When Words Collide

Wed, May 6th, 2009 at 2:28pm PDT | Updated: May 6th, 2009 at 5:30pm

Comic Books
Timothy Callahan, Columnist/Reviewer

THE FCBD AWARDS: 2009

Owly and Friends Firmly In Hand

If you were anywhere near the internet this past Saturday (and I know you were, because you read CBR regularly and probably suffer from an internet addiction like the rest of us), then you saw message board posts and tweets and news items all telling you to rush down to your local comic shop and get yourself some free comics.

Some of you may have skipped the event entirely, thinking that you didn't need reprints of stuff you already owned and/or samplers of stuff you'd never actually buy anyway. Some of you may have used the combined mojo of Comic Shop Locator and Google Maps to perfect the route from shop to shop that would maximize your free-comic-book-getting efficiency, just in case some of the owners were stingy with their giveaways.

The rest of you were probably just sitting in front of your monitors, waiting for me to update my blog.

No matter how you spent your Saturday, one thing is for sure: I participated in Free Comic Book Day this year, and now I'm here to tell you what I discovered. And in the process, I'll be giving away the prestigious First Annual Free Comic Book Day Awards to some lucky participants. It's an exciting moment, I know, but before we get to the awards announcements, let me tell you a little story called "The Girl Who Wanted Free Comics So Her Dad Drove Her and the Rest of the Family to a Comic Shop that was Pretty Far Away."

My daughter wanted free comics, so I drove her and the rest of the family to a comic shop that was pretty far away.

In retrospect, that story is even shorter than I had anticipated. So let me elaborate.

My local shop doesn't participate in Free Comic Book Day. It hasn't for years. I think it was involved in the very first one, back in 2002 (it may have been the following year), but I know that the owner refused to do it after that one time because he didn't feel like it was a benefit to the store. The comics aren't actually free for the comic shops, after all (although these FCBD comics are substantially cheaper than the normal weekly releases), and my local shop owner felt like it was nothing more than a huge headache. His regular customers would want one of everything, and if he didn't provide them one of each, they'd get annoyed. "New customers" would come in from the streets and demand their free comics, yet they wouldn't spend a dime in his store. And he just didn't feel like it was worth the hassle.

I think he's completely wrong about it, and I think he could use FCBD to expand his customer base and create some enthusiasm for the products he makes his living by selling, but it's his store, and his business decisions are his and his alone.

So I wasn't planning on picking up any free comics this past Saturday. The notion of free comics isn't all that interesting to me anyway. I own more comics than I have a chance to read, and I read a lot. I'm still way behind on my "BPRD" reading, and I'm just now getting into "100 Bullets" for the first time (strangely, I wanted to see it reach the end before I bothered to begin reading), so I have plenty of things to read that aren't just sampler issues or reprints or promotional things. Free Comic Book Day is great for stores, it gets people inside the shops, and it allows the more frugal and less ridiculously obsessed comics readers to try some things that they wouldn't normally try. It's a grand concoction for the industry as a whole, but it was easy for me to ignore.

Freebies at Modern Myths

And yet, I was kind of curious about what comics you might be able to get on this particular Free Comic Book Day. I still wasn't planning on driving an hour away just to go to the nearest participating store, but I checked out the FCBD website out of curiosity. It was more "what is my local shop missing out on?" than "what might I get if I make the long drive?"

But then something happened as I was scrolling through the Free Comic Book Day offerings. My five-year-old daughter, sitting on the couch next to me, half-watching "Spongebob Squarepants" and half looking over my shoulder at my laptop screen, spotted something.

"Johnny Boo," she yelled.

My eight-year-old son came running over, Nintendo DS still open in his hands.

"And Owly," he shouted.

The Top Shelf FCBD offering, "Owly and Friends" was grade-school crack for these kids. They couldn't wait to get their hands on it. (And I apologize if you live in a neighborhood where "grade-school crack" is actual crack. We live in a nicer part of town than you do, I guess. Maybe if you got a sweet gig writing for CBR you could afford to live in something like the Callahan compound as well. We may not have a swimming pool, but we do have a swamp in our backyard, so plenty of free mosquitoes for everyone!)

My son knows "Owly" from a free comic he picked up last year at the quite-wonderful "Kid's Comic-Con," but both of my children absolutely adore "Johnny Boo." They are James Kochalka fans in general, actually, and both of them can sing along to "Hockey Monkey" on command. My son even has "Bad Astronaut" on his iPod, even though there are some "naughty words" that he knows not to sing along to. But after years of "The Wiggles" and too much "Toot-Toot, Chugga-Chugga Big Red Car" for any one man to endure, I'm more than happy to let him get away with a little of the saucy James Kochalka Superstar.

