Free Comic Book Day - 2007

I have to admit that I was a little soured on this year's experience, due in large part to the strange practices of my local retailers. I went to what's generally considered the two best stores in the area and I still managed to only get 11 of 43, or 25% of the titles published for this event. The first retailer seemed to order about half of the titles from a quick glance at the table and spinner-racks. But... here's the kicker. You could only take 4 books. That's 4 books. They were actually policing you upon exit. 4 of the 43 free books. That's less than 10%. On Free Comic Book Day. Where all of the titles are intended to be... free. We were limited to just 4. Did I mention you could only take 4? Umm, what? This. Does. Not. Make. Sense.

Hello, the whole point of the damn day is to expose as many people as you can to as many titles as you can in the desperate hope that something will spark their interest and that will subsequently be converted into sustainable readership and a supplemental influx of revenue. For an existing fan like me, I'm already spending money. I might see something else I like and spend even more money, provided I get a no-risk peek at it. For a new fan, I'm not spending money. But I might see something I like and start spending money, again, provided I get a no-risk peak at the materials that exist. Either scenario supports the intent of the day. Give me all of the free books, you know, for *free,* in order to maximize the odds of success on either scenario. This is not that difficult to figure out people. Lesson Learned: Limiting the Free Comics on Free Comic Book Day is completely stupid (assuming you actually want your business to succeed). Fuck, so annoyed with that.

The second retailer we went to did the exact opposite. Huzzah! There was no limit to the number of books you could take! But... come to find out, they didn't order everything. Only the mainstreamy sorta' stuff. So I was basically limited to Spider-Man and the Legion book. No Black Diamond Detective Agency from First Second Publishing, nothing from Drawn & Quarterly, Fantagraphics, or Oni Press. Nothing from Top Shelf or Virgin or any of the other independent publishers. The Astounding Wolf-Man from Image Comics was basically as "alternative" as this retailer was going to get. Sigh. Lesson Learned: Diversity is the key to success, remember depth and breadth. After all that, we just didn't have it in us to go traipsing around to other shops to try and complete our collection of free books. It's been a little goal of mine every FCBD, to get every single title that comes out. This was the first year, since the event began six years ago, that I didn't do it. All due to being worn down and frustrated by unexpected retailer practices. That just bummed me out.

In the past, I could go to one shop and get everything (hello San Francisco Bay Area Comic Book Retailers, I love you! I miss you!). The only reason to go to a second shop was if they'd run out of a title due to overwhelming throngs of people coming in (which I so don't mind in the grand scheme of things) or to check out a sale. And before you even ask, no, neither of the two retailers I went to this year had any type of sales or special events going on. Hello, another missed opportunity. Though I did get to meet Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall from IDW, but all he did was give me a free Transformers comic, nothing special or extra, same book every other retailer had. Lesson Learned: Free Comics get people into your store. It's up to you as a retailer to get them to spend money. Having a sale or signing or event or something, anything, in conjunction with the event is an easy, easy, easy way to incentivize the process of converting interest to sales. But, I digress...

Overall (from the titles I was able to see anyway!), I liked the increasing diversity of the offerings. There are more publishers than ever jumping in and experimenting with a diversity of titles, reprint material, new material, first debut material, all ages titles, and format.

The Astounding Wolf-Man #1 (Image): I'm a fairly passive Robert Kirkman fan, but this was great. Image played this one right, getting AWM a lot of advanced press coverage. It seemed everyone knew that "Kirkman has a new book out!" and "the first issue is being released on FCBD!" Nice spin on how to leverage the event. And the content does deliver. While there are times that I felt it borrowed from other works (Wayne Manor, Wolvie's healing factor, 1970's Marvel Monster Mahyem, etc.), it was an awesomely fun read, had some really truthful character moments, beautiful Scott McDaniel-ish art, and is taking its time to set up the world, but doesn't sacrifice entertainment for decompression. It also felt really substantial and seemed to be the physically heaviest in my hand, like I was definitely getting my "money's worth." Will definitely be picking up the first couple of issues to see where it goes. So, Image... Kirkman... mission accomplished! Grade A+.

Choose Your Weapon Sampler (TokyoPop): TokyoPop nails this every year and this is no exception. They put together a digest sized trade that would normally retail for $7.99 and offer a nice variety of excerpts from 5 books, yes, for free! They even spell it all out for you, describing shojo and shonen manga and what you're supposed to do next. This is an extremely well thought out package, welcoming to "civilians," and even if all of the stories don't click with you, it's still fun to see the diversity of the line. Other publishers could really learn a thing or two about FCBD by studying the repeatedly strong TokyoPop offerings. It's just smart, smart, smart. Grade A+.

The Black Diamond Detective Agency: The Train Was Bang On Time (First Second): Now this is what I crave from Free Comic Book Day. Nobody has more consistently attractive book designs than First Second Publishing. I love the digest size, the page layouts, the retro design elements, and hell, I probably would have even paid a buck or two for this. It's that nice. Looking at the content, they've got Eddie Campbell here doing a retro Railroad/Old West story that's lush and beautifully rendered artistically and sufficiently intriguing on the scripting end. It clearly leads to a larger work and First Second nails the marketing opportunity with an amazing two page spread of other works complete with prices, mini-reviews, and cover shots. This is how it's done, folks. Grade A+.

The Lone Ranger #0 (Dynamite Entertainment): Captures the tone and spirit of the series, as well as the hard relationship that LR had with his father and his burgeoning relationship with Tonto. Appreciated that it was a done-in-one story, with nothing further required to enjoy it, but left the option to pick up the main series. Well placed advertisement for the upcoming collected edition, and a good smattering of ads for other Dynamite titles. Only two things really hamper this otherwise solid effort from a perfect grade. One, I don't know if this story will be collected in the upcoming hardcover, so it (not for the right reason) became one of the few (only 3 as it turned out) FCBD books I'll be keeping as a one-off. Two, the Battlestar Galactica flip-book portion was total crap, with muddled art that completely does not match the series (looking like something from a bad rendition of The Darkness or Witchblade), with an Asian looking Bill Adama and everyone wearing the same type of glasses. Grade A.

