Comics retailer Joe Field talks about Free Comic Book Day and outlines the many ways you as fans, retailer and professionals can help make this a successful event.

Another week, another Hot Seat column! Comics Retailer Joe Field sits in The Hot Seat this week to discuss an idea he originally came up with, Free Comic Book Day. Since then most of the industry has embraced the idea and on May 4th something special will be taking place in comic stores around the world. We'll let Joe fill you in on the rest.

It's all about getting the word out.

You know comics have a lot to offer. The fact is, since you're finding this at CBR, you're ahead of the game when it comes to knowing what's going on in comics.

Over the last couple of years, there's been a sort of quiet renaissance in comics. It seems most everyone has taken some notice of the power of words and pictures together.

  1. Michael Chabon's love letter to comics, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, took home the Pulitzer Prize.
  2. The comic book industry played a key role raising funds in the aftermath of 9-11, with Marvel's Joe Quesada leading the publicity charge.
  3. Frank Miller's Dark Knight Strikes Again, along with Batman:The Ten Cent Adventure, reaped tons of positive mainstream press. In addition, Joss Whedon's leap from TV to comics brought attention and new readers to Dark Horse's Fray, while nostalgia for the '80s helped Image's G.I. Joe score new fans for comics.
  4. Last year, at the height of the summer movie season, Entertainment Weekly's "It" issue completely bypassed the 2001 Hollywood class, but jumped ahead to 2002, featuring Tobey Maguire and Spider-Man on the cover. Nearly a year before the movie's opening!
  5. More movies with roots in comics, from Ghost World to From Hell, spurred sales of graphic novels to movie fans wanting to find the source material.
  6. You can bet that right now, some Hollywood honcho is making yet another deal for a movie rooted in comics.

Look at all the positive press comics have received. Look how far comics have come creatively since the days of chromium this and variant-cover that. We all can agree it's time to invite the rest of the world to the party going on right now all across the comics' spectrum.

Comics' publishers across the board have been doing a stellar job of pulling out all the stops to reach out to those who may not even be aware of all the good things available in today's comic shops. The movies, the animated series, the media's insatiable appetite for all things comic-related -- all lead me to believe the public is ready to be re-introduced to our favorite original American art form.

The secret is this: the world loves comics, but has never been asked to actively seek them out. In the monthly column I write for Krause Publications' Comics & Games Retailer magazine, I suggested that all factions within the business and art-form of comics get together to find new readers for what we produce, sell and all enjoy so much.

[Free Comic Book Day]That's the genesis of Free Comic Book Day.

Maybe you've already seen some of the advance publicity for the event. Maybe you've already signed up at www.freecomicbookday.com. It's all gonna happen May 4, one day after Spider-Man opens in theaters and just two weeks before the opening of Star Wars Episode Two: Attack of the Clones, when public awareness of all things comics' related will be at an all-time high.

Diamond Comic Distributors are coordinating all the details. Many publishers are on board for the event. Creating special-edition custom comics for the giveaway are Dark Horse (with a new Star Wars Episode Two story in advance of the release of that blockbuster), DC (with the very cool Justice League Adventures), Image (with an action-packed Tomb Raider origin story), and Marvel (Ultimate Spider-Man -- natch). Oni Press is also on board with special editions of Hopeless Savages and Queen & Country.

Publishers donating comics from their stock to the giveaway represent a cross-section of some of comics' finest work, including TokyoPop, Antarctic Press, Keenspot, Abstract Studio, Archie, Chaos!, Fantagraphics, Cartoon Books, Humanoids and Bongo Comics. And this is only a partial list -- other publishers are still signing up to do their part -- so check out the whole magilla at www.freecomicbookday.com.

Right now, shop owners are in the process of signing up for Free Comic Book Day. Comic book creators will also be getting into the act, setting aside May 4 to be in comic book stores to meet and greet new readers and long-time fans. Free Comic Book Day is history in the making as it's the first time all factions within the comics' biz have worked together on a campaign this far-reaching.

