Tagged: Free Comic Book Day

Marc Alan Fishman: Are Comics Shops Intimidating?

How do we earn new fans of comic books? Not comics characters, mind you. Long before he could recognize them immediately on a page, my son learned about the Avengers via movies, Batman via cartoon shows, and Spider-Man via his pajamas. As he and my younger son grow up, they will no doubt be immersed in comics culture. It helps when daddy is chained to his desktop computer and/or iPad Pro every day making his own comics, but I can easily imagine how their generation — with more content in more available mediums that I would have in my own childhood (which in itself was fairly diverse all things considered) — could lose comics in the shuffle so easily.

While he was joking, my good friend and comic retailer Shawn Hilton (of Comics Cubed in Kokomo, Indiana), was quick to make his request to save the industry at large. “Destroy all devices with “I” in the title, get rid of cell phones, and destroy the internet. Minecraft and YouTube have to be wiped out as well.”

He makes a point. The ubiquitous market of video games and streaming video compete with pulp and paper in the most unfair of fights. Find me a kid who chooses prose to pixels, and I’ll show you a diamond in the rough. I’m not here to pat myself on the back. I personally didn’t find a love of comics specifically until I was in middle school, and even then my initial liking of them was tied specifically in with wanting to have more in common with my-soon-to-be brother-from-another-mother, Unshaven Comics’ own Matt Wright.

Another friend of mine, mother to an bright and amazing nine-year old girl, was quick to denote the barrier to entry in the subculture. When I asked her if she ever took her child to the local comic shop, her reply broke my heart.

“We have. She always grabs a few at Free Comic Book Day, and she purchased a Donald Duck comic once. The store intimidates her though, even though she knows on of the staff (our next-door neighbor and friend works there one night a week to pay for his books). Dan Mishkin belongs to our synagogue as well, and she enjoyed a comic book workshop he taught recently, and she’s “writing” her own book now too, but she doesn’t like the comic shop. She feels more comfortable at a traditional bookstore. Comic shops are not generally welcoming places for nine-year old girls.”

Let’s dissect that a bit. Her daughter is one of the good eggs, the kind we strive to hold amongst our ranks. The lure of Free Comic Book Day clearly has worked a bit. The local community hosting a comic book workshop helped too. But twice in her response my friend is clear: “the store intimidates her.”

In the war to win the hearts and minds of the next generation of comic book fans, I am of the opinion that it will begin and end with the local comic shop. While Shawn may do battle with smartphones, tablets, and YouTube, I am apt to defend those distractions to the death. It can never be us vs. them. There is room for both electronic and paper entertainment. Marvel, DC, and the industry writ-large is holding up their end of the bargain — saturating the market with high quality adapted works for TV, movies, and video games. They’re introducing the next generation to their characters and storylines right where that next generation is looking. The local comic shops must find the way to build the bridge from those screens to their doors.

I should note that the publishers bear the burden of offering comics that keeps kids coming back. I freely admit I got event-comic’ed to death. The continual need to collect books I didn’t want to ensure I got the whole story felt (and was) a cheap ploy to ply my money from my hands. The tail wagged the dog too much, and I was forced out of weekly books — opting instead to seek more backing of Kickstarters and artist alleys at comic conventions to satiate my need for sequential art. The devil is always in the details.

I know that without my own hometown always have a comic shop nearby, I would have never found myself rifling through a long box for a back issue. Without a (mostly) friendly staff there to hold my books weekly, make excellent suggestions and jabber with me when I wanted to vent, I’d never have become a subscriber. To save printed comics, we must save small businesses in our communities. In turn, those businesses must do what they can to attract all manners of customers and serve them. I don’t profess to know that specific secret mind you; it’s why Matt and I turned down the chance to own our own comic shop about a year ago.

Inevitably, I’ve ended up as a snake eating its own tail here. The comic shops must be all-inclusive. The publishers must produce meaningful work at an affordable price. Kids have to see the value in the printed comic being physically in their possession over dropping bitcoins into Candy Crush. Inevitably many comic shops wind up catering to the older generations with more disposable income and they don’t care about kids coming in for some all-ages books. The publishers produce the cash-grab-friendly crossover event comics because time-and-again it lands them predictable revenue in an ever-growing marketplace with hot competition.  And the kids are lured away by Minecraft. Ce la vie.

But I remain a vigilant optimist. The next generation of comic book fans are out there. The only way we’ll earn their fandom is to do the work to earn it.

So… what have you done to keep our medium alive today?

Ed Catto: Geek Culture Wins with an Intramural Pickup Game

Avengers Annual2justice-league-of-america-56It’s been a month of big wins for Geek Culture, both domestically and internationally. Last weekend, we celebrated the 15th Year of Free Comic Book Day. FCBD was sparked by Joe Field’s sweet tooth and love of Free Ice Cream Cone Day and has now grown into a worldwide phenomenon. In anticipation of it all, there were articles like this from the Guardian helping Brits find the best Free Comic Book Day Comic Shops in the UK. And you might have read my column last week. I covered the enthusiasm of thousands of FCBD fans in metro NYC.

