Free Comic Book Day Aftermath: A Blogger's Tale

*I sold off a book to finance my Free Comic Book Day.

It was a pricey book, but fortunately I didn’t really care for it. I got enough money for gas and food and maybe a few stray issues that might catch my eye on sale. I could mark this day as 'free' from my financial scheduling.

What a big moment.

*I got to driving at about noon or so, and was immediately confronted with a ‘Road Closed’ sign at my usual turn-off toward the highway. There was a large ship sitting in the middle of the street. Some sort of Viking boat. All atop and around it scurried men in some indeterminate period costume, none of them dressed as Vikings, though they still seemed to exude some Nordic flavor.

Behind them it looked like stands had been set up all aside the street; it was some sort of festival. I really don’t know what was being celebrated (even now), so I’ll just call it Ethnicity Fest 2005, as there seemed to be many traditional items and foods for sale, all of uncertain and incongruous origin. I wound up getting detoured through the upper streets, all through sluggish traffic and impossible turns. This was not my ideal FCBD start - a day of free comics should be fast, cheap, and out of control! Rock and rule! Yeah!

*Finally I got to a gas station and put $10 in the car and I headed out. There were good songs on the radio and the weather was slightly hazy, so that the slightest hint of salt in the air would fool me into thinking I was at the ocean; this was ocean atmosphere among the fertilizer and cows.


*Shop A was very much prepared for crowds, and there was certainly some crowding. Shop A is a spacious place, and apparently managed to finagle every last one of its employees into working; a local artist was scheduled to sign, but I arrived before him.

Upon walking in, an employee (who had to have recognized me, as this is my ‘core’ shop) thrust a goodie bag into my hands and guided me down a veritable Free Comics assembly line. I got a little white FCBD robot, a dandy Batman HeroClix (which I’ve since positioned in the mouth of my official Drinky Crow toy in lieu of his booze jug), a coupon for future store discounts, a schedule of gaming events, and finally a stack of free comics. Very classy, quick, thorough, attractive.

Unfortunately, many of the books I really wanted to find (the Toronto Festival book, the Fantagraphics sampler, and the AdHouse book) were not present. This kind of distressed me, since I was banking on this store to actually have them; it was my first FCBD in this area (through sheer luck and happenstance; I’ve been living here for 2 years), and I’d just sort of expected a slightly bigger selection. No matter; it was a nice spread regardless. I was limited to three choices.


I got the Alternative Comics sampler, the “Flight” sampler, and the “Owly” special.

The Alternative book was oddly uneven, featuring some decent work by Gabrielle Bell (a seemingly standard autobiographical short morphs into an understated allegorical horror piece), some unimpressive material from Josh Neufeld (sledgehammer-subtle comment on the aesthetics of real and fictional war), ok political humor from Jen Sorensen, great silent work from Derek Sakai, a way too short three-panel fumetti mix from James Kochalka, and a bunch of other pieces that left virtually no impression on me. The book gave a decent overview of the breadth of Alternative’s offerings, sure, but there was nothing that grabbed me and made me seriously want an upcoming project like last year’s now-infamous “The Salon” preview.

The two stories in “Flight” were about what I expected: lovely to look at (especially nice background work by Kazu Kibuishi) and beautifully colored but pretty thin. Kibuishi’s story is easily the better, a sweet thing about friends who want to build a plane, their enthusiasm perhaps exceeding their skill and their uncertainties drawing them close together. Jake Parker’s story, meanwhile, is the very definition of a gorgeous sentimental piffle, hammering at those emotional buttons as a cute robot makes a special birdie friend but then they have to separate in winter but magically the little robot learns to dream so he can be with him. Excellent season-spanning color schemes and gentle, delicate lines, don’t get me wrong.

“Owly” is somewhat similar, and its chubby-cheeked, googly-eyed, teardrop-prone title character occasionally got to be a bit much. But Andy Runton’s dialogue-free art is clear and crisp, the tone is chipper like good wholesome kids television (though probably better looking) and Owly even learns an important lesson about critical and popular acclaim not necessarily translating to genuine quality; a nice message for the kids.

And there were plenty of kids in the store. All early indoctrinates, I suspect. Near the back of the room a kid shouted “Look Dad! It’s ‘Battle of the Planets’!!!”

Ah, that’s nice,” replied the proud papa with genuine interest.

