Tuesday, May 6, 2008

FCBD Reflections from the Mini-Comic World

So I thought I'd post about how Free Comic Book Day went for me, both personally and professionally. For the record, there are four comic book stores in the Syracuse area, and although I have my preferences, I'm only going to speak about the stores' presentation on Free Comic Book Day.

I left my house, along with my 21-month-old son, Ian, at about 10 a.m. Our first stop was Recess Coffee House, which was closed. Apparently we were there before 10. We then made our way to Sugar Pearl Espresso Bar and Lounge, where I put out a brochure holder with about 10 copies of the Free Comic Book Day Special and bought my son a vegan chocolate chip cookie, which he thoroughly enjoyed and, at $1.50, was reasonably priced. Thanks to Gracie for letting me set out some comics.

We then had to stop by the Central New York Regional Market to pick up some syrup. My son eats French toast for breakfast probably four or five days a week, and I like to purchase locally produced syrup. While waiting at the stoplight, I gave a homeless guy $1 and a copy of the Candy or Medicine FCBD special asking him if he'd like something to read. I figure he sits there all day and thought it might help him pass the time and cheer him up. After all, he's faced with a terrible situation.

I didn't hand any comics out at the market, considering it was mostly people older than 30 shopping for food. In hindsight, it would have been helpful if I had a Free Comic Book Day bag (which I now do), so I could show it to someone when I hand them a comic to help them understand this is a legitimate event and not just some random guy trying to hand them something while they're trying to shop.

The first comic store we visited was Play the Game, Read the Story in the nearby Carousel Center. Actually, my son and I played in the elevator for a few minutes beforehand because that's one of his favorite things to do. If we don't take him in the elevator first thing when we go to the mall or the YMCA, he screams "button" the whole time we're there.

I'd have to say Play the Game had a really great FCBD display on Saturday and a couple of weeks leading up to the event. Seeing as how it is in the mall, Play the Game gets a lot of foot traffic. I'd think it used to get more when it was at a more prominent location in the mall, but I'm sure its rent is much cheaper now. Play the Game advertised FCBD on little table-top fliers (that also had other stores' ads) on tables throughout the mall during the month of April. It also had a giant inflatable Hulk in its window along with some FCBD fliers, a plethora of Iron Man comics, a few Iron Man toys and an easel with some framed original Iron Man art for sale (at a reasonable price). In its other display window, the store had a rack of the free comics available. I think that was important to show people walking by (i.e. parents and non-comics readers) that there might be something available for their children, grandchildren, nieces/nephews, etc.

Play the Game had a wide selection of free comics available (including the Candy or Medicine special) and allowed people to take four. People were also handed a huge poster of the X-Men FCBD comic cover (seen at left), which I recycled (what am I going to do with a giant X-Men poster?), the store's newsletter, the store's subscription/pull list and some random back issues they wanted to unload. From a business standpoint, handing out the pull list was a good idea. I picked up Tiny Titans (which was good), Owly and Friends (which is always good. I plan to buy the Yam book when it's out), Bongo Comics Free for All (notable for the manga Simpsons reprint) and Gumby (more on this later). Overall, Play the Game had a really nice set up and it was cool seeing a younger kids in the store. After this, we went to the arcade to play Skee ball and the "duck game," as my son calls it, and we rode the mall's carousel, which is from 1909.

After we left the mall, we went to the recently opened Cloud City Comics and Games, owned by my friend, and fellow straight edge warrior and herbivore, Jeff Watkins, who also organizes the annual Syracuse Heroes Expo. One thing I really like about Jeff's store is that he sells vintage GI JOES, Transformers, Masters of the Universe and similar action figures. His is the only store in the area selling these items. Cloud City didn't have a huge selection of offerings, considering the store just opened a couple weeks ago and Jeff was in transition from moving stock from the now closed Flying Turtle Toys to his new store. I think I picked up the X-Men and Sonic comics. Jeff was also so kind as to display the Candy or Medicine FCBD special in one of the brochure holders I supplied him. One customer picked up a copy and said it looked "cool," which made me feel good. I should have said I have issue two available for $1 (I brought a few with me), but I have a hard time talking to random people (more on this later).

We spent a while in here because my son was playing with Jeff's 1-year-old daughter, who he remembers from when we went to the Ithaca Mid-Winter Comic Book Show. I also bought him a water bottle featuring "My Melody" (which I just found out is what it's called). He saw it last time we were in the store and really wanted it, so I promised him I'd get it the next time we came in. He loves it, but he likes to turn it upside down, which causes it to spill. I guess it's from the same people who make Hello Kitty, and it looks like this:

We had to leave Cloud City so he could eat lunch and take a nap. While he was napping, I went to Comix Zone in N. Syracuse. I didn't bring any comics here before Free Comic Book Day because it's kind of far away from my house. I wasn't sure I was going to stop there Saturday, but I'm glad I did. The owner, Greg, said I could set some comics on the FCBD table. It was about 3:30, so most of the store's business had come and gone. I wish I would have dropped some off earlier, but I'll have to make sure to do that next year. I handed a copy to someone at the store also, and I would have handed out more, but I didn't want to harass anyone. I heard a kid say, "Yeah! Free Comic Book Day!" which made me happy to know that this is something kids are getting excited about.

