Free Comic Book Day is an annual event wherein comic shops across the US are invited to give out free stuff, plain and simple. Anyone who walks in off the street is treated to an array of freebies, depending on the shop they enter. While there’s usually a large set of freebies which can be purchased cheaply by these shops and distributed to encourage business, many comic shops extend this day into a full-on holiday weekend, launching enormous sales and interesting promotions. It’s the only equivalent to a holy day in comicdom (aside from Jack Kirby’s birthday, which might be only me anyhow), and as my pal Dan points out, ‘the only one we’re orthodox about’. This year, I drove 5 hours north to New Hampshire to celebrate with some old friends.
It is, above all things, a nationally orchestrated collector event – and possibly the largest, most widespread one in existence. There are few comic readers who don’t also collect comic-related items, from the comics themselves to high end pop culture collectibles. I’m one of the worst, but honestly, I didn’t seriously get into comics until I was in college. There was a brief, unfocused foray in the 90s that was fixated on on how cool comic trading cards were (and a misguided affection for Marvel’s ill-conceived 2099 Universe), and I was the guy who ended up bringing Sandman into high school and shifting the social stigma away from comic geeks before it even had a chance to blossom – but the my comic collection couldn’t fill half of a longbox. College, and rooming with a serious comic aficionado, changed everything. You can’t stare at a Frank Quitely X-Men poster for a few years without getting a little infected with the excitement of it all.
There were big plans afoot for 2010. Because I live an hour from the nearest, mediocre comic shop, I decided to take a long Thursday haul to the the coastal region of New Hampshire and stay with Dan, where I was told there were four or five shops in the vicinity, and reaching into the Boston area. I had e-mailed the owner of Comically Speaking about trading in some of my unwanted action figures, and he was agreeable. I loaded up every square inch of the car with toys and set north – also being enticed by an ‘everything in the store is 50% off’ sale which was happening throughout the weekend. Ultimately, a small fraction of my older action figures (all impeccably cared for and still in the package) netted me $300 to spend in store credit, so I immediately stocked up on a dozen NES games, as many appearances of MODOK as I could ferret out, and an armload of graphic novels, throwing in a few neat things for Dan as well (including the notorious crotch-gun transforming Punisher action figure). And this was before the sale even began. I was told that an old Invisible Woman action figure I had would make a certain kid (who recently had theirs eaten by a dog) very happy.
For the record, Comically Speaking is probably one of the most spectacular comic shops I’ve ever visited. If you’re anywhere near Reading, MA, I highly suggest that you seek it out. There’s nothing that they don’t seem to have, and equal attention is given to oldschool collectors by supplying huge quantities of older back issues, as well as the more current, popular aspect of comics.
We returned on Friday for the big sale, where I dropped much, much more money on a collection of even more graphic novels and Nintendo games. The store was quickly filling up with others as geeky as our own group, so we took our armloads and fled the scene before too long.
On Saturday, Jetpack Comics in Rochester, NH had turned the entire town into a scavenger hunt of epic proportions, and people of all ages and costumes were wandering the streets with little pink maps, seeking out the next free comic in locations that ranged from prom dress shops to medical supply stores. Some Star Wars guys and artist Ed McGuinness were also reportedly within the shop to sign stuff, though we never made it that far. A grossly enormous line that fed into the door from two directions, collective crowd anxiety and hunger played a role in abandoning the shop before we even made it inside.
Next stop was Jumpgate Comics in Portsmouth, NH – a relatively small, well-lit store with a back room full of action figures and sci-fi paperbacks. We were entitled to one well-guarded, carefully designated free comic each, but I opted for a $1 Spider-Man keychain instead.
Finally, we hit Chris’s Comics in Seabrook, NH – a large shop with a huge selection of back issues, amazing prices, $10 boxes of 100 surprise comics each – and another 50% off graphic novels sale, which I used to fill in parts of my Jack Kirby and Doom Patrol Archives collections (and a few more issues where MODOK has appeared). We got to discussing Star Wars cards with the genuinely amicable owner, and I was invited back to be in an art show there in the fall. This particular shop allowed five freebies per customer.
So, I may be financially worse off for the whole experience, but I don’t think I’d have it any other way. I made myself repeated promises that I’d start to take life seriously as soon as this weekend was over, though collapsing at the end of a long day with a copy of The Irredeemable Ant-Man TPB is equally likely. If you’ve never read a comic, or you feel that the whole world of comics is too embroiled in continuity and confusion to really leap into, Free Comic Book Day is designed for you, with publishers producing comics which are inherently accessible to new readers. Many stores will still have a whole load of free comics left over for a few months, so stop on my your local place and get some free swag. Comics are one of the rare places that has presented a running narrative of the same characters for over 70 years, so there’s a lot of neat stuff to embrace.