It was a nice scene (honestly, there’s usually some kids in this store even on non-special days), although I almost ruined everything by nearly knocking a tiny infant girl out of her daddy’s arms while peering at 20% off trade paperbacks which I couldn’t afford anyway. That would have made for a jolly article to link on the FCBD homepage.

To cover my exit, I secured a $1 back issue of some digest-sized beauty called “The Gemini Solution”, and the first issue of that P. Craig Russell “Conan” miniseries, since I’m crazy for old Russell.

*Walking out, I decided to look for food. I drove a bit up the road to Sheetz, only to notice that they had the special Pretzel Melt sandwiches on sale for $2. This was a great omen. Walking back to my car I saw my own reflection in the windshield and it momentarily looked like a ghost was sitting in my back seat. That wasn’t that great an omen. So really fate balanced itself out.


*I can’t say I’ve been in Shop B very much, as it’s cramped and all the back issues on the rack are crunched together and I can’t really find anything at all. Some nice back-issue and trade finds though, as a lot of these shops have.

The free comics were sitting on a table at the front of the store. The clerk kind of nodded at me as I walked in and I reflexively nodded back, as if we shared some magical secret between us, but actually I’m just a social remedial.

Little children were swarming the table. I made the dreadful mistake of making eye-contact with one of them and I thusly acquired a kid sidekick for the remainder of my stay.

HEY! THESE ARE FREE!” shouted the kid. I nodded and examined the slim pickings on the table, mostly Gold Sponsor books, although oddly the Alternative sampler was there too (I believe the Alternative book was present at every one of my stops, often in the absence of any similar anthology). Many books were scattered across the table, and the kids were grabbing all over.

ARE THESE ALL FREE?!” screamed a child, grabbing the entire stack of “Marvel Adventures”.

Just three of them,” reprimanded the shopkeep. The kid dropped the stack back on the table and continued to shuffle things around like particularly dorkish poker cards.


I picked up the big fat heavy Tokyopop sampler, the lovely “Uncle Scrooge” book, and the “Ronin Hood of the 47 Samurai” intro.

I’ve managed to read absolutely none of them, although I liked the attractive layout of the Tokyopop book, with Korean and North American material going left-to-right and joining with the Japanese right-to-left work in the center.

I also poked around the back-issues, none of which were on sale. Considering that the little kid from earlier was still tailing me, I tried to make my search through the independent/pornography section as discreet as possible.

WHO’S THIS FLASH?!?!” the kid bellowed to me, holding a Golden Age Jay Garrick figure. I decided to play nice.

I dunno… looks like an old one!” I chirped.

The kid stared at me.

IT’S NOT BARRY ALLEN!!!” he offered, correctly.

I tried really hard to ignore him and contemplate the medium’s future as I shuffled through issues of “Omaha the Cat Dancer”.

As a side note, I did find a real live copy of “Blab!” #10, with Al Columbia’s “And the Trumpets They Played”, which is seriously worth reading wherever you find a copy. It’s a continuation of Columbia’s later-period fascination in old animation; unlike the similarly-interested Kim Deitch, however, Columbia doesn’t work in a ‘comics’ style approximation - he moves into the territory of real cel emulation. This theoretically can freeze the storytelling in amber, making it out to be CineManga in execution, but Columbia is too deft at pasting his glossy character art against rumbling collage-like backgrounds. The story is an apocalyptic one, as if Max and Dave Fleischer had decided to blow the entire “Gulliver’s Travels” budget on a one-reel adaptation of the Book of Revelations, using exactly as much artistic license. It’s eight astounding pages of comics, with some surprising color work as well. Just great.

Attempting to escape, I set down a copy of issue #3 of “Bigfoot”, which I’d been meaning to get once I’d freed up some funds. Alarmingly, I was already around $20 in the hole on my Free Day.

I never liked that book I sold.

*I briefly considered charging up north another twenty-five miles to hit another store, but I figured it wouldn’t be much better for selection (maybe some back-issue discounts. No, I had tastier fish to fry, and it was long enough to the other stores already.





Shop C is in a mall. A bunch of goth kids glared at me as I walked in; clearly they were jealous of my comics-buying purpose and multi-chromatic wardrobe.

There weren’t all that many folks in Store C, a fairly spacious location, although it was already getting to be pretty late. The clerk welcomed me, and motioned toward the free comics.

