KA-POW!

In your hands with free comic book day

By Josher Lumpkin

Early May invokes different visions for different folks. Some are undoubtedly enchanted by the change in weather, shaking away the cold of winter, to awake refreshed and renewed as the foliage returns and April’s showers finally start to dry up. For me, the beginning of spring signifies another, more profound event: Free Comic Book Day.

Free Comic Book Day (let’s call it FCBD) is the only day of the year when my geeky side and my frugal side—two forces which are typically mutually opposed—converge, and I can guiltlessly fill my pockets with all the comics that will fit therein. The first Saturday of May is truly a joyous time for all who enjoy comics.

FCBD, created in 2002 by California comic book retailer and industry writer Joe Field, has three goals. The first is to bring new comic book readers into the fold. Field hoped that by luring in new readers with promises of free comics, he would spring a trap on them that would turn them into lifelong readers. The second goal of FCBD is to re-engage former comic book readers who may have slipped away from the hobby. This sinister technique is similar to a drug dealer offering the first taste for free, with the hope being to once again hook the recovered addicts. Third, FCBD aims to thank current comic book readers for their continued dedication and patronage. What better way to do that than by providing them with their favorite indulgence?

We in the Miami Valley are fortunate enough to live in a community that is bursting with comic shops that exist for no other purpose than to nurture our fandom and provide those of us who self-identify as “geeks” with convenient places to convene. All of these local shops will be providing a selection of free comic books to all who enter.

“It’s kind of like an insane Christmas, where everybody comes in for free comics,” says Jason Young, local comic book enthusiast and longtime employee of Mavericks Cards and Comics. “It’s really crazy when we first open. Usually the first half of the day is kind of like super fun chaos. We have just people lined up out the door when we open. But it’s the fun kind of chaos; kind of like a big party. It’s a geek party.”

FCBD not only serves to fulfill the three goals listed above, but also raises awareness of our local comic shops by simply getting people in the door, even if not everybody buys something.

“It’s a huge day for us, especially,” says Young of the increased business brought into Mavericks. “I think a lot of smaller shops kind of count on the sales they get on that one day, comic shops that only do comics. I would say the majority of people come in and they get excited and they buy something else. I think there’s a small group of people that try to make a day out of it so they try to go from shop to shop if they can to get a little bit of everything, so those people maybe don’t spend as much.”

Where do those comics, free to you and me, come from, anyway? Do the comic companies send them out for free as promotional materials?

I also talked to Scott Cozzolino, co-owner of Epic Loot Games & Comics, about FCBD.

“Most of the comic book publishers make available these promotional comics,” says Cozzolino. “Basically we pay, I’m assuming, the cost of the printing. They’re pretty cheap. It’s not like they’re the normal price of comics. They cost just like 20 to 30 cents apiece. So, it actually is a decent sized marketing investment for us because we get a lot of those comics.

“FCBD is huge, very busy,” he continues. “It does actually cost us a bit of money, but it’s a promotional investment. It brings a lot of people into the store, it’s good for the industry overall and it gets people excited about comics. So, hopefully they pick up a comic that they’re not currently buying, and they get interested in it, and then they start following that comic in the future. That’s how we look at it. It’s a promotional, marketing expense. … It’s one of the big sale days of the store. It’s not as big as Black Friday, but it is a pretty big day.”

Young also has seen those hooked by FCBD get turned into regulars at the store.

“There are so many new people reading comics because of the movies,” Young says. “So yeah we do see new faces on FCBD and they do come back, so that’s really healthy for business. I think most comic shops are maybe guilty of being run by fans instead of businessmen, so any sort of advertising that gets new people in the store is a good thing. I think FCBD is a really good thing for that.”

Young explains how the top brass at Mavericks determine which of the dozens of free titles they will order for the special day.

“We order all of the bigger ones, like all of the Marvel and DC and Image books, and then, for the independent ones, we just kind of pick some based on our sales,” Young explains, and admits that they allow personal taste to influence their choices.

“We try to pick ones that we think will do well, but also just ones that the staff think are good books. Like I’ll order a couple books that we generally don’t sell but I’m like ‘Oh people need to read this!’ so I’ll order like 30 of that one.

“Some of the small press companies put out samplers of all of their books,” he continues. “I think that’s a great idea, show like four or five different books that the publisher carries to get people interested, because there’s so many great books that just don’t get the attention that they deserve, because all the heavy hitters like Batman and Spiderman take the limelight. So, there’s dozens that I wish people were reading, like just books that I think if people did get a chance to they would go crazy for.”

Free Comic Book Day isn’t just about all the free books that are given away. Most shops also have a day packed with special events and guests as well.

“We basically have a sale on every item in the store,” Young says, “and we have at least one artist doing signings and sketches. We also usually do a costume contest for kids, and a separate one for adults too.”

Cozzolino details some of the events they have at Epic Loot for the occasion.

“We do a variety of things,” he says. “We try to host a lot of games and demos related to comic books. So, you know, nowadays there are a lot of board games and card games out there that are based on comic book properties. We try to host a lot of those kinds of games. We might run some tournaments, HeroClix tournaments, stuff like that. We also have done comic book trivia contests in the past, so we’ll make up a trivia contest run that at some point of day. And we’ll have prizes for all those things.”

FCBD is also a great chance for retailers to clear out some of the back stock they’ve been hanging onto. Mavericks in particular has rented out an entire neighboring storefront to house its massive collection.

“It’s basically the size of another store, and for Halloween ComicFest we filled it up with dollar comic boxes … like a hundred boxes of comics for a dollar each,” Young says. “It’s basically like two stores worth of comics. Some things will be out there that we just never even had available for people, because there’s no room for it. So it’s fun to see stuff that you’ll never see otherwise.”

Although FCBD promises lots of titles for readers of all ages, there’s one group among whom the event is especially popular.

“Tons of little kids,” Young says. “Last year I’d say the majority of our kids books were gone in the first hour. Which is kind of unusual. So this year we ordered more kids books than we did last time.”

FCBD has gotten so huge, that the industry has spawned a second annual event—Halloween ComicFest—which occurs the Saturday closest to Halloween.

Young talks about his experience at Mavericks with the younger event.

“Halloween ComicFest is something that they’ve only done for a few years,” he says. “The first year it was really small, it was just basically a promo that they did. We didn’t get very many people, but last year was just insane. It’s basically being billed as kind of a ‘mini’ Free Comic Book Day, and it’s definitely gotten a lot bigger in the last couple of years. It’s like doubled every year, the amount of books that they make for it, and the amount of publicity and things like that. Last year we had like four different artists in here doing signings and sketches, and we had sales and we even had a DJ do music. It’s like another big party.”

Don’t forget that Mavericks and Epic Loot are only two of the many nearby shops participating in Free Comic Book Day. Comic Shops all over the Miami Valley will be hosting special events and guests for this year’s celebration. This annual event just keeps growing, and must be experienced. Head out to your local comic book shop this weekend, and join in the fun!

The 15th annual Free Comic Book Day is Saturday, May 7. For more information, please visit FreeComicBookDay.com.

Josher Lumpkin is a nursing student and aspiring historian who enjoys writing about music and geekdom of all kinds. He is especially fond of punk rock, tabletop gaming, sci-fi/fantasy and camping with his wife, Jenner, and their dogs, Katie and Sophie. Reach him at JosherLumpkin@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Josher Lumpkin is a nursing student and aspiring historian who enjoys writing about music and geekdom of all kinds. He is especially fond of punk rock, tabletop gaming, sci-fi/fantasy and camping with his wife, Jenner, and their dogs, Katie and Sophie. Reach him at JosherLumpkin@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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