The other big news was the astounding box office results for the new movie, Captain America: Civil War. This picture’s opening weekend was $181.8 million, making it the best debut of any movie this year, and ensuring it will be one of 2016’s biggest successes. Worldwide, it’s a similar story, and the international box office embraced the picture with an additional $496.6 million.

Much has been written about Warner’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The distinguished competition tried to steal a few pages from Marvel’s cinematic playbook and they enjoyed strong box office revenue. But they also suffered through fan backlash and critical analysis.  Many feel that like a car crash, there was an urge to slow down and check it out. Did fans begrudgingly see the movie? One critic nailed it with the phrase “The Cinema of Obligation.”

Avengers SSCMy Little Pony vs Adenture TimeThis third Captain America movie debuted as the U.S. is coming to grips with a contentious national election. So many voters complain that they don’t like either presidential candidate, and the negative ratings that pollsters report confirm that.

But Geek Culture has known a secret for a long time. You don’t have to hate the “other guy” during an argument. In comics, you can call it a Civil War or you can call it an unfortunate misunderstanding. In Geek Culture when the good guys fight, it’ s more likely there’s been some miscommunication that leads to a short-term conflict. But in the end, they patch up their differences and their friendships supersede their temporary conflict.

The visual of super heroes, who are usually friends, squaring off against one another was a central part of this movie’s marketing. These visuals have been around for a long time. I’ve peppered this article with a few favorites.

Avengers SSCOrdway JLA vs JSALast week, actor Bryan Cranston was educating Bill Maher (!) on how a generation ago, Washington’s social events would routinely include folks from both sides of the aisles. They’d duke it out all day on issues like segregation, then get together for cocktails (with their spouses) and exchange stories about their families. They became friendly off the battlefield of politics.

That’s kind of the way it has always worked in comics, and I wish people passionate about politics would learn a thing or two.

NY Times critic A.O. Scott observed that Captain America: Civil War was less of a civil war and more of an intramural basketball pickup game. He was right. And that’s what makes it so much fun and so successful.

Ed Catto: On the Road Again – Free Comic Book Day

Main Street Comics FCBD 8 Carl and WillSaturday was Free Comic Book Day, the amazing annual event where the world celebrates comics by giving away a few free comics to one and all. And by a few comics, I mean millions!

Fifteen years ago, Joe Field had a wonderful idea that was inspired by a Free Ice Cream Cone Day, and it became a reality. And now it’s grown each year to the delight of fans young and old. Kids, parents, teens, hardcore fans, casual fans, curious potential new fans, advertisers, publishers and retailers helped celebrate the 15th Annual Free Comic Book Day.

This year, I broke my personal record and visited eight amazing comic shops in northern NJ, just outside of New York City. And it was really nine if you count my visit to Main Street Comics on FCBD’s Eve.

Dewey City Lady BlackHawkIt was a great day, as witnessed in many stores.

Constant Cosplay

More than ever, cosplay was an integral part of Geek Culture. I could see that more this year than other years. It’s almost a given that every store will have some excellent cosplayers on the premises. The crowd oohs and ahs while taking photos. It’s all about celebrating the creativity and skills of the cosplayers while providing a bit of live theater.

But it doesn’t end there, as many fans, especially kids, are proud to bring their own cosplay to Free Comic Book Day.

All Ages Means ALL Ages

Main Street Comics FCBD 6 Spidey FanFree Comic Book Day summons fans of all ages. Families with young kids are a staple, but many of the comic shops, like East Side Mags and Funny Books, lured the curious into the fray from their respective downtowns. We used to use phrases like “the young and the young at heart” as a euphemism for “old”, but we don’t have to beat around that bush any more do we?

I saw more than a few older fans, and they were just as eager to pick up comics as the preschoolers.

Cool Folks Doing Cool Things

Dewey City Deadpool HarleySeveral stores, like A & S Comics, Zapp Comics and Dewey’s Comic City had artists on hand to provide sketches and drawings for fans. Other shops had some very interesting folks on premises, including:

  • Time Warp hosted Jennifer Lynn Parson, the editor of Luna Station Publishing, a line of books by female creators.
  • Region 99, a magazine that celebrates creativity through diversity, was also at the Time Warp store. Important to aspiring artists – Region 99 sponsors artists at New York Comic Con, and are now accepting submissions. It sounds like a great way for artists to get onto the convention floor.
  • The Einhorn’s Epic Cookies team was at East Side Mags, selling their unique cookie and comic product. I hadn’t had one in a while, and I was glad I did. Yum!
  • Comic Explosion hosted Mike Stein of the Starfleet, a Star Trek club that meets monthly across New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
  • Funny Books FCBD 1 Cap Batman EdParadox Comics offered their annual Coloring Contest – encouraging fans to bring back their colored pages in one week.
  • In the East Side Mags tents was Keiki Explorer’s Club – a summertime club that takes kids on daytrip adventures!

