costume for a day of fun.

Actually, that’s the other thing that really stood out to me: the cosplay. Some cosplayers were hired by the store, while others were simply fans showing their love for their favorite characters, but no matter which camp they fell into, every single cosplayer I had the pleasure of speaking with seemed so genuinely friendly and excited to be there. I can’t even begin to explain how thrilled I am to be able to share some of my favorite cosplayers of the day:

I asked him if "he'd found those droids he's looking for yet", and amazingly he didn't shoot me for making that lame joke. Not that he'd have hit me anyway

I asked him if “he’d found those droids he’s looking for yet”, and amazingly he didn’t shoot me for making that lame joke. Not that he’d have hit me anyway

These awesome ladies were promoting their Roller Derby League, and are very excited that Harley Quinn is now canonically a derby gal

These awesome ladies were promoting their Roller Derby League, and are very excited that Harley Quinn is now canonically a derby gal

You can't see it that well, but Lobo's chain is off the hook *groans* Seriously though, it's a killer prop

You can’t see it that well, but Lobo’s chain is off the hook *groans* Seriously though, it’s a killer prop

HE ACTUALLY PLAYED US THE CANTINA SONG!

HE ACTUALLY PLAYED US THE CANTINA SONG!

You can't see it too well, but she even has Carrie's slingshot!

You can’t see it too well, but she even has Carrie’s slingshot!

He had to leave the event early to go punch Hitler in the jaw. We all understood

He had to leave the event early to go punch Hitler in the jaw. We all understood

And now I have an incredible urge to write Doctor Who/Sailor Moon crossover fic

And now I have an incredible urge to write Doctor Who/Sailor Moon crossover fic

Sorry Pete, but JJJ's not gonna pay ya much for a shot of me

Sorry Pete, but JJJ’s not gonna pay ya much for a shot of me

I gotta admire the dedication to putting that much make-up on. Especially since Mystique's a shapeshifter, and ANY old Joe Schmoe in their street clothes could claim to be Mystique and it would be legitimate claim

I gotta admire the dedication to putting that much make-up on. Especially since Mystique’s a shapeshifter, and ANY old Joe Schmoe in their street clothes could claim to be Mystique and it would be legitimate claim

WHAT TIME IS IT?!

WHAT TIME IS IT?!

There was also a Darth Vader and a Batman milling about, both of whom were so popular that I never even got a chance to ask for a photo. In fact, the only person in attendance who didn’t seem enthused about the cosplay was an adorable little pitbull puppy who kept running away every time one of the Stormtroopers tried to pet it.

That’s far from all there was to do, though. The entire lot was decked out like a street party, with several face painters, merchants selling some terrific art, at least three or four sketch artists who attracted such a crowd that I couldn’t really even see who they were, and, of course, plenty of $1 back issues to dive through. Between the dollar comics and the free comics, I managed to walk away with quite a nice haul:

the haulMy back-issue diving yielded some excellent finds: I grabbed some of Gail Simone’s run on Action Comics, which I’ve never read but heard great things about, along with some Messner-Loebs and Waid-era Flash issues to fill the gaps in my Wally West collection. Because I brought my library card and some canned goods, I was able to get three free comics: The Bongo Free-For-All is a fun and charming collection of nerdy Simpsons stories (in my favorite, Professor Frink discovers that in another dimension he’s essentially Doctor Strange), and Rocket Racoon is funny, exciting, adorable, and basically the perfect kind of book to be handing out on FCBD.

The New 52: Future’s End, meanwhile, is exactly the kind of book you shouldn’t be handing out to kids for free. I was warned about this one beforehand, but just had to see it for myself, and it indeed is just 20 pages of beloved superheroes dying in horrific ways. Taken on its own it’s far from the worst comic I’ve ever read — it’s a story I’ve seen a million times, but it was still exciting, and I’m always up for some artwork by Ethan Van Sciver — but the problem is that this book can’t really be looked at in a vacuum. I kind of had to walk away when I saw a kid bugging his mom to buy him some of the recent issues of Justice League of America, but I can’t even imagine what one of the many, many young children in attendance might have thought of this one. As a prelude to a new weekly, yeah, sure, do what you want DC, but to make this the book they’re handing out on Free Comic Book Day — the biggest opportunity DC’ll have to court new readers all year — feels like a really boneheaded move.

Fortunately, it was the only sour note of what was otherwise a fantastic day. I love comic books more than most things, and to see so many like-minded individuals gathered together was a feeling practically beyond description.

So hey, what were the rest of you guys up to for Free Comic Book Day? What did you see, who did you meet, what books did you get, and what did you think of them?

slim-bannerDrew: Man, I wish my experience was like that at all, but between the modest size of my LCS and the fact that FCBD always coincides with an unrelated street festival in my neighborhood, it couldn’t have been more different. I rolled in a little after noon, and the place was notably less busy than the average Wednesday evening. They usually have a “one free comic” policy (it’s a small place, and there are a LOT of kids in the neighborhood), but they had revised it this year to a “take as many as you want…OUT OF THE HANDS OF CHILDREN” policy. I took two (hey, I’m not a monster, but I’m also not made of stone): The New 52: Future’s End and the FCBD Guardians of the Galaxy.

