This year marked Free Comic Book Day's sixth year in existence and, in a way, returning back to its roots. Back in 2001 there was a brand new movie to hit the screens called Spider-Man and the day after its release came the first ever Free Comic Book Day. And not unlike the Spider-Man film franchise, Free Comic Book Day has defied people's expectations and turned itself into a franchise bigger than anyone expected. With over 40 titles and thousands of stores across the globe, would Free Comic Book Day live up to the hype? Or would it leave more tears then the end of Spider-Man 3?
Comic Book Resources took this opportunity to not only visit one, not two, not three but four different stores in the Los Angeles area to check in to see if it would break any records of its own.
The Comic Bug is the type of store I grew up going to, and even had the pleasure of working at before the '90s boom went bust. We arrived at The Comic Bug early, knowing events would not start till eleven, we figured it would give us some time to look around and chat before things started getting busy, we were not so lucky. Even though the store had let everyone know that festivities were not going to commence till eleven, a line had formed by the time the store had opened at ten.
They were running a moving sale as well, as this was to be the last day at this location for the next few months, which was keeping customers busy looking through back issues and trade paperbacks.
The neighboring store, a drycleaners, had recently had a fire that left The Comic Bug selling their Wednesday books from a huge pod they had set up in the parking lot. They had moved back into the shop, but evidence of fire damage could still be found though it never seemed to dampen their spirits, or the support their customers showed for the store. Balloons were being blown up and placed on the railing leading up to the store and on the street to catch people's attention. Free comics were still being layed out on the tables as the customers kept pouring in.
At eleven a line formed for comics, the music was turned up a notch and the guests began to arrive. On hand to celebrate the day were Rafeal Navarro (storyboard artist The Batman), Joshua Dysart (writer Conan & the Midnight God), Robbi Rodriguez (artist Maintenance), David Schwartz (writer Meltdown), Joshua Hale Fialkov (writer Elk's Run), Mark Masterson (writer Dorothy), and Tony Fleecs (creator In My Lifetime), with still more creators like Bob Burden and Peter Johnson yet to arrive. Fans were able to choose up to three books from each of the two tables, allowing them to get a sampling of not just the titles from the big guns such as Marvel Comics and DC Comics but of the independents such as Digital Webbing and Viper Comics.
After getting their books, customers gathered to meet the creators, talk about "Spider-Man 3" and see if anyone had seen the eleven foot Silver Surfer at the local theatre. Oh, and to buy more comic books. I watched as a teenaged girl bought the latest issues of "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and then proceeded to navigate her way behind her family to the car, her eyes never leaving the comic she was reading. Rafael Navarro talked about his work as a storyboard artist while drawing Spider-Mans for the kids and even Mark Masterson was doing up some Ghost Rider drawings for those that asked.
We spoke with Mike Wellman, Comic Bug Employee and ring master of the Free Comic Book Day circus, who took some time out from the line at the register to talk FCBD. "This year's FCBD far surpassed last year's." he said. How did it stack up to the totals of their average Wednesday? "Since we started the business three years ago, the average Wednesday total has doubled. FCBD matched that total, which is amazing considering that we were selling books for pocket change." The main movers and shakers were the mainstays such as DC and Marvel, whose Spider-Man and Justice League titles seemed to be in everyone's hands.
Leaving behind a sea of faces both young and old, we left the craziness of the Comic Bug behind us and headed to:
Golden Apple Comics - Hollywood - 12:45 PM to 2:30 PM
Remember that eleven foot Silver Surfer I mentioned? The one people couldn't seem to stop talking about? Well, what to my wondering eyes should appear as we walked up to Golden Apple Comics but Norrin Radd himself, astride a surfboard in all his glory (and yes, it was as awesome as everyone had described it). Located on Melrose Blvd, in the heart of Hollywood, Golden Apple Comics is one of those stores that even people in other states typically know exists. With booths at the major conventions, (I oggled the signed KISS 4K Destroyer edition they had on display from when they had Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley signing at the Golden Apple Booth at Wizard Word LA) and signings with all the major names (this would soon be stop number four on Robert Kirkman's amazing comic book signing adventure), Golden Apple Comics is one of the more "big name" comic book stores.
After being greeted by the Silver Surfer display on the street, we headed in to the shop. They had rearranged the aisles so there was now only one entrance which led directly to the first stop, the Free Comic Book Day table. Outside of the usual fare, you had your choice of any six, you also could pick up Silver Surfer buttons, Transformer cups, a HeroClix figure and more. The line then snaked on, through aisles of trades and statuary, till you arrived at the signing area. We were quickly handed a free copy of Hellboy for its creator, Mike Mignola, to sign. Tad Stones (writer/producer "Hellboy Animated: Blood And Iron") had come by to pay a visit to Mike Mignola and discuss the third Hellboy animated film which, if sales go well with the first two films, will be appearing in a DVD store near you. The line had one more stop, where Kevin Hanna (writer "Clockwork Girl") was signing copies of the Arcana Comics Free Comic Book Day book, before spilling out into the back issue and new issue area.