So my kids pretty much have both "Johnny Boo" books memorized. When they saw Johnny Boo on that Top Shelf comic, and I innocently mentioned that it was all part of something called "Free Comic Book Day," they were excited.

"But," I broke the news to them in somber tones, "our comic store doesn't get these free comics. We'd have to drive pretty far away to get them." I was gauging their reactions at this point. We could possibly make the one-hour drive on Saturday, but I wasn't going to do it if they were only vaguely interested. Sure, that "Blackest Night" prelude thing by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis looked like something I'd enjoy, but I didn't care enough to spend a good chunk of my Saturday on a road trip just for that.

Comics Festival is Full of Fun

My daughter really wanted that "Owly and Friends" comic, though. My son, he's eight-going-on-sixteen, so he's too cool to show that he cares one way or another about something as silly as "Johnny Boo." He laughs out loud at the books, sure, and he loves to read them to his sister, but he's a practical man at eight, and he knows that free comics aren't worth the drive. "They won't be free after you spend all that money on gas just to get there," he pointed out to my daughter, who really didn't seem to care about the cost-benefit ratio of the situation.

"I want to get 'Johnny Boo,'" she reiterated in that heart-melting voice that daughters can use to get what they want, when they want it.

Since she was talking comics, and pleading with me to go to a comic book store, it was impossible for me to refuse. What kind of geek dad would I be if I let a little thing like a long drive get in the way of free comics for the whole family?

My wife was game as well, and once we convinced my son that the gas money wasn't coming out of his allowance and there was a cool "Bongo Comics Free-For-All" that he might like, he was more than willing to put down the Pokemon Platinum long enough for our road trip to FCBD.

Yeah, that was much longer than my original telling of the story.

In the end, we arrived at Modern Myths in Northampton, Massachusetts -- a progressive comic shop that has looked like a store from the future for so long that other retailers have finally started to catch up. With an emphasis on an extensive trade paperback and hardcover selection, and a nearly-as-extensive selection of used collected editions, Modern Myths is one of the great stores in New England. It's a small shop, but it's packed with goodness. And though I braced my daughter for the fact that the store might actually not have any copies of her "Owly and Friends" comic by the time we arrived, the store had more than enough to go around.

For the record, my wife -- not much of a comics reader at all, really -- ended up spending more money than I did at the shop (on a handful of "Jack of Fables" collections), and my son used his allowance money to pick up a "Simpsons" trade paperback, while my daughter was happy just to get her "Owly and Friends" and pour over its pages throughout the ride home. That little girl knows what she wants.

Modern Myths ended up making over $100 off my family alone, over $100 more than they would have if they hadn't participated in Free Comic Book Day. I was surprised that a store so well-managed didn't have any sales or promotions to go along with FCBD, and thus encourage even more shopping-and-spending, but perhaps their philosophy is that people who get free stuff might feel like they should spend a few bucks in the store anyway, so why let them off the hook with an additional discount? I don't really know, but I know that the store was busier than I'd ever seen it, and the manager mentioned that there was a line outside the door when he opened in the morning, something that never happens on any other day.

So for my family, and for this one store, and, from what I hear, stores around the country, Free Comic Book Day 2009 was a success. More than a success. It was a celebration of comics that promoted the medium to a new generation.

Thus, without further ado, here are the winners in the First Annual Free Comic Book Day Awards, as chosen by me:

This is how to launch an Event

Best Gateway to Spending Hard-Earned Allowance Money: "Bongo Comics Free-For-All"
My son, somewhat reluctant to take our FCBD journey, sampled the Bongo offering and immediately started looking for more "Simpsons" comics on the shelves. He's been reading -- and laughing along with -- the trade paperback he bought every night this week.

Best How-to-Whet-the-Appetite Comic: "Blackest Night" #0
Our own Doug Zawisa gave this comic a perfect five-star review, and while I wouldn't say it's quite that great (I tend to reserve the five-star review for something that I think will be looked upon for years to come as a masterpiece of its genre if not the medium), it is certainly my favorite of the FCBD offerings. A new story by Johns and Reis for the price of zero measly dollars? And profile pages of the Lanterns of Many Colors? This is a great way to launch a summer event, and after I read it I realized that I would have been genuinely annoyed to have missed out on this. Good thing my daughter is so persuasive, and I'm so easy to agree to anything involving going to a comic shop.

Best We've Seen This Before But at Least it Looks Great Comic: "Avengers"
Jim Cheung is a fantastic superhero artist, but this is nothing more than a fight between the New Avengers and the Dark Avengers with a bit of the old Thor thrown in for good measure. It even ends the same way every single meeting between the Mighty Avengers and the New Avengers used to end. The government-sponsored heroes shake their fists at the outlaw superheroes and say, "we'll let you go this time, but next time: watch out!" Still, it's a pretty comic, and a fair snapshot of what a Bendis-scripted superhero comic is all about.

