On Saturday, May 2nd, thousands of comic book retailers not only around the U.S. & Canada but worldwide will participate in the 8th annual Free Comic Book Day. In an example of 'truth in advertising', "FCBD" as it's often referred to is exactly that – a chance to walk into a store you might have never even been in before, and walk out with something brand-new without writing a check, swiping a credit card, or handing over any hard-earned cash.
And no, it's not "free with a purchase", or "free when you sign up to take a tour of a timeshare" for you skeptics ... We're talking free free.
Intrigued? Want to know how and where you can take part? Here's a primer on Free Comic Book Day and how you can get in on the action.
one of Marvel Comics' FCBD offerings
What is FCBD and When Did It Start?
Inspired by the ice cream chain Baskin-Robbins annual "Free Scoop Night", in 2001 comic book retailer Joe Field of the 'Flying Colors' comics shop in Concord, California proposed an event in which he, his fellow retailers, and comic book publishers like Marvel and DC Comics could try to attract new readers to comic book through a free outreach program. The idea was people love comic books - many people just don't know where to buy them and don't know the quality of the publications being offered.
In May, 2002 the first Free Comic Book Day was held.
Most often held the first weekend in May, the event has usually been timed to the release of a new, big-screen comic book movie (this year it's Marvel's X-Men Origins: Wolverine), in order to take advantage of the heightened media attention on all-things comic books.
"The event has become the focal point of our industry's work to find new readers of all ages for comics and graphic novels," says Fields "It really is a 'holiday' for comic books, with parties and events all over the world. And I hear from a good number of my retailing colleagues that FCBD is also their single biggest business day all year - which to me is still secondary to how many thousands of potential new readers we see for the first time on FCBD."
Any retailer who is a part of the comic book "Direct Market" can take part. This usually means one of the estimated 2300 mostly locally and independently owned-and-operated shops around the U.S. & Canada (with the number much higher internationally).
Large bookstore chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble, or convenience store chains like 7-Eleven that might carry comic books in your town are not participants.
According to the Field, this year approximately 2000 shops in 30 countries will take part.
Has It Worked?
Well, no one can say exactly how many, regular new comic book readers have become so through FCBD, but the annual event has proven worthwhile enough for retailers and publishers to be rocking its 8th year, and Direct Market industry sales have risen considerably since 2001 – from 66.92 million copies sold and $187 million dollars in revenue that year to 81 million copies sold and $263 million dollars in 2008.
No doubt the industry's improved fortune is attributable to many factors, but one thing that can be said for sure – it's certainly helped.
So What Can I Get Exactly?
one of DC Comics' FCBD offerings
Each participating store sets their own policy, but most typically at least one free comic book per person. And while we can't make any promises for your local store, some retailers are sometimes more generous than that, especially to children.
And no, these aren't musty, dog-eared copies of 1970's Richie Rich reprints being given away. This is not a chance for comic shops to clean their stockrooms. Dozens of publishers have created over 40 different, some brand-new stories and samplers created specifically for FCBD (though each retailer decides which books they carry and how many copies they'll make available).
Offerings range from brand-new, original stories that preview industry giants Marvel and DC's big summer superhero events, to more all-ages-friendly stories like Dark Horse Comics' adaptation of Cartoon Network's Star Wars: Clone Wars, or BOOM! Studio's Cars (based on the Disney/Pixar property), to more adult-oriented indy fare like Fantagraphics Love & Rockets.
A full listing of titles created specifically for FCBD can be found here.
What Else Can I Do or Get?
Many participating retailers don't just stop at the free books. Some shops taking part will also be holding special sales for customers who might be intrigued enough to buy a few books while they're there to get their free one.
Others hold special signings by comic book writers and artists, have appearances by characters like Spider-Man and Batman for children, hold charity events, and some even offer food and drink.
Your best bet is to find a participating store and to call ahead to find out their specific plans.
Is that X-Men Origins: Wolverine star and Oscar host Hugh Jackman Promoting FCBD?
Why yes, it is.
So How Do I Take Part?
Dark Horse Comics FCBD offering
You just have to show up. The rub is finding a comic book shop that's participating if you don't already know where one is, which is sort of the point of the whole event to begin in.
If a look under "comic books" or "comics shop" in your local Yellow Pages, or a Google Maps search doesn't turn up anything, there are several ways to try to locate a stores near(est) you.
- The Free Comic Book Day website (http://www.freecomicbookday.com/index.asp) has a comic shop locator (by zipcode) on every single one of its pages.
- The same service can be found at http://www.comicshoplocator.com/, or if you're not too Internet savvy (although the likelihood of you reading this is admittedly low), the service's toll-free phone number is 1-888-COMIC-BOOK.
What Is the Event's Founder Look Forward to This Year?
"What I hope will happen is that excited comic fans will use FCBD as the perfect excuse to introduce their friends to the wonderful world of comics," said Field.
"And I'd like to leave people - retailers, publishers, creators, fans and first time store visitors - with my heart-felt thanks for making FCBD the big celebration it is.
"As comics-drenched as our pop culture is, I hope FCBD is another reminder of just how great and powerful comics are as an entertainment medium."