A Yearly Expectation of Geek Culture

Time Warp FCBD 3 Luna Station Jennifer Lynn ParsonsAfter 15 years, Free Comic Book Day is now at that point where all the fans seemed to get it. And they look forward to the fun in a patient way.

The fans seemed to understand that only designated comics were free. They all seemed to know where to go and how to navigate the stores.

But it’s also worth noting that by the 15th year, all the stores seemed very prepared for the crowds. There was plenty of staff on hand and just about all the stores seemed as geared up and ready to sell comics and other merchandise, as they were ready to give away free comics.

TIme Warp FCBD 6 BillAnd most amazing to me is the diverse crowd of comic fans and how they seemed to get along. And I don’t think that only happens on a day like today. There were so many different people attending FCBD, people that would not typically have the opportunity to speak to one another during a typical day. But here they all were – grabbing their comics, debating the latest comic book movie, marveling over the amazing discounts and sweet deals – and enjoying a moment with other people who share a similar passion.

It was a great event and a great party. I’m already looking forward to FCBD’s Sweet Sixteen!

For the record, I’d like to thank the following New Jersey comic shops, and their hard -working staff, for throwing some great parties today:

  • A & S Comics, Teaneck
  • Paradox Comics, North Arlington
  • A & S Comics FCBD 2Comics Explosion, Nutley
  • East Side Mags, Montclair
  • Time Warp, Cedar Grove
  • Dewey’s Comic City, Madison
  • Funny Books, Lake Hiawatha
  • Zapp! Comics Cards and Toys, Wayne

And one more thank you to Main Street Comics in East Middletown, NY and More Fun Comics and Games in Denton TX, where my brother and my nieces celebrated FCBD.

Martha Thomases: Men Don’t Have Breasts

avengers black widow

Looking forward to Captain America: Civil War? I am. Along with Free Comic Book Day, it marks the beginning of the summer entertainment season. It’s enough to make a person want to invest in popcorn futures.

(Is there even such a thing as popcorn futures?)

While I won’t defend them as pieces of art, I enjoy a good action movie. I like adrenaline and explosions. I like to watch attractive people pretend to fight each other and pretend to fall in love with each other, preferably with lots of adrenaline and explosives.

The main reason I enjoy these movies is that my inner seven-year-old can pretend that I’m doing some of the heroic actions, or maybe even the villainous actions. The same seven-year-old who believed that the right sneakers would let me run faster and jump higher.

Pre-pubescent kids have amazing imaginations. To be seven is to know, in your heart, that anything can happen, that the world is an awesome place and you can have it all. Unfortunately, as we get older, reality intrudes. We start to learn that we have limitations as well as talents, and we have to figure out how to make the best of both.

Boys grow up to be men, and I’m not claiming that is easy. Men face a lot of pressure to conform to a fairly narrow view of masculinity. They are supposed to be strong and tough and earn a living and support a family and never ever let anyone see them doubt themselves.

But they don’t have breasts. Breasts are wonderful body-parts, but they don’t necessarily appear at the most convenient time, nor do they come with instructions about how to fit themselves into a girl’s previous version of a normal life. According to this, breasts (or, more accurately, the way our society treats breasts) are responsible for too many girls dropping out of physical activities they used to enjoy.

I’m going to blame comics, at least in part. Especially mainstream super-hero comics.

Too many super-heroines go about their super-heroing business displaying their impossibly large breasts with no visible means of support. A girl with new breasts reading about Catwoman leaping around Gotham City without at least an underwire (and preferably in a sports-bra) isn’t going to think she can be Catwoman. The same girl, watching Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises, doing the same thing, will be able to relate.

Scarlett Johansson is a beautiful woman with womanly curves, and her Black Widow costume is entirely believable for the stunts she performs.

We might not be able to expect the same for the upcoming Wonder Woman movie. According to Gal Gadot, the executives in charge of the film care way more about how her breasts look than about the script or any other aspect of the production.

In that regard, at least, Warner Bros. is keeping the comic book’s history alive. For all her decades of feminist cred, DC has most often treated the Amazing Amazon as tits and ass, a tradition that will carry on at least through the movie’s premiere.

Luckily, there are all sorts of comics that a girl can read that have characters who look like her and still accomplish amazing things. Some have characters she may already know and some she may not and some she may have heard about but not know the details. And if she ventures past the Big Two, there are so many choices telling so many different kinds of stories that don’t rely on sexualizing women’s bodies as objects to be observed, not inhabited.

You know, like the boys do.

Ed Catto: Comic Shop Entrepreneurship

Comic Shops Panelists

I moderated a panel at New York Comic Con called The 7 Archetypes of Comic Shops. My All-Star panelists included several outstanding comic shop retailers. It was a fascinating time with lots of surprises – remind me to tell you about Marc (Aw, Yeah) Hammond’s Frank Gorshin story someday. We had a packed room and it evolved into a celebration of smart retailing and Geek Culture.