Comix Zone had a pretty decent selection of comics and had some comics the other stores didn't have, including copies of Jim Coon's Detached, which won the Day Prize at SPACE a few years ago (and is really funny). It was nice to know that people could stop by all three shops and more than likely get everything they wanted. I picked up the Ignatz comic, Jughead, a Top Shelf sampler (which might have been from last year) and something else I forget. The store had all back issues that were $5.99 or less on sale for 99 cents, so I picked up a few of those (including Galactus vs Darkseid and some recent issues of Daredevil and Omega the Unknown that I missed) and the first issue of Super Friends (my son has the action figures and I wanted to see what the comic was like).

Across the street lies Bullseye's (click the link to read an article I wrote about the store), which sells darts, coins and back issues comics. Randy has an amazing assortment of comics on his walls (including Amazing Spider-Man #1, X-Men #1, Avengers #4, pre-code EC Comics, some Golden Age comics and he used to have the first six issues of the Hulk). He was giving customers three back issues, which included large stacks of Silver Age coverless comics (which I love). I picked up a really thick issue of Justice League of America, Howard the Duck #5 and DC First Issue Special #1, featuring the story Atlas by Jack Kirby. This was a nice touch by Randy considering it could turn some people on to older comics they might not otherwise know about.

On my way home, I stopped by Recess to drop off a few copies of the comic. Thanks to the owner, Adam, for supporting local arts, music, etc.

Overall, it was a positive experience. I have a hard time going up to random people, and I counted about eight missed opportunities to hand people a comic, but I did hand copies out to two random people. Maybe next year I'll have the courage to hand out more (the Lexapro only helps so much).

I had a thought (which is the same thing I thought last year when I made a free mini-comic) that people are probably disinclined to pick up a mini-comic on a table of comics because they are unsure of what it is. To them, it might look like a flier or something. I have some brochure holders I purchased at Staples that the comics fit in nicely. I plan to use them when I set up at conventions. For FCBD, I taped a sign on them that said "Free locally published mini-comic," thinking this might clue people in as to what it is. I'm not sure how many people actually picked up the comic at the five locations at which I dropped them off, but I hope that at least half of them were.

Next year, I'll make sure to carry comics in an official Free Comic Book Day bag, bring copies to all of the stores before the date and to go to more locations, specifically coffee shops, ice cream stands, libraries and the local record store. I was planning on going to more of those types of locations, but I barely had enough money to make 450 copies (most of which I mailed to the stores mentioned in an earlier post) and drive all around town.

I'm not going to review any of the FCBD offerings because there are plenty of those floating around online, but I would like to talk about the Gumby comic. I thought this was a really cool comic considering the art and story have an underground feel and that, like last year, it is a jam comic in the sense that there are multiple artists doing the art. However, the one thing that overshadows the art and story is the fact that this is labeled as a comic for kids (considering there is an in-house ad claiming as much and the fact that it was advertised as a coloring book).

I have an issue with this because of two specific panels. I don't have a scan of the comic, so I'll do my best to describe what I'm talking about. In the story, Gumby jumps into a computer and gets a worm. A doctor tells him he must chop off a part of himself, which will transform into a mini-Gumby. He must then swallow the mini-Gumby, who will find and destroy the worm.

The first panel I have issue with is when mini-Gumby runs into Pokey (or mini-Pokey, we don't know) and asks him how he got in there. Pokey responds, "Through the back door." Now if mini-Gumby came in via Gumby's mouth, what would "the back door" imply? I don't think I'm being obscene or off base when I say that to me, that means Pokey crawled through Gumby's ass.

Another panel I take issue with isn't as explicit (in my opinion) as that one. Pokey is riding mini-Gumby, who has turned into a plane. Mini-Gumby tells Pokey (and I'm summarizing because I don't have the book in front of me) to "Be careful with that thing. It might break." Again, this one isn't as explicit as the other panel, but there is some sexual innuendo to it.

Also, there is a running gag that Gumby is addicted to eating crayons. At one point, Pokey says, "I thought you were off those things." To which Gumby replies, "You don't understand the stress." That scene can be seen here. Funny stuff, but not for kids.

I don't find this comic appropriate for children because of those two panels. I think many kids over the age of, say, 8 or 9 could figure out what these mean. Don't get me wrong, I really liked this comic and thinks it's great for a more mature audience, but I wouldn't want my son to read this unless he was at least a teenager. I wonder what the creators of this comic had in mind when they slipped those things in.

Anyway, this was a very long post and I hope everyone had a great Free Comic Book Day. Thanks to everyone who supported the event and to those who supported Candy or Medicine. Next year, I'll have bigger and better plans lined up.