For those of you who aren’t aware of Free Comic Book Day aka the greatest secular holiday on the calandar that’s not Halloween, let me fill you in. Since 2002, every year on the first Saturday in May, Diamond, the comic book industry’s largest (and basically only) distributor, coordinates with all major and minor publishers as possible to produce books that are given away for free in stores for the purpose of providing a nice treat for regular readers as well as hopefully luring lapsed readers and new readers back in.
Additionally, since comic book stores voluntarily operate at a loss by participating in the event–they still have to pay the publishers for the books after all–they offer pretty wide discounts in-store to get people to buy something else as long as they’re there. It’s worked pretty well, honestly, and is a big reason for the changing face of fandom away from being overwhelmingly the nerdy white guy (like, y’know, me).
Finally at a point where I could find a way to a store and knew about multiple stores in my area this year, I went whole hog and decided to do a FCBD crawl: that is, going directly from one shop to the next. I went to two with a friend this past Saturday and, yeah, that’s not a big number, but the day was great regardless.
Because this is easily the most attendance a comic shop sees all year, my friend and I knew we had to leave early, so we go ton the bus at 9 AM. We arrived at Vault of Midnight–which you’ll recall I wrote in February for the Rapidian–about a half-hour before opening to stand in a pretty decent line and felt thoroughly embarrassed as we were two of the few people not really in costume. However, my friend was wearing an awesome Godzilla shirt and I was wearing my Captain America shirt because I went and saw The Winter Soldier later, which you can read my review of it here, so it was all good.
Vault of Midnight only allowed its customers to take 3 of the free books, which is perfectly understandable. After all, this is the number one day where kids come in to comic shops as well as parents with kids. I grabbed Fantagraphics’ Uncle Scrooge & Donald Duck: A Matter of Some Gravity by Don Rosa, a preview of the publisher’s upcoming Don Rosa Library, which will reprint all of Rosa’s Disney comics in chronological order and begins this July. I also got the #0 issue of Transformers vs. G.I. Joe, IDW’s version of…exactly what it sounds like, and the hotly-anticipated Dark Horse book, which contained three stories, headlined by an Avatar: The Last Airbender story written by Gene Luen Yang and drawn by Faith Erin Hicks. (I’ll review those and my other purchases below.) While at Vault, enthused by the spirit of the day–and the fact that my tax rebate had just hit the day before–I took the opportunity to get caught up on Action Comics and Superman (the only super comics I read at the moment that aren’t Captain America) and took a chance, since it was $10, and bought the just-released first volume of Sex Criminals, which made untold numbers of best-of lists last year, was nominated for two Eisner Awards, and which I can’t wait to dive into.
After that, my friend and I walked all the way over to the Eastown neighborhood of Grand Rapids–about a 2-3 mile hike from where we were downtown–and to Argos Book Shop, a lovely little place that reminded me so much of all the used bookstores I romped through when I was in New England a few years ago, but if they had an explicit SF/fantasy/comics bent. There, I picked up Bongo Comics’ Spongebob Freestyle Funnies (yup, they make Spongebon comics!), the Biongo Comics sampler itself, full of Simpsons stories, the Kaboom! Summer Blast full of comics by the kids’ imprint of Boom! Studios and a 100-page digest of Archie stories (hey, it was 100 pages).
After that, my friend introduced me to a really great hot dog place here in town called Crazy Charlie’s, where one can purchase a hot dog, fries and a large shake for under $10. Nice capper to a wonderful morning. Then we went back to campus and wen tour separate ways, with me hanging around my apartment for a while before heading off again to see The Winter Soldier, grab myself some nice Jimmy John’s after, and,on my first connecting bus back, managed to have a great conversation with a stranger about the books we had picked up today and about anime of various sorts (I told him how I review Bleach, and he told me of the arcs I should skip. Thanks guy!). It took a while before I got back to my apartment but the whole great, wonderful day was very much worth it.
I mean, getting free comics, spending money on even more awesome comics, delicious food, and a great movie? And also hanging out with a friend and making a new one for the duration of a bus ride? How cool is that?
If you’ve stuck with me so far, here are the reviews of all the free comics I got!
Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck: A Matter of Some Gravity by Don Rosa (Fantagraphics)–given how much I love Disney Duck comics, I knew I’d like this and I was proven right. The title story involves Magica De Spell stealing Scrooge’s Number One Dime, as she often does, by performing a spell that reorients Donald and Scrooge’s personal gravity: they now stick to walls and other sideways surfaces instead of floors. This leads to a huge chase, which leads to some absolutely wonderful, hilarious visuals that will make you turn the book in all sorts of directions to follow the action. Rosa, a longtime Disney cartoonist now retired due to eye problems and upset with less-than-stellar working conditions, wrings every bit of potential out of this story and the other one reprinted here, “Sign of the Triple Distelfink,” which reveals that Gladstone Gander, Donald’s ever-lucky cousin, is actually unlucky on his birthday and when he tries to avoid a party being thrown for him, all sorts of slapsticks ensues. There’s also a really nice afterward by Rosa where he explains how he got involved with Disney comics and reveals the inspiration behind the two stories. If this is what the Don Rosa Library will look like, consider me onboard.
