Free Comic Book Day is a comics holiday, so I took the day off from posting.

*Yes, Saturday was the big day, as every single one of you were aware of for months. And I made every effort to fully enjoy…


Hosanna! Who needs comic books?! Ethnicity Fest (not real title) is a special day of the year in my current municipality of residence, in which one of the main roads in town is isolated for a few blocks and devoted to setting up tents and stands and stuff in the name of... ethnicity! Many ethnicities! This all happens to occur every year at precisely the same time as Free Comic Book Day. It also managed to synch up with Cinco de Mayo this particular year, though Ethnicity Fest is a wide-reaching event, embracing every culture and pressing them against its bosom of friendship and eating. So I guess they all went out to drink later.

I’ve gotta say, I really left this year’s Ethnicity Fest with a grander appreciation for my fellow human beings. All social and cultural gaps were bridged, particularly as we stood in line for food for close to a half hour in the glaring sun. All of our differences dissolved as we shifted in place, rubbing the backs of our necks in futile gestures toward blocking the sun, killing rays. A lot of respect manifested that day. Silent respect, from people who looked angry and tired, but I think we all grasped the beauty nevertheless.

I got curried goat, and had to learn how to pick out the chips of bone pretty quick.

And later I went to get comics. I visited three stores, all of which had some sort of special sale going on to tie in with the day. One of them really went all out, with six or seven people in costumes, free candy, a big selection of back issues for $1 (you are mine, Dazzler #1, and I don’t entirely know why!), and lots of customers. I picked up more non-free stuff than I’d expected, combining all the various sales: Marvel’s Agents of Atlas hardcover, a stack of Fleetway/Quality’s deluxe US market Judge Dredd reprints, some 1986 Fantagraphics album titled Children of the Night Tide which looks like it’s about dragons (emphasis on the Fanta, then), the Skyscrapers of the Midwest material I was missing, the Matt Fraction-written Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #1 from this week (which I’ve heard only good things about), and more.

There were also many free comics, and also a free Batman HeroClix thingy, which I have now posed with the other FCBD HeroClix I’ve amassed over the years into kind of a battle tournament/dance-off. Although this year’s Batman looks really jumpy and agitated, so it also looks especially great in my Drinky Crow toy’s open mouth.

As for the free comics I got, in no particular order:

The Umbrella Academy: Dark Horse’s FCBD offering was really weird in that two out of three of the series it previewed don’t even have release dates solicited for any additional material. And the one project that actually is coming soon, Zero Killer from Rex Mundi creator Arvid Nelson and artist Matt Camp (miniseries begins in July), turned out to be a wholly unimpressive concoction of quasi post-apocalypse action clichés. At least Pantheon City boasted some nice art from Clément Sauvé and colorist Stéphane Peru, slightly reminiscent of Guy Davis on Nevermen in both character faces and future-past décor, but much more heavily realist in background detail, with some lovely mechanical designs. Ron Martz’s script doesn’t get in the way.

But obviously the draw here is the big Gerald Way (of My Chemical Romance) story, a 12-page short with art from what I believe will be the regular visual team of Gabriel Bá and colorist Dave Stewart, once the promised six-issue miniseries is actually solicited. The plot concerns the adventures of an adopted family of superhero-type people putting up with bizarre threats and a sinister father figure. I picked up echoes of both Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol (Way is an avowed Morrison fan and cites Richard Case as a big influence on his own art), and, perhaps unavoidably, Bá’s other current project, Casanova.

Yet it's also slightly unsure of its own goofiness, tumbling over would-be winking lines like “An oldie but a goodie -- and it never gets old!” and only succeeding in introducing about half the apparent cast to any interesting degree (I wonder if Way also wrote the character introductions, the faux-jaunty style of which summarize the book’s tonal problems). This is clearly still the work of an enthusiastic novice, albeit one who’s paid some real attention to the comics he’s liked; it’s the sort of thing where the uncertain tone and awkward jabs at whimsy might work themselves out over the course of an actual series, unless they actually get worse. I’ll hope for the former, since there’s some potential here.

Mickey Mouse: Yeah! An all-Floyd Gottfredson special, commemorating his long-overdue 2006 induction to the Eisner Hall of Fame, and it’s vintage 1936 material all around, co-written with Ted Osborne and inked by Ted Thwaites. A longer, typically episodic (at times almost stream-of-consciousness), gag-filled story of the classic rough-and-tumble Mickey finding himself in the literary world of Robin Hood (he’s literally dragged into a book, Gumby-style) is paired with a shorter sequence involving Mickey’s romantic rivalry with the ever-greasy Mortimer Mouse, although not Minnie’s uncle, who was also named Mortimer, because that would be creepy. Every time I see a Mickey’s Rival story start up, I consistently get this weird feeling that Gemstone is about to reprint the legendary Mickey Mouse in: Suicide Squeeze (not real title) storyline fragment from 1930, regardless of art style or time period. We have plenty of internet to cover that, luckily. Gottfredson’s Mickey comics are the first comics I can recall reading, back in the day of Gladstone reprints, and they’re still damn entertaining today.

