May 7, 2012

Thoughts on Free Comic Book Day 2012

Another Free Comic Book Day has passed with much jubilation for those of us in the hobby and amused notice by the rest of the "normals".   I personally spent mine over at the Ultimate Comics event in Durham, NC.  Alan and company put on a nice presentation with LOTS of books, bunches of artists, some nice sales, and some unique twists such as a live band.

Ultimate Comics and other NC comic stores such as Acme Comics in Greensboro and Heroes Aren't Hard to Find in Charlotte understand that there is a large measure of enlightened self interest in staging not just another promotion, but a true "event".   The regular customers can be counted upon to come out, but it is the greater targets of lapsed fans, casual observers, parents and young kids, and similar that are the true targets.  Comics still have the stigma of being a male and geek dominated area symbolized by the "Comic Book Guy" on the Simpsons or the crew on Kevin Smith's Comic Book Men (that show does us no favors).  Ask a casual fan what they think a comic shop looks like, and the usual visual is a poorly lit "paper dungeon", or worse yet, surprise that comic shops still exist.

These stores break those stereotypes with nice open and, most importantly, accessible environments.   Accessible not only in terms of space and lighting, but also in terms of atmosphere and attitude.  Potential new customers should feel welcome no matter age, gender, or demographic.   They should not feel like an outsider intruding upon some four color high security area protecting the secrets of Batman's utility belt.   This is not just a matter of courtesy, it is no a fundamental for survival.  For a shop dependent upon a print based product source in an internet based world, each and every potential customer is vital.  Even with comic book based properties riding high in mainstream culture, gathering and maintaining new customers is still a difficult process and cannot be taken for granted just because "The Avengers" is the number one movie in the world.

Unfortunately, there are still a number of stores who do not understand this.  Stores that do not participate in Free Comic Book day or just stack the books on a table near the entrance with a sign stating "Limit X titles per customer".   In my area, three stores of this type have gone under in the past four years, despite the popular successes of Marvel Studios, the Dark Knight, and a lot of cartoons.  This style of shop is extinct.  They just don't know it yet.

In the past year, Marvel and DC, have begun the processes that will gradually lead to the evolution of our hobby.   Both have begun significant digital initiatives (Marvel Digital Universe Unlimited is a WONDERFUL thing.  You owe it to yourself to try it).  DC rebooted their entire universe to get out of 70 years of continuity.  They have also begun placing advertising with their movies and other media promoting local comic shops.  Marvel needs to follow a similar path, especially given the range and size of the Disney media machine.  A perfect example would have been some sort of comic shop promotional message placed BEFORE the after credits scene.   (Have Pepper Potts pick up Tony's subscriptions from the local shop!)  Despite this criticism, it does appear that the Big Two are increasing their support levels for shops and will hopefully continue and expand upon these programs as the medium shifts more towards digital.

So, if you picked up one of the FCBD books on a lark, make a note to go back to that shop and see what other wonders they can offer you.   Additionally, share the fun by passing the book(s) onto a friend or a child (age appropriate please!).   If you are a regular comic shop customer, do the same.   These books are not meant to be stored in plastic and cardboard.  They should be set loose and have as wide a dispersion as possible.   This is the true legacy of Free Comic Book Day, and it is up to us, comic book fans and shops alike, to fulfill this.