Sunday, May 5, 2013

Free Comic Book Day 2013: An Overview

Joker and Batdog hanging out in front of G-Mart
Oh boy. Who else is still recovering from the non-stop fun and insanity of Free Comic Book Day? No doubt comic book retailers are relaxing after what has quickly become one of the biggest sale days of their year. Other fans like myself that attempted to visit as many local comic shops as possible are likely feeling exhausted as well. We made it to seven stores all together and still did not get to visit every shop on our list (you can see a map of our progress here.) The newly opened Aw Yeah Comics in Skokie would have been a fun stop, as well as the downtown location of Graham Crackers Comics, and First Aid Comics in Hyde Park. Perhaps next year we will go in on a rental with friends and commit to covering more ground. Traveling an area of about 16 miles in a day doesn't sound like a lot, but to a city dweller relying on public transit carrying a large camera and an ever growing stack of free books, this was an epic odyssey of retail exploration. My shopping partner for the day was Wendi Freeman, host of the Double Page Spread podcast. We were later joined by Michelle Flamm, game designer and local cosplayer.  Our first stop of the day was not a comic shop, but Hot Doug's, a well-known Chicago eatery. The delicious bacon hot dog and duck fat fries fueled us for the rest of day.  Here is a rundown of all of our stops in the order we visited them. We do apologize to the later retailers as you will notice that our photo albums do become smaller and smaller throughout the day as we became more and more exhausted!

G-Mart Comics, 2641 N Kedzie Ave  Chicago, IL 60647

Upon turning the corner onto Kedzie Avenue, we were excited to see the impressively long line snaked down the block for G-Mart Comics. Seeing how many people were this excited for free comics was a great way to start the day. Families, cosplayers, costumed pets, and curious pedestrians alike joined the line. Perhaps the saddest part of free comic book day is that you can go to many stores in one day, but you'll only be able to see this kind of frenzy when a store is first opening its doors to anxious customers. Once doors did open at G-Mart, staff offered a raffle ticket to each and every person for door prizes. I won the opportunity to grab 10 free Marvel Now! comics. These were books that were not part of the Free Comic Book Day event, and I was blown away by the store's generosity. Others won free trades, toys, even hardcovers. Snacks were plentiful, displays of recommendations were on every countertop, and traffic was maintained throughout our visit to ensure the store did not become over-congested. Considering how many free comics and books we walked out with, I will be sure to stop by in the next few weeks to throw more business their way. I did make one purchase while in store of Terry Moore's Rachel Rising Vol. 1. See photos of our visit here.

Challengers Comics + Conversation, 1845 N Western Ave #2R  Chicago, IL 60647

Challengers had been open a few hours by the time we arrived yet it was still bustling with customers. They had two creators on hand, Jamal Igle, creator of Molly Danger, and Chris "Elio" Eliopoulos, creator of Okie Dokie Donuts. Both had created books that were being released this FCBD which means everyone could have their book signed. A few dedicated cosplayers were also on site for photographic opportunities, including a killer cross-dressing Storm, Spidey, and a Challengers themed superhero. Owners Pat Brower and Dal Bush both stated that this year's event was shaping up to be even bigger than last year, a sentiment expressed by retailers throughout the day. In addition to free comics, we also purchased Greg Rucka's Queen & Country Volume 1. See photos of our visit here.

Brainstorm Comics, 1648 W North Ave  Chicago, IL 60622

This was actually our first time visiting Brainstorm, a shop known for its focus on independently created comics. They also offer video rental services, making it a bit of a hybrid comic shop. Local creator Dave Scheidt, writer of Monster Dudes, was on hand to sign copies of his comics. The set up for this shop didn't allow for as much space as the other stores we visited, so the free books were kept behind the counter and customers were able to give their requests to employees who would grab the comics for them. Plenty of original artwork was available to purchase in store as well. See photos of our visit here.

Alleycat Comics, 5304 N Clark St  Chicago, IL 60640

The Andersonville neighborhood was plenty busy when we arrived at Alleycat and the store was no exception. We were pleasantly surprised to see many creators on hand, though I say surprised because there was no mention of them on the store's Facebook or Twitter pages. Maybe I've become spoiled by other local comic shops fully utilizing social media, but it does make a huge difference especially with an event like Free Comic Book Day. Like Brainstorm, the set up for free comics required customers to ask employees for the books of their choice housed behind a counter. There was still quite a large selection of books when we arrived, and we saw plenty of the more obscure kid friendly books that other stores had not opted to carry (or had already run out). See photos of our visit here.