The goals for Free Comic Book Day are lofty, but also within reach:

  1. We want to salute all the good stuff going on in comics right now -- the entertainment, the diversity, the fact there are comics for every kind of reader, no matter what age, no matter what background.
  2. FCBD is a major step toward uniting all the disparate factions within the business of comics. Competitors are coming together for a common cause, a large number of retailers are agreeing to set aside May 4 to promote the event, publishers are contributing either special edition custom comics or comics from their stock. It's all about moving forward together.
  3. We want to invite new readers and former comic book readers to visit their local comic shops. When they do this, there will be free comic books for all shop visitors.
  4. We want to thank you, the current readers and fans, for your support. You support the industry with every new comic book and trade paperback you buy. You vote for what you want to see in comics every time you put down your money. You are, to a significant degree, responsible for giving health back to the business of comics, after the best-forgotten days of the speculator market in the mid-'90s. You continue to support the diversity that keeps comics engaging year after year.

When I talk about Free Comic Book Day with anyone, it all comes back to the growing corps of loyal readers. Let me be blunt here…

We need you!

I've long believed that the key to growing the popularity of comics lies with each and every current fan. Now that I'm part of the first-ever concerted effort to invite new readers to comics, I realize how important our current readers are to making it all happen successfully.

Yes, we thank you every time you visit our stores and leave with a bag full of words and pictures together. But the fact remains -- we need you -- now more than ever -- to join with retailers, publishers and creative professionals to take comics to new heights.

Specifically, here are ways you can help make Free Comic Book Day a success.

  • Invite your non-comic book reading friends to visit your local comic book stores. This is crucial. Some retailers will have contests with prizes for the fans that bring the most new visitors to their stores on May 4. The more friends you introduce to comics on FCBD, the better the chances are for the continued health of the entire comics' business/art-form.
  • Free Comic Book Day is a day when you can loudly and proudly proclaim to the world that comics are cool. We're hoping Free Comic Book Day has a "holiday" feeling for everyone involved. In advance of the event, light up message boards everywhere with excitement about the event. Drop the Free Comic Book Day link into every one of your e-mails and post it on your web-sites. Be a guerrilla missionary for the cause of comics.
  • Ask your retailer now to take part in the official celebration of Free Comic Book Day. Publishers and retailers are sharing much of the costs of FCBD, so there is a small investment required for retailers. But the initial buy-in price is a mere $19, making it affordable for every comic shop owner. Tell your retailer that simply giving away leftover comics from dark days gone by just won't cut it on May 4. The word is getting out about the special edition comics and brand new fans and long-time fans alike will be asking for them.
  • Ask your retailer how you can help spread the good news about FCBD in your local area. Some retailers will be doing something more than giving comics away in their shops. Some may want to take the FCBD comics out to hospitals, for instance, to reach those who can't get out on May 4. Maybe you could offer your services for this good cause.

On Free Comic Book Day, the special edition comics won't necessarily be new to you, as a regular reader, but they will be new to anyone visiting a comic shop for the first time. The chances are also excellent that you'll find some FCBD comics you're not currently reading. With the wide variety of publishers participating in Free Comic Book Day, there will be something for everyone.

Most retailers will be hosting Free Comic Book Day for a specific four-hour time period on May 4, rather than going from sunrise to sunset (or even store opening 'til store closing). Please check with your local retailer for the exact event times. May 4 should be a party for everyone who likes comics, so I'm really hoping you'll do everything to make the day a big success. By mid-March, the FCBD web-site will have a searchable database (by ZIP code) of participating retailers.

You and I both know that when the word really does get out about comics, it'll mean that more people will be enjoying the sublime pleasure found within the covers of so many cool comics. That is the core of Free Comic Book Day -- taking comics to a new level of public awareness by reaching out to new readers and fans alike. It can happen when you help to make it happen.

You see -- now's the time to get the word out.

(Joe Field is the owner of Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff, 2980 Treat Blvd., Concord CA 94518. The store web-site is www.flyingcolorscomics.com. Joe can be reached by e-mail at joe@flyingcolorscomics.com.)

Check back next week for another edition of The Hot Seat. Are you a comics professional interested in contributing? Drop Executive Producer Jonah Weiland a line.

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