Always Early #2 – Free Comic Book Day Then & Now

By Richard Early

Every year, I tell myself I’m going to read the Free Comic Book Day comics before Free Comic Book Day. And for the first eight years, I failed. So this year, I said the same thing and this year, I actually did it. Well, sort of. There are 30 books this year, but I grabbed all 10 Gold Tier titles, the books published by the top sponsors. I read every one cover to cover and have reviews of all of them.

Before that, a few thoughts and memories about FCBD. The first FCBD was the weekend that Spider-Man came out. We took part in a Saturday morning showing of the movie aimed at kids. We gave out Ultimate Spider-Man #1 FCBD editions to everybody and got front row seats to the movie. I really enjoyed that first year. The movie was fun to see under those circumstances and FCBD was new and fun. I remember we ran an ad in the Forum that year and were worried about how risky that was. But we quickly found out it was a great decision. There were people in line an hour before we opened, and as they came in several had the newspaper in hand. One guy told me that he had driven in from Casselton just because of the ad.

So right off the bat, FCBD created tremendous exposure for comics.  You have to understand that FCBD is only as successful as the comic shops who run it. I know some retailers who moan and groan about the cost of the event. Despite the fact that the books are free to the customers, they are not free to retailers. It only makes sense, because if they were free to me I’d just order a thousand of everything. Putting a small cost on the books makes me consider how we’re going to promote the event and how many people we might expect. I understand the griping to a degree. I create a budget and think about what’s going on in comics or the economy. Some years, like the one three years ago, I spent as much as $5,000 on advertising.

What I’ve discovered over the years is that while FCBD is a great tool for exposure, that exposure doesn’t really translate into new comic readers. It’s interesting that comic movies have now been a regular staple of the entertainment industry for almost a decade and we’ve almost had a decade of FCBD and readership hasn’t changed all that much. The comic industry publishes print run sizes about 10%-20% of what it did in the 1990s. Why is it this way? I don’t know. Sure there’s the internet and there’s xBox. But what was it like for comics when color TV came along? Did people say “comics are going on TV?” There’s always a lot of noise out there, always a lot of competition for time and dollars. Comics are a unique form of entertainment, just as movies and video games are. You either love them and make them part of your life or you don’t. Just because you see Spider-Man the movie doesn’t make you a fan of comics anymore than seeing Lord of the Rings makes you a fan of fan of fantasy novels. I guess the point I’m making is that FCBD is ultimately about existing comic readers and not necessarily newcomers.

My favorite fiasco that happened with the event was year two ago when it was moved to July 4th weekend. Retailers voted on the date; either early May tied into that year’s movie release or July 4th weekend. Despite my vote, Independence Day won. The event was basically a flop, big surprise.. I ordered light and had a small number of regular customers. Inevitably, after the event the same retailers who voted for this change then complained about what a poor scheduling decision it was. Oh, and I’m sure these are the same guys who spend all their time complaining about the cost of the comics, too.

After that, FCBD found it’s permanent home on the first Saturday in May. It’s a great time. Spring is in full form and summer’s on the way. It’s the end of the school year and the beginning of summer movie season. Following up from the first year, FCBD landed on the opening weekend of X-Men movies, Spider-Man sequels, Batman Begins and last year Wolverine. This year, we’re one week ahead of Iron Man 2. Bottom line, I love this thing.. Like I said, it doesn’t really create new customers. But it’s a great celebration of the medium. It’s a great sale day to reward regular customers. It’s the one day of the year that’s just about comics.

On to this year’s books. As usual, it’s a diverse crop. Lots of cartoons, lots of super-heroes, and lots of all ages reads. This year has movie characters getting their first books and super-hero wars. And for the first time, I have read them all. So enjoy my previews. Hope you all enjoy Free Comic Book Day wherever you may be. Go to Paradox or find your local comic shop.