The new kid on the block was Jeff Beck, an ambitious retailer who just opened a comic shop called East Side Mags in Montclair, NJ. It’s a great store and you might remember I was impressed when I visited it during my marathon comic shop travels on Free Comic Book Day. I sat down with Jeff and here’s what he had to say:

East-Side-Mags-Donation-Photo-2014-3Ed Catto: Jeff, your store looks great. Can you tell me how long you’ve been retailing, and the backstory of how you decided to open East Side Mags?

Jeff Beck: ESM has been open for almost a year and half now. I worked retail when I was in high school and college but never in a management position. Just a floor guy or stock room guy. Nothing special. I went to college for music recording/radio/audio engineering and ended up in the Audio Visual industry while trying to find a job more geared to what I studied. I ended up working for a major corporation that provides AV services in hospitality environments. My position was Sales Manager but I had extensive knowledge in setting up equipment, operation, etc.

I worked in this capacity for about a decade – working in hotels and conference centers. I met my mentor (and one of my closest friends) Nicholas Cox, whose open door policy of management exposed me to the ins and outs of running a business. We discussed P&L statements, payroll, management tactics, operational details, etc. and he really gave me the opportunity to understand what it was like to run a multi-million-dollar department. My last “tour of duty” was with a privately owned conference center company (startup) in Manhattan in which I worked (again) as Nick’s right hand man after we both had left PSAV. I loved working with Nick and we saw high levels of success.

I wasn’t satisfied though. I needed to be my own boss and had always dreamed of owning and/or running a comic store, as I’ve been a collector for over 20 years. With the knowledge I had, I began to work behind the scenes of my regular job to put a business plan together. Studying sales statistics, perusing websites, blogs and message boards for 2½ years, I finally had a viable business plan and saw growth in an industry most thought would “go the way of the buffalo” in this digital age. The day came, I dropped five resignation letters, and I was off.

Having been turned down for small business loans by five banks, three co-ops and a government agency whose management “switched hands” and froze their loan program, I decided to cash out every account I had in my name and went all in! And here we are today – each day better than the last – and from here, the sky’s the limit!

EC: It’s cool that your store name doesn’t have the word “comics” in it. Was that intentional?

JB: Yes. I guess. I needed a cool name that reflected my rise to being my own boss so I chose East Side Mags. East Side Mags is the name of a song by a NJ punk band called The Bouncing Souls. When I first saw them play, it was in a skating rink in West Orange called JT SkateZone! Now they tour the world and play with big name acts, the Warped Tour, etc. They went from being grassroots to being a highly successful musical act and that’s what I wanted to achieve as well. That this particular song came on in my car while waiting to meet with another prominent retailer who had agreed to meet with me and, being off one my favorite albums, seemed fitting. Especially where the “Mags” is concerned. I have had one person – a food delivery guy – who thought I was a gun store. He couldn’t have been more wrong!

EC: What type of clientele do you have? Is that what you expected?

JB: My clientele is really very diverse. It reflects the research I did but you never really expect to see what you see until you’re there. It’s like seeing pictures of the Grand Canyon then actually going to the Grand Canyon! I would say that my customer base is almost half female – showing a greater number of female readers as per the reporting I had seen from several news outlets. Also, I have a lot of kids and families as we have an extensive kids section of all ages material – great for kids to come in and grab whatever they see that interests them – without parents having to be concerned about content.

EC: It looks like you are very involved in the local community. Is that important to you?

JB: Community is very important to me. Anyone can open a shop anywhere but they’ll close their doors just as fast as they open if the community doesn’t find value in what the business does. Because of this I am very focused on the community at large, constantly adjusting our products and services to accommodate a diverse community.

EC: What are some of the activities you’ve planned at ESM?

JB: We host a monthly movie night where I rent a 6’ screen, projector and sound system, but instead of collecting money, admission consists of healthy food donations that are then brought to local food pantries. Bring a bag of brown rice – you get to see a movie! That deal can’t be beat!

We also host local (and affordable) art from local artists around North Jersey/Central Jersey and constantly rotate it to keep things fresh. We sell the artwork on a consignment basis so that the artists’ costs are covered and the remainder is split 50/50, ensuring the cost doesn’t come out of the artists’ half of the sale. We also work with the Montclair BID (Business Improvement District, also known as Montclair Center) and host art walks, sidewalk stroll sales, etc. and we stuff shopping bags with menus and business cards of other businesses around Montclair to help promote other businesses to our customers.

east-side-magsEC: What activities are ahead?

JB: We continue to do all the things already mentioned and I’m also looking into hosting vintage video game tournaments and free play as a possibility.

EC: Can you talk a little about how you’ve laid out your store, and what you feel the ideal mix of Geek Culture items is?

