Sunday, May 07, 2006

Free Funnybooks!

Today was Free Comic Book Day (for those not in the know, it's an annual event in which publishers and retailers work together to make a variety of comics available at no cost to anyone who walks through the door), and it was quite a success. I had my concerns--unlike previous years, in which FCBD was linked to the release of a major comics film, this FCBD was a solo event, and I wasn't sure how that would work.

There were challenges. For one thing, getting any publicity was much more difficult when there wasn't a film with which we could link the event. As a reporter for the Marietta Daily Journal told me, "The first time you guys did it , it was a big thing. The next couple of times it was linked to big movies, and we played that up. But this year, it's just another industry marketing event. Someone's having Free something-or-other every week of the year, and we don't cover most of them." So we got next to no coverage from the MDJ, although Ed Hall and Don Fernandez at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution gave us some good ink and it paid off quite well.

This year, we did something different: we set up a "How Comics Are Made" exhibit that followed various pages of various comics from script to pencil to ink to color to printed work. Marvel gave us an entire issue of Brian Bendis & Mark Bagley's Ultimate Spider-Man to work with; the Dabel Brothers (Ernst and David made it to the store, while Les minded the fort back at the office) gave us pages from Marshal, Tales of Alvin Maker: Red Prophet, Raymond E. Feist's Magician's Apprentice, and the cover from Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter for our "how-it's-done" presentation; and other creators supplied a variety of informative pages.

We were slated to open at 11 am, but by 10:45, we had people lined up outside, with kids tapping on the door to get us to open up and hook 'em up with free comics. The big rush came between 11am and 1pm, with a few hundred people making their way through the store at that time. Things slowed up to a steady pace from 1pm to 4pm, and then continued sporadically for the rest of the day. Lots of free books were given away, lots more books were sold, and everyone seemed to have a good time.

Mark Bagley was a powerhouse, signing hundreds of comics and doing some amazing sketches for fans of all ages. He did oodles of Spidey and Venom sketches, but the real surprises came when he agreeably tackled such characters as Batman, Flash, Kitty Pryde, Robin, and--biggest surprise of all--Charlie Brown and Snoopy. When he began to venture from Spidey head shots to more unexpected illos, we began scanning the customers' sketches before they left so that we'd have a record of the event. Mark was scheduled to be at the store for three hours, but he stayed for almost five hours before his drawing hand got so tired that he had to call it quits. As always, he was a star attraction, and the interaction with fans was remarkable.

The Dabel Brothers were most generous, offering readers a sample of their new books at no charge, offering insights into comics publishing, and even looking at some customers' artwork. Jay Busbee talked about his new book, The Network and had a great time. David, Ernst, and Jay even collaborated on a sketch for one customer--and when you consider that David and Ernst are not artists, that was pretty generous indeed!

Amy got a birthday sketch of herself as the Black Cat ("I'm gonna have to do a lot of enhancement here," Mark said as he reimagined the lithe, spritely Amy as the rather pulchritudinous Felicia Hardy), while Whitney sweet-talked Mark into re-casting her as the Dark Knight's sidekick, Robin.

Brett put the displays together, and they were superbly done--easy to follow, informative, and interesting. We got several compliments on this, since it offered something that most fans had never before seen.

And thanks to a solid comic book week and FCBD, we're going to have our best week in Dr. No's history. Now, let's just hope that some of the folks who picked up freebies find something that excites them so much that they keep coming back as regular readers!...

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