GOLD TIER REVIEWS:

ARCHIE SUMMER BLAST
I haven’t read an Archie comic in years. So it was fun to check out this one. It’s a typical Riverdale story that you can jump right into as the kids see their beach invaded by their rivals and warm up for Zowie-palooza. You get exactly what you expect out of this one.

DOCTOR SOLAR / MAGNUS ROBOT FIGHTER
From Gold Key classics to Valiant remakes, these two characters get a facelift courtesy of Valiant publisher and writer Jim Shooter. I was really looking forward to seeing if Shooter could bring back the magic these characters had in their 1990s re-launch. It’s hard to say yet. This book has the first 10 pages of each book and contains mainly origin and set up stories. This is a great book for older fans who remember these guys.

FRACTURED FABLES
A good Mike Allred cover sets the stage for this quirky take on classic fables. Silly twists on Raponsel, Rumplestiltskin, and Red Riding Hood make for a light but fun read. Fans of Fractured Fairy Tales from the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon should enjoy these stories.

GI JOE #155 1/2
Larry Hama picks up where Marvel left off years ago. This issue sets up the new ongoing Hama GI Joe series that fans have waited nearly twenty years for. Cobra hatches a plan to become America’s new security force by backing terrorists and anarchists throughout the country. This comic has the intrigue and action that classic Joe fans loved.

IRON MAN / THOR
Quote of the year in this year’s books goes to Thor who says to Iron Man: “I’d rather be bludgeoning ice elves or mud orcs than dealing with your ridiculous brand of madness.” A very good comic by Matt Fraction and John Romita Jr. Fraction gives a sense of something greater to Thor, a touch of godhood translated into comic form. His Iron Man reminds you of the movie Iron Man, a man haunted by technology he has created and dealing with it’s consequences. In the end, a fairly simple story but crafted very well. This book is for everyone.

MOUSE GUARD / FRAGGLE ROCK
At first glance, I thought this was an odd pairing.  First up, Mouse Guard serves as introduction and recap. Existing readers get a little update and teaser and newcomers get a glimpse into the world of Mouse Guard. Tremendous art and really fun fantasy, this is one of FCBD’s best books. Please pick this up and read it. There are already two hard covers collecting the two previous mini-series and you’ll love them.
I never watched Fraggle Rock and have no attachment to it, but it was a decent book. It’s a very fantasy world, full of diverse and colorful characters. A pretty simple story but with good color and decent pencils. I’m sure Fraggle Rock fans will like it.

SHREK / PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR
This is the first comic appearance of either property. They’re both fun and light, great for kids who’ve seen the movies. Use this book to try to spark comic reading in young family members or friends. Shrek and Donkey have their distinct sound in this book.

SUPERMAN: WAR OF THE SUPERMEN #0
Just as last year’s Blackest Night #0 gave everyone the chance to get caught up before the mini-series started, this book does the same. General Zod has taken full power on New Krypton and revealed his ultimate intentions. Kal-El tries to stop the General, but the war has already begun. From the movies to the comics, Zod is the greatest enemy Superman has ever faced. Now Zod is armed with 100,000 Kryptonians powered by Earth’s yellow sun and his sights are set on Earth itself. Get ready for DC’s 100 minute War of the Superman, a 4-issue mini every week in May.

TOY STORY
A surprisingly good comic. Andy’s toys confront a mysterious new present that contains a double of one of them. They must break the news to this toy that it will be r-e-t-u-r-n-e-d. Captures the spirit of the movies with serviceable art. This is a good book for everyone who loves the movies and an easy read for anyone who’s never seen them.

YOW!
Drawn and Quarterly offers this collection of John Stanley comics. Stanley is famous for his work on Little Lulu. As seen in this collection, he tells humorous little stories. Though he passed away in 1983, this collection shows his influence on comics. An interesting read that will make you chuckle.

For details on Paradox’s Free Comic Book Day sales, click here. For more details on Free Comic Book Day, along with previews for almost every comic available, check out the official FCBD website.