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Geek Girl Navigating the World – The Joy of Free Comic Book Day
Geek Christmas comes in May. No, really. If you are or know a comic book geek, then you know that Free Comic Book Day was on Saturday, May 7, this year. It’s one of my favorite days of the year because I get free comic books, which means that I get to try out all kinds of new titles without having to shell out a whole lot of money. It would also be the one Saturday a year that you’ll find me not just perfectly willing but eager to set my alarm clock so I can be sure that I get up on time.
I refused to miss Free Comic Book Day this year. I’ve only missed two of them, and there have been 10 now. Last year was one of the ones that I missed. I knew that I was going to, though, because I had planned a little vacation. Free Comic Book Day comes once a year, weddings only happen once (or at least they’re supposed to), so the wedding won out and, honestly, I know that I made the right decision. This year, though, there were not going to be any excuses. I was not going to be sidetracked. I even had a back-up plan in place in case my car didn’t start.
Being the good little geek that I am, I stocked my pockets with quarters for the meter, fired up my car, and drove to the only remaining comic book shop left in my city. I got there an hour and a half before the store opened and took my place in line. I was not, in fact, first, but I was one of the first five people to get there. By the time the store actually opened, the line was clear down the block. I wasn’t surprised. After all, in the last year, the number of comic book stores in my city has decreased by half.
While I waited in line, I read a book, because I knew better than to show up to one of these things without something to keep me occupied while I stood on the sidewalk with the sun beating down mercilessly. The weather has finally turned for the better, but has somehow sidestepped spring entirely and headed straight for summer. The temperature was headed towards 80 degrees even before 10 a.m.
The district of my city that houses the lone comic store standing is one of the older parts that has been hit with renovations and restorations to make it prettier and more tourist-friendly. While standing in a line that was both quiet and orderly, crowds of people who had come for the local farmers’ market streamed around us, peering curiously at the line and trying to figure out what we were doing. It was the first day of the farmer’s market, so there were even more people there than usual. All of us could smell the restaurants cooking for the people that they were going to be stopping in on a busy Saturday afternoon, filling the air with the rich scents of woodsmoke, fryers bubbling, and sun-warmed concrete. None of the people who were on their way to buy produce and cheese and cut flowers stopped to ask what we were doing. They were on missions just as much as we were.
A reporter showed up to do a story about Free Comic Book Day and immediately started talking to the guy who was standing next to me. That guy was the fifth one in the line, and he’d been very upset to discover that when he arrived. He was
also pretty insistent that anyone who appeared to be milling around in advance of the store opening had to get in line. I’m pretty sure that he wouldn’t have hurt anyone, he seemed mostly harmless, but I do think that I wouldn’t have wanted to test him to see by making any kind of an attempt to cut in line. No one else wanted to take that chance, either.
The reporter asked the guy questions, and I found myself answering them in my head. He asked if the guy had been coming for Free Comic Book Day for long, how he’d heard about it, if he was looking forward to any particular offerings, and if he was going to make any purchases while he was getting his free comics.
I’ve only missed two, as stated above, one on purpose and one because it just wasn’t feasible to get to a comic book store (the closest one, at that time, was 90 miles away and wasn’t participating). I found out about Free Comic Book Day because I was very loyal to the comic book store I used to go to before it closed. The woman who owned it made sure to tell me because she knew if I found new titles that I was interested in buying, that I would order them from her. That and she thought it was a very cool idea. I always check the Free Comic Book Day website http://www.freecomicbookday.com/ (for anyone who might not know) and take a look at what will be available. Yes, that’s right, I research the comics weeks before I ever get there. I do, indeed, strategize, because I have a finite amount of time to grab a limited number of comics before I get elbowed out of the way by geeks who are overpowered by their comic book frenzy. I’ve been through this before, so I know what I’m facing. Stores also put a limit on the number of comics you can take, which I can understand, as they’re hoping that they have enough so they won’t have to turn anyone away.
I specifically wanted to make sure that I got Radical’s Jake: The Dreaming, because I was insanely curious about that after seeing some preview art, and Archaia Studios’ Dark Crystal prologue. Most of the comic publishers seem to be really good about offering up stand-alone stories in their Free Comic Book Day editions. They want to give a fair portrait of what their comics are and try to get people interested. Sometimes, all that a little preview ending in a huge cliffhanger does is frustrate the uninitiated. I also had another book that I was hoping to get.
When the doors finally opened, everyone made their orderly way into the store. The first several people, myself among them, were handed a packet of 7 comic books, then directed to a table where we could pick 5 more. This is where my planning actually came in very handy. I knew exactly what I wanted to get, so I grabbed them quickly and went in search of the graphic novel I was hoping to find. I had no such luck. The store had gotten a copy, but it was already sold, so instead I bought the Modern Masters: Charles Vess book by TwoMorrows Publishing, because Vess is my favorite comic book artist and I was surprised they had a copy available.
The store did offer to order me a copy of the book that I had originally wanted, but I declined the offer, telling them that if I wanted it still then I would order it later. The guy who owns the store looked completely relieved when I said it. I haven’t really made friends with or warmed up to that comic book store, yet. The simple fact of the matter is that they’re located within walking distance of the place that I work, making them entirely too dangerous. Unfortunately, until I get my own house, I have a finite amount of bookshelf space, and I have to be careful about what I’m going to be buying.
I paid for my book and returned home to read through my marvelous haul. I got the two comics that I was especially anticipating, as well as the Darkwing Duck/Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers from Boom! Studios, Marvel’s The Amazing Spider-man and Thor/Captain America comics, DC’s Green Lantern, the annual Bongo Comics Free for All, Intrepid Escapegoat and Stuff of Legend issue from Th3rd World Studio, and Oni Press’s Rated Free for Everyone.