JB: Comic book stores, by default, are visually overwhelming. If you’re a fan or even know a little about it, you walk in and are immediately floored by the variety of comics, toys, accessories, t-shirts, etc. that are available. We have a large wall clearly marked with new arrival tags where the new issues are put up each week. We have large, customized bins to hold back issues – some going back to the 60s or earlier. On the opposite side of the store we have a large wall housing toys, action figures and novelty items. Trade paperbacks and graphic novels make up the other part of that large wall, with mature trades separated from Teen or Teen Plus trades. Above the toys and trades, we have shelving that displays the local artwork mentioned earlier with tags showing the artists’ names and where they are from in New Jersey.

We have a few glass cases housing statues and the more interesting or expensive/breakable items and a few spinner racks with more action figures and toys. We utilize some of the space for pop up tables with featured items. Right now Star Wars is pretty big deal, so we have a table of all different kinds of Star Wars merchandise.

We have two large chalkboard walls as well. One, right next to the new issues, is used for listing all the new comics that arrive each week to allow customers an easy (and colorful) layout of “what’s new” that week and roughly where they can find it along the new release wall. The second chalkboard wall is for the customers and kids. We keep a small bucket of chalk next to it that kids can use to draw absolutely anything they want.

Then we take a picture of the wall post it on our website. The sales counter, where the register is, has cards, some art and smaller items that people can look through. Behind the counter, on wall shelves, we have the “wall books” – basically any comic valued at $10 and up that we display and sell but do not leave in the bins due to the overall value of the comics themselves. Some items include or have included Iron Man #55 (first appearance of Thanos), Amazing Spider-Man #300, X-Men #1 from 1963, etc.

EC: During FCBD, you had the most extensive offering of Free Comics. Can you explain your strategy and provide any results or follow-up?

JB: Diamond Distribution has a number of titles available for retailers to purchase on FCBD. Some retailers, I guess, don’t get copies of everything and everyone has their own strategy when it comes to picking comics for FCBD. I got X number of every single comic that was available to me to purchase and essentially got rid of everything!

Granted they are free, but we also had a ton of people buy things in addition to the free comics. I think people saw the generosity in making the widest selection available and minimal prohibition (customers could take one copy of as many titles as they wanted) so they bought items as well to show support back to us for the great spread! It was a very “Do unto others” type situation. People felt the love so they showed us love in turn and it was an amazing day!

EC: What are some of the most surprising things you’ve learned?

JB: I’m surprised at the number of indie comic book writers and artists there are out there! In a digital age when so many publications are being pushed to iPhones, tablets, etc. there are so many people out there with pen and paper, writing, drawing and marketing their own works on paper! I get at least two emails/phone calls per week with someone asking if we’re interesting in carrying their comics. I’m also surprised at how many people come into the shop and are interested but have never read a comic! We make first time recommendations for so many people. A lot of people must have had some negative experiences or something because they always tell us they wanted to [get into comics] but didn’t for some reason – someone must have turned them off to it.

But we thrive on a welcoming atmosphere where people of any level of comic knowledge can feel comfortable and our recommendations make it easy to get into the books! Like superheroes? No problem. Like love stories? No problem. Like zombies? Vampires? War stories? Different takes on historical events? Kung Fu? Music? Animals? Robots? Outer Space? Clowns? Feminism? Masculinity? We can find something for ALL OF THOSE!

EC: What’s your favorite comic and do you market it extra hard at your store?
JB: I don’t know if I have a favorite per se but there is definitely a strategy to the comics I read each week. Yes. I read each week to keep up on what’s going on. I make sure I read the more popular titles like Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, etc. I read as many #1s as I can get my hands on and try to keep reading into the #4 or #5 issues to get a handle on the story arc so when customers inevitably ask about a title, I have an answer for them instead of “Well, a lot of people buy it so it must be good” mentality. I also have a lot of indie/self-published works that I read as well and probably push those more than major titles – based on the fact that they are written and drawn both by an indie writer/artist who doesn’t have the benefit of DC or Marvel or Image putting out and distributing their work. I can’t say I push any titles in particular extra hard but try to see what the customer likes and focus on that. Being that I read a wide range of titles, I honestly feel that I can find something for anyone based on their taste in movies and/or TV shows.

EC: What’s your experience with comic conventions and where do you see them going in the next few years?

JB: I think comic cons are great! There seem to be an awful lot of them these days but when they’re done right – they exceed expectations! Organized, lots of talent, focusing more on the comics with a little media thrown in is where it’s at! I think as long as comics are accessible to people and tie into movies and TV (mainstream), comic cons aren’t going anywhere any time soon! It’s also great for comic fans because it gives them a chance to meet the minds behind their favorite comics and get their comics signed or get a sketch or commission done by their favorite artists, ask questions with regards to inspiration or favorite story and really interact with the people who make/create the things they love so much. Where else can you do that?

EC: Is it true you are a newlywed and had a unique Pop Culture theme for your wedding?

JB: I’m a big Star Wars fan so once we were announced man and wife, I grabbed my original Han Solo plastic blaster from my childhood, my wife put on a headband that gave her Princess Leia buns, my best man put on a Chewbacca mask and my wife’s man of honor held a plastic light saber. The audio guys played the throne room music from Episode IV and we marched down the aisle as man and wife! We also gave out Lego Star Wars key chains to all our family and friends as wedding favors!

