The comic book community sometimes gets saddled with a bad reputation. A stereotyped group of introverted, protective people with tendencies to egregiously overreact to even a hint of change in their preferred heroes’ lives. Fortunately, that unfair categorization could not be farther from the actual behavior of comic book fans.
Thanks partially to the boom of comic universes in film and television, comic book shops have become a haven for the interested or curious newcomers to hang right alongside the well-read veterans of the graphic novel game. One of the best examples of communal comic celebration is Free Comic Book Day, where shops around the world celebrate the wonderful art styles, plot twists, and astounding multiverses all featured in those amazing pages.
…just where did this all come from, though?
Like any good plot, the history of Free Comic Book Day is born from a dark time in comic history. Over the course of the late nineties, companies such as Marvel started purchasing distribution companies in an attempt to streamline their business (a.k.a. Increase profit margins by reducing their outsourcing distribution costs). This, combined with the teased deaths of legendary characters – Bane’s crippling of Batman by breaking his back, plus the Death of Superman – led to backfiring from two key areas. Even though initial sales of those issues were record-breaking, the aftermath led to an oversaturation of the market. This, combined with a lack of interest in “variant” copies and covers, alongside terribly managed partnerships such as the one between Image and Valiant Comics, as well as casual fans dropping their series due to the seeming finality regarding their favorite characters, led a terrible bust in the comic market. A majority of comic stores were forced to close and even the aforementioned Marvel filed for bankruptcy. Essentially, the business of comic books was very much in the same shape as Batman: broken, but not yet buried.
As any fan of comics can tell you, there is almost never anything “final” about what you read or see. In the words of The Joker to ol’ Batsy: “I think you and I are destined to do this forever.”
In 2002, Jim Valentino responded to Joe Field’s idea of a day where comics would be given to fans by doing just that. To celebrate the release of the first Spiderman movie (and by proxy take advantage of the immense financial success of cinematic universes), shops all over the United States gave away comics and merchandise the day after the film’s release. Response was overwhelmingly positive, as casual fans returned to check out Spiderman-related books and creators were able to showcase newer series or ideas. The first three years expanded the scope to a worldwide celebration of graphic novels and continued the trend of associating with large summer film blockbusters such as the first two Spiderman movies as well as X2. With the exception of 2004, where the event was held in July to coincide with the second Spiderman movie, Free Comic Book Day is always held on the first Saturday in May and sometimes will celebrate the release of new film. Indeed, 2018’s edition will showcase comics right alongside the third Avengers film.
From a community standpoint, Free Comic Book Day also champions the opportunity for the comic fans to educate intrigued newcomers or even suss out coveted covers and issues. So when that first Saturday in May emerges, thwip on over to Epikos Comics, Cards and Games where you can score freebies, celebrate a stunning plethora of pages and support your local shop!