The GOTG finds Tony Stark recruiting Flash Thompson as the Avengers’ new liaison with the Guardians. It’s notably similar to the pitch he gave Carol Danvers in Captain Marvel 1, but serves here as an excuse to introduce each Guardian.  It’s even titled “Welcome to the Guardians of the Galaxy,” affirming itself as a jumping-on point.

But here’s the thing (and I totally accept that I may be totally cynical about this): I don’t think either of the Big Two see FCBD as an opportunity to get comics in the hands of kids or even non-fan adults. We fans may think of this as a holiday of sorts, but I think the average person is utterly unaware that this is going on. I don’t mean to cite that as a failure of Free Comic Book Day — they can only get the word out so thoroughly — but just to point out that the Big Two may be all too aware that their readership on FCBD is still their home crowd.

My support for this cynical attitude comes from these issues. Sure, the Guardians is a decent enough introduction to the team, but where is someone meant to go after that? Their current storyline is all about the fallout from the “Trial of Jean Grey” mini-crossover, which featured two series that have both been running for over a year — not the easiest jumping-on point. It does, however, explain how Flash came to be working with the Guardians, a detail that made us all a bit confused when it cropped up in Guardians 14. That is, it seems like this issue is geared more towards those already reading comics — and indeed, already reading Guardians of the Galaxy — than it is for newcomers.

I think this might explain why DC went with an introduction to Future’s End. They weren’t trying to appeal to kids at all, but to the audience they’ve been cultivating for years with their overly dark, violent tone. I think Mark Waid summed it up perfectly when he called it “the New 52est “New 52″ comic E-V-E-R.” We may think of it as a missed opportunity to get young readers into comics, but I think DC sees it as a seized opportunity to put an issue of their new series in the hands of virtually every DC fan out there. Oh, and maybe a few other readers, too.

I know I’m being a total bummer here, but I wonder if there’s any way to convince the Big Two to better embrace the spirit of Free Comic Book Day. It makes sense to us that they would want to ingratiate themselves to new readers, but I think it makes sense to them to ingratiate themselves to repeat customers — the former obviously offers a higher yield, but also higher risk. I think the real shame is that appealing to these two grops is seen as mutually exclusive. Comics has always required new readers to be constantly jumping on — why not celebrate that? It’s obviously the point of Free Comic Book Day, I just wish somebody would tell Marvel and DC.

slim-banner

12 comments on “Free Comic Book Day 2014

  1. Free comic book day is tough. It’s the day of Indianapolis’ Mini Marathon, which attracts about 35,000. So I went for a 13.1 mile run in the morning (as well as shuttled 4 students around the city and to the race and home again). It’s also Kentucky Derby Day, so I had spent the previous night poring over the Racing Form and got home in time to watch some of the races. It was also game seven of the playoff series between the Indiana Pacers and the Atlanta Hawks.

    And it was Free Comic Day. Just too much going on to enjoy it. I wasn’t going to stand in line for free stuff.

    Of the free stuff I got, Uber was fantastic (and really one of the most exciting comics I’ve ever read. I completely and 100% recommend this to anyone. It’s gory and gross and over the top gruesome, but it’s a war story that actually moves me. It’s an impressive feat). Future’s End surprised the hell out of me. I hadn’t read any previews on it, just had a vague idea it was about a bad future, but this story really got me. I want to now read the series. That’s going to be the bulk of my DC shopping this year – their weeklies.

    I’d wanted to read Atomic Robo forever but never picked one up. Their free comic didn’t do anything for me. I read the Archie comic (*almost* 100 pages!) and laughed at every terrible joke. I was impressed by the consistency in art despite the change in artist every 6-8 page story.

    Haven’t read the rest yet, but I really, REALLY liked Futures End. Like Spencer said, it’s a story we’ve seen before (like last year in Age of Ultron, really), but this seemed pretty cool.

  2. Drew, that’s a bummer to hear about your FCBD. Captain Blue Hens isn’t exactly putting out commercials for the event on TV or anything (except for that one time they did I think?), but the shop’s right on the town’s main street that runs through campus, and they have plenty of banners out and it usually gets mentioned in the newspaper, so it’s a pretty significant event for our town. I really do love my LCS.

    Though I’m still jealous of those shops that got the likes of Gail Simone or Scott Snyder to do signings.

    • I should be clear: I absolutely adore my LCS. I’m not necessarily heartbroken about a lack of a big event, either — one of the reasons I like that place so much is the low-key conversations I can have with the regulars there, and crowds of strangers tend to make me a little uncomfortable. I do think it’s interesting how different our experiences were: mine was more like wandering into the shop on a random Saturday afternoon, as opposed to an out-and-out celebration.

  3. I was also at “my” comic shop for FCBD, but in a different capacity. Retcon Punchers probably know that I do most of my comic booking happens digitally, so even claiming a shop as “mine” feels a little insincere. I’m talking about Meltdown in LA, which I DO go to for shows and trivia — and occasionally to buy floppy paper funny books. First Saturday of every month is the Stone Cutters (Simpsons trivia), and I just had to be there to WIN IT.

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