Free Comic Book Day is today
By Emily Johnson For the Deseret News
Published: Saturday, May 7 2011 8:05 a.m. MDT
Despite bookstores closing left and right the annual Free Comic Book Day is growing faster than a speeding bullet. What started off as an insider event held on the first Saturday in May has now grown by leaps and bounds in Utah.
Salt Lake City-based Black Cat Comics owner Greg Gage remembers free comics sitting around in store for weeks in the early days of his store’s seven-year event participation. However, last year, turnout was huge.
“Free Comic Book Day is one of the busiest of the yea,” he said. “The first year, I had a couple extra comics out on the free table. I had comics for a few weeks. Last year we opened at 11 a.m. and ran out at 12:30 p.m. We’ve got three or four thousand books easy to give away, and that’s more than last year. I’m hoping we can keep them for two hour, three hours.”
Local comic book creator Chris Hoffman was at Black Cat Comics last year to promote his book,“Banana Panic!,” a series about a monkey spy and his adventures also remembers the huge crowd.
“It was insanely busy,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how crazy busy it was. I self-publish my comic so I printed out about 50 copies that I thought would last quite a while and they all went right out the door. There were so many people there that wanted stuff. It was really cool meeting all the people. It was really fun to be able to meet fans.”
Gage attributes the growing success to more than just the freebie books, but to increased quality of the books and increased marketing.
“It’s almost become a holiday,” he said. “People take work off. Saturday at 11 a.m. when I open up, there’s easily going to be 100 people already lined up out there. It’s fun. There’s usually signings that are connected with it. It’s kind of a party atmosphere, plus it’s free.”
Hoffman also attributes the success of the event to an expanding mainstream acceptance of comic books.
“For years, comic books had a niche audience,” Hoffman said. “Now, with movies like “Spiderman,” and “Thor,” coming out, people can come back to those comics. People who used to like those comics are coming back because the stories are still cool and have a nostalgia to it.”
The May 7 international event is in its 10th year and is designed to encourage first-timers to take a taste test from the book buffet and also bring the former readers back into the fold.
“It’s a really good chance to try comics for free,” Gage said. “All the issues are self-contained stories. It’s like when you go to the grocery store and get a free sample. I think it’s a really good way to try something out with no risk.”
Free Comic Book Day is a national single-day event with participating comic book specialty shops giving away selected free comic books. Some of the 40 freebie book possibilities include classics like “Spiderman” and “Green Lantern. Modern books include “Kung Fu Panda” and new-to-the-scene book, “ICE.” As part of the festivities, comic book stores also will have special guests ranging from writers, artists and other comic celebrities.
“This year, we’re having Doug Wagner, who’s a writer, and he’s going to be here signing his new book, “ICE” that comes out on Free Comic Day. It’s his first issue,” said Gage.
Night Flight Comics in Murray is slated to have “Archie Comics” artist Bill Galvan among others such as Brady Canfield, creator of “Wombat Rue.” Dragon’s Keep in Provo, Travis Walton, an artist with “Thor,” “Captain America,” “Iron Man,” and “Superman” will be available for fan signings.
Organizers behind the event include retailers, publishers, and Diamond Comic Distributors. While the books are free to the public, retailers purchase the books as part of the event, something that Gage is happy to do for his customers.
“My aim with this is to get you, the reader, to try something new,” he said. “If you try something new and you like it, chances are you’ll come back. To me it’s worth the initial investment. I really look at this as an opportunity for customers to try something new and maybe find something they’re going to enjoy.”
While critics bemoaning the death of printed public publications, comic books are still seen as an important and relevant part of Americana. As a comic bookstore owner, Gage’s philosophy is adaptation for survival.
While both Gage and Hoffman agree that there always will be a niche for printed comic books, the industry can’t ignore the move towards digital production.
“There’s no chance that print comics are going to go away anymore than when VCRs came out, they said it was going to kill the movie industry or TV is going to kill radio,” Gage said. “You can’t physically collect a download. Plus, it’s a book. Book sales may be down a bit, but there are still book publishers, Barnes & Noble is still in business. Though, I actually encourage sometimes digital comics, especially if I have issue 2, 3 or 4 of something that’s insanely popular and you can’t get a copy of Issue 1, I say go online and read it.”
Hoffman believes that the medium isn’t going to necessarily matter in the future as far as print or digital versions of comic books.
“It isn’t always going to be important that comics are printed on paper,” he said. “Wood pulp does not make what is important about the these stories powerful and meaningful. People who are introduced to comics now don’t care as much about the medium they care about the message. Yet, you’ll never see the comic book die.”
And even with all the other entertainment choices in the 21st–century digital world, both Gage and Hoffman believe that there always will be a niche for comic book collectors.
“We’re a bunch of junkies. We just can’t give it up.” Gage said.
As lifelong comic collector and creator, Hoffman feels that the medium is will always be an important part of popular culture.
“One of the cool things about comic books and why I try to keep the medium alive is because it’s one of the only truly American art forms,” he said. “Comic books are an American art form. It’s important to keep hold of our heritage. There is something about the juxtaposition of the artwork and the words. It’s such a melding of so many different styles of art.”
Cage believes the medium has morphed for the better over the years to expand past the stereotypical comic book genre.
“The writing and art has matured in the past 20 years,” he said. “They keep going places that no one foresaw 20 or 30 years ago. I’d call it more serious literature that what most people read today. It’s not just superhero stuff anymore.”
Copyright 2012, Deseret News Publishing Company