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Thoughts On Free Comic Book Day 2018

As I write this, Avengers: Infinity War is the biggest film on the planet (and I rather enjoyed it as well), yet I don’t think it has made people decide to buy any comic books. However, people do seem to know about the concept of Free Comic Book Day (FCBD), which I guess is an annual reminder that the films were derived from the strange method of entertainment known as comic books. It’s also a reminder that if you like fantastical tales of crazy imagination downloaded straight to your brain from a single human (or small creative team), there is no better method of achieving that goal than a comic book.

That said, I’m not sure that Free Comic Book Day necessarily succeeds in its ultimate goal of trying to create new readers, basically because the premise is flawed: the goal is to create new comic book *collectors*, which is a completely different thing. My take in short: comic book shops are built around the direct market, which is entirely based on the concept of the comic book collector getting the books the day they come out; although good comic book shops are friendly spaces that welcome the casual reader, they cannot rely on the casual reader to survive as a business, in much the same ways that book shops are in such trouble.

Anyway, back to FCBD: the day itself was pretty much the same as I described for FCBD 2017, with the exception of a full day of really warm sunshine. This is quite rare in the UK, especially on Bank Holiday weekends, which have a tendency towards bad weather to dampen people’s moods. I think this had an effect on how busy the day was – we visited the three central London shops (Gosh, Orbital, Forbidden Planet), which had queues but not as big as in 2017. Admittedly, we didn’t stay the entire day so can’t vouch for them, but the number of people seemed lower in general, and I think it was because British people feel duty-bound to do something outdoorsy when the weather is lovely, particularly on a Bank Holiday.

As always, Gosh had organised a great day and kept things running smoothly, Orbital had the cosplayers to keep the line entertained, and Forbidden Planet was giving out bags freely. We visited each, getting a fine selection of books (Gosh and Orbital allow you to choose five books from the pile while stocks last, compared with Forbidden Planet’s pre-selection), including ‘bonus’ books of DC Nation #0 from Gosh who offered it as a free comic book, and a preview of Angelic from Orbital. We never saw the Legend of Korra book from Dark Horse – apparently some books don’t make it over here – which was a shame, but it was never about getting all the books for us (unlike some comic book collectors with their lists and luggage bags on wheels in which to carry them all).

Of the comic books we picked up, a few thoughts on ones that I particularly enjoyed:

  • Street Angel’s Dog by Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca was a delightful tale with a wonderfully energetic art style and atmosphere; Street Angel has long been a favourite of internet-based comic book fans and I can see why.
  • Sparks by Ian Boothby and Nina Matsumoto with its great idea, the wonderful execution, the adorable art, the spot-on cat/dog observations and the comedy (Charlie, a cat: ‘I’m going outside to eat and throw up some grass. You coming?’).
  • Black Hammer: The Quantum Age by Jeff Lemire, Wilfredo Torres and Dean Ormston was a charming introduction into what is presumably a love letter to the Legion of Super-Heroes set in the Black Hammer universe (which I’ve recently started reading and is a phenomenal book).
  • James Bond: Vargr by Warren Ellis and Jason Masters is the first chapter in the graphic novel by the same creative team and was a perfectly executed piece of adapting the character into comic books, and that’s from someone who doesn’t like James Bond.
  • I loved all the titles within Comics Friends Forever and Defend Comics, both from First Second Books, which were all beautiful and interesting and intriguing and charming, perfect tasters for younger readers.

Free Comic Book Day cover selectionOther books provided more mixed reactions:

  • 2000 AD Regened had some good art and provided a complete collection (done-in-one stories, quiz pages, a faux board game) but I couldn’t work out if Cadet Dredd and the tale of Johnny Alpha being examined for his S/D badge were supposed to be jokes or not.
  • Strangers In Paradise XXV by Terry Moore seems to be the first issue of the latest series and features lovely art and storytelling, but it was extremely confusing when my memories of the book are of it being a relationship dramedy, whereas this seems to be some sort of conspiracy thriller with little explanation.
  • The Valiant book was called Shadowman, and features seven pages of the new book, but it’s a collection of several small previews of books (the others are X-O Manowar and Harbinger Wars 2) that have lovely art but don’t provide enough to satisfy a curiosity about whether to read more or not.
  • Berlin by Jason Lutes is a snippet from the huge historical fiction about Berlin and the rise of Nazism by Lutes, which is extremely well done but doesn’t have enough substance, presumably because it’s a fraction of the finished work and so can never do it justice.
  • Die Kitty Die had some nice bits, particularly the meta jokes about Free Comic Book Day and the publishing of a comic book about the death of Kitty by the insensitive publisher, but the rest of the book seems to be different things completely, as if the creators are trying to do all sorts of comic books in the same title, which felt confusing.
  • Barrier was the big preview from Image by Brian K Vaughan, Marcos Martin and Muntsa Vicente but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed The Private Eye by the same creative team, not helped for this non-Spanish speaker by the fact that half the book is in Spanish.
  • The Amazing Spider-Man showed off the new creative team of Nick Spencer and Ryan Ottley, who both seem to have a really good handle on the character – Spencer does great quipping and Ottley is on fine form after doing Invincible for so long – but the odd ‘Previously in Guardian of the Galaxy’ stuff taking up the second half of the book was a really weird choice, especially in the manner it was done with the thumbnails of art and small accompanying text.
  • I loved the cover for The Mall by Don Handfield, James Haick III and Rafael Loureiro, but it doesn’t reflect the interior art or vibe of the story, which feels like Strange Days meets Goodfellas mixed with the wish fulfilment of a teenage boy. The other very small previews in the book didn’t have any opportunity to entice new readers and seemed like a missed opportunity.
  • Relay by Zac Thompson and Andy Clarke had beautiful art but a story I couldn’t immerse myself in, but I was impressed by the promotional pages at the end of the book for other Aftershock titles, which gave a real sense of what each book would be about from a single image and a good tagline.
  • Finally, DC Nation #0 wasn’t DC’s FCBD book (that was DC Superhero Girls) but it perhaps should have been as well, seeing as it tees up the future of the big books from DC (the wedding of Batman and Catwoman, Brian Michael Bendis on Superman, and the prelude to Justice League: No Justice). Except for the fact that the Batman story is essentially six pages of the Joke psychologically terrorising an innocent man before shooting him in the head, the rest of the book does a good job of setting out what you can expect from those three titles, of which the Justice League looks the most intriguing.

If I haven’t mentioned a book, then either I didn’t get it or I had nothing particular to say about it. However, I can say that Free Comic Book Day 2018 was lovely and that I look forward to Free Comic Book Day 2019.

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