Gumby: Oh, speak of the devil. I like Wildcard Ink’s Bob Burden/Rick Geary Gumby series (issue #3 out next month, first collection this July) good enough, although I think this free, all-new b&w issue kind of reinforces the delicate balance the regular series walks. Writer/co-artist Shannon Wheeler (of Too Much Coffee Man) is a much more manic storyteller than the deliberate Burden, and his version winds up seeming more like typically loud kids’ entertainment, albeit stuffed with Robert Crumb and fine art references, and featuring additional art from the likes of Geary, Mike Hersh, and Mark Bodé(!!), with no less than Gumby veteran Art Adams dropping in for a pin-up. Burden’s subtle melancholy is missed, as is the dream logic of his storytelling style. Still, I can’t say I’m sorry I picked it up, and it makes me more eager for the next proper issue.

The Train was Bang on Time: First Second’s slice of the FCBD pie, which is just as compact and lovely an object to hold as First Second’s full-sized books usually are. The innards are as straightforward as possible, being pages 11 through 39 of the upcoming Eddie Campbell graphic novel The Black Diamond Detective Agency (so, basically it’s the preview on First Second’s website plus the next 21 pages), which is actually a comics adaptation of a feature film screenplay by one C. Gaby Mitchell. It’s a tale of violence and intrigue in the days of mighty railroads, heartland unrest, and private detectives that stood as tall as government lawmen. A Campbellian man of mystery is caught in a ferocious train bombing, and becomes the prime suspect of the attack, which also resulted in the disappearance of a safe that prominent folks seem to be interested in. Dotted with some bold graphical flourishes, from deliberately stage-like scenery cutaways to an irate character ‘speaking’ entirely in wordless solid red dialogue balloons, it’ll almost certainly get you ready for next month’s release of the full story.

Comics Festival! 2007 Edition: The second issue of this tie-in book for the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (FCBD 2005 saw issue #1), and it's a nice mix of stuff from Canada-based cartoonists, running the gamut from front-of-Previews favorites (Darwyn Cooke, Cameron Stewart), to independant notables (Bryan Lee O'Malley), to selections from webcomics (Diesel Sweeties, Dinosaur Comics), to vintage reprints (Doug Wright's Nipper), to parodic sci-fi action (J. Bone's scantly-clad male hero Jett Vector), to historical biography (Zach Worton's look at George Washington Carmack), to comics-as-poetry (Hope Larson) to comics-as-comedy (Chip Zdarsky). Always worth getting, on the odd years it's out.

Owly: Helping Hands: I do believe I mentioned last year that I wasn’t going to be getting any more Owly projects, but I’ll cop to being interested enough with where Christian Slade went with his Korgi back-up to shell out the massive cover price of $0.00. Bizarrely, the Korgi piece turns almost entirely on a recycled gag from the proper Korgi book (just released this week), yet frames it in such a way that it’s genuinely difficult to parse out what’s going on if you haven’t already seen the joke in the other book. That doesn’t strike me as much of an effective approach, and I don’t think the whole ‘adorable doggy does grievous harm to monsters’ thing will sustain this series through another volume. Meanwhile, I really did try to approach the Owly story, it being there and all, but after three or four pages my brain began to transform into cotton candy and I temporarily forgot how to breathe. Sorry!

Unseen Peanuts: Fantagraphics’ Funny Book offering from prior years used to be the most reliable of the ‘adult’ comics offered through FCBD, but this year they’re all-ages. But actually, it’s a little more than that. For smaller companies -- and yes, in the scheme of Direct Market comics stores participating in a promotional event, Fantagraphics is absolutely ‘smaller’ -- a FCBD book becomes an expression of their identity as a publisher, as it’ll likely serve as someone’s first, or at least an intermittently-regestered impression of who the company ‘is.’ And, as far as this book is concerned, Fantagraphics is your source for quality reprints of vintage favorites. Every ad focuses intensely on Fanta’s formidable catalog of archival releases, except when it’s leaving room to plug other Charles Schultz projects. Over 150 rare Peanuts strips are reprinted, highlighting lost characters, unique approaches, and moments of genuine visual experimentation, with copious annotations that evidence both a keen grasp of history and a certain sense of humor. And obviously, ‘50s and ‘60s Peanuts tends to be pretty funny on its own.

I saw clerks pushing this one unusually hard at the stores I visited, and it’s no surprise - this one really does have something for everyone, and I do hope it encourages browsers to look further into Fanta’s line. The next 12 months are going to have some great new old stuff coming up, from the start of the complete Pogo reprints, to the Fletcher Hanks collection I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets, to one-offs like Jack Cole’s Betsy and Me (the syndicated newspaper strip the Golden Age great worked on for two months prior to his death), Gary Panter’s Dal Tokyo, a huge package of Bill Mauldin’s Willie & Joe cartoons from WWII, and a collection for Harvey Kurtzman’s ill-fated Trump. Enough that anyone will be kept attentive until the next Free Comic Book Day, and the next demonstrations of identity.