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The Annual Free Comic Book Day Report – Geek Girl Navigating the World
One of the great joys of becoming a responsible adult is being able to walk into a store that sells nothing but candy and soda and spend twenty bucks, just because you have it and you want to with no one can really tell you no. It’s even better to be able to walk into a comic book store with another twenty or maybe fifty and just buy yourself some books that look interesting. Far better even than that is Free Comic Book Day.
Free Comic Book Day has rapidly become my favorite day of the year, because I get to go and pick out comics that I want to try without having to worry about how much I have to spend and whether or not I will like it. All that matters is if it piques my interest and if I think I want to read it. Well, and the restrictions that the comic book store may have in place. Those I really don’t mind because I’d like as many people as possible to be able to participate in this annual, glorious celebration of geekhood.
The event that I attended this year was plagued by a massive amount of construction which effectively cut the parking around the store in half and gave the crowd exactly one choice about where to line up. The shop is on a corner and, in previous years, lines have formed in both directions. Surprisingly, they get merged with a minimum of fuss, which I credit the store owner’s cat herding skills for enabling. I get into line at least an hour early and I am usually one of the first five people there.
I went an hour and a half early this time, and by the time the doors opened the line was down the block. Free Comic Book Day celebrations around the country are becoming bigger and bigger draws and bigger and bigger parties. Some of them get celebrities to participate and stage giveaways and activities. Ours isn’t quite that big. However, this year they did add a trio of Stormtroopers that had fantastic armor. They posed for pictures with everyone who wanted to stop them. Most people did.
I have yet to attend a Free Comic Book Day that isn’t brutally hot. It doesn’t matter if it was forty degrees and storming the day before. Free Comic Book Day will dawn humid and bright and quickly turn sweltering sticky within a couple of hours. I only forgot a bottle of water that first year and haven’t made that mistake since. My fellow crowd-goers had all kinds of solutions to deal with the heat, from umbrellas to ice packs and a few who had decided to just take it as an opportunity to work on their tans.
There were geeks of every age, from little kids who had just discovered that there was more to the Star Wars universe than just the movies (or the Clone Wars cartoon, as one of the kids a couple of people behind me in line announced knowingly to a friend) to guys who were speaking fondly of the books they still had from their childhoods in the 50s (with intense discussions about grading and the handling of those delicate pages). Discussions were swirling all around the line as the sci-fi geeks paired off to talk about what they wanted to snag and the superhero fans were discussing movies versus comics and a few admitted to really wanting to see the Archie and Disney offerings on the table this year.
That is one of the things that I love the most about Free Comic Book Day. At any other time of the year, the disparate factions of comic book geekdom usually don’t get along. Not only does what you like reading put you in an unwritten but clearly spoke hierarchy, but your level of involvement with your chosen fandom puts you in an additional hierarchy besides. On Free Comic Book Day, it doesn’t matter. The young and old, the casual and the connoisseur, the Superhero Head and the Teenybopper Comiclover are all one. We simply become a hoard of easily excitable hyper geeks eagerly anticipating our comic book fix and it’s one day where we don’t discriminate. If you don’t like the same books that I do, that’s okay, that just give me a better chance of scoring the comics I want and you’ll have a better chance of getting the ones that you want, too. There is a sense of commonality over the happiness that we find in opening a simple book made of ink and folded paper.
But, of course, I can’t really call this a Free Comic Book Day Report if all I really do is go on about how much I enjoy the event. So, let’s talk about what you really want to know. What did I think of my Free Comic Book Day haul?
I should qualify this first by saying, I haven’t actually gotten all of my Free Comic Book Day books yet. I joined a comic book subscription service earlier this year because there is a particular graphic novel released only in a Free Comic Book Day edition called Muqtatafaht featuring artists from the Middle East. There really hasn’t been anything like that released in the US and I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to be able to get a copy through the local comic book store. Because I’m cheap, or, at least because I measure just about everything that I could be buying with my disposable income by how many books, DVDs, comics, or pizzas it will buy me, I elected to go with monthly shipments of comics. So, the shipment that should have this book in it, hasn’t actually shipped yet. I don’t have any idea what I will think of it, I just know that I am very curious about it. The stories that other cultures and other people tell have always fascinated me, from the time I realized that mythology and fairy tales were not universal. The opportunity to see different styles of artwork and just to see what they have to say is far too good for me to miss. Once I get the book, I’ll likely do a review of it on its own.
My local comic store allowed everyone in line to take home a dozen books. At the door, you were handed a packet of seven and then you were allowed to choose five more from the piles on the counter. I was right about the availability of Muqtatafaht, and they’re always right about which comics are going to be the most popular choices to put into that packet of seven. I definitely appreciate that. It saves me both time and brain cells being able to focus on getting the titles that I want to check out that may be less popular.
Dark Horse offered up a couple of very popular titles this year. There was a Buffy the Vampire Slayer issue entitled “In Space No One Can Hear You Slay.” I suppose if I was a bigger fan of Buffy I really might have liked it, or, for that matter, if I had been following the comic book series up until this point. Since I wasn’t, I found myself reading a story that felt like I had jumped into the middle of it and hadn’t been offered so much as an “as you know, Bob,” for a recap. I also wasn’t very impressed with the artwork. I know what Sarah Michelle Gellar looks like and those drawings weren’t anywhere even close. Some of the artwork that was supposed to look like James Marsters did resemble him, but it definitely wasn’t consistent. The space bugs in the story were Giger-esque but not particularly frightening.
