Free Comic Book Day with Atomic Comics' Mike Malve

It is the Monday after Free Comic Book Day 2009 and the fact I needed a solid 30 hours to recuperate before writing this should tell you what a wild day it was.

But, before we talk about the day, I want to talk about the work put into it beforehand. Many months of planning by the publishers and Diamond go into Free Comic Book Day before we retailers even order the books. Atomic Comics has always embraced this day and is always thankful to Joe Fields of Flying Colors Comics, who came up with the idea, and Diamond and the publishers for being smart enough to get behind it. Atomic has always been a promotions-heavy shop. We plan out our events months in advance and they always seem to pay off in the end with great attendance numbers and an all around good time for the customers and staff alike.

We have had great success with promoting FCBD by bringing out some of the biggest names in comics every year. Last year, we did the impossible when we reunited the Image Founding Fathers, Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Marc Silvestri, Whilce Portacio, Jim Valentino, Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee. In the past, we have had guests like Brian Michael Bendis, Joe Quesada, David Finch, Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark, Scott Kolins, and Mike Kunkel. We always have great guests and we also bring out all the great local comic talent that is here in town. We average about 20 guests a year, so we spread the talent around my four stores so each has comic creators helping to spread the love that they feel for comics.

This year we brought out Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver as our headliners. Both have long been superstar comic creators, but this year they are both working on the "The Flash: Rebirth" series. In truth, I locked Geoff in for FCBD 2009 two years ago, and now I get to look like a genius for having the writer of the hottest FCBD book at my store. Saturday marked the debut of Geoff's big "Blackest Night" #0.

Unfortunately, Ethan had to cancel at the last minute due to a terrible virus that prevented him from getting on any planes. What's a big event without at least one monkeywrench tossed in to keep my hairs grey?

We ordered 3,000 copies of "Blackest Night" and more than 10,000 FCBD books overall.

We always like to have plenty of these books on hand to give fans a good variety to choose from and we use what we don't give out on FCBD all year long at different offsite events here in town.

We sticker all the books with our logo and store addresses to help promote Atomic. Yes, that is an awful lot of books to sticker. (Check out my Facebook and you can see what my wife and I do on date nights at the Malve household when FCBD is on the horizon.)

This seems like a good point to mention how cool this year's books were. Both Marvel and DC offered books from top name creators with a Bendis Avengers book and the already mentioned "Blackest Night." We also had great books from so many publishers like BOOM!'s "Cars," which had to be the biggest hit for the younger readers this year. Kids love all that Pixar stuff and BOOM! is sitting on a gold mine with this license.

The next biggest book for us was "Star Wars: Clone Wars" by Dark Horse followed by was Marvel's Wolverine. Of course, that's to be expected with Wolverine himself making an appearance at my shops all day. We always bring in an official Marvel Character, and that helped make this book a huge hit. Oh, and there was that movie with that guy who hosted the Oscars, but whatever it was, fortunately, we ordered accordingly.

Our biggest surprise was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles anniversary book that reprinted the very first TMNT book by Eastman and Laird. We only ordered 200 copies of those and they went pretty quick.

But there's more than just procuring talent and ordering books! We do a lot of PR on this as well. We get articles in all the local papers and big ads starting in mid-April. In the past, we've done radio and TV ads, but with the economy being what it is these days, we had a much smaller budget then in the past. That meant a lot of the old fashioned hit-the-streets with nice laminated postcards that we handed out at various hotspots around town.

Our partnership with the local movie theaters helped too. We gave out flyers and old "Wolverine" back-issues from the warehouse (with stickers of course) at a few theaters. We even brought Wolverine in full costume out to the opening night of "X-Men Origins: Wolverine."

He handed out FCBD flyers and signed copies of the Wolverine comics we were giving away. We also had promoted FCBD on our web page for months with interviews of some of our upcoming FCBD guests. Add to that our weekly email blast promoting FCBD and our employees talking this up in the shops, getting our customer base to promote it to their friends, and we managed to generate lots of word of mouth, which is the best advertising you can get.

But enough about prep work. Let's talk about Free Comic Book Day.

First off, it was a beautiful day here in Arizona on Saturday. I had gone out to dinner with Geoff Johns and Sterling Gates the night before so we could catch up on our lives and talk shop. Geoff has recently joined the comic book retail world, having bought into Earth-2 Comics, so we had fun talking about that. Have fun getting your Diamond orders in every month, buddy! We retailers don't have editors riding us with deadlines, but you are going to feel the pressure of it soon! Good luck!

I started my day around 8AM at the Atomic World HQ doing some last minute stuff before heading over to my new Phoenix location. I got to the shop at about 10AM and they where already open. They'd decided to open early because there were pretty long lines outside the store. Atomic does nothing if not make the fans happy.

This new location is smaller than the old one, so we tried something a little different. We set up the tables outside to take advantage of the foot traffic we get from Starbucks, Subway, and all the other restaurants we have around us. This drew in a lot more people, many of whom admittedly just stopped because they heard someone yelling, "Free!" but at least they left with a free comic (with our addresses and phone numbers on it). Besides, many of those who may have only stepped over out of curiosity became new-and more importantly-paying customers.

Wolverine was already there, meeting families, taking pictures, and signing his FCBD comic. I stayed for about an hour working the FCBD table and talking about how cool comics are. I left before the noon signing/sketching began because I had to head back to Mesa to pick up the guests for the Superstore at the hotel.