Golden Apple owner Ryan Liebowitz took time out of talking to customers and creators to speak with CBR about the day. "Compared to a normal Saturday this definitely supersedes anything we've done before and comparing it to any other Free Comic Book Day this has actually been the most successful one we have done." Ryan did admit that it was actually one of the first times that Golden Apple had "rolled out the red carpet" saying, "Sometimes we do a few little signings, today we are doing signings all day long." Ryan also noted that the Silver Surfer stationed out front might have drawn in a few extra faces as well "if you put a few balloons out, you get a few people, if you put an eleven foot Silver Surfer, you're going to get a lot of people." As at the Comic Bug, Golden Apple was seeing a similar trend with which books everyone was choosing "the main titles are still reigning supreme, the Marvel and the DC books were pretty much the first to go."
With the arrival of the fine folks from "28 Weeks Later" decked out in white bio containment suits, we decided it was time to go and check out:
Meltdown - Hollywood - 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM
The one thing that really stood out to me as I travelled from one store to another was how completely different each store was from neighborhood comic book shop to mainstream store to what I can only describe as a more alternative store. Meltdown not only covers comics, but has a small kids section, an import DVD area, vinyl toys, a selection of design books and import magazines capped off by an area frequently used as an art gallery or, as in today's case, where a DJ was setting up to spin at an after party.
When we arrived at Meltdown it was rather quiet, but as it was later in the day I wasn't much surprised as we had missed the morning rush. What did surprise me was that the quiet was actually the lull in between the waves. TokyoPop was out in full force with creators such as Felipe Smith (writer/artist "MDK"), Rikki Simons (writer "Shutterbox") & Tavisha (artist "Shutterbox") and Tricia Riley Hale (writer "Grand Theft Galaxy") in attendance. The "28 Weeks Later" people we had run into earlier at Golden Apple decided to make an appearance at Meltdown, taking pictures with creators and fans alike while handing out posters and other free swag.
CBR stopped Neil Loughry to talk to him about the festivities Meltdown was rolling out for Free Comic Book Day including "a back issue sale, 25% off of toys and 20% off complete sets." There was a bit of a change when it came to which titles were first to go, with their best seller being the Unseen Peanuts from Fantagraphics "that was gone within 25 minutes of opening the doors" followed by the Comics Festival! 2007. Younger faces also seemed to make a turn out at Meltdown as well, "we had a lot of 6 to 12 year old kids coming in, see what we had in" which was a bit of a difference from their average clientele which "is in the 18 to 30 range".
With things still in full swing and the lure of Storm Troopers walking down Ventura Blvd., we decided to make one last stop:
Sadly, the Storm Troopers of the 501 st had already left for the day as the schedule of events had only extended till 3 p.m. but that, by no means, meant that people had stopped coming in. The two tables where Scott Tipton (writer "Star Trek: Klingons Blood Will Tell") had signed comics till they had none left in the store to sell while Todd Harris (Disney concept artist) drew sketches for customers long after his scheduled time were now empty. Employees refilled the new comic book racks and helped customers with their purchases.
Earth 2 took this opportunity to do something a little different this year. Customers were told they could choose any five of the Free Comic Book Day books, but if they "want any more on top of that, you could make a donation to the Penny Lane Youth Foundation and then they could get as many as they like. Owner Jud Meyers noted that "eighty percent of the people that walked in here gave money, whether they got free comic books or not." The money is going to establishing a reading room, as the folks at Earth 2 discovered last December when making a donation of books that they didn't have one. "I want to reach out to other retailers," Jud said. "Let's not tie this [Free Comic Book Day] into a sale, let's tie this into something we do for our community. Increase the popularity of Free Comic Book Day. Increase the goodwill of our community."
Earth 2 also saw an influx of new faces that, along with the mainstays such as DC and Marvel, "picked up a lot of books like Owly and Sonic that were offered as free comics." The store remained pack to the gills for most of the day, as customers seemed to keep coming in. When the totals came in Jud let us know that, "This year's FCBD total was more than triple our average Saturday, bigger than an average Wednesday and about a 20% increase over last year's FCBD."
With that we left Earth 2 and headed home. Had Free Comic Book Day passed the expectations of comic shop owners? Without a doubt. There was not one store that we visited that didn't look out to see a sea of new faces and even more so, a sea of young faces. Much like the comic book movie, Free Comic Book Day has become accepted by the public and corporate alike. But the best part of Free Comic Book Day is simple; the knowledge that there will be a sequel next year (even if Sam, Tobey and Kirsten decide against making one of their own).
Photos by CBR Staff Photographer Pinguino Kolb.