EC: Thanks so much, Jeff.

Ed Catto: On the Road, On Free Comic Book Day

You’ve doubtlessly heard of Dante’s Inferno and his seven circles of hell. But did you know he had a couple of sequels, including Paradiso (i.e., Paradise)? I touch upon this I think that for so many geeks across the world, Free Comic Book Day is a uniquely shared day of celebration. This year, for this mini-paradise, I embarked on what was a sort of Circle of Free Comic Book Day: a seven store marathon FCBD pilgrimage to learn how it’s changed and why it’s a bigger deal each and every year.

1 Erika and Quincy FCBD momI live just outside of New York City in New Jersey, so I mapped out a plan of action to visit several stores for the 14th Annual Free Comic Book Day. Created by entrepreneur, retailer, visionary and all-around-great-guy, Joe Fields, this holiday has now grown to a worldwide event, distributing an estimated 5.3 million comics, engaging national sponsors and rivaling Black Friday as a geek-centric retail blockbuster.

By its very nature, reading is a solitary event. On the other hand, comics, graphic novels and geek culture are inherently social. Free Comic Book Day offers a bridge across this divide. One of the magical transformations of FCBD is that it turns the experiences of reading/collecting, and typical one-on-one experience between the retailer and the customer, into a shared, event-like experience.
Based on my own very geocentric observations, here’s a few emerging trends I saw in my day long pilgrimage:

4 Mom & Daughter CosplayMore Women, and more Moms. There’s been a lot written about the very healthy explosion of women participating in geek culture, and I saw so much evidence to support this. There many women – on their own, with kids, with other women and with significant others. Of particular note were the moms with whom I spoke. They are a new breed. They are fans that keep up with it along with their kids. The first mom I spoke with, Erika, brought her son Quincy and his friend. She revealed they’ve been buying comics since last free comics day, and was a lapsed Elfquest reader. The boys liked Spider-Man and Batman, but she showed her true colors when she explained she was going to pick up the last two issues of Saga because she was a month behind.

Lauren, another mom, kept here two adorable daughters from getting unruly as she explained she loves Vertigo’s Fables, the Avengers and Saga. Gladys, a mother of two making a mid-day FCBD stop with her family (and another young family), explained that he loves Harley Quinn and was ravenous to read anything with this breakout character.

5 Dad and Son CosplayTwenty-something fan girls were out in force as well. One woman, waiting in line at 4:30 during my final visit of the day, explained she’s a regular buyer, but had to miss last year’s FCBD as she was scheduled to work. She had just finished her shift and headed straight the The Joker’s Child comic store. At Funny Books, cosplay was encouraged and one woman was cosplaying Harley Quinn while another young woman proudly showed off the skirt she had made – and the fabric was adorned with female-empowerment magic items.

Sales Stronger than Ever. Dan Veltre of Dewey’s Comic City said that this year’s FCBD looked to eclipse last year’s event, and that “Free Comic Book Day is now bigger than Black Friday, bigger than Midnight Madness.” But FCBD is more than just a big one-day party. Every retailer realized it’s either the start of a new relationship or a way to strengthen existing ones, and then plans accordingly. Some offer coupons, some provided extra free comic books and one retailer, A&S Comics, encouraged customers at checkout to join their Belly loyalty program.

Creative Cosplay. A few years ago, FCBD might be a time break out a comic-themed T-shirt. This year, it’s an opportunity for many fans and retailers to cosplay. What a fun day for so many kids to cosplay, or the parents who encouraged them. Lego and DK Publishing, two Free Comic Book Day Sponsors, held costume contests in select stores. (Full Disclosure: Bonfire/GeekRiotMedia developed and managed this sponsorship.)

And many retailers got into the act too. Paradox Comics had a bouncer Harley Quinn and a Captain Marvel, with a FCBD, enticing drivers to stop by. Funny Books’ Spider-Man and Black Widow posed with fans, and the storeowner joined the fun as Captain America.

Community Focused. As more and more traditional retailers become less connected to their community, comic book shops seem to be taking the opposite approach. East Side Mags’ owner Jeff Beck worked with the local library to create a banner that fans were invited to draw on during FCBD. This will be on display thorough the summer. Other retailers, like A&S comics, worked out deals to create special coupon offers with other local businesses.

Long Lines and Deep Passion. Every store, throughout the day, I visited had a line full of fans waiting to join the celebration. Zapp Comics explained they had fans camping out starting at 3:30 am Saturday Morning, and there was a long line when they opened their doors at 8:00 am. They ran out of their FCBD comics by 12:30, and by afternoon were offering select current titles they had pulled off the rack so as to not disappoint fans. Some stores, like Dewey’s Comic City used the line wisely, with tents and free sketching from up-and-coming artists from the nearby Kubert Art School. Funny Books hauled the back issues out onto the sidewalk for a 50% sale. “The Free Comic Book Day Weather Gods are smiling upon us once again, “ said Steve Conte. And at the Joker’s Child, there was still a 20-minute wait to get in at 4:30 n Saturday afternoon.

