Free Comic Book Day

The giveaway that keeps on getting

Free Comic Book Day
Illustration by Robert Faires

It was a massive gamble for a shrinking industry: Give away a couple of million samples of your product the day after one of your industry's biggest characters makes his major motion picture debut. The people who make and sell comic books had no way of knowing whether the public's interest in Spider-Man onscreen would generate any appetite for the wall-crawler in his four-color form, but this seemed like one way to find out. So, on the first Saturday in May 2002, more than 2,000 retailers handed out free comics from 30 publishers to anyone who came into their shops.

The gamble paid off, so much so that eight years later, Free Comic Book Day has become as firmly established an institution as, well, comic-book movies kicking off the summer blockbuster season. And each year, public response just multiplies. Angie Blackmon, general manager of Dragon's Lair Comics & Fantasy, reports that in 2008, the store saw maybe 300 people, but last year, that number increased to almost 700, and the store gave away all the free books it had, between 1,500 and 2,000 comics. (Dragon's Lair is doubling its order this year.) Austin Books & Comics Manager Brandon Zuern estimates 1,200 to 1,500 people visited the store for FCBD last year. Up in Round Rock, Randy Lander of Rogues Gallery Comics & Games reports that 2009 was his store's "best-attended Free Comic Book Day in the eight years we've been doing it."

And the event seems to be accomplishing what it intended: luring in people who might not be regular comics readers, notably younger folks. "I'd say the majority of the crowd for us are families and new faces," Lander says. "And happily, most of them wind up buying some comics as well. Truthfully, Free Comic Book Day tends to be among our best sales days of the year, even considering the cost of the comics we give away, promotion and such against the increased sales." Zuern echoes that sentiment: "We do about three times a normal Saturday's business that day," adding that what justifies all the work and craziness is seeing kids sprawled on the floor reading their haul and hearing customers say they discovered some of their favorite comics through FCBD. Lander has not seen a huge rate of returnees, "but we've gotten several new regular customers who came in for Free Comic Book Day. Also, I like to think that if people are excited enough to make the effort to come in and get a free comic, that means they want to read comics, and that's a good first step in terms of getting the medium out there."

The FCBD website – www.freecomicbookday.com, natch – lists 33 official titles for 2010. Marvel again piggybacks on a movie release (Iron Man 2 opens May 7 – as if you didn't know) with two books starring the Armored Avenger: one teaming him with thunder god Thor (who finally gets his movie next May) and one, aimed at younger readers, co-starring teen hero Nova. DC counters iron with steel, as in Man of Steel, in a book leading into the May event War of the Supermen. DC will also have a sampler of kid-friendly superhero stories from its Johnny DC imprint. In fact, FCBD offers plenty of gateway drugs for the younger set: Shrek, Toy Story, Mouse Guard/Fraggle Rock, Eighties cartoon icon G.I. Joe, Archie's Summer Splash!, Sonic the Hedgehog, Andy Runton's all-ages indie series Owly, and Fractured Fables. Highlights for older readers include a Bongo sampler (The Simpsons, Futurama); the Green Hornet as written by filmmaker Kevin Smith; a new revival of Sixties supermen Dr. Solar and Magnus, Robot Fighter; The Tick; Mark Waid's Irredeemable; supernatural Western The Sixth Gun; and a book by legendarily trippy cartoonist Jim Woodring that will blow your gourd.

Here's how a few local stores will celebrate.

Austin Books & Comics

5002 N. Lamar, 454-4197, www.austinbooks.com

Hours: 8am-7pm

Festivities: door prize drawing for $100 gift certificate

Guest creators: Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt, writer and artist, The Sixth Gun

Dragon's Lair Comics & Fantasy Austin

6111 Burnet Rd., 454-2399, www.dlair.net

Hours: 10am-12mid

Festivities: fandom-related costumes presented by Lucy in Disguise; trivia contest; canned food drive for Capital Area Food Bank, with each donation good for one raffle ticket toward a Kick-Ass package with a signed movie poster, graphic novel, and more

Guest creators: Aaron Allston (writer, Star Wars: Backlash), Brian Clevinger (writer, Atomic Robo), Scott Chitwood (co-founder of Red 5 Comics), John Lucas (artist, DC and Marvel), Matt Frank (artist/writer/designer, Marvel, Bluewater, IDW), Rob Osborne (writer, The Accountants), Bill Williams (writer, Angel), and Jason Neulander (writer, The Intergalactic Nemesis)

Rogues Gallery Comics & Games

1601 S. I-35 #360, Round Rock, 512/279-8888, www.roguesgallerytx.com

Hours: 10am-9pm

Guest creators: (10am-5pm): Paul Tobin (writer, FCBD Iron Man: Supernova, Marvel Adventures), Colleen Coover (artist, Marvel Adventures), Paul Benjamin (writer, Marvel Adventures Hulk), Scott Kolins (writer/artist, Solomon Grundy), Chris Roberson (writer, Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love), Matt Sturges (writer, Jack of Fables), Paul Maybury (artist, Aqua Leung), Nick Derington (artist, Popgun, Madman), Bill Williams (writer, Angel), and Alan Porter (writer, Cars)

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Free Comic Book Day, Dragon's Lair Comics & Fantasy, Austin Books & Comics, Rogues Gallery Comics & Games, Paul Benjamin, Nick Derington, Matt Sturges, Alan Porter, Randy Lander, Angie Blackmon

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