Always Early #8 – Free Graphic Novel Day and Beyond

By Richard Early

Free Graphic Novel Day. Wow, that sounds awesome. What is it? Can I get anything? Is it the junk on your half price shelf? I’ve heard it all the last two weeks and that’s great. It means my teasers generated the kind of interest I was looking for. I’m a couple of days late, but it’s finally time to unveil this thing. Click here to go right to the nitty-gritty and then read the rest of this for fun.

Goofy promotions and big events are a mainstay here. Paradox opened up in 1993 with a host of “grand opening” sales. The strangest of them was called “Bobbing for Comics.” There’s a name that makes you excited and curious. Bobbing for Comics was actually ping pong balls in a giant tub of water. Each ball was numbered and the numbers corresponded to prizes. You paid a buck a dunk to see what you got. A lot of people did the surface-skimming sissy thing and just sucked balls right off the top. One guy, though, went all in. This guy went under for effect and came up with a ball and a soaked head of long hair. That was one of my favorite images in my 17 years of running this place. Bobbing for Comics needs to come back. Maybe for the 20th anniversary.

1993 saw a lot of events. My other favorite was  the “1st Annual Batman #500 Auction”. This requires more explanation than bobbing. The summer Paradox opened, DC Comics released Batman #500 which featured Azrael – Jean Paul Valley – replacing Bruce Wayne as Batman. Valley had a new costume and a new attitude, harsher and more brutal than Bruce. Bruce Wayne’s back was broken in issue #493 opening the door for this replacement. Bruce lost a fight with Bane and in came Azrael. The issue came out in the middle of the summer and I managed to get Paradox on the front page of the Forum. This is a trick I picked up from the owner of Lantern Comics. He knew how to pick up the phone and look for free plugs. This is the kind of thing that successful businesses figure out and have the tenacity to go do. I have no idea why the Forum picked me. I can only imagine that Lantern and others probably called them as well, but fortunately they did. At the time, Paradox occupied a tiny 11 x 11 space and the camera and reporter clogged the middle. I needed to turn this into sales and not just on the issue itself. Enter the “1st Annual Batman #500 Auction.” We packed our little shop that night with maybe 20-30 customers and we rattled off comics, toys, and other Batman stuff. We had no auctioneer and no license so I hope the statute is up. This event was a huge hit for us and it was a lot of fun. I think that’s the key for me, making things fun. Sales are great, discounts are great, but it’s the unique nature of stuff like this that makes Paradox, Paradox. I brought back this event numerous times. Within a year, we were holding our 3rd Annual Batman #500 Auction. Maybe this is another deal to bring back in the future.

The backbone of promotions, of course, is Free Comic Book Day. The 2011 FCBD will be the 10th. FCBD is a top-down promotion, a real power house. I’ve found that these types of events work best. Local stores are given tools and backed up by national awareness. Free Comic Book Day is still up to the local shops to handle and that’s why yo see such a range of success. I know guys who can’t stand running the event and don’t believe in it. I’ve seen the big shops in New York have lines around the block. I myself have gone back and forth on how to handle it and have written extensively on this topic. My biggest FCBD was about three years ago. I went to CableOne and ran a month worth of commercials. I advertised in the Forum. I had food and art contests and costume contests and trivia contests. It was a blast and I hope to do something like it again. I think the only problem with this event is that it has become a bit routine and it’s getting harder to make it fresh, give it a facelift. That’s part of the inspiration for our new creation.

June 13, 1993, is the day I first opened my doors. I wasn’t incorporated until October 1st, but we had our sales tax license and all that. It’s funny because I almost always overlook this anniversary. The ten year and the fifteen year got big attention and we had all kinds of fun, but aside from that it seems to always slip my mind. That happened again this year. It was Monday of the week of June 13 when I remembered this year. I quickly threw together a sale and used Facebook, my website, and fliers and posters to promote. The sale was a pretty big success and well attended despite the short notice. One problem. I advertised our 18th Anniversary Sale. Those of you with some decent grade school math can probably guess what the problem is. That’s right, it was only 17 years. Oops. 2011 will see our 2nd Annual 18th Anniversary Sale and we’ll all get a big chuckle out of it.

Free Graphic Novel Day was born entirely by accident. My DC rep and I were discussing promotional ideas and he recommended some websites of other stores he really liked. I found this shop in Florida and they were giving away Walking Dead Volume One on some random day and I thought that was awesome. I thought about this for a awhile and realized that it was something I wanted to do. But I thought that Walking Dead, or any one graphic novel, was a bit limited in scope. I believe that a broader approach is called for. The point of a promotion like this is to introduce readers to something they aren’t already familiar with. That’s a tough thing to do. It requires trying to pair up the reader with an interest. I think the list that we came up with does a great job of that. There are 25 choices available and that should mean that there’s something for everyone. I’m sure there are customers who have read everything on the list, but that’s not the norm. Preacher and Sandman fans may not have read Ultimate Spider-Man or Green Lantern. Green Lantern fans probably haven’t read Scott Pilgrim. That’s the goal of this list.

FGND is a Paradox creation. It’s unique to us and not a national event It’s a chance to read something new and an opportunity to get something for a girlfriend, boyfriend, spouse, or buddy. There’s a sale along with it. I never know how an event will be received or how it will work until it happens. The first one of these will be exciting to see. Without the national support of FCBD, I’m thinking a lot about how to promote this thing. I’ve got Facebook and my store, but that’s just the beginning. I’m having Brian make posters and fliers we’re going to hit the area up with. I might spend a few bucks with the Forum or the High Plains Reader. I also hope you will use this day as a chance to spread your passion. Tell your friends and family. Bring them along. Make this the day that you get someone a graphic novel for the first time. It’s a chance for all of us to bring comics to new people just like Free Comic Book Day.

That’s it, gang. Hope you all approve. We’ve got about six weeks to make this thing happen. I am getting support from Dark Horse and DC Comics. I’m looking for support from Kirkman, Oni, and Marvel. I hope you all love this thing.