A Busy Day. And as usual, the comic shop retailers were ones that customers turned to for help and recommendations. And sometimes retailers were simply the person with whom they could share the joy of the day. For most of us, neighborhood grocers, pharmacists, barbers and bookstore owners are a thing of the past. I’m glad, as were all the folks in the communities I visited, that we still have local comic shop retailers.

Special thanks to these great retailers (listed in the order of my FCBD visits):

2 Circle of Free Comic Book DayA&S Comics – Teaneck, NJ

Paradox Comics, North Arlington, NJ

East Side Mags, Montclair, NJ

Dewey’s Comic City, Madison, NJ

Funny Books, Lake Hiawatha, NJ

Zapp Comics, Wayne NJ

The Joker’s Child, Fairlawn, NJ

 

Molly Jackson: Bow to the Almighty Dollar

Judge DreddThis past weekend was a big, major one with Avengers: Age of Ultron premiering, and, on Saturday, Free Comic Book Day. And geeks, in general, had a good, busy weekend. Events were popping up all around the country, celebrating geekdom.

It was also a huge money maker for geek companies. Marvel/Disney (as expected) scored big at movie box offices all over the US. Comic book stores opened their doors to new and old comic readers with free gifts as well as deals on their current stock. People were out and about spending money, which is good for the local community as well as big business.

All this spending of the almighty dollar.

Which made it all the more better when I opened up the FCBD 2000 AD issue and read the Judge Dredd story. This UK weekly had a futuristic story about certain people being banned from using certain building entrances set aside for the elite. Which is the exact same issue happening in NYC right now.

Science-fiction always has been used to highlight inequality and social issues throughout time, which is part of the reason I love it so much. Using entertaining media to educate people and share ideas is one of the best ideas humans ever had.

Still, I didn’t expect it to show up on FCBD. This is a day normally reserved to bring in new readers and give them a taste to whet their appetite. So taking a moral or ethical stance that could offend could be a risk. However, 2000 AD took a chance and I’m loving it. They show their platform through Judge Dredd, as well as other stories, and it’s an open-minded one. They are showing any and all readers who they are and what they stand for. This is what Sci-Fi is meant to be.

High-five to 2000 AD for using issues and dilemmas from “over the pond” to educate as well as entertain.

Martha Thomases: Free Comics, Convergence And More!

This is going to be a slap-dash column, full of random thoughts (and, I hope, insights) because I’m having a slap-dash episode. The plumber is supposed to be here fixing my kitchen sink at some time in a four-hour period. I don’t know when he will arrive, but I’m pretty sure it will be when I’m in the middle of something really complicated.

The super in my building is supposed to come by to hang a picture for me that is too heavy for me to hang by myself. Again, that time thing makes it difficult to plan properly, or to think and act in an orderly manner.

My son and his girlfriend are coming to visit (hence the increased urgency for a working kitchen sink) and I have to make up the guest room, make sure there are snacks in the fridge, and explain to Salina the cat that she can’t sleep there at night.

So yes, I’m not thinking a lot about comic books, nor their spin-offs into other media. Except that super-speed and super-strength would be especially useful right now. Together, they would put my plumber and super out of business. Working people will have enough problems from Congress over the next two years without me wishing for extra abilities that make their lives more difficult.

Anyway, here are my random thoughts.

  • Convergence, the DC event that lets the corporate staff move to Burbank and get settled, sounds great to geek me. No, it won’t draw in new readers. No, I won’t like everything. But I’m psyched for Tom Peyer on The Atom, Larry Hama on Wonder Woman, Gail Simone on Nightwing/Oracle, Alisa Kwitney on Batgirl and Greg Rucka on Question.
  • That said, it seems that event-driven comics are not the guaranteed sales they once were and this is only good for comics. I mean, I’m fine with Spider-Man showing up in the third issue of every new Marvel series (god, I’m old), or a new DC character finding herself in Gotham, because that’s a way to introduce new readers to the book. Universe-spanning crossovers are the antithesis of this. Instead of using something familiar to make a new reader comfortable with taking a chance on a new title, crossovers tend to be so complicated (especially if one reads only a few titles consistently, not all of them) that it’s easier to skip the whole thing.
  • You know what would bring in new readers? Free comics. And, yes, Free Comic Book Day is a wonderful thing. So wonderful that I think we can take its success and use it to try to reach more targeted audiences. For example, if I, as a single woman living in Manhattan, could get a Groupon for a free first issue (or trade paperback) of Saga, redeemable at my local comic book shop, I might try it.

Yeah, it’s not cheap. Image would have to support the plan with co-op dollars. Still, I think it would draw in a bunch of people that comic book marketing doesn’t normally reach.

  • I’m liking Matt Ryan as the title character on Constantine. He seems to enjoy the hell out of all the snark he’s supposed to convey. The scripts aren’t terrible – a bit heavy on the exposition, but that’s what happens when there is a new universe to introduce to viewers. I like the way they use comic book art as Easter eggs.