The flip side of the book was a story from Felicia Day’s The Guild, a webseries that I find absolutely hilarious. The cover art was great, it looked far more like the characters than the Buffy artwork did and the story was very much like an episode from the show (as well it should have been, since Day wrote it). They went for a more stylized look for the artwork inside, a move that I think helped more than anything. The drawings were flat, heavy-lined cartoons that were very much in the spirit of Flash animation, which, if The Guild were to go animated at some point, I could certainly see them choosing. It also kept the artwork from being disappointing. It was also a one-shot story, which I think was a very wise move.
The second volume Dark Horse offered up for Free Comic Book Day was a Serenity/Star Wars flip book. The covers for both of them were gorgeous. Han Solo and Chewie looked like Han Solo and Chewie and I’m seriously contemplating framing the Mal Reynolds cover of Serenity. It should be noted that the fact that I am thinking about separating the cover of the comic from the comic itself is not a good thing. If you’re going to do a one-short story with Han Solo starring in it, no matter how well-written the story is (and, to be honest, it felt like pages were missing in a few places, or, at the very least like someone didn’t add in a few panels), the artwork needs to look like Han Solo. There are several panels in which the artist attempted a three-quarter profile or a slightly odd angle and ended up with physiology that is just wrong.
The Serenity one-shot story was better written. In fact, it definitely felt like it could have been an episode of the series. The artwork was, again, a more stylized look than the Star Wars story was. And while the proportions were done better and the artwork was more consistent throughout the story, I still found myself thinking “Huh, doesn’t look much like Mal.”
The Dark Horse comics weren’t a total loss. As I said, that Serenity cover is just stunning. There was also a one-shot introduction to Caitlin R. Kiernan’s new comic series Alabaster. The story was split into two parts, so you had to grab the Buffy and Star Wars comics to get the whole thing. It was short and elegant, giving readers a glimpse of the protagonist of the story and what she does and it was surprisingly satisfying for just the handful of pages that it lasted. It was the story that I read this year that made me definitely want to buy more comics.
Marvel offered up both Spiderman and Avengers comics this year. Both were definitely geared towards rebooting already familiar series, a tactic that doesn’t surprise most comic book geeks these days. While the stories hook into far larger story arcs and really weren’t stand-alones, the artwork was definitely miles ahead of what Dark Horse offered. The Marvel Free Comic Book Day comics looked far more polished and were certainly a better representation of the level of artwork they feature in their books. I was less into the Marvel offerings this year mostly because they just weren’t the comics that I am usually into, not through any fault of theirs.
DC definitely tried the family-friendly route with Superman Family Adventures and Green Lantern and Young Justice Super Sampler Comic. The whole issue had an overall “new toon” feel, with simplified line drawing and minimal shading. I’m not sure where the idea that “all ages” needs to mean unsophisticated, as Andy Runton has continually created Owly stories with artwork that is simplified but hardly simple. The Superman Family Adventures was most definitely geared towards the much younger set, and while the Green Lantern/Young Justice story was for slightly older readers, it certainly wasn’t geared towards teenagers, either. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because new comic book geeks who get hooked early on will grow up to be comic book geeks like us, it was just more of the case that, had this not been in the packet of comics I got, it wouldn’t have been one that I would have picked up, either.
Barnaby and Mr. O’Malle, the Fantagraphics Books introduction to the superstar treatment they’ll be giving Crockett Johnson’s comic strip this year (as they have with Popeye and Peanuts) was a comic that I picked up because I had never read any of the comic strip. My knowledge of Crockett Johnson was pretty much limited to Harold and the Purple Crayon. Obviously, Barnaby and Harold were separated at birth, because they’re identical. The characters themselves, however, are different. I expected nothing less than a decent introduction to the comic strip from Fantagraphics, these kinds of editions are what they do and they do it magnificently. I was surprised and charmed by what I read. The Free Comic Book Day issue has the first two strips and half of the first major story arc. We get to meet Barnaby and his fairy godfather, Mr. O’Malley. If ever I had wanted to find the prototype for the Great Gazoo, Mr. O’Malley is it. The artwork is black and white line drawings and, though it’s simple, it’s also expressive. There’s a magic to the people who can draw a few simple lines and create a whole world and Crockett Johnson is clearly a master wizard. Being given an opportunity to see artwork like this is also probably the chief reason why I have no tolerance or patience for bad artwork in comic books. These are more books that are going onto the list of Books I Must Get.
The most impressive book to be released for Free Comic Book Day, hands down, is Archaia Entertainment’s Mouse Guard Labyrinth and Other Stories anthology. They released these one-shot stories in a delicate-looking, full-color hardback. It’s beautifully printed and beautifully bound. They included stories from their most popular comics, Mouse Guard, Labyrinth, and the Dapper Men series as well as introductions to new series Rust and Cow Boy. Each story is self-contained and gives a very satisfying taste to the overall flavor and tone of each of the comics it belongs to. There are a variety of art styles on display and no two stories are told in the same narrative voice, but all of them have the same tone of something a storyteller would share around a fire, late at night to entertain a rapt audience. They feel timeless, which is really a remarkable feat to pull off in such a short story.
As with every year, there were surprises and disappointments, new discoveries and familiar characters brought together so comic book geeks could enjoy them (or not) in a relatively painless manner.