Images courtesy of DIAMOND COMIC DISTRIBUTORS INC./FREE COMIC BOOK DAY INC.
“The New 52: Futures End,” from DC, is on the roster for this year’s Free Comic Book Day event, set for May 3.
These days, superheroes reign in Hollywood. Even though it was finally knocked from the top box office spot this past weekend, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” continues to enjoy staggering earnings, grossing an estimated $645.2 million worldwide since its release in late March (April 4 in the United States).
This weekend, it will have new competition: “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is set to hit theaters – and this summer will bring even more superheroes to the big screen.
And where did all these franchises begin? Comic books, of course.
To celebrate the industry that gave birth to today’s preoccupation with superheroes – and to entice new readers to discover the joy of reading comic books – Free Comic Book Day will be celebrated at participating comic book specialty shops across the United States, Canada, and worldwide on Saturday, May 3.
On Saturday, May 3, anyone that visits a participating comic shop will receive at least one or more of the designated FCBD comics for free. The Free Comic Book Day committee picked a listing of Gold and Silver sponsors whose comic books include titles that are great for kids and adults.
This year marks the biggest FCBD event to date. There will be more than 60 free comics available for new and devoted comics fans to discover, also while exploring what other treasures their local comic shop has to offer.
The roster features 60 free comics that include titles for everyone’s tastes with Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” DC’s “The New 52: Futures End,” Archie, “Spongebob,” “Teen Titans Go!,” “The Simpsons,” “Hello Kitty,” “Transformers,” “Sonic” and many other titles. For complete descriptions of all 60 FCBD titles, along with four-to-six page previews, visit www.freecomicbookday.com/comics.
Comic shops traditionally host community events such as costume contests, drawings by guest artists, creator signings, raffles, door prizes, photos with costumed characters and other community building activities throughout the day. Every comic shop celebrates FCBD in their own unique way and fans have an opportunity to see their local comic shop’s personality and thriving community of pop-culture enthusiasts on display.
In Pinellas, the following stores will be celebrating FCBD:
• Comic World, 1901 West Bay Drive, Unit 9, Largo
• Emerald City Comics, 4902 113th Ave. N., Clearwater
• Wonder Water Sports Cards & Comics, 29113, U.S. 19 N., Clearwater
On the other side of the bay, the following stores will host FCBD events:
• Demolition Comics, 4149 W. Waters Ave., Tampa
• Heroes Haven LLC, 4339 Gunn Highway, Tampa
• Thunder Road Comics, 1743 W. Hillsborough Ave., Tampa
“Free Comic Book Day gives new and devoted comic book, entertainment, and pop-culture fans the opportunity to get great titles for free, while participating in fun and interactive comic shop events,” said Jason Blanchard in a press release. Blanchard is the official spokesperson for Free Comic Book Day. “Comic shops plan their FCBD activities months in advance to give their community the best FCBD experience in order to bring together like-minded fans who love the same stories, TV shows, and movies, while being able to discover new stories that will entertain and enrich their lives.”
“Free Comic Book Day is a great opportunity to reach out to our community here in Pinellas County, to provide both free comic books to all ages, to offer great savings on our comics, both recent new releases and older, collectible back issues, and to promote our favorite cause, which is encouraging others to read,” said Patrick Potter, owner of Comic World in Largo.
For FCBD, Potter plans several sales and in-store specials. Comic World’s recent releases selection, featuring comics from Marvel, DC, and other publishers such as IDW, Image and Dark Horse, will all be half price for the entire day, he said.
“Our incredible main back issue selection, with over 25,000 comics to choose from, will all be $1 each, while the pricier comics in our Goody Bin will be on sale for half price,” Potter said. “Our collector's sets will be 25 percent off, and our graphic novel selection will be 20 percent off.”
In addition to sales, Comic World FCBD event will feature some special guests.
“Douglas Moody of Mjolnir Hammers will be appearing in costume as The Mighty Thor,” Potter said. “Doug will also have a display of his custom-made hammers and other wares, such as shields, for sale.”
Potter described the custom-made hammers as heavy-duty, with handles boasting real leather.
“They're very impressive,” he said. “Doug is also carrying top-quality super-hero logo necklaces, including a Mjolnir necklace, Agents of SHIELD, Iron Man, Flash, Green Lantern, Superman (solo), Spider-Man, Robin, Superman/Batman (together), Punisher, Fantastic Four, Captain America, Batman (solo) and Wonder Woman's logos, and Doctor Who's TARDIS. These all come on chains that can be worn around the neck.”