However…

His tie is always askew in exactly the same way. I just know there is someone on set whose job it is to wrangle the tie. It doesn’t look casual. It doesn’t look reckless. It doesn’t look like John Constantine, man of mystery, is caught in a world beyond his control.

It looks affected. More than anything, it reminds me of Miami Vice.

It’s a tie, John Constantine. If you don’t want to wear it, don’t wear it. If you put it on in a half-assed way, day after day, every day, I will think (and I’ll try to use words you’ll understand) you are a wanker.

  • Like a good geek, I get my comic books on Wednesday, usually in the morning because that’s how it fits into my round of errands. Often, I don’t actually sit down to read them until the weekend.

For the last few weeks, I have left-overs on Tuesday.

Are comics worse? Am I outgrowing them, finally, fifty years after all my childhood friends? Is it just a fluke of chance, that storylines aren’t appealing to me?

I take my own advice and try to pick up something new, from an independent publisher, on a regular basis. Lots of these comics (see Saga, above) become part of my regular list. So I don’t think it’s happening because I’m a slave to super-heroes. I still like them.

Any suggestions?

  • There is a new Stephen King book out this week. It’s titled Revival and I know almost nothing about it. I love Stephen King books. Reading one feels like getting into a warm bath, because I know that he can tell a story, and create characters I’ll care about. He cares about them, too.

And I’m probably not going to have the time to read it until the kids go home. And I like having them here and don’t look forward to their leaving.

Maybe I can stay up all night reading. When I finish reading my comics.

 

0

The Tweeks review IDW’s “My Little Pony” comics!

Following last weekend full of Free Comic Book Day and the Kentucky Derby, it’s only fitting that the Tweeks talk through IDW’s latest My Little Pony offerings: Friendship is Magic #18, Mini Comics, Micro Comics, and Pony Tales Vol. 1.  But don’t worry, if you aren’t a Brony yet, we explain Cutie Marks and the Cutie Crusaders – it’s kind of like handicapping.

Photo by JD Hancock

Mike Gold: Free Comic Books, Now!

This is Wednesday, so perhaps you have finished reading all those free comic books you copped last Saturday – in time for today’s new releases, of course. I hope you tried some new stuff; that, after all, is the purpose of the exercise.

I hope you got your free comics at all. Fans are limited by their proximity to a comic book store; despite the (slow) growth in outlets, finding a store remains a trauma exacerbated in less urban environs. Of course, if you are within distance of a comics shop, your friendly neighborhood retailer has to participate in Diamond Comic Distributors’ Free Comic Book Day program – and that’s a fairly expensive proposition.

No criticism is intended here: it’s a good program, and all Diamond is asking is that retailers pay their share of the expenses. Nonetheless, some retailers find the cost is prohibitive. Running a comic book store is a scary proposition: every month, the owner stares at the order form and literally bets the rent on his non-returnable choices. If you’ve made some bad calls, you might not have the coin for this promotion. And if you’re doing okay, you might know from previous experience that there is an insufficient return on investment. That’s called “business.”

One of the benefits of the convention circuit is that I get to see friends from all over the country. In the two weeks prior to Free Comic Book Day, I was at AwesomeCon in Washington DC and C2E2 in Chicago. Several retailer friends told me in Washington that they weren’t participating in FCBD, usually for the reasons I noted above. Hmmmm, I said.

The following week I was in Chicago and I asked several other retailer friends if they were playing in. Their general response was “What? Of course I am! Do you think I’m nuts?”

Well, I just might, but not over FCBD. It’s each retailer’s decision, and he or she makes that decision based upon the balance sheet and prior experience. If, ultimately, it expands their sales it’s a good idea and if it does not expand their sales, it’s a bad idea. It’s just that simple.

I like FCBD because it gives me, as a reader, the opportunity to sample stuff that I have overlooked. There are roughly 500 new comic books published each month, not counting direct-to-digital, and even if I have the Sultan of Brunei’s bank account I don’t have time to read even a small fraction of the total output. Plus, I’m an old newspaper strip fan and, as Mark Wheatley says, this is the golden age of newspaper reprints. Let’s face it, I’ve got a life. And that life has a television set.

The coolest part for me is coming across something unexpected. For example, the 2014 FCBD edition of 2000 AD contained a Judge Dredd story by my pal Chris Burnham, who neglected to tell me he did this job when I saw him the previous week. I forgive him, and respect the fact that he’s capably following in the footsteps of Carlos Ezquerra, Brian Bolland, Mick McMahon, Ian Gibson and other top-rank Dredd artists. As I moved into the guts of the book I was pleased to see Jan Duursema’s art on the Durham Red story. Pretty damn cool.

I guess for me, the whole Free Comic Book Day thing addresses that inner-fanboy that all too often is pushed aside by “professional considerations.” So, as a consumer, FCBD is a very good thing.

Besides. I like Rocket Raccoon. Hey, we’ve all got something to promote!