All I Got For Free Comic Book Day Was the Creeps

I haven’t been in a comic book store in years. Years! In fact, the last time I actively bought, read and collected comic books was back in the mid-eighties. Don’t get me wrong. I love the comic medium. I’ve never stopped reading comic strips. Comic strips in the daily newspaper, the weekly alternative rag (you know the freebie paper with the sex ads and Red Meat inside?), and my school newspapers eventually led me to webcomics, and finally re-peaked my interest in what I had been missing all these years from comic book-land.

For whatever reason, last year’s first annual Free Comic Book Day didn’t draw me in, but this year? This year I was ready. As you might gather from the title of this piece, however, I won’t be counting the days until the third annual FCBD.

Once more, don’t get me wrong – I liked the feel of holding a comic book again and flipping through the pages. If I could buy comic books in a Barnes & Noble or Olsons, or even our local drug store chain, I think I would. Unfortunately, for the monthly standard-format comic book, you really can’t do that anymore. You have to go to a direct market store.

The FCBD website was very helpful in locating the few direct shops near my home that would be participating in Free Comic Book Day. I made my choice and set off on what was a beautiful Saturday afternoon. The store was in a ramshackle old house. Rustic, almost. Except for the fact that it was on the edge of a major boulevard that slices through town.

Were there free comic books? Yes, this store had about 10 choices. I picked up Landis from Keenspot’s A-Bomb line. (Apparently Keenspot is not immune to the gimmicks of the comic book industry – the book I picked up is numbered "Issue 0" and apparently has three cover variations. I got "cover A.") There was a Batman book and a Dork Storm book, plus some others I didn’t recognize. I didn’t want to be greedy so I stuck with the one A-bomb title.

I talked to the co-owner of this shop about Free Comic Book Day. I asked her whether she thought Free Comic Book Day was a good thing. At first she said yes, but there were a lot of caveats. She seemed pleased to be able to give the books away, but she didn’t seem to think it did much for business. She didn’t think last year’s event had brought in any new customers.

She was also a bit peeved at the FCBD program this year. One, she didn’t think there had been any real advertising this year – no mention of the comic book giveaway day with the X-Men 2 movie promotional juggernaut, as had apparently been done with last year’s Spiderman release, for example. She also wasn’t too happy to have had to pay for the books she was giving away.

"Last year," she said, "we didn’t have to pay for ’em. I can only guess they charged this year because some dealers got ’em free last year and then charged their customers." She didn’t seem to hold some of her colleagues in the Comic Book store industry in very high regard.

I took a look around the shop, trying to decide if I wanted to buy anything. After all, I was back in a comic book store for the first time in more than 15 years. This store brought back some vague memories of the various stores from back in my youth behind the Orange Curtain: namely it had boxes of comics on top of tables. It had some circular racks, and it had shelves filled with comic books on all of the walls. It also had almost no organization beyond DC Comics over here, Marvel over there and everyone else in the corner. (Seriously, can you imagine a real bookstore organized solely by the name of the publisher?) I took a look at the 50 or so "X" titles, and the 20 or so Superman titles and kind of freaked out. I wasn’t really interested in buying a superhero book.

The store did have lots of Frank Cho’s Liberty Meadows and apparently they do carry Scott Kurtz’s Player Versus Player (but they were out), but I guess this particular store hasn’t discovered "alternative comics" yet. In the end I didn’t buy anything, took my one free comic book to the door, and left.

Now granted, all of this is just my impression taken from one store on one day, so obviously it means little more than that. Still, as I think back to my comic-buying past life, I can’t recall visiting any comic book store that didn’t bug me in some significant way… and I wonder how an industry can operate that way. How many people would eat hamburgers if every McDonalds was run by Wimpy for Wimpy without much regard as to whether the customers actually liked it or not. There may be some gloriously well-run comic book stores furnished with bright lights and comfortable chairs, with nicely-shelved books organized by genre (with special sections on artists and writers) and helpful employees who don’t revel in their geekitude in the one place on god’s green earth where they might possibly get away with it. There may be.

I just haven’t found one yet.

Xaviar Xerexes

Wandering webcomic ronin. Created Comixpedia (2002-2005) and ComixTalk (2006-2012; 2016-?). Made a lot of unfinished comics and novels.


  1. Retailers DID have to pay for the Free Comic Book Day issues last year, though this year the cost on average per copy was maybe 5-10% higher (most of the major publisher books were 15 cents each and the indies were all around 35 cents each). That’s due to the fact that there were twice as many participating publishers this year, which means lower individual orders per title on average.

    We A-BOMBERS like the old-school gimmicks, yes. ’90s retro, baby! The early ’90s are back and better than ever!

  2. Well, I was pretty pleased to pick up James Kochalka’s “Peanut Butter and Jeremy”. The comic shop also made a sale, too, as it had copies of “Stray Toasters”, something I’ve been looking for – on and off – for years.
    My son picked up “Courtney Crumrin…” which was excellent, too. He also bought the first issue of “Squee” which was hilarious.

