Free Comic Book Day is Saturday, the day after the highly anticipated summer blockbuster The Amazing Spider-Man 2 swings into North American theaters.
That’s not a coincidence.
Since its inception more than a decade ago, Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) — an annual event where anyone can walk into a participating comic-book shop and leave with at least one free comic book —has almost always immediately followed Marvel’s first Friday in May release (the X-Men, Spider-Man, Avengers, Iron Man, and Thor franchises).
Combined, all the superhero films of the last 14 years — from 2000’s X-Men to last month’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier — have generated billions of dollars worldwide at the box office.
Comic books haven’t fared too badly in that span, either.
Josh Emmerich, of West Toledo, browses the comic selection at Game Room Comics.
“Comics sales have been rising for the last several years,” said Joe Field, owner of Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff in Concord, Calif., and the founder of Free Comic Book Day, in an email interview.
The free comics at Game Room Comics in West Toledo are up and on display.
“Since the inception of FCBD in 2002, the last 13 years have been the healthiest continuous stretch for comics since the 1940s. The reasons for that are both creative and commercial. The content and creativity in comics is more diverse and engaging than ever before; the world has woken up to how great comic stories can be, while the business side remains strong.”
Perhaps FCBD has a little to do with the gaining popularity of comics as well.
Created as “a wonderful entry point for new readers of all ages, to call back former comic-book readers, and to thank current fans,” FCBD is the largest annual comic book-related event in the world, Field said.
Emmerich slides his newly purchased comic book into a protective plastic sleeve.
According to FreeComicBookDay.com, more than 2,000 shops in over 60 countries are participating this year, and Diamond Comics Distributors, the largest comics distributor in North America, estimates that last year’s FCBD drew approximately 1.2 million customers around the world, with more expected this year.
Even on a local level, FCBD is a huge event, drawing anywhere from double to quintuple the number of customers found on a typical Saturday at any of the four main comic-book shops in the area.
“It’s our biggest day of the year by far,” said Seann Eschrich, owner of Seann’s Anime & Comics, 5805 Monroe St. in Sylvania. “We probably have a couple-hundred people on an average Saturday. There’s probably a thousand people or more on Free Comic Book Day. In the last two years, we’ve had lines around our building in the morning and I expect that again this year.”
Jim Collins, owner of JC’s Comic Stop, 6725-DD W. Central Ave., refers to FCBD as “the National Day of Awareness to the Industry,” in which moviegoers hopefully learn more about the origins of their favorite superhero, while Steve Shufritz, owner of Monarch Comics, 4400 Heatherdowns Blvd., compares the event to Baskin Robbin’s wildly popular 31-Cent Scoop Night.
“Last year we had them lined out the door for about 3½ hours,” he said. “It’s designed to get new people in the door and the magic word ‘free’ works pretty well.”
While the comics may be free to customers, the stores still have to pay for the publications, which are sold to them at a discounted rate. And not every comic book is part of the giveaway; each year a selection of 50 or more titles is made available -- this year’s list includes Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and Rocket Raccoon, DC’s The New 52 Future’s End, Sonic the Hedgehog, Street Fighter from Udon, Archie, Kaboom!, All You Need is Kill, and SpongeBob -- as abbreviated special editions.
Even with the limitations, the free comics are quite popular.
Free Comic Book Day hours at local comic shops.
Seann’s Anime & Comics, 5805 Monroe St. in Sylvania, open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
JC’s Comic Stop, 6725-DD W. Central Ave., open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Monarch Comics, 4400 Heatherdowns Blvd., open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The Game Room, 3001 W. Sylvania, open from 11 a.m. to midnight.
The Game Room, 3001 W. Sylvania, first participated in FCBD eight years ago, but skipped the event in 2005 and 2006 because too many one-time customers were taking more than their share of the free comics, said the store’s owner Darryl Dean.
“There was nothing there,” he said.
The increasing popularity of FCBD, however, convinced Dean to join in the giveaway again.
“The [free] comics lasted two hours last year” before the shop ran out, he said. “It’s huge now.”
That kind of demand doesn’t point to an industry in jeopardy -- or, at least, in flux -- as some contend comic-book shops are with the popularity of digital comics on tablets, phones, and PCs.
But the threat of an iPad and Android-only Superman to the local comics stores has yet to materialize. If anything, the digital and print formats complement each other.
“Digital comics have become a sort of online window shopping, allowing readers a chance to sample different comics on their tablets or other devices before deciding which one to buy in print,” Field said. And “Free Comic Book Day is about people visiting their local comics shops to see the wealth of entertaining and engaging stuff that comic shops offer.”
Still, given the unparalleled success of superhero films in the last decade, isn’t there more interest in the superhero comics?
“Some people see the movies and discover us, but I just don’t see it” regularly, Shufritz said. “Parents take their kids to see the Superman or Batman or Spider-Man movies and don’t really think about where the source material comes from.
“Movies are a good way to get people thinking about comics again,” he adds. “People grew up with them, outgrew them, and now with their families are starting to think about them again.”
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.