Comics, FYI

By Graeme McMillan

Cool Hands From The Get-Go

#36・
51

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Comics, FYI
Cool Hands From The Get-Go
By Graeme McMillan • Issue #36 • View online
It’s that time again: Free Comic Book Day 2022 is almost upon us.

I’m more than a little surprised that I haven’t seen more coverage of the fact that tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of Free Comic Book Day, the annual event created to promote the medium and the industry – potentially not in that order. 
The first FCBD was all the way back in 2002, where four publishers – Marvel, DC, Image, and Dark Horse – released special edition reprints to lure newcomers into comic book stores after they’d just watched Spider-Man in movie theaters. (The event has, if nothing else, remained relatively loyal to tying in with Marvel movie releases across the past two decades; only four Free Comic Book Days have not coincided with a Marvel movie release, and two of those were because of COVID.) It was a pretty big deal, and the following year, more than 20 additional publishers signed up for a second event, tying in with the release of X2*. 
If we’re looking at things through a particular lens, the annual event has certainly succeeded in drawing attention to the industry as a whole; according to an announcement from Diamond Comic Distributors, which organizes the event each year**, Free Comic Book Day generated an estimated $4 million in “free publicity” in 2019 alone***, with coverage across media leading somewhere in the region of 1.35 million people to comic book stores, where they picked up over 5.2 million comic books. 
Of course, the very notion of “free” publicity is somewhat of a misnomer. Free Comic Book Day isn’t free at all; it costs money for the publishers to create the comics, even the reprint material, and it costs money for comic retailers to get those comics into fans’ hands. Each issue costs retailers anywhere between 20-36 cents depending on publisher and title, plus all shipping fees; there’s also a minimum order level that has to be met in order to officially participate. That’s why it’d be really, really good if you could actually buy a couple of things in addition to picking up freebies if you’re hitting up a store tomorrow – Free Comic Book Day is only actually free for the end-user.
All of this is a preamble to where I was actually going: a quick run-through of Free Comic Book Day releases this year worth paying attention to, for various reasons.
Free Comic Book Day: Avengers/X-Men and Free Comic Book Day: Dark Crisis Special Edition: As is traditional by this point, the big summer events from both Marvel and DC get previews in FCBD releases. As someone unusually invested in both storylines this year – Judgment Day essentially because I like Kieron as a writer more than anything else, while Dark Crisis combines my love of DC events and Joshua Williamson hitting all the right notes – I suspect both will be worth a look, even if I also trust both writers to ensure that the issues won’t necessarily be so essential as to punish readers who missed them before the main event properly begins. 
Free Comic Book Day: Best of 2000 AD #0: For those paying attention at home, this will be the second zero issue for Best of 2000 AD in the past three years; the first was in 2020, intended to be an introduction to the never-published-because-of-COVID 12-issue mini version of Best of. (Rebellion sent press a PDF of the first issue ahead of time, and we all missed out on that not happening, let me tell you.) This time around, it’s promoting the upcoming 200-page quarterly anthology version of Best of launching later this year, but it again features one of the primary selling points of any FCBD issue: a new Al Ewing-written Judge Dredd short, this time with art by V.V. Glass. The fact that there’s also material from Mick McMahon, John Wagner, Kevin O’Neill and more in there is just some particularly delicious gravy, to make a weird metaphor even worse. 
Free Comic Book Day: Clementine #1: I’m not a Walking Dead fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I am a Tillie Walden fan, so the idea of her stepping into Robert Kirkman’s zombie empire to tell a YA story is something that’s been particularly exciting since its announcement. There’s more to this than a preview of that book, though; it also has previews of Skybound’s other upcoming YA and middle grade books, making it a worthwhile glimpse of what lies ahead.
Free Comic Book Day: The Incal Universe: Talking of what lies ahead, I have to admit that my confusion and cynicism about the very idea of building a shared universe of books out of Jodorowsky’s The Incal and Metabarons was hit pretty hard by a preview copy of this issue, which features work from Mark Wait, Mark Russell, Dan Watters, Yanick Paquette, Pete Woods, and Jon Davis-Hunt. Yes, in many ways it’s a softening and commercialization of the original work, but it’s also kind of great, feeling like the cross between 2000 AD and Heavy Metal that the material arguably deserves. Featuring some genuinely lovely art, this might be the book that sneaks under most people’s radars tomorrow. 
While I’m not entirely sold on the “mythical heroes or superheroes?” set up of AWA’s Free Comic Book Day: Primos #1, I did want to single it out for its formatting; it’s a double length issue, featuring the story initially in English, and then a complete reprint in Spanish. I’d love to see more FCBD issues go this route, or simply offer more material for non-English speaking readers. 
In terms of straight-up reprints, Free Comic Book Day: Jonna and the Unpossible Monsters #1 merits a mention simply because, for those who haven’t picked it up yet, Chris Samnee’s art is absolutely glorious – it’s Jeff Smith meets Alex Toth meets Jack Kirby, and who doesn’t want to see that? 
Of course, your tastes will likely vary from mine, which is why you might want to check out the almost complete list of what’s going to be available tomorrow right here. (The not-listed DC books can be found here; the League of Super-Pets book is very, very cute indeed.)
One last thing about Free Comic Book Day, before I shut up: Late last week, icv2 ran an interview excerpt with Jeff Trexler, acting head of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, in which he said that comic retailers “really need to be careful about” the event this year. 
“One thing that’s changed in Free Comic Book Day in recent years was the recommended age range for the book switched from a text‑based statement on the cover to a color code,” Trexler’s quoted as saying. “If it’s for mature readers, it’s one color, and for young readers, it’s another color. But not every retailer recognized the color change. It was a classic usability problem because what you had was a rubric that’s designed to help retailers make certain decisions, but then retailers were used to one thing but not everybody read about the changes.”
I’ve got to admit, my first reaction to this runs somewhere along the lines of, simply, why? Switching from clear notifications of suitability to a color coded system feels more than a little obtuse, especially because it assumes that retailers will be able to check every single issue picked up before it leaves the store. In an era where a graphic novel became the most banned book in the country last year, and even a book as universally acclaimed as Maus – which won a Pulitzer, remember – gets banned by school districts, things feel particularly primed for a new “how can we allow our kids to read this filth” censorship crusade; making it harder to check which titles are age-appropriate for kids on a day that is, in many respects, created to get kids into comics feels like a ridiculous own goal on the part of whoever decided to make the change. 
All of which is to say, ultimately: good luck tomorrow, retailers. You’re probably going to need it. 
* The books released on those initial Free Comic Book Days are a fascinating time capsule of the industry in the early 2000s. The second year, especially: Dreamwave put out a Transformers comic, while Crossgen released Way of the Rat Special #1. Avatar Press released a Frank Miller’s RoboCop/Stargate SG-1 flipbook, even! It was a simpler time, with less quality control, apparently.
** Diamond’s control over FCBD made sense when it held a de facto monopoly on comic book distribution in North America. Things are more complicated in today’s multi-distributor landscape; for example although DC is putting out three different FCBD books this year, it’s entirely absent from the official FCBD website because of… politics, I guess…? It’s something that needs to be addressed, in some form, especially if publishers continue to leave Diamond in one form or another in the future.
*** 2019 is the last time we had a “traditional” FCBD, unaffected by COVID regulations, if you’re wondering why I’m not citing figures for the last couple of years.
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Graeme McMillan

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