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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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.