Best Comic for Kids of all Ages (And Grumpy Middle-Aged Parents, Too): "Owly and Friends"
I think "Owly" is cute but one-note, and I think "Korgi" is mediocre at best and trite at worst, but I love "Johnny Boo" as much as my kids do. Kochalka channels his inner child as well as any comic book creator who has ever lived, and his simple, goofy, wonderful little stories are whimsically fun without ever having a moral of any kind. If you can't appreciate the silly, then this isn't for you, but if you can appreciate the silly, you win with this comic.

Best Sheer Value: "Comics Festival!"
Coming in at the low, low price of zero dollars and zero cents, this Toronto Comics Arts Festival jamboree comic features no less than 20 different stories by insanely talented folks like Emmanuel Guibert, Kean Soo, Faith Erin Hicks, Steve Rolston, and Chip Zedarsky. Had this comic debuted at the MoCCA Festival with a price tag of $5.99, it would have been one of the darlings of the show. And it would have deserved the attention.

Jim Cheung Draws Real Good

Best Preview/Reprint Comic: "Love and Rockets Sampler"
Free Jaime and Gilbert, providing a window into some material from this summer's second "Love and Rockets New Stories" volume plus some lesser-seen reprint material? You can't go wrong with this offering. Man can those boys draw!

Best Use of an Overexposed Supposedly Forgotten Character from the Golden Age: "Savage Dragon" #148
Remember the Golden Age Daredevil? The one with the half red/half bluish-black costume and the spikey belt? Erik Larsen has brought him into "Savage Dragon" since he's a public domain character and Larsen wanted to play with him. Unfortunately, the character has been featured prominently in the Dynamite "Project Superpowers" comics over the past year or two. And since those comics are pretty terrible, and their terribleness has rubbed off on Daredevil, it seems like Larsen has picked the wrong moment to launch this particular "Tales from the Public Domain" story arc. I like Larsen's post-Kirby artwork here (particularly with the monsters), and there's a joyfulness that permeates every page of this comic, but there's little story to bite into here, and that Daredevil guy just doesn't seem to work at all. I applaud Larsen for giving away issue #148 for free, though, instead of just reprinting something.

Best Prequel to "Incredible Hulk" #180: "Wolverine: Origin of an X-Man"
If you've ever wondered how Wolverine ended up in the woods that fateful day as the Hulk battled with Wendigo, this is the comic for you. I don't know if this story has been told before, but Fred Van Lente and Gurihiru tell it about as well as you'd want it to be told, even if it is just a simple little Wolverine tale. You want simple and fun, though? Then those are the guys who know how to give it to you.

Best Misuse of an Iconic Character: "Dark Horse: Free Comic Book Day Sampler"
This is actually the flip side of the "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" freebie, but it features one of the worst Indiana Jones stories I've ever seen. And I've seen that movie where Shia LaBeouf dresses up like a Wild One.

Johnny Boo Gets the Prize

Best Robot vs. Dinosaur Story: "Atomic Robo/Drone/We Kill Monsters"
I have a confession to make: I read the first "Atomic Robo" trade, and I didn't like it much. The art was great. The concept was nice. But the pacing and dialogue destroyed the story for me. Yet the "Why Atomic Robo Hates Dr. Dinosaur" short story in this FCBD offering was the best story I read all weekend. It was funny and smart and ridiculous in all the right ways. I will definitely give "Atomic Robo" another chance after seeing this story. "Drone" and "We Kill Monsters" are, based on the short previews here, completely skippable. You win some, you lose some, Red 5.

Best Reminder of Why I Used to Like Some of These Creatures: "Aliens/Predator"
"Aliens" comics used to be really cool. Whether it was Mark A. Nelson or Sam Keith or Kelley Jones, there were some artists who brought a creepy freshness to these devious space bugs. John Arcudi tells a story in this Dark Horse offering that reminded me how much I used to enjoy "Aliens" comics. Now I'm looking forward to the relaunch this summer. "Predator," not so much.

Comic Book Enthusiast of the Day: My Daughter
For loving "Johnny Boo" enough to convince the whole family to spend a day driving back and forth from a comic shop (admittedly, it didn't take much convincing), I can't help but give the big award to my five-year-old. I can only hope that she'll use her newfound fame and glory for the good of the industry and not squander it by pimping issues of "Dabel Brothers Showcase."

In addition to writing reviews and columns for COMIC BOOK RESOURCES, Timothy Callahan is the author of "Grant Morrison: The Early Years" and editor of "Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes" anthology. More of his thoughts on comics can be seen every day at the Geniusboy Firemelon blog.

Follow Tim on Twitter: gbfiremelon

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TAGS:  when words collide, free comic book day, owly, blackest night, avengers

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