After a quick Sonic run for Sterling, we arrived at the shop a couple minutes late. There were lines going out the door and around the corner to meet Geoff and Sterling. The store was packed and-ask any creator who's been there-this is a huge store! It takes a lot of people to fill it up. My crew was working in full force with about twelve bodies on staff that day... some dressed as X-Men...

... and that didn't include the Jedis or the Imperials.

One of the coolest things I saw all day was when we were driving to the store and saw three Stormtroopers standing out in the intersection with a huge "Hey Kids!!! Free Comics!!" sign. We had both the 501st and the Rebel Alliance Star Wars groups out for the day. There were close to twenty of them dressed up in costume. They where there to help us launch a new product line at the shop as well as promote FCBD. They even brought out a real working robot R2-D2.

I stayed at this store for two hours helping numerous customers with back issues and other good sales. I swear I never saw that many stacks of comics in people's hands. It was really amazing. We did a 50% off all back-issue sale, and it just turned into a buying frenzy for so many of my customers.

I then headed northside to my shop in Paradise Valley. There was a nice crowd of people there, getting sketches by the talent at the shop. At three of my stores, we had artists sketching for $5 a pop with the proceeds all being donated to the Hero Initiative.

Wolverine was here as well and was a big hit as always.

Since the very first time we did FCBD, we have always brought out these Marvel character actors and they are worth every penny. It's not just about the suit. The guy in the suit is a trained actor and knows all the moves and lingo and is great with keeping the excitement level up the whole day long. Nobody works harder on FCBD than the man in the costume. I'd guess he takes close to 1,000 pictures throughout the day. It used to be a cool cash cow for us, but now that everybody has camera phones, we dropped the whole Polaroid deal.

Another cool thing I noticed at the PV store was that they had an employee walking around the crowds asking people for their email addresses and asking how they heard about the event. They will then be entered into our weekly email blast so they will know about any and all future events here at Atomic. I later found out that all my stores where doing this and that my wife was the reason for it. Thanks, baby.

After I left the PV store about an hour later, I headed back to Mesa. I really wanted to get to spend a little more time with Geoff since he would not be having dinner with us. His brother lives here so Geoff was going to spend some time with the family. I called ahead to the Mesa store and had them spread out all the unstickered copies of "Blackest Night" #0 over four tables in the back room. I will be using these as a boxholder promotion and as an incentive for for people who prepay for the whole "Blackest Night" miniseries.

Geoff signed a whole case for us-500-plus copies! Add that to what he signed for the day and I would say he signed well over 2,000 books! I hung out with Geoff for about an hour and then I said thank you and goodbye.

I then took Sterling Gates back to his hotel and then headed to my last store of the day. I arrived at the Chandler Mall location and the store looked fantastic as always. The place is very well organized and the manager, Alex, runs a very tight ship. This store generally has the largest crowds because it is next to a major movie theater attached to a mall. Crowds were nice, but they said I missed the craziness of the day. For the third time that day, I saw Wolverine interacting with the fans. Huge lines outside but, like the pro he is, he got them all through quickly and most importantly with a smile all of there faces. Seeing how happy they all are to meet Wolverine and get a free comic? That is what makes all this hard work so enjoyable in the end.

We also had a cool promotion that day where we gave away 500 copies of an Atomic Comics exclusive cover of "Irredeemable" # 1. We gave these out with a flyer promoting creator Mark Waid's appearance at the Mesa Superstore next week, where they can come back and get the book signed and buy a copy of issue #2. Thank you, Ross Richie, for this opportunity.

IDW also helped us, giving away 2,000 copies of "GI JOE" #0! Thank you, Ted Adams! Both books sold out that day with "Irredeemable" pretty much disappearing in just a few hours!

Zenoscope gave us copies of "Grimm's Fairy Tales Beyond Wonderland" #0 to promote Raven Gregory's appearance at the shop.

I stayed at the store for a good hour before I rushed home to shower and get ready for the big creator dinner we do every year. Kissed my family goodnight and headed to our 7:00 dinner reservation at S Bistro in old town Mesa. Last year, they treated us all so well and trying to get reservations for parties of plus 20 is just about impossible... but I have been doing this for years so I have a little pull.

Chef Brian's place is small but he loves us comic guys and will even put up with sneakers and shorts just for us. So after a very long day, it is so great to actually be able to sit down and talk about everything FCBD-related and get all the stories I might have missed. Good food, good drink, good company. This is always my favorite parts of the day by far, as it is rare that I get to sit and talk comics outside of the shops these days.

The dinner ends and Chef Brian brings out fresh white plates and Sharpies. The artists all did some very cool sketches on the plates. Last year's designs by Jim Lee, Todd, and the rest of the Image Founding Fathers adorn the walls and now so will the pieces from tonight.

Most people would want to pass out at this point, but we press on to the Annual Atomic Comics FCBD After Party back at the hotel. Usually this is where all the staff and volunteers show up and we can all unwind with the guests, drink, and be merry. This year, my guys were so exhausted from the day that not that many showed up. Way too much food! We ended the party there around midnight and headed across the street to the local pub where Sterling Gates bought us all rounds of shots and more craziness ensued... but since that was officially Sunday, it wasn't part of Free Comic Book Day, so I'll stop there.

In the end, the numbers were even better then last year's, which was great because we really needed it. I also think the books this year really have a chance of bringing people back into our shops like never before.

I hope everybody had a great day. I know Atomic did.

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