Free Comic Book Day 2011: The Comics Bulletin Field Report

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For Free Comic Book Day, some of our best writers went out to their favorite shops and reported back to us on what they saw. But first, a few words from Free Comic Book Day founder Joe Field, owner of the shop Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff:

So itís the 10th anniversary of Free Comic book Day on Saturday, May 7. You know there were 2.7 million comics available in this giveaway, right?†And that retailers have given away over 25 million comics since the first FCBD in 2002? And that Free Comic Book Day was celebrated in 40 countries around the world this year? And that between 300,000-500,000 people visit comic shops on FCBD?

Those are some crazy factoids about what is rapidly becoming a real holiday for comic books.

When I came up with the concept for FCBD, there's no way that I thought weíd be talking numbers like that 10 years on.†But itís really all about how everyone has embraced FCBD. Itís about how my fellow retailers put their best feet forward and put on a great party every First Saturday in May. Itís about how so many comic writers and artists make it a point to be at various FCBD store events, to meet with fans and make new ones. Itís about how publishers now see FCBD as the launching pad for new series, big events and cool comics concepts.†And itís about how everyone turns out for this worldwide party -- from longtime die-hard fans to curious newbies learning why everyone else is so crazy for comics.

The secret is that we live in a comics-drenched culture -- and FCBD is one of the keys to that. Comic shops are nerve-centers of pop culture and the people who frequent comic shops know what The Next Big Thing is long before the unwashed masses.

I hope FCBD inspires more people of all ages and interests to support their local comic shops. I hope FCBD can serve as an inspiration to make all of us who work in comics and who love comics to do what we can to introduce the wonder and power of comics to the uninitiated.

-Joe Field, Free Comic Book Day founder

Meltdown Comics: Los Angeles, CA

Meltdown is a night club for the geek-minded. Every single day thereís something going on: its separate gallery space is used for everything from the obvious art shows to music to screenings to stand-up comedy. It a lot of ways, itís the model of what a comic book store is going to need to be as digital comics become bigger and bigger.

L.A.-based publisher Archaia is producing a new Dark Crystal series, so on Free Comic Book Day, Meltdown was Dark Crystal central: they projected the movie on to one of the walls and set up chairs so people could hang out and watch. The other side of the gallery held two life size models and costumes from the movie.

Behind the store, Meltdown had set up a self-contained newsstand giving out all the free comics. Next to the free comics were Archaia folk, prepared to talk Dark Crystal or Mouse Guard and sign whatever youíd brought. While there was a line for free comics, it was nothing compared to the line for the Grilled Cheese Truck, which was also parked out back. Its name tells you everything you need to know.

Back inside the store they had more tables set up for more creators and drawing classes aimed at younger readers. The store was full, the lot behind it was full -- it had the feel of a fair or carnival, really. It was exactly what you would want from Free Comic Book Day, and it will be interesting to see if Meltdown was able to gain any new customers.

-Kyle Garret

Alternate Reality Comics: Las Vegas, NV

You know your Free Comic Book Day experience is going to be good when you're greeted by staff handing out free cupcakes.†

I'm currently away on business so I wasn't at my personal LCS for Free Comic Book Day, but Las Vegas' Alternate Reality Comics more than made me feel at home, with local artists signing pages while girls dressed as Harley Quinn and other characters hung out around the shop. Plus, those cupcakes. Those delicious, delicious cupcakes.

Owned by Ralph Mathieu, who runs the blog Ich Liebe Comics!, Alternate Reality is a nicely spaced out shop that has quite the selection of indie books as well as the Big Two mainstays. Alternate Reality gave away eight FCBD books each to customers, including some overstock choices the store had. When I was in the shop, quite a few families were walking around, with each member of the family picking out books and finding other goodies as well.†

And did I mention those cupcakes?

-Morgan Davis

Comic Spectrum: Youngstown, OH

It seems like Free Comic Book Day is becoming a more well-known event. Over at Comic Spectrum, they had a really good turnout. About 100 people showed up, ranging in all ages, but there were a lot more children than ever, too. Roughly 40% of the total people were children coming in with their parents. I've never seen so many kids excited about comic books. I think it's because of the comic movie trend going on and the amount of children's comics they released for FCBD. With the option of digital copies, it's good to see that the younger generation still prefer reading and buying actual books.

Just like every year, they put up a tent in front of the little comic store and the insides are lined with boxes of comics, both the free comics and comics for sale. The comics for sale were reduced down to $1 or less, and there were enough boxes that it took hours to go through them all. Luckily, drinks were offered and the tent gave a respite from the sun; it was pretty hot outside. There was also a raffle throughout the day, giving away TPBs and full comic sets.

