Although Free Comic Book Day has been going since 2002, this was my first time actually venturing into comic book shops on the day itself. It hasn’t been a big deal here in the UK (I believe that the shipping charges, even for free comics, make it an expensive promotion for shops in the UK), and it was only this year that I got the sense that it was being approached in a manner similar to that in the USA. In fact, the advertising in advance must have worked because it was bizarrely mentioned in Martin Lewis’ Money Saving Expert newsletter as a ‘hot item’ (as I tweeted at the time).
I made my way into central London on Saturday morning, but didn’t arrive until after 11 am, by which time the vultures had already descended. I went to Gosh! first (because it is the shop I buy my comics from) – they had the free comic books on the display table in the middle of the shop. It was the first time they had done something about Free Comic Book Day, seemingly because everyone else was doing something about it, and there had been four people waiting outside before the shop opened. There was also a signing later in the day, so an effort had been made and this had been rewarded by more people in the small premises (or ‘cosy’ in estate agent terms). I purchased the books I had waiting for me on my pull list and took a copy of the free books that were left – Amazing Spider-Man, Green Lantern, Super Dinosaur, 2000 AD, Elric and Captain America/Thor.
My next stop was Forbidden Planet, the largest shop in central London. There were a lot more people both inside and outside the shop – I saw a young girl outside with her father, a Forbidden Planet bag full of swag in one hand, in the other a map which she was using to point out to her father the location of the next shop to visit; there were families of parents with their small children looking happy with their haul of free comic books. It warmed the cockles of my heart. Inside, the shop was very busy, with lots of people at the table near the tills which had the free comic books on it – I was able to pick up a copy of Atomic Robo there – and downstairs at the comic book shelves, especially the shelves with deals on trade paperbacks (I bought The Question: The Five Books Of Blood for less than half price). There was additional promotional activity in the form of people dressed up wondering around the shop: a man as Batman, a woman with a red skirt outfit with the Flash logo on it, and a Superman who was handing out a bag of free stuff at the entrance (I got the Dark Horse free comic book and a free Marvel screen wipe from him), so I’m guessing that they worked at the store. Quite an impressive display from Forbidden Planet.
My final destination was Orbital Comics, which trumped Forbidden Planet’s costumed assistants with some excellent cosplayers (see the photos at Bleeding Cool – unlike Rich, I don’t nick people’s photos for my blog without acknowledgement: specifically, see his post about the closing of They Walk Among Us, where he stole my photo from my blog post about the same shop the year before). There was a Batman who looked good in his costume, but the women as Poison Ivy and the Black Cat were fantastic, and there were quite a few chaps lining up to take their photo. Orbital didn’t have any free comics to give away – you had to buy something to get a few comics from them – but that could be due to their proximity to Leicester Square tube station. However, there were lots of people in the shop looking for comics, so it must have been doing very well, and I took the chance to look at the display of original art at the back, which had some phenomenal art from Paul Duffield, the artist on FreakAngels. It demonstrated his design talent – there were some amazing pages that played with the panel layout and the visual conveyance of the story, presumably to show that he was no longer confined by the four-panel grid he has to do for FreakAngels under orders of Warren Ellis.
I don’t know if the rest of the London shops went to the same extremes as these three shops, but I have to say I was impressed by their efforts and by the presence of so many people in comic book shops. It obviously seemed to achieve the goal of getting casual punters and, importantly, young children into comic book shops, and I hope that it continues in the future. As for me, I continued my comic book-themed day by watching The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec – the French don’t need a special day to sell their comic books (even if I have never actually read Jacques Tardi’s original graphic albums).