No, it isn't a misprint — Archaia Entertainment really is offering a hardcover graphic novel this coming Free Comic Book Day for, well, free.
The book will be a 48-page, 6" x 9" full-color anthology featuring entirely new material, highlighting six of their properties: Mouse Guard (by David Petersen), Labyrinth (by Courtney Crumrin's Ted Naifeh and Cory Godbey), Rust (by Royden Lepp), Cursed Pirate Girl (by Jeremy Bastian), the upcoming Cow Boy (by former Marvel editor Nate Cosby and Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius artist Chris Eliopoulos) and a follow-up tale to the Eisner Award-winning Return of the Dapper Men by Jim McCann and Janet Lee, serving as a prologue to the impending Time of the Dapper Men sequel.
The book will be available at comic book stores nationwide on next year's Free Comic Book Day; May 5, 2012. For Archaia president and CEO PJ Bickett, the move is a response to the fluid and somewhat volatile nature of the current comic book marketplace.
"We wanted to focus on where we see the market going in the next two or three years in an upward trend, graphic novels," Bickett told Newsarama. "The only way you're going to get a reader to understand what a graphic novel is getting it into their hands at as low of a cost as possible, and we considered free to be a pretty good cost."
Hardcover graphic novels are Archaia's specialty, with the publisher weaning themselves off single issues in recent years. Providing a hardcover as an item free to customers involves a bit more expense than the single issues Archaia offered at past Free Comic Book Days, but according to Bickett, not as much more as you might think.
"There's more of a cost to make it a hardcover than a single issue, but the way we structured the deal with everyone on this, it works out pretty much the same as if it were a single issue," Bickett said. "We did a very good job of managing our costs to make sure that this isn't just a marketing ploy. This is a legitimate opportunity for new fans to have a hardcover for the first time, in many cases."
Free Comic Book Day products may be free to consumers, but they aren't free to comic book stores — though Bickett says that the cost to retailers for the hardcover is "exactly the same" as their FCBD single issues were in past years, and in fact expects a significant increase in orders.
"There are no barriers of entry right now for stores, for fans, for Diamond, for Archaia to make this happen," Bickett said. "Giving them an opportunity to buy a very similar product that has the true product quality that Archaia constantly brings to the table only incentivizes retailers to pick up a bigger share."
In selecting the stories that would comprise the hardcover, Archaia editor-in-chief Stephen Christy hopes that they encourage readers to check out more of the publisher's books, but also wanted to make sure that the comics stood on their own with a beginning, middle and an end.
"The goal with this was to really create a true anthology," Christy said. "We're approaching this editorially as if this was a high enough quality anthology that if we weren't giving it away, we'd be charging for it."
This is in part a response to the habits of several other publishers on Free Comic Book Day, which typically offer a reprint of a previously released comic, or a prelude to a future multi-part story.
"There are two trends that have happened from other publishers that we've always tried to go against," Christy said. "One of which is doing content that's either reprinted or repurposed, which seems kind of like a cop-out. There's also the trend that it's the 'start of something bigger.' You can pick up this Free Comic Book Day hardcover and each story will be a complete experience onto its own."
Bickett reports that Archaia's last couple of Free Comic Book Day releases — this past year, they offered a Mouse Guard/Dark Crystal flipbook — received orders of more than 100,000 copies. With even higher expectations for 2012, Bickett thinks the hardcover will yield positive results for not only Archaia, but the comic book industry as a whole.
"This is clearly Archaia again showing clear leadership in the marketplace," Bickett said. "It goes beyond Free Comic Book Day. What retailers should see as a result of this is simply an uptick in graphic novel sales."More from Newsarama on Archaia:
- Nate Cosby Says Make Mine ARCHAIA with Cow Boy, Storyteller
- Ramón Perez Adapts Jim Henson's A TALE OF SAND for Archaia
- Archaia Joins comiXology's Digital Lineup With DAYS MISSING