There is very little unanimity in the comic book world. For every person that loved Infinite Crisis there is another who hated it. For all the people who thought Civil War was awesome there is an equal number who lambast its “lame ending” on message boards and in chat rooms all over the net. We comic book people are a tough crowd to please and are offered more avenues to express our opinions and anger in a fashion that will actually bring it to the ears of the relevant parties than almost any other medium of entertainment out there. With consensus a difficulty and unanimous agreement almost an impossibility, it is rare to find something that can be universally accepted as a good idea in both concept and execution. One of those once-in-a-blue-moon gems of an idea is the brain-child of comic book retailer Joe Field, and it is called Free Comic Book Day. Essentially, publishers will produce a comic book that will then be sold to stores for significantly cheaper prices, and those comics will be given out for free for anyone that comes by. Not only is it a brilliant idea to get people excited about comics and hopefully pull in new readers, but it is also the closest thing our little microcosm of the pop culture universe has to an actual holiday.
Joe Field is the proprietor of Flying Colors Comics in Concord, California. In addition to being the creative force behind Free Comic Book Day, he is also a respected face in the industry who is known by both fan and creator alike. His store is definitely a beacon in a world where comic stores open and then close swiftly. He started FCBD six years ago, and over the proceeding years it has steadily grown to be a massive affair in the comic book world. This year Free Comic Book Day was held on May 5—no doubt to capitalize on the hype and excitement surrounding the release of Spider-Man 3—and continued its proud tradition.
This year’s list of free comic titles offered a diverse selection of mainstream and independent books. Marvel, DC, Image, and Dark Horse joined some of their smaller compatriots like Oni, Virgin, and Antarctic Press to offer a full spectrum of varied titles to readers. While the superhero is the most recognizable icon in the comic world, there were enough interesting and different types of comics to appeal to many types of fans. There were over forty titles being offered absolutely free; enough to offer something for everyone. Of the many comics listed some were worth noting in particular for myriad reasons. Marvel’s Amazing Spider-Man: Swing Shift offered readers an original story by the creative team of Dan Slott, Andy Lanning, and the legendary Phil Jimenez. DC, in addition to reprinting Justice League #0, also launched the first issue of the new series Legion of Superheroes in the 31st Century as a free comic. IDW’s contribution was the prequel to the upcoming Transformer movie. Fantagraphics collected old Charles Schulz Peanuts strips that hadn’t been printed in over fifty years. These comics joined the list of smaller press books that utilized FCBD as a means of promoting the works of alternative creators. While Craig Taillefer’s Wahoo Morris has been around for many years, a reprint of the first issue of his excellent independent series was offered to readers that may never had heard of it before. The range and diversity of comics offered on Free Comic Book Day is part of the event’s significance. It offers original books by recognizable characters while simultaneously providing a forum for readers to explore the works of creators that might not have given a chance before.
FCBD was created in the hopes of pulling new readers into an industry that is not as massive as it once was. As a former manager of a comic store, I can personally attest to the concern felt in various sectors of the industry over the future of the medium. With the growing proliferation of comic book inspired movies, it is the hopes of everyone that the annual event will help capitalize on potential new readers by offering them a free look into what is being created. However, FCBD isn’t just about bringing readers back, it also has a larger significance for the loyal comic fans who spend their money every week on the books that they love. For many stores and fans, the event has become a way in which customers and retailers can get together and celebrate their shared love of comics. The store in which I shop, Waterfront Comics, always goes an extra mile to make Free Comic Book Day special. This year the manager had Klingons and Imperial Stormtroopers from everyone’s favorite 501st to add to the festivities (As hard as I tried, I couldn’t get them to fight so that we could finally end the Star Wars-Star Trek debate once and for all). There was even a local artist doing free sketches and helping kids draw their favorite characters. I know that other stores around the country also employed similar methods to add to the spectacle. This is all part of an event that has moved beyond just attracting new readers and has become a celebration of our shared interests.
All of this is representative of another level of development in the nuanced world of comics. By having this de facto holiday, it is another means for comic book fans to reinforce their sense of cultural identity and enhance the strength of the community. It seems that in today’s world the social circles in which we engage are breaking down into smaller and more diverse networks of subcultures, each with its own rules, language, identity, and system of meaning. The comic book world has traditionally been an insular group with a strong sense of identity that appears to be increasing in sophistication. Free Comic Book Day, regardless of intent, is a manifestation of the growth of the comic book fan subculture. The internet provided the mechanism for discourse that allowed fans to meet and create a more integrated subculture. Now Free Comic Book Day has given our group a means to celebrate that subculture and nurture its development.
Free Comic Book Day is one of the few things that I can say I’ve never heard even the pickiest fanboy attack. Created in the mind of a retailer, promoted by publishers both big and small, and made successful by fans and newcomers, it has a significance far greater than its initial goals of just bringing in new readers. It is now an event in the shared mythology of participants and has become part of the lexicon of readers. Joe Field was trying to create a day that would get people excited about the medium again, little did he release that he was also providing a means in which comic book fans would come to together and share their love this diverse and unique form of storytelling. Quite an accomplishment.