Part of what I love about Free Comic Book day is that I get to pick up comics from smaller and less prominent publishers, so I get to find out about some really great new stuff. Intrepid Escapegoat was a lot of fun to read. The main character is a goat who is a master escape artist. This particular stand-alone tale takes place in Egypt. The Escapegoat is supposed to put on a show, but first, his assistant wants him to meet with a king at the pyramids. It is a bit of a cliffhanger, but enough gets resolved in the pages available that it doesn’t make a reader feel gypped.
I was surprised that the Captain America/Thor comic had a completely self-contained story in it. It starts with Merlin facing off against Pan, who has stolen Merlin’s magic belt. Merlin decides that he needs help to defeat Pan, so he uses his magic to bring both Thor and Captain America backwards in time. I actually really enjoyed this comic, which is kind of a rarity for me, because I’m not much of a fan of traditional superheroes in comic form. (Comic book movies are another story entirely, but that would be another article for another day.)
The Amazing Spider-man was also a stand-alone story this year. The Mandrill managed to get Spidergirl into his clutches and forced her to face off with Spidey, who has lost his spidey-sense. They don’t really go into details about how that happened, but there’s enough there so a casual reader who’s never really had more than a passing familiarity with Spider-man could understand what was happening. I had been largely unaccustomed to the trend Marvel seems to be following lately of using simpler line art and color schemes. I’m really not sure that I like it. I suppose, really, that I can only blame Jim Lee and Michael Turner for biasing my idea of the look a superhero book should really have.
Bongo Comics Free For All is a collection of Simpsons stories, just like it is every year. This isn’t a bad thing, since it’s pretty much like reading an episode of the Simpsons. If, however, America’s favorite cartoon family and longest running series isn’t something you enjoy, this is one of those comics you’ll probably want to skip. It doesn’t just read like a Simpsons episode; it looks like one, too.
The Darkwing Duck/Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers book was basically a sneak peek at the upcoming graphic novels that Boom! Studios will be publishing later in the year. I’m a fan of both of the cartoon series, but both stories ended on huge cliffhangers, of course, to try and get fans to buy the books. I can say that the quality of the printing was excellent, at least. The colors were very bright, the lettering was large and legible, and the book was printed on good-quality, thick, glossy paper. From the preview, it seems that both comic series will be much like the cartoons on which they were based, which I can’t really see as a bad thing.
Rated Free for Everyone had two new series debuting from Oni Press, Sketch Monsters and Power Lunch. I found both of the stories to be not only entertaining and fun to read, but also original. Sketch Monsters is about a little girl who draws monsters in her sketchbook, because drawing puppies is boring. The problem arises because some of her monsters come to life. She has to figure out how to get them back into the sketchbook with a little help from a bright orange monster sidekick she’s sketched. Power Lunch is about a boy who has superpowers that manifest based on what he eats. As long as he sticks to eating only white foods, he remains normal. After reading both of those stories, I really do want to look into getting the rest of them, just so I can find out what happens next. The line art is fairly simple, but it’s elegant. I would have to say that this one was probably my favorite this year.
Green Lantern found itself with a very important role this year, as they aren’t just trying to sell more comic books–there’s a movie they want to market, too. This year’s Free Comic Book Day issue was a rehash of the origin story for Hal Jordan, which is also the Green Lantern featured in the movie (there’s more than one Green Lantern in existence, and there have been many incarnations of him over time…I thought I’d better throw that in there, just in case there were people who didn’t know and wouldn’t have any clue why I would say that). It really wasn’t anything I didn’t already know about the Green Lantern, but it was a nice, brief refresher course.
The stand-out for art was the Dark Crystal/Mouse Guard flip book by Archaia Studios. As a fan of Brian Froud, I was very curious to see how they would translate his work into comic form. The answer is that it’s done beautifully. They used a muted color palette and detailed linework to give it the feel of Froud’s work. The tone of the story was right, and I definitely found myself wanting to read the rest of that book. The Mouse Guard story was about a clever little mouse who faces a snake, a crab, and a hawk in an attempt to get them to stop terrorizing the land where the mice live. It’s a beautiful little fable about the power of one’s mind against seemingly impossible odds.
I also pay attention to the ads in these Free Comic Book Day books. The Archaia Studios book had more of an article about a graphic novel they’re releasing later on this year called A Tale of Sand, which is based on the one finished screenplay that Jim Henson never got to make. It will be released the day before what would have been his 75th birthday and, after seeing the preview, I definitely want it.
I’m still trying to decide how I feel about Radical’s Jake: The Dreaming. To be honest, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting, as it’s not formatted like a traditional comic book. Instead, it’s an illustrated novel, so there were pages of text interspersed with very dreamlike, surreal artwork that reminded me very much of the covers Dave McKean did for The Sandman, in the best possible way. The story is unusual. The boy, Jake, has a very vivid life in daydreams and seems to get lost in them often enough to cause him to do some fairly embarrassing things in public, like climbing a bookshelf as if it were a mountain. This one was very clearly a preview that offered some tantalizing pieces of story, but I just haven’t quite made up my mind if it’s something I’d really want to try to read regularly.
I love Free Comic Book Day. Usually, I find myself wishing that the organizers offered a way for reviewers to get a packet of all of the comics offered, just because it’s hard to make choices about which comics to grab when there are so many possibilities. It would be really nice to be able to see all of them just to get an idea of what I might be missing, especially since not every comic store gets all of the participating comics.
On the other hand, I would miss the actual trek to the comic store and standing in line. It’s part of the joy of Free Comic Book Day, after all.