Oh dear.

Pretty much exactly the same spread as the prior two stops greeted me. This made my selection a little difficult, as I’d kind of expired my choices and I wanted to leave the guaranteed presences (Marvel, DC, Archie) for my last stop. Yet another limit of three.


I settled on the educational “Impact University” and “Amelia Rules!” and the Bongo sampler.

“Impact University” had a slick layout, with plenty of illustrations and some nice contributors. Of course, Peter David mistakenly identifying Dave McKean as the artist of “Watchmen” kind of distracted from his writing seminar. But no biggie; lots of basic construction info is contained for writing and art, although it’s Will Eisner’s (reprinted) texts that look to take the most rigorous theoretical approach, as opposed to the new volumes.

So, when did “Amelia Rules!” become a superhero parody book? Is this just a FCBD calculation? I’ll confess I couldn’t get through the story, not the unrelated back-up. At least Jimmy Gownley’s art looks nice.

Unbelievably, out of the two or so “Simpsons Comics” issues I’d read in the past, one of them happened to feature one of the stories reprinted here. Fascinating how these stories recast the characters in largely antic slapstick adventures, seemingly divorced from the satire of the television show. Chuck Dixon and Hilary Barta’s “Dr. Strange” parody was pretty cool; the always-welcome Barta (too short was his run on ABC’s “Tomorrow Stories”) did a particularly cool mash-up of Ditko and Simpsons house styles.

Of more pressing attention to me was the huge back-issue sale (maybe a bigger draw to regular customers than the free stuff). I got the entire contents of Garth Ennis and Glenn Fabry’s “Kev” saga for a buck per issue, and the first Fantagraphics issue of “Squa Tront”. Lots of neat stuff, although I sort of wondered if I’d ever see the free comics I’d been waiting for. I also got a lovely poster and an identical Batman HeroClix. This one is currently attempting to save his other from Drinky Crow’s gaping maw, but in vain.

*Maybe if I rolled the dice on the next one…


Oh great. Great. This was the smallest spread yet. A tiny table set up near the gaming materials. The clerk asked if he could help me with anything and I said no so he didn’t tell me where the free books are so I had to wander around for a minute trying to look purposeful.

A limit of one on these. One. However, for a quarter donation to a local charity, you could have additional books. At this point in my day, I didn’t even think I could find one. A nearby customer snatched up “Ronin Hood” remarking that he really wanted to read it; interesting.


So I picked up an Oni book, uncertain if it was new. I looked to the copyright date: 2004. Must be last year.

I kept looking for a book I wanted but nothing was there save for Marvel or DC or things I already had. I gingerly picked up the Oni book again.

And noticed Corey Lewis’ “Sharknife” on the back.

So it was a new book, at least on the flip side (I later noticed that the other side also had some 2005 copyrights, but farther down the legal text).

I haven’t gotten to the “Hysteria” story by Mike Hawthorne. “Sharknife” was a decent fight scene, mixing Japanese comic and Japanese video game styles into something that at least looks like an authentic personal style rather than a haphazard emulation of manga surface elements. A few heavy doses of Kodansha-style Paul Pope - holy smokes does the female lead look like that little girl from “THB”. Cute work though.

The rest of my store experience could be summed up by a single exchange:

ME: “Oh, is that the new ‘Zap’?

CLERK: “Well, it’s not new, it’s a reprint.”

ME: “Um… ok. I’ll take it.”

I went back to my car. Checked it out.

No, it’s definitely the newest “Zap”, issue #15. Very little in the way of reprints. I even checked to see if maybe it was a second printing. No.


*I was kind of spent by then, so I didn’t know if another store was in the cards. I had to check back at home anyway. Maybe there was still time to catch…

No no no no no! They were rolling the boat away as soon as I arrived at Ethnicity Fest! Everyone was packing up their heritage and going home! I saw Russian figurines, Thai cooking, uncertain brands of jerky. I still have no idea what it was all about, and now I’ll never know (unless I do research or something, but no). I bought some chicken-on-a-stick and headed back to the car.

It’s not gonna end this way.


*Maybe if I offer to pay shipping on my site someone will send me those free comics I never got.


It’s in a mall. It’s very small.

But there it all was. All of it.

Set up on tables outside the store was almost every book offered all throughout the holiday.

