Free Comic Book Day - Live from Heroes

Free Comic Book Day - Live from Heroes

The opening crowd

It’s Free Comic Book Day 2009, and once again, Newsarama is set up at Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find in Charlotte, NC.

This year, in addition to the twenty-plus books available for visitors, Heroes will host a gaggle of creators: Mark Brooks, Chris Brunner, Ian Flynn, Sanford Greene, Cully Hamner, Matt Herms, Adam Hughes, Jason Latour, Budd Root, Chris Schweizer, Andy Smith, Allison Sohn, and Brian Stelfreeze. All guests will be signing and sketching from 1-5pm. Stelfreeze will more than likely continue his tradition of sketching until 6pm to make sure everyone gets their sketch.

It’s still early – the store doesn’t open for an hour, and owner Shelton Drum explained a few of the differences visitors (as well as readers of these annual Newsarama reports) may notice this year. First off, the regular two tents set up outside the store for creators and sale books have expanded to four. The doubling of tents was necessary, Drum explained, to accommodate the crowds that could jam up the area in front of the store as people visited with creators and waited for autographs and sketches.

Blackest Night #0, nestled among the Green Lanterns

The other, major change this year is the placement of the free comics in the store. In years past, the FCBD comics were all placed on the font counter, and traffic was directed around the sales island in the middle of the store. This year, Drum said that an idea came up and took hold that resulted in a change – the FCBD books are on the regular shelved, beside their full-price brothers and sisters. “It’s something of a scavenger hunt,” Drum said. “Blackest Night #0 (DC’s FCBD entry) is beside Green Lantern, Wolverine is beside the regular Wolverine issues, the kids free books are in the kids section, the more mature titles are with the mature books. It’s something to try and see how it works.”

The move is going hand in hand with several employees being stationed around the store to make sure those unfamiliar with FCBD know which books are free and which have to be paid for.

And as usual – the crowd is forming. At 9:00 – a full hour before the store opened, 10-12 people were already waiting outside - and at 10:00am, the line was stretched back around the corner of the building.

Love and Rockets, at home in the "literature' genre racking

10:00am - And the store is swamped with people. Imediately, staffers are seeing the strengths and weaknesses in the placement of the FCBD titles among the regular books - it's labor intensive, as Heroes' Dustin Harbin points out, but at the same time, customers and potential customers are having more interactions with staff, who are, along with directing them to other titles they may enjoy. Unfortunately, replacing stocks of FBCD titles can take an extra minute or two, as it's not as easy to see when the stock on hte shelf runs out. However, on the plus side, the traffic moving through the store is looking at the shelves, rather than exclusively looking at the free titles on the sales island as in years past.

"It's an experiment..." Harbin said with a smile.

10:25 am - You know you're having a good event when neighbording businesses call and complain that your customers and people are going into your store are filling up all the parking spaces nearby.

10:40 am - The plan seems to be working - there's a stream of people moving along hte shelves chaking out the books, while the line to check out now circles the sales island in the middle of the store. After some bumps, the re-stocking system seems to have worked itself out, and there are no longer any FCBD vacancies on the shelves...well, for any appreciable period of time.

10:50 am - Dead soliders among the titles so far (meaning that Heroes is out...): no Gold Sponsor titles (from Marvel, DC, Image, Viz, Oni and Dark Horse) yet - still plenty of copies. The titels that were burned through early include Silver Level sponsor titles, of which, varying numbers were ordered. So far, the Dabel Brothers book is gone, as is Love and Capes, and the NASCAR Heroes title, which in Charlotte is some kind of crime...

Oh - and the Wolverine foam claws that were movie promotion items? Drum scored five boxes of those, and they're going fast.

And the line for checkout now circles the sales island fully.

11:20 am - And now, a word about the customers. FCBD is a chance for regular customers to hit the shop and check out the free titles and sales and in that sense, Heroes is no different. But along with the regulars, the store is swimming with new faces - moms and dads with kids in tow, folks just looking for a specific title, and friends of regulars brought in for the day. Right now, the customers in the store would fill a demographic data sheet completely - a refershing sight for any comic shop. But among all the groups represented, its best to see the kids - whether tagging along with a parent, or themselves the reason they came to the shop in the first place, the store is flooded with kids carrying comics, asking about statues, and poking each other with their big, foam claws.   

11:45 am - This year, Harbin said, Heroes didn't do any direct mailing or print advertising for Free Comic Book Day, instead relying on the Heroes blog, at the main website and on Twitter. But that didn't seem to negatively impact attendance or sales at all. "Sales are through the roof already," Harbin said. "This is the steadiest we've ever seen the crowd for Free Comic Book Day. Usually, there are peaks and dips throught the morning, even, but this year, the line has stayed at a consistent 50-60 people deep."

The line for - well, pretty much for Adam Hughes

Harbin quickly dashed out the door, on a quest to find another cash register that could be opened for cash-only transactions.

12:05 pm - The second cash register has been found! Harbin is giving lessons on calculating tax and running the new register.

12:15 pm - Random note - Blackest Night #0 is currently on eBay, with Buy it Now prices hovering around $10. while Avengers is looking be hovering around a $1.50 opening bid. Meanwhile, the second register seems to have broken the logjam, and the customer flow is much quicker now.

1:40 pm - (because Newsarama needs to eat, too) The artists have arrived, and the lines waiting for them are huge! And by saying "the artists," we mean "the artists minus Cully Hamner" as Cully's car broken down near GReenville, S.C. on the way from Atlanta.

Adam Hughes, getting right into the thick of things

1:45 pm - "I feel like we're approaching a record in terms of sales, and it's not even 2:00 yet," Harbin said. "That's just flabbergasting to me." 

"It's become an institution," Drum said when asked why he felt so many people showed up this year, even when comared to last year. "I really think people just have come to know that sometime around the first wekeend in May, they know they can get a fee comic book at a comic book store."

By 1:50, the lines that wrapped around the sales island were gone, though the store has remained comfortably full since noon.

2:20 pm - Star Wars: Clone Wars from Dark Horse - gone.

3:15 pm - A search party has been sentout for Hamner. Sales-wise, by 3:00, FCBD 2009 is closing in on the total for FCBD 2008. And it's not any specific isue, genre or publisher that's dribing sales. As Drum observed, there are holes on the shelves all around the store instead of one specific area. Again this year, the bargain sales in front of the store are moving scads of merchandise. 

4:10 pm - The only comics remaining for restock: Blackest Night #0, Avengers, Wolverine and Bongo. For all the rest - what's left on the shelf is what Heroes has got. As the employees attest, this year marks the fastest that the store has run out of so many FCBD titles in recent memory. According to Harbin, Heroes ordered more of the Gold Sponsor titles this year, mostly due to Blackest Night #0, but utlimatley less variety of titles overall, as the shop ordered based on what they felt customers wanted and what was popular in terms of sales. Overall, Harbin said, the thousands of dollars Heroes spends on Free Comic Book Day is worth it, both in same-day sales (which are looking to be higher this year than last) as well as bringing new faces into the store, many of whom, Harbin added, will find their way back in the coming days and weeks. All told, it was a massively successful day for Heroes.

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