Despite the economy, a multitude of people are using comics as release from modern day troubles. Since the turnout was so well this year, next year they might put some new ideas into play.

-Felicity Gustafson

Southern California Comics: San Diego, CA

When I hear the phrase ďFree Comic Book Day,Ē thereís only one store I think of: Southern California Comics -- partially because I work there, yes, but mostly because itís a giant, super-awesome store. Last year, I didnít work at the shop on FCBD, so 2011 was a real eye opener for me.

The shop ordered a wide variety of books available, from Inspector Gadget to Captain America/Thor, and the special canvas bags and Green Lantern Heroclix (which were wildly popular). Even before our doors opened at 10 am, we had people pacing around the parking lot. Luckily for them, we had several friends of the store vending various nerdy knickknacks.

To keep customer traffic in the store moving smoothly, we put all of the free comics on tables outside of the store under a large tent, along with three tables of various comic books from our back issue selection to supplement what was given away. We also marked down all of our discounted trades (both paperbacks and hardcovers) to the ridiculous price of $5. There are now none left.

The store also hosted a few extra special guests, including comic book inker Mark Irwin (Green Lantern, Brightest Day) who happily greeted folks and signed books. We also had on display a host of one-of-a-kind homemade statues and rare artwork (courtesy of a local customer/collector) that were pretty impressive (if my bias does say so itself), including an original color sketch done by Superman co-creator Joe Shuster and several comics signed by other co-creator Jerry Siegel.

Overall, the day was very enjoyable and hugely successful -- not in terms of profit made, but by the amount of people that discovered or rediscovered the world's greatest art form: comic books. And thatís really what Free Comic Book Day is all about. Well, that and getting awesome free swag.

-Matthew Z. Rios

Travelling Man: York UK

I have spent the last five years in York, UK and have not missed a FCBD event yet with the folks at Travelling Man. When I first moved to the UK, these guys were kind enough to start up subscriptions for me without even a permanent address!

This year, Travelling Man was packed with people talking about comics, debating the nuances of various games and just reveling in what has become something of a holiday for comic book fans. The store went above and beyond, having Shazam! and Blue Beetle in costume bringing people into the store. Thanks to the store, I have a bag full of free comics for myself, and one for my kids!

-Christopher Power

Flying Colors Comics and Other Cool Stuff: Concord, CA

It may not be the biggest comic shop in the world, but Joe Fieldís Flying Colors Comics and Other Cool Stuff attracts a crowd of epic proportions. Near to a thousand (and sometimes more) FlyCo Faithful and those who are new to the shop and new to comics in general line up for an opportunity to grab some of the free comics offered up special for the Free Comic Book Day event.

And when I say line up, I mean line up. At 11:10 am -- thatís ten minutes after the shop opens -- the line of comic lovers was at least 200 people long and snaking its way around the shopping center where the FlyCo is located -- a high spirited annoyance to the shoppers of Trader Joeís.

Joe Field conceived of the event 10 years ago, so being at Flying Colors on Free Comic Book Day is like going over to FCBDís house for its birthday. Thereís cake, good friends, costumed characters and, of course, the goody bags of comics being passed out, along with prize raffles and discounted prices on regular stock. However, so many people love this shop and its free comics that all patrons are limited to three choices, so you must choose your comics wisely.

-Karyn Pinter

Atlas Comics: Charlottesville, VA

Any illusions I ever have about the joys of owning and operating a comic book store are regularly dispelled by my many conversations with the proprietor of Atlas Comics, the source of my weekly haul here in Charlottesville, Virginia. Itís clear that his profession is one marked with frustration -- the dwindling customer pull lists of economic downturn, the disappointing sales translations of superhero movies and the continual navigation of an endless maze of publisher solicitations that rarely make it easy to gauge potential customer interest. But then comes Free Comic Book Day.

Prepping for and promoting the event is a tall task to be sure (especially when one local paper wrongly lists your start time two hours early), but thereís no doubt that this yearís celebration was a massive success. Atlas may not have the clout to pull in an appearance by a popular creator or host a visit from a score of costumed characters, but it could boast one thing this past Saturday: customers. Lots of them. Men, women, parents and children (many of whom were happy to pick up a few non-free comics as well) swarmed the aisles as if to say, for once, all the hard work was worth it.

-Chris Kiser

For more Free Comic Book Day coverage, check out our other FCBD features:

Comics Bulletin's Interview with FCBD founder Joe Field

Comics Bulletin's FCBD comics review roundup

Comics Bulletin's Interview with Alternate Reality Comics owner Ralph Mathieu

Comics Bulletin's FCBD advance review of Image Comics' Super Dinosaur: Origin Special

Comics Bulletin's FCBD advance review of BOOM! Studios' Elric: The Balance Lost

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