It’s that time of year again! Today marked the seventeenth Free Comic Book Day, that annual celebration when comic shops nationwide offer no-strings-attached goodies as a form of community outreach in honor of that time-honored medium where words and pictures dance in unison on the printed page, whether in the form of super-heroes, monsters, cartoon all-stars, licensed merchandise, or entertaining ordinary folk. It’s one of the best holidays ever for hobbyists like me who’ve been comics readers since the days when drugstores sold them for thirty-five cents each and Jean Grey had never died before.
Each year, America’s remaining comic book shops (and a handful in the UK that can afford the extra shipping charges) lure fans and curious onlookers inside their brick-and-mortar hideaways with a great big batch of free new comics from all the major publishers and a bevy of smaller competitors deserving shelf space and consideration. It’s easy to remember when to pin it on the calendar because it’s always the first Saturday of every May and virtually always coincidental with a major movie release. Some folks were concerned about a break in tradition when Avengers: Infinity War moved up a week, but millions of psychologically devastated viewers still have it fresh in mind and haunting them to this day, so there’s no danger of anyone forgetting about superheroes in the near future.
Normally my wife Anne and I venture to one of Indianapolis’ six or seven remaining comic shops an hour or two before they open, hang out in line with other fans, avail ourselves of any freebies offered while we’re waiting, march inside when the figurative starter pistols are fired, grab some of the free offerings, and spend money on a few extra items as our way of thanking them for their service in the field of literacy.
It’s worth remembering Free Comic Book Day is not free for shop owners. The publishers and distributor still charge money for all these comics, which shops then turn around and pass out to anyone who asks for $0.00 apiece. Participation is not cheap. Whether they do it for love of comics, or because they don’t want to look like miserly super-villains, most comic shops join in the fun anyway. No one expects newcomers to the medium to be aware of that, to feel guilty, or to chip in like it’s a charity.
For longtime readers? It depends on our conscience.
This year my Free Comic Book Day involvement took on a different form. My local shop offered a special deal that sounds crazy on the face of it: for a fair sum of money, we could pre-purchase a bundle of all 52 Free Comic Book Day comics that their stores planned to order. Normally these would all be free, but you’d look like a schmuck for casually walking in, picking up all 52, and walking right back out. I’m reminded of a moral that Anne and I frequently invoke for many situations: just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should.
For the one flat fee up front, they set aside copies of all those comics, bagged ’em up, and let buyers pick them up late Saturday afternoon, once all the furor and hubbub had subsided. So I went for it. I liked the idea of playing the role of patron, donating extra cash to help facilitate Free Comic Book Day for other folks in town, in a way that would help my shop offset the costs. If you really like comics, then sometimes you do things to ensure there will be more comics. And the economic realities of the comics business have not been kind to shops over the past 20+ years. It’s kind of a miracle that Indianapolis still has this many active shops, far more than a lot of large or even larger cities can say. I rather like the idea of them staying in business for as long as I remain attached to their wares.
Now that I’ve done my part, next is the harder part: reading all of these. The next step in my weekend will be to plow through these as quickly as possible, in 100% random order, collating thoughts and images as quickly as I can for sharing with You, The Viewers at Home. Once I finish this entry and a few other errands, I’ll be reading and tossing tidbits online as I go, either on Twitter or on Instagram, or both, depending on my mood. Fair warning to anyone who already follows me on either account: you’re about to see me either flooding my feed, or failing and flailing. Who knows where my time and attention span will take me. At least I know the roads in either direction will be paved with worlds of wonder and pallets of pure imagination. And apparently some Power Rangers, which is not my thing at all, so that comic better not suck.