Also taking part in Comic World’s event will be artist Nigel Williams of Artf1rst. Williams will be on hand from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Potter has been involved in comic books for most of his life. He’s worked in the industry for 32 years – and he’s been a storeowner for 22 years. He’s been a fan and collector since 1967.
Over that time, Potter has seen many changes.
He explained that adults largely quit reading comics in the 1950s, partly due to Fredric Wertham’s book “Seduction of the Innocent” which claimed comic books were dangerous to children. The book led to a Congressional inquiry and laid the groundwork for the creation of the Comics Code.
Although adults discouraged children from reading comic books in the ’50s and ’60s, their popularity persisted and, slowly, the industry grew.
“By the 1970s, comic shops began to appear,” Potter said. “Overstreet Price Guide began publishing guidelines for grading and pricing comics. Those kids from the 1950s were adults by the 1970s, and were bringing their children into the new comic shops.”
By the time Potter began working at a Pinellas comic book store in 1982, the business attracted people of all ages, from small children to older adults.
“Comics were cool again, for everyone,” he said.
But by the mid-1980s, the customer base changed. Diehard fans continued to purchase and read comic books as always – but a new faction of buyers saw comic books as an investment. This helped spawn many independent publishers. It also encouraged the promotion of collectors’ items, limited editions and expanded print runs and titles. The resulting glut in merchandise led to an inevitable crash. Stores closed. Marvel Comics, in 1996, declared bankruptcy.
“The comic industry would struggle to climb back up, because by the 1990s, the focus by publishers was to come out with comics for the growing adult population – the kids of the 1960s and ’70s,” Potter said. “Comics aimed at children became a smaller product line and focus by the main publishers.”
Over the years, this adult market hasn't waned as much as the kids’ market has, Potter explained.
“I believe the movies and TV shows like ‘Arrow’ have gone a long way to bringing more adults back into comics again,” he said. “There's always going to be a contingent of people out there buying comics for investment, just as there are some today who buy them to flip immediately.”
Meanwhile, over at Emerald City Comics, owner Neil Johnson is preparing for FCBD activities at his new location.
Emerald City Comics closed its former stores in Seminole and Clearwater and relocated to a larger building in October 2013. The new store is winning praise from longtime patrons.
“We are so happy that most of our regular guests have made the trip out to the new place,” Johnson said. “Everyone who comes by is amazed by the size of the new store. We are also seeing a lot of new guests who have found us at this location, which is more central to the Tampa Bay area.”
On FCBD, Emerald City Comics will be offering plenty of incentives to get people in the door.
“In addition to the FCBD comics – every guest will get a choice of any three comics from the FCBD assortment – we'll have different sale categories on Saturday and Sunday, which will be our Day After Free Comic Book Day Sale,” Johnson said. “The categories and the discounts will be announced just before the weekend.”
Visitors also will have a chance to meet a superhero.
“Spider-Man will be here, too,” Johnson said. “He will be available from noon to 2 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m.”
Johnson is thrilled with the recent upswing in the popularity of comic books and superheroes.
“We've seen ‘geek culture’ explode into widespread acceptance and a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry,” he said. “I've always loved running a business where I'm surrounded by the stuff I've liked since I was a child.”
Both Johnson and Potter see Free Comic Book Day as a boon to the industry.
“Free Comic Book Day is a great outreach tool to share our love of reading comic books with a new wave of readers every year,” Johnson said. “We see a lot of new faces at each event.”
“It seems to me that Free Comic Book Day has raised the awareness of comics within the general public, and has surely helped bring children back into the fold again,” Potter said. “I see a lot of faces come through each year on FCBD. Some of them only come by on that day. But others have become repeat customers, so we hope that this year, we'll see more people come through, and hopefully more of them will come back for new comics or to shop our back issues.”
For Potter, one of the perks of being a comic book storeowner is meeting people with similar interests, so he looks forward to seeing new patrons at this year’s FCBD.
“I enjoy meeting new people, certainly, and everyone has a story to tell, especially the older folks who lived through far more than I have,” Potter said. He loves the comic books, too – not just reading them, but processing them to put on the shelves. “I really and truly enjoy the process of going through these boxes of comics, grading and pricing them, seeing what treasures there are in this collection or that, and then seeing the faces light up on the people who finally find the comic book that they've been looking for to fill in a blank spot in their collection, or to see some child walk out happy with a couple of comics in their hands. That's what it's all about at the end of the day: Seeing people find what they're looking for and leaving happy.”