  3. What happened to the Keenspace comic? My friends had been hyping it to me for months, but Saturday I went to five different comic book stores in Montreal looking for it, and all I could turn up was last year’s Keenspot book 🙁

  4. I love Free Comic Book Day, but you’ve got to WORK IT, not just hope new customers will wander in.

    What I’m doing in my area is taking a pile of free comic books, sticking them in clear bags, and putting a flyer on one side that says “COMICS ARE FOR EVERYONE!” then asks “Do you like…” and lists about 20 genres and suggests that there are comics available in every genre. It finishes with a pointer to my local comic shop at the bottom.

    I went through the yellow pages and made a list of all cafes, coffee shops & laundromats within walking distance of my house. I take the comics and check out the cafes and coffee shops, find the ones where reading material is left lying around and leave the comics there. I drop them off in laundromats near the abandoned newspapers and magazines. I’m planning to leave some in the waiting rooms of dentist & doctor offices.

    The only way you’re going to get people – random non-comic-shop visiting people – to read comics is to bring the comics to them. Whether it’s through advertising or endorsments from someone famous or a grass-roots movement (or all of the above), you need to reach out.

    So… SET YOUR COMICS FREE! Comics you’re done with, bored of, have duplicates lying about… comics you’ve made, or get comp’d on – drop them off in shops and waiting rooms and laundromats! Leave them anyplace that pamphlets sit – like in music stores, with the other flyers and free magazines. Give them to non-comic-reading friends! Print a list of local comic shops and stick it in the comic.

    BTW, I go to Million Year Picnic in Cambridge, MA and the shop rules. With input from various patrons (including me) they’ve been carrying Plan9 books for years and regularly stock various alternative comics, including a pile of web-originated ones.

    Kelly J.

  5. Actually, what happened was that one of the distributing centers didn’t get the books out on time- so a lot of store on the east coast didn’t get the books. This, plus the cost of the book, plus it’s obscurity, made it hard as hell to find.

  6. Okaaaay, so you don’t like free comic book day mainly because it doesn’t seem to work for one comic book store that you went to? Why is that important enough to write up?

    Also, the best comic book store in the world is in Atlanta, GA. It’s a mom and pop, has anime and movie stuff, as well as toys in the front half of the store to sort of lure people in. they rent DVDs of the most rare and random stuff, and also anime and foreign films (all the stuff blockbuster is deficient on). And the comics, while organzied by publisher, which IS a stupid thing, are laid out nicely, not in boxes in plastic, and there is a fantastic selection of graphic novels and independant stuff. The people who work there are mostly young, attractive college kids, mostly female. It’s well lit and not creepy!

    And these people have been in business as long as I can remember. Oxford Comics on Peidmont, kids.

    I’d much rather hear about the good places than yet another disspointing boring comic shop. I’d like to buy more comics in the bookstore, but it’s nice to have the kind of staff that gets giddy when you tell them you’re looking for something in particular. I love that.

  7. I recommend Comicopia in Boston. Admittedly, it’s small (it’s in Boston — space is at a premium), and not as well lit as it could be. But the organization is wonderful, as is the stock. It totally caters to the customer off th street. When you walk in the door, the very first thing you see, on a low, accessible rack, are all the kid-friendly comics. Marvel and DC stuff is all the way in the back — that stuff doesn’t need promoting. The most visible shelves — right up front next to the counter — are full of indie titles, alphabetical by title. And there’s lots to choose from in there. The middle of the store is all graphic novels, alphabetical by author, with the largest selection I’ve ever seen. The staff is intelligent and friendly, and they do get giddy when you ask them to help you find some obscure indie title.

  8. Too bad you picked the wrong shop. My comics pimp (just kidding, Pete) had a helluva weekend, timing the opening of his second store with Free Comic Book Day. Excellent traffic — said it was his best weekend ever. By the way, his store is clean and modern and he is exceptionally helpful to new and old customers alike. Drop by Main Street Comics in Middletown, NY, or Pine Bush, NY, if you’re ever in the area.

  9. A screw up at the distributor level shorted every retailer who ordered it by about half. And not every retailer ordered it. It was the lowest-ordered of the three Keenspot comics, and probably the lowest-ordered of ALL the Free Comic Book Day issues, which is not surprisingly considering it cost retailers a whopping 75 cents a copy due to its massive 80-page size.

  10. A retailer friend of mine had the same complaint: FCBD didn’t bring in any repeat business. It’s too bad, because he really did do a good job of promoting the event, and on the day itself his store was packed with people picking up their free comics. Unfortunately, as Xerxes points out, it’s not enough to lure people into the store. You also have to provide something for them to buy. And there are precious few (mainstream, American) comic books that look very appealing to non-fanboys.

    It might be a good idea for retailers to move the DC and Marvel stuff to the back on FCBD and showcase material with a broader appeal – Archie comics, manga, comic-strip collections, books from Oni and Slave Labor, the more accessible indie and small-press comics. Assuming the store carries such material, of course, which I know is often not the case.

    I have mixed feelings about FCBD anyway. I kind of like the idea, I don’t know if giving a product away for free is the best way to demonstrate that it’s valuable.

Comments are closed.