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The Middle Ground #80 | Free Comic Book Day?

by  in Comic News Comment
The Middle Ground #80 | Free Comic <i>Book</i> Day?

When the 2012 Free Comic Book Day “Gold” titles were announced last week, you would’ve been forgiven for thinking that the Archaia release was either a mistake, practical joke or particularly egregious typo, but it wasn’t: The indie publisher really is putting out a 48-page hardcover anthology of strips for free. Beats a reprint of a year-old issue of Avengers, at least, right…?

The hardcover will feature six stories, including Mouse Guard, Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos’ upcoming Cow Boy and a follow-up to Jim McCann and Janet Lee’s acclaimed Return of The Dapper Men; according to Archaia CEO PJ Bickett, the idea is to show potential readers the best of what Archaia has to offer, including format:

There are no barriers of entry right now for stores, for fans, for Diamond, for Archaia to make this happen. Giving them an opportunity to buy a very similar product that has the true product quality that Archaia constantly brings to the table only incentivizes retailers to pick up a bigger share.

…This is one of those “crazy like a fox” things, isn’t it?

There’s a boldness to this idea that just makes me smile; there’s no avoiding the fact that, even ignoring the hardcover aspect – Pretty difficult, admittedly – just having 48 pages of all-new content is something to be proud of for FCBD these days (For contrast, here’s Marvel’s Tom Brevoort on why that publisher isn’t producing any new content for their release next year, for the first time in five years: “There’s not much benefit in doing so to us–if anything, it’s a detriment, as we spent quite a lot of scratch on these books in years past without recouping the costs”). But a hardcover? That’s just plain ballsy.

Consider how the hardcover will stand out alongside stacks of other FCBD releases, or, for that matter, how it’ll hold up to reading, wear and tear and whatever in the weeks and months afterwards. It’s the kind of format choice that might seem counterintuitive in the short term – Seriously, a hardcover freebee? – but is likely to pay off in the grand scheme of things, marking Archaia out as a publisher that not only does its own thing and take risks, but also sticks in the memory because of that.

(There’s also something weirdly fitting about the skinny hardcover format, for me, because it brings to mind the more mainstream picture book format; with so much of Archaia’s releases all-ages and looking for a non-traditionally direct market audience, it stands to reason to try and appeal to that kind of sense memory with their big attempt to grab new readers for the year. But again, I don’t know how much of that is intentional, and how much I’m just reading into things.)

This is definitely an example of going big instead of going home, and I hope it’s one that really pays off for the publisher; not only in terms of retailer orders – Hopefully freight costs aren’t going to be insane for this, now that I come to think about it – but customer pick-up. It’s a risk, sure, but isn’t this the kind of risk that we’re always hoping publishers will take, and crossing fingers will pay off down the line…?

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