Saturday, May 06, 2006

Happy Free Comic Book Day!

Hope everyone took some time out of their busy day to stop by their local comic shop and make a purchase or two.

Below is the story I did on FCBD and its history for the Patriot-News. Chances are you've already read the story since I put up a link to it yesterday. But I'm tired and feel the need to post something, so this is what you get. Enjoy the leftovers.

Comic book stores across North America are planning to do something tomorrow that most retailers wouldn’t ever dream of doing.

They’ll be giving away merchandise for free.

Tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day, an annual event devoted to getting average consumers into comic shops, as well to as drawing attention to the art form itself.

Big-name publishers such as Marvel, DC and Archie — as well as small-press companies such as Drawn & Quarterly — have created special comic pamphlets for stores to hand out as part of the event.

"It’s a way to find new readership for the medium" said Chris Pitzer, owner of the boutique comics publisher AdHouse.

This is the fifth year for Free Comic Book Day, which was dreamed up by Joe Field, owner of Flying Colors Comics in Concord, Calif.

Field got the idea for the event when he noticed the ice cream store next to his shop was having a "free scoop day."

"I thought, ‘The only product cooler than ice cream is comics,’ so I borrowed the concept," he said.

The event has grown since its inception in 2001. Originally tied into the release of a major comic book-themed film such as "Spider Man," it has become popular enough to stand on its own, according to Field.

Ralph Watts, owner of Comics and Paperbacks Plus in Palmyra, says he gets 150 to 200 people into his store, with five percent to 10 percent of those becoming regular customers.

Bill Wahl, co-owner of the Comix Connection stores in Mechanicsburg and York, says Free Comic Book Day is the "busiest day of the year."

"It’s taken a toe-hold into the public consciousness beyond the fan base," he said, noting that the event has drawn a number of younger readers into his stores.

Free Comic Book Day is emblematic of the growing interest comics have garnered from the general public. Once dismissed as juvenile kiddie fare, comics (or sequential art if you prefer) are slowly being seen as a legitimate art form.

For sure, big blockbuster films that have hit the screen in recent years ("X-Men," "Batman Begins") have helped the medium acquire a certain hip cachet.

But Hollywood isn’t just keeping their interest in comics to the cinema. A number of celebrities, including filmmaker Kevin Smith, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" creator Joss Whedon, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon have written stories for some of the most popular superhero franchises out there.

Nor does it stop at superheroes. Previously relegated to dim corner of the market, a number of cartoonists previously branded "alternative" or "indie" are attaining mainstream recognition and signing with upscale publishers such as Houghton Mifflin and Pantheon.

Chris Ware, for example, won widespread acclaim, not to mention awards, for his graphic novel "Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth." Marjane Satrapi’s "Persepolis," an autobiographical account of her childhood in Iran, has earned critical raves and strong sales.

And then there are Japanese comics, otherwise known as manga. As any visit to a major bookstore chain will tell you, manga has made huge inroads, especially with younger readers. The boys’ adventure series "Naruto," for example, recently made USA Today’s best-seller list.
"It’s almost like a renaissance in comics right now," Wahl said.

Field agrees.

"The walls are down," he noted. "One of the strengths of Free Comic Book Day is there’s a pretty wide variety of material. ... The medium is not strictly for kids."


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