Including the mature ones, with a teeny tiny 'Mature Readers' card gingerly positioned atop the pile. Entire schoolrooms of children passed by behind me.

I wandered into the shop. Nobody said hello. Everyone was playing games (maybe with their new Batman HeroClix!). There was no limit, so I just started taking stuff.


I got one of almost everything. This is only the best (or most snark-ready) of what I got.

Fantagraphics’ sampler was pretty decent, if very reprint-heavy. I’d not seen any of the Hernandez material, and all of it was pretty great. As was a classic installment of “Pussey” from the height of the speculation boom; I felt a wave of nostalgia wash over me as I read it, and I don’t think that’s the intended effect Dan Clowes was shooting for when he wrote this stuff over a decade ago. No matter. Those tips on favoring instant ‘Hot’ book return over long-term investment are pretty spot-on too; Clowes made sure he knew his stuff before ripping it down. There’s also previews of upcoming work by Marc Bell (always a pleasure) and Michael Kupperman (“Remembering the Thirties” was utterly gorgeous). And the next “Evil Eye” is an 80-page all-Peculia giant?! Heaven!

Nicest surprise: “Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards”, a landscape-format preview of the upcoming graphic novel from GT Labs’ premier writer Jim Ottaviani and Big Time Attic, an art colelctive featuring Zander Cannon of “Top Ten” fame. It looks to be a fun, compelling history-based edutainment spectacular involving rival Paleontologists in the Gilded Age. Check this out.

AdHouse provided some all-new material, always great. It’s an extension of the “Project: Superior” anthology, and will apparently become an irregular ongoing series. The highlight of this book is the return of last year’s FCBD standout talent, Joel Priddy. He’s just as good this year, telling the very heroic tale of Onion Jack, a superhero who sees an awful lot of history, but his mark is only really made by doing what he loves. Simple (yet attractive), excellently paced, and not entirely unmoving. Contrast that self-contained unit to Zack Soto’s also good St. XIXIS, which feels like, well, a preview for an upcoming superhero comic. Such is the reach of this project.

I amused myself peering at Wizard’s dated Top 100 Trade Paperbacks of All Time list (look out for the “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” movie, coming soon folks!). I think it would have been easier for all concerned if they just called it a Best Superero/Sci-fi/Fantasy list and cut out all the token ‘alt’ books (all six or so of them), since otherwise it looks like the staff of Wizard really does think that “Strangers in Paradise” is better than the combined works of Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, and that David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane’s “Spider-Man vs. Venom” is superior to the entire works of Dan Clowes and Chris Ware. On the other hand, they did include “Cerebus”.

But the very best book of all of Free Comic Book day can only be “Comic Festival”, a fine array of talents, many of them bringing their creator-owned characters along to play, just like the glory days of the early 90’s. There’s so much to see in this book for everyone, like a continuation of that Dave Sim and Chester Brown jam strip from the “Cerebus World Tour Book 1995”, something I never thought I’d see. Seth is apparently finishing a brand-new graphic novel (this is in addition to “Clyde Fans”) for release in October, based on his sketchbook doodles; a great preview is here, depicting a dapper ultimate comics collector in top hat and cape and comic store managers who apparently work their day in full suit-and-tie splendor. It’s called “Wimbledon Green”. Virtually every literary comics icon indulges in the ‘comics collector’ story (see the aforementioned “Pussey” or “Rusty Brown“), but this one looks awfully fun. And so much more! Scott Pilgrim! Street Angel! The cast of “Prison Funnies” (with a great final gag)! Darwyn Cooke even covers the superhero angle with a short that can either be taken as a call for creator ownership (again, in the vintage Early Image tradition) or as a plea for respect toward Big Two superhero icons. Beautiful cover by Cooke too, and a totally unnecessary flip cover by James Jean, considering that the guts of the book don’t actually flip. But any excuse for James Jean is a good one. I can’t believe I almost missed this book. Go kill somebody to obtain one.

I also picked up a bunch of back-issues, again with the $1 sale.

There was so much great stuff at that store.

I had to stand at the counter for a solid two minutes while the clerk obliviously played his game.

There’s irony here, somewhere.

*And so ended my Day of Free Comics. It was a satisfying one, although it cost pretty much all the cash I got from selling my book. Free fun is expensive these days, but I think it was worth it, or so I rationalize. I hope your day went well too.