It's only been 12 years since the first Free Comic Book Day was held in comic shops across North America and around the globe. The goal of the annual event is to expand readership and bring more awareness to the latest titles, writers and artists to die-hard comic book fans and new readers alike. FCBD has continued to expand each and every year, with this year's celebration marked by more than 50 new comics offered absolutely free to readers.
Any devoted comic reader knows how difficult it can be to talk about the books you love with more casual fans, let alone those who have never read a comic. From incredible stories to eye-popping artwork, there are plenty of reasons readers return to comic shops month after month (and week after week) -- but not everyone shares that enthusiasm. Take my friend Ceciia, who is often curious about some of today's biggest releases but has never really taken the time to broaden her comic book horizons, especially if the word "Batman" isn't involved somehow.
A few days before Free Comic Book Day, my friend Silas Lesnick (from ComingSoon.net) informed me he was taking part in his annual expedition across the greater Los Angeles area. His goal? Visit 14 shops during FCBD. The moment he mentioned it I knew it was my chance to introduce Cecilia to multiple titles and the excitement of comics in a truly insane way.
Like many people who don't follow comics on a regular basis, Cecilia had never heard of Free Comic Book Day. While she's been exposed to various comics thanks to animated series and movie franchises, Free Comic Book Day would be the perfect opportunity to transform her from casual observer into a full-fledged fan -- or she could lose interest in the endeavor entirely halfway through the journey. As we piled into the car on Saturday morning, ready to drive from Los Feliz to Santa Monica, a wave of hesitation flooded over me. This journey was carefully planned, almost down to the minute, to allow us to reach our goal and for Cecilia to get to work on time later that day. There was no time to waste, however. Our comic book-like adventure, half of which would be spent in Los Angeles traffic, awaited us!
Fans were already lined up in front of Hi De Ho Comics, anxious to get their Free Comic Book Day groove on. Cinemablend's Eric Eisenberg was even kind enough to make Elven bread for everyone, although we didn't understand what it had to do with Free Comic Book Day. Plenty of businesses in Los Angeles tend to use their posted hours as a suggestion more than a hard and fast rule, and 15 minutes after Hi De Ho was scheduled to open, the doors finally unlocked and fans flooded into the store. Patrons were only allowed four free items and those who had prepared in advance quickly made a beeline for their top selections.
Cecilia's first must-have FCBD grab was Marvel's "Rocket Raccoon" book by Skottie Young. Why? Because the new "Guardians of the Galaxy" trailer piqued her interest. While we were off to a good start and Cecilia was clearly engaged with the event, I worried that we were already massively behind schedule. After grabbing our free comics, we hopped back into our car to hit the next stop on our comic book odyssey.
Our second stop was easily one of the friendliest stores in the Los Angeles area, DreamWorld Comics in Culver City. They spoiled their fans with an arcade booth, food truck and a neat little raffle that included multiple prizes. The only thing this place was missing was a repeat loop of Prince's "Partyman" playing in the background. Cecilia was able to get her hands on a cool Hellboy decal sticker for her car, in commemoration of Big Red's 20th anniversary. "I loved the owner," Cecilia said of Dreamworld. "He was just hilarious, and so was the mascot Deadpool and the donut with the little 'Iron Man 2' Tony Stark."
The next stop wasn't particularly impressive to look at, appearing more like a warehouse than a comic store, but we found it was definitely worth the trip. Cecilia met her first professional comic book writer in the form of VJ Boyd, who also writes for FX's "Justified." Boyd was more than happy to sign issues of his Antarctic Press series "Ghost Cop" for us, free of charge. At this point not even traffic or the schedule could get us down. We were energized and ready to tackle the remaining stores on our list.
One serious traffic jam later, we made it to our fourth location, Earth-2 Comics in Sherman Oaks. With half of our group falling behind, we decided to take a quick lunch break, and I used the opportunity, not to mention the escape from the sweltering heat, to see how Cecilia was feeling about the her FCBD experience so far. She said she was really impressed with the variety of titles she was able to get, particularly those of the Marvel persuasion. "I do like 'Captain America,' because I can relate to his character," she said. "He's such an honest man who I can really like." She also loved the interactions she had with a variety of intriguing characters -- fans, retailers and creators -- at various stores.
Our quest for free comics began to fall short as reached our final six stores. Their FCBD stockpiles had begun to wane as the day wore on, but that didn't stop us from charging forward. By the time we got to our final destination, Meltdown Comics in Hollywood, we were absolutely beat.
After a full day of shopping across ten different Los Angeles area comic stores, the question remained: Did Free Comic Book Day have a positive effect on Cecilia, the fledgling comic book reader? She purchased the hardcover collection of Ed Brubaker's "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and an issue of Dark Horse Comics' "Mass Effect." She also searched for a few specific "Green Lantern" and "Chew" collections, but all were out of stock due to one of L.A.'s busiest stores having one of its busier days.
The cheerful atmosphere Cecilia encountered kept her spirits high and her enthusiasm up as we trekked from one store to the next. She even made some new friends along the way and is dying to get her hands on other comics like "Fables," more "Captain America" and even "Mouse Guard." Free Comic Book Day did what I alone could not, converting an occasional reader into an avid fan. While some may argue that there are better ways to build awareness of and support for comic books, if Free Comic Book Day can bring more new readers like Cecilia into the fold, I hope it continues for many years to come.