Little Archie #1 (Archie Comics): I've never, ever been a fan of Archie Comics, nor do I really understand the innocent appeal. But, I have to say this book was really well done. It provides a nice intro to all of the main characters, feels appropriately dense, like a "real" comic book, and is just a fun little story. I particularly liked the effort of the double page spread detailing where Camp Riverdale is in relation to Camp Piney Acres and all of the group's little stops along the way. Grade A.

Bongo Comics Free-For-All 2007 (Bongo Comics): Strong offering with a nice blast of different material. In some spots, it works a little too hard for flat humor, but in other spots it downright nails the humor of the show (The Simpsons in particular) with some great one-liners from Chief Wiggum, Ralph, and the proprietor of the Android's Dungeon. Laughed out loud at the ad for a candy bar named Zapp Brannigan's "Captain's Log." Grade A.

The Umbrella Academy (Dark Horse): This offering had a lot going for it. A nice, moody James Jean cover. Gabriel Ba on art (whose pencils look wonderful in color, by the way). And a main story that is an odd blend of BPRD and, I don't know, The Perhapanauts or something. While it looks great and Gerard Way's writing is sorta' clever enough to get from point A to point B, I don't know that another eclectic cast of retro-feeling do-gooders is original enough for me to come back for more. Pantheon City had some nice Geoff Darrow style art, but I wasn't engaged by the writing. ZeroKiller similary had a few nice detailed panels that brought Travis Charest to mind, but the generic post-apocalyptic video game script feel (which seemed to use a little too much influence from Gotham City circa Dark Knight Returns for my taste) didn't help it connect. As a potential new reader, I was also kinda' left in the lurch, not knowing if these were truly one-shot stories, or I could expect to find ongoing series at my retailer in the future. Grade A-.

Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse (Gemstone): I confess I didn't read *all* of the strips here because there were just so many and Mickey strips have never really entertained me thoroughly or sustained my interest for more than a page or two. But, for Mickey fans, there's plenty here, the book feels nice and dense, and I really did like a couple of the classy touches that the publisher provided. One, the dedication to Floyd Gottfredson was very touching... and two, the blurb on the back cover about FCBD and the whole point of what it's supposed to do for the medium was very cool. Grade B+.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2007 (Marvel): Nice to see Marvel line up the resources... a Spidey comic the weekend the movie opens (which sucks royally by the way, seriously, no focus whatsoever, too many villians, too many chics - hello Gwen Stacy, too much retconning with Uncle Ben's killer - hello Sandman surprise, too much singing and dancing - kept waiting for the Bee Gee's "Stayin' Alive" to come on when Peter was nancing his way down the street, avoids the Grade F and lands a Grade D- for the Bruce Campbell scene alone), and then tap Dan Slott and Phil Jimenez (probably one of the best artists "working" on FCBD) to do a new story. Jimenez's art delivers, but some parts of the script I just don't get. Spider-Man quit after Civil War was over? When did that happen? Why? New York is free of crime as a result? Umm, what? Really? So who are all the other heroes fighting in their books?! Overdrive? Really? That's the villain you want to roll with? Ooookay. But why would Spidey throw a Spider-tracer on the cop car and not Overdrive's car itself? Just doesn't make any sense. Are we supposed to believe Jackpot is Mary Jane from her "Tiger" comment? As a casual reader (at best) of Spider-Man, I'm totally confused. With the exception of the last page (with Iron Man encased in webbing), when did Joe Quesada's art get so... "unfinished" looking? Grade B.

Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century #1 (DC): On one hand, it was nice to see DC *finally* use a new kid friendly title for FCBD, not the same tired offerings they've had in the past. On the other hand, this felt really light in terms of content and length, and wasn't so much a story per se, as it was a fairly obvious and overt introduction to some of the main characters. Grade B-.

Transformers Movie Prequel #1 (IDW): The thing that IDW did right here was put out a teaser two months in advance of the movie. From a marketing and organizational werewithal perspective, that was cool to see. Too bad the content couldn't keep up with the solid intent. All I took from this was something about the "AllSpark," some confusion over why some panels were in black & white and some were in full color, and questioning who the hell was who, since all of the robots look alike, with no distinct features, just a sea of joints and lights and panels and parts hammering on eachother. Nice tie-in ads and an editorial note, but otherwise not great. Grade C.


At 12:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the FCBD Spider-Man story:
If Peter Parker jumps out of the way of a speeding car (let's say it's going at 90 mph), then he checks his Aunt's birthday cake, then he hears the cop car following in pursuit (also going at 90 mph), and then Peter reaches into his bag for his spider-tracer...
...the first car is long gone and he HAS to throw his spider tracer on the cop car that's in pursuit.

Does that make sense?

At 4:17 PM, Blogger Justin Giampaoli said...

Sure, I'd buy that explanation...

I just didn't understand that clearly from the panel-to-panel storytelling that was depicted on the page, which to me, is a failure in basic comic book "the pictures should tell a story without any explanation" craftsmanship.

At 1:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't have a problem with it. By the time Peter lands on the ground, the bad guy's car is a tiny speck. And then more panels go by before he can throw the spider-tracer. Read clear to me.

At 8:53 AM, Blogger Justin Giampaoli said...

...and didn't read clear to me, hence my original statement. As much as we'd like to think otherwise, reviews are inherently opinion based. And that was mine.


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