Saturday, May 02, 2009

Geek Christmas! (AKA 'Free Comic Book Day)

Today is Free Comic Book Day. What does that mean?

Well, if you're not a fan of the four-color, 22-page pamphlets of spandex goodness that are comic books, then you've stopped reading this post as soon as you saw the headline and gone back to reading your friends' Facebook updates.

However, if you're like me and you know With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility, then you've probably dropped by your LCS (Local Comics Shop) and picked up a few freebies today. Because you know, as I do, that our beloved hobby depends on it.

I picked up five books @ Jim Hanley's Universe (33rd & 5th Ave, by the Empire St. Bldg) today. here are images of three of them:

The Free Comic Book Day tradition began in 2002 after Josh Fields, owner of Flying Color Comics in Concord, CA, came up with the idea as a way to publicize the industry. The first one took place a day after the first "Spider-Man" opened to record-breaking box office.

In a nutshell, FCBD is the industry's way of keeping itself alive. How well that's worked is up for debate.

It's no secret comics long ago stopped being a mainstream form of entertainment, with dwindling readership numbers. It's now a specialized medium existing mainly in imposing comic shops that seem to scream at casual passerby, "NO NEWBIES! WE DON'T SERVE YOUR KIND HERE!"

I've never seen a comics shop that actually discourages new customers, but that's the vibe they give off, intentionally or not. Walk into a comic shop - any comic book store - and notice how they're set up like Medieval castles. The rows of longboxes packed with bagged & boarded back issues and character statues & action figures act as the front line of defense against intruders looking to penetrate the Fortress of Nerditude.

I noticed it today even, on a day that's supposed to be all about accommodating and welcoming newcomers. When I walked into Jim Hanley's today with my wife, she looked like I had just dropped her off at the corner of Murder & Mayhem in South Central LA, wearing Crips colors. As soon as you walked in all you saw was row after row of comics & TPBs, with no clear signage as to what was where, and vice versa.

How about sections clearly marked for new readers? Or for female readers? Comic shop owners should also consider assigning employees with finding TPBs from various titles (Avengers, X-Men, Spidey, Batman, Noble Causes ... whatever) that are particularly New Reader-Friendly and put those front & center. In other words, court the customer. Make it easy for someone to try something fresh & exciting.

I'm just throwing around ideas here. I'd love to hear other suggestions, because frankly, while FCBD is a great idea, I don't know how effective it's been at luring new eyeballs to comics. Which is a shame, because there are INCREDIBLE comic books being published today. Stories of all types for all kinds of readers. Too bad the number of people who actually read & buy comics keeps shrinking faster than Ant-Man.

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