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News: If You Offer a Comic and Nobody's Around, Does Free Comic Book Day Really Happen?
posted July 3, 2004
 

July 3 -- Mixed reviews from retailers and fans greeted this year's Free Comic Book Day, a coordinated promotion whereby direct market retailers can bring attention to their stores via the giveaway of specially obtained comics from various participating publishers. The 2004 edition, the third year for the promotion, featured a curious choice of dates for any retailer not an automobile or electronics dealer -- the July 4th weekend, when many people are on vacation and engaging in activities far removed from the consumption of summer reading material.

The date was selected to coincide with the release of Spider-Man 2. The previous years had also been timed with comic book movies that were released in May. The logic behind putting the date in close proximity to a major comic book-related movie is that retailers can piggyback on the interest of audiences and press coverage generated by such tent pole events. In addition, the continued participation of companies like Marvel seems at least partially dependent on coordinating the event around such important events for their companies. The main arguments against selecting such dates are that aligning itself with movies diminishes the importance of the comics themselves, and certain dates are simply not good ones for many comic publishers.

The latter was a factor for many this year, at least judging by the range of responses the Day received, from retailers of all types and locations. Tom Williams reported that The Laughing Ogre in Columbus, Ohio was empty enough he and some other cartoonists left their scheduled signing an hour early. But Jim Rugg of Street Angel reported a completely different scene at Pittsburgh's Phantom of the Attic, where he planned on signing copies of Slave Labor's giveaway, in which he participated. "We were supposed to be there from 10-3, but ended up staying an extra hour. It was busy the entire day. We talked to a range of people from those who had never been in a comics shop -- an older lady -- to young kids to aspiring cartoonists and twenty-somethings, etc. We saw a number of girls there, though definitely more men than women. I enjoyed it a lot. He added. "I sold a number of copies of my book and plan to do some sort of promotional activity like it again next year."

The comic books offered to shops ranged from an issue from Gemstone featuring Carl Barks' Mickey Mouse story "Riddle of the Red Hat," an issue of the new all-ages Marvel Age: Spider-Man effort strangely not featuring movie villain Doctor Octopus, and, for the first time, an effort by boutique publisher Highwater Books collecting many of Brian Ralph's "Reggie-12" strips that originally appeared in Giant Robot magazine. "I did a signing at Big Planet in DC, and tried to introduce myself to Manga readers and explain what I was trying to do with Reggie-12," Ralph told the Journal. "I got a good response, although I was surprised how often I felt like I had to force the comic on someone. It's free! What do you have to lose! I couldn't believe a free comic could be such a "hard sell." I think a lot of comics readers have the blinders on, they know what they like and they are overwhelmed by the huge amount of comics about there. I know I am. In the long run, I don't know if it will make a difference, having a comic at FCBD. My hopes are that when people see my work they will remember it and buy it along with their usual titles."

Most of the comics offered, like Ralph's, reflected some effort at outreach -- DC featured the cartoon series version of its Teen Titans franchise, a few publishers created samplers, and Gemstone emphasized the popular Barks. Only the comics from Gold Sponsors Beckett, Dark Horse, DC, Marvel, Dreamwave, Image, IDW, Gemstone and Archie were promised for the date in question, although by all reports the other comics were safely in hand for the event.