Graham Crackers Comics in Edgewater, 5443 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL 60640

By this point in the day (it was nearly four when we arrived) the event was winding down, but it was still fairly busy for a store that does not get a lot of foot traffic. Store manager Shanna said she had even doubled her orders over last year and was still shocked by how many titles were already depleted. The store had just recently expanded their weekend hours and employees said this helped spread out some of the initial Free Comic Book Day craziness. Since this is my local comic shop that I visit nearly every week, I was less observant than some of our other store visits and realized later how few photos we took in store. But don't let that fool you, we still had a blast! See photos of our visit here.

Third Coast Comics, 6234 N Broadway St  Chicago, IL 60660

Third Coast was still relatively busy when we arrived considering how late it was, though the number of comics left clearly indicated that the busiest part of the day had since passed. The store was hosting a karaoke event in the evening, and we cannot imagine how the employees maintained enough energy to continue the festivities late into the night. Two creators were still on hand, including Tom Kelly, though according to Third Coast's various social media sites there had been a rotating roster throughout the day of special guests. Each artist offered free sketches but also had prints and comics available for purchase. See photos of our visit here.

Dark Tower Comics, 4835 N Western Ave  Chicago, IL 60625

The final stop of our day, Dark Tower was nearly out of free comics and their two special guests, artists  Chris Burnham and Jenny Frison, had already gone for the day. Even the cosplayers left on hand looked exhausted! We so wish we could have stopped by earlier to get sketches, but were still happy to swing by and see how the day faired for the store. There were still plenty of customers milling around, which was not surprising considering the deep discounts offered on the other store merchandise. Nearly everything in store was on sale, including 50% back issues. Several stores offered sales in conjunction with FCBD, but Dark Tower had the most tempting offers. See photos of our visit here.

And that is a wrap for our Free Comic Book Day coverage! We came home with over 30 free comics, two trades that we paid for, lots of free posters, and some very sore feet. We hope you were able to make it out, but if not, perhaps coverage of this wonderful event has convinced you to mark your calendar for next year. Until the first Saturday in May of 2014, be sure to visit your local comic shops and maybe buy some books.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Free Comic Book Day 2013: Tips & Recommended Reading

May the 4th be with you this Free Comic Book Day (picture of Graham Crackers Comics in Edgewater during last year's FCBD)

It only comes but once a year, so be sure to set aside an hour or two today to enjoy Free Comic Book Day. It may be difficult to pry yourself away from the premiere of Iron Man 3 or Star Wars: May the 4th Be With You events; I can assure you, it is well worth doing. You would think free comics would be an easy sell but each year I meet fans that either don't know about the annual event or have never made the time to check it out. Here's a quick guide to how to get the most out of your FCBD experience.

Where do I go to obtain these "free comics"? 
A good place to start! Most, but not all comic shops participate. The quickest way to find out if your store will have free comics is the FCBD store locator.  Just enter your zip code and they will find the shops for you! Keep in mind that these comics are free for you, but not for the participating retailers. If you go to one store or many, try to throw some business their way while you're stopping by.

Who should I go with? 
Your die hard fans will be easily convinced to join you on your trip, but one thing to keep in mind is that this event is specifically designed to engage new readers, specifically young ones. Bring your children, nieces and nephews, and those friends that keep borrowing your comics but haven't actually started buying their own yet. Every last one of them is new reader friendly as well, so whether you're looking to discover new comics to read or want to get a friend or family member hooked on comics, this is the perfect opportunity to do so. 

What comics should I pick up? 
Since there are so many FCBD releases, it can be hard to grab all of the comics that you want. Many stores limit each person to three comics each, so be choosey. Better yet, plan to visit a few shops to ensure you can grab all of the books you seek. Comics released by the larger companies like Marvel and DC will be abundant at each location and likely the last to run out. Be sure to grab the oddball stuff first, comics from the independent publishers, and comics with the original content. Ask the store employees for suggestions based on your current reading or what you like to watch. The cartoon tie-in comics will be the most tempting to children, but be sure to pick up something from Archaia or Top Shelf for them as well. 

Recommended Reading
Here are the books we will be seeking on our FCBD outing, and we recommend you grab them if you can. Follow the link for more info and short previews as well!

And a few that are not all ages friendly:

We'll be posting photos from our adventures later today or tomorrow, so check back to see Free Comic Book Day in Chicagoland's finest comic shops. Share your favorite reads with us throughout the day on Facebook and Twitter