As reader can see from CBR's continuing coverage of Free Comic Book Day on the CBR Live! blog, the annual May holiday of distributing gratis comics can take on many forms. Stores across the country ramp up for the day with everything from creator signings to store front cookouts to "Pin the Claws on Wolverine" games, and this year Mike Malve and the crew at Arizona-based retailing powerhouse Atomic Comics are leveraging their recent appearance in the big screen adaptation of Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.'s "Kick-Ass" into a drive to get more new local readers hooked on comics.
"This year we have decided to put our time and effort into advertising more locally and keeping it local," Malve told CBR. "Above is the Billboards we have plastered on the local freeways. We also have weekly newspaper adds and a bigger push via social media (like everybody). We also came up with a pretty cool way to create excitement with all our local artist (list has grown to about 25) that will have many sketch card collectors going to all four of my locations."
In addition, Malve has used the event to introduce "The Atomic Comics Dollar Menu" where in an effort to "get people to try some great stories that are available in trades" the store is selling first issues for a dollar and then allowing readers to come back and trade that dollar book in for a discount on the trade of the same collection. "We will have billboards and other ads running locally on this as well. McDonalds has killed its competition with there dollar menu. I hope we can not kill the comp…but grow it with new readers."
Of course, the biggest piece of advertising for the store this year came free when the Atomic Comics name and logo made its way onto the screen in director Matthew Vaughn's "Kick-Ass" – a plug that came about after Malve's years of interaction with the creative side of the comics community. "I met Mark probably about eight years ago at an old Chicago show, and I sat down with him and maybe John Romita, Jr. was there even though this was years before 'Kick-Ass' came to focus," the retailer said, noting that his first night with Millar turned into a wave of Irish car bombs. "After hanging out with him and drinking that night, we became good friends. And I've always been good friends with John Romita, Jr.
"Cut back to two years ago when I get an e-mail from the producers of 'Kick-Ass' saying 'Hey, Mark Millar recommended that we use your store in our movie.' I asked what the deal was, and they said, 'Well, we want to use your store and likeness...everything we can. Matthew Vaughn is trying to make this as realistic as possible while still going over the top. We want to make it for comic fans, and having a comic shop being a part of it is really important.' So I said, 'Cool. Send over everything you want, and I'll send it to my lawyers to have it checked out.' I mean, I don't know anything about Hollywood...Minutes later, I get an e-mail from Millar that says, 'Mike, don't you realize this is just a big advertising vehicle? We could use any store. We could make up a store.' And I said, 'So you're telling me you want to take this deal,' and he said, 'There is no deal! We just want to use the store!'"
Malve worked back and forth with the producers of the film to include whatever he could from his stores in the movie, sending them back all the layouts for his most recent location in a local mall. "They loved it, but when you watch the movie, they really didn't use much of it. They invited me out to check the set approvals, but I just said, 'Do what you want' so the only thing the store in the movie has is our logos – and what our store looks like and what the movie store looks like with the coffee shop and stuff is kind of a cool comic shop."
That's the idea shared by Atomic Comics in general, Free Comic Book Day and "Kick-Ass": the drive to combat the vies that comic shops have to be the Android's Dungeon. "I think when it comes to Matthew and Mark Millar, they love old comic books and digging through the bins for back issues and hanging out, and that's what they tried to do: make this a place where you want to hang out. They have TV and coffee there. It's great. My wheels started turning when I saw it, and I said, 'How can I get a cappuccino machine in my store?'"
Until the coffee comes around, Atomic Comics locations have been promoting the crossover with "As Seen In 'Kick-Ass'" signs, 25% off deals on the best-selling hardcover of the book and more in store displays. "I love the point [in the movie] that when Kick-Ass gets big, the comic store becomes the Kick-Ass store. And we did that too. We moved the Kick-Ass display when Kevin Smith came to town for a few days, and we moved it to the left just about three feet, but what it did was put the Kick-Ass display right next to our all-ages section. I didn't even think about, and then on a Saturday morning, I've got parents coming in and asking about our kids section, and it was behind this giant Kick-Ass display. So we made a big change."
Still, so far Malve says the cross-promotion has been paying off as the movies opening led to a lot of local press that he's continuing to exploit for Free Comic Book Day, though the road to press coverage isn't always that easy. "In the state of Arizona, we've got every TV station coming in. The local Fox channel came in to do a segment on the store, but they would not let us use the name of the movie in the story. They just had to say, 'There's a big movie opening, and Atomic Comics is in it.' And the Lion's Gate people were there while they were filming, and they weren't happy about it. But the reporter said, 'I don't want to use that word, and I don't want to show pictures of it, so you can show your store and pan down to see Kick-Ass but not the name.'"
For more on Free Comic Book Day and the Atomic Comics events, check out our CBR Live! blog.