Transformers vs. G.I. Joe by Tom Scioli and John Barber (IDW)–This isn’t the first time such a concept–giant robots fighting army guys–has been explored, of course, but it’s the first time IDW has done it and they went all-out bonkers in the best, possible way. The story–written by Scioli and Barber, with all art handled by Scioli–opens with Starscream chasing Bumblebee, then turns into a massive, sprawling tale of the Joes fighting Cobra (as many Joes as possible show up), with Snake Eyes coming up against Starscream and thinking he’s a Cobra weapon. That sounds pretty boilerplate, I realize, but Scioli’s absolutely astonishing art tells a different story. For one thing, it feels like you’ve stepped right back to the late-’70s or early-’80s days of comics, with Scioli channeling as much of Jack Kirby as is possible for one human to do. A nice little touch is Starscream and Bumblebee speaking in sinewaves with translated text underneath, which really sells the alienness of the Transformers as compared to the earthbound stuff with the Joes and Cobra. If this sort of charming, exciting throwback is what the rest of the upcoming miniseries is, then I’m pumped–and I’m a guy who HATES crossovers and event stories. Super recommended.
Kaboom! Summer Blast (Kaboom!)–Over the past couple years, Boom!’s kid imprint, Kaboom! has built up a huge swell of critical and commercial support for itself with licensed content, mostly Cartoon Network shows like Adventure Time and Regular Show (WOO!) and stuff like Uncle Grandpa and Steven Universe (which I don’t know anything about), new stories about comic strip icons like Peanuts and Garfield, as well as original books like Mike Kunkel’s Herobear and The Kid series. An excerpt from Kunkel’s latest adventure in his series about a boy who’s the descendant of Santa Claus and has a magical bear toy for a sidekick opens the book, with Kunkel’s stark yet lovely pencils an utterly unique thing compared to the rest of the book. Course, the rest of the book is pretty good too, particularly a Regular Show story involving a 20-sided die that grants wishes, a pretty funny story from The Amazing World of Gumball (a show I don’t really care about) about how fish-kid Darwin doesn’t wear pants that has some pretty inspired gags and a Garfield story written by the legendary Mark Evanier and with some great artwork by Genevieve Ft that proves my theory that Garfield is only funny when people who aren’t part of PAWS, Inc are doing something with him. A really sharp book full of fun stories told in a variety of good art styles that proves there’s creativity in kids’ licensed comics.
Avatar: The Last Airbender (Dark Horse)–Y’all readers know how much I love Gene Luen Yang, and his script doesn’t disappoint here, offering a great, inspiring story about Sokka ( the funny guy from Avatar) and his girlfriend Suki, a Kyoshi Warrior (read: lady fighter who can kick all sorts of butt) visiting a shell store full of collectible shells where they deal with a girl who loves shells being talked down to by the store’s jerk dude-bro owners…and anyone who pays attention to comics knows exactly what this is a metaphor for, right? The basic message of the story–people should like whatever they like without being mocked for it–is a great, empowering one and Yang’s delightful script is given great life by Hicks’ expressive, detailed art that’s not only true to the look of the franchise, but is marvelous all on its own. While Yang and Hicks are the headliners, the supporting acts here are pretty good, too: a two-page “Itty Bitty Hellboy” story by kid-comic masters Art Baltazar and Franco that’s a nice bit of fun and a short story from David Lapham’s Juice Squeezers series, which I guess is about a team of kids who all have the powers of Ant-Man. Good stuff all around.
Spongebob Freestyle Funnies (United Plankton Pictures/Bongo Comics)–For the past couple years, United Plankton Pictures, in conjunction with Simpsons comic publisher Bongo, the production company behind Spongebob Squarepants, has been recruiting all sorts of independent cartoonists like James Kochalka of American Elf fame to draw little stories about the people of Bikini Bottom. The sampler offers a pretty varied range, with a story about Squidward relocating by turning his house into a robot (it’s in the homeowner’s manual) and a tale about Spongebob and Patrick making their own comics among others. It’s all fun, cool stuff that showcases a lot of great cartoonists and I think this series will satisfy older fans like me who think the show has gone way downhill in recent years.
Bongo Comics Free-For-All 2014 (Bongo)–a nice collection of Simpsons stories that not only shows off the depth of the franchise’s world, but also pays tribute to comics itself, particularly with the last story that involves Bart and Prof. Frink traveling to a world straight out of popular culture and a lead story with Bart and MIlhouse trying to gain superpowers through emulating comic book origins. Fun, solid stuff, like Bongo always provides; I AM a little disappointed that a back-cover pin-up is the only Futurama-related material we get, though.
Archie Digest (Archie)–I’m not exactly an Archie “fan,” but I DO admire the company’s commitment to diversity and risk that they’ve done this past decade. Plus, I liked the Archie’s Weird Mysteries cartoon as a kid and some of the oldest comics I own are old Jugheads. Plus, at 100 pages, this definitely packs the most bang for the non-existent buck. The stories–all reprints–are all pretty solid stuff, particularly the ones where Archie master Dan DeCarlo is on pencils. There’s also a surprising amount of Josie (of & The Pussycats fame) stories that threw me for a loop because I didn’t really know anything about them, but were pretty fun too. If nothing else, it’s a nice primer to the one company that a lot of people are surprised to still see around after all these years, doing what they always do.
SO no superheroes this year–that’s kinda surprising, right? Well, while the DC offerings looked abysmal, the Marvel stuff I was interested in but not THAT much. Besides, the Big Two usually use this day as an excuse to promote their summer crossovers and like I said above, I HATE crossovers. But that aside, I think I made out pretty good this year.
And that was my Free Comic Book Day 2014! How was yours? Let me know in the comments, if you are so inclined.