Free Comic Book Day

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Free Comic Book Day
Free Comic Book Day.jpg
GenrePromotion, cultural
FrequencyAnnually, 1st Saturday of May
Location(s)Over 2,000 comic book shops worldwide
InauguratedMay 4, 2002 (2002-05-04)
FounderJoe Field
Most recentMay 4, 2019
AttendanceOne million
Activity
Organized byDiamond Comics Distributors
Websitewww.freecomicbookday.com

Free Comic Book Day (FCBD), taking place on the first Saturday of May, is an annual promotional effort by the North American comic book industry to help bring new readers into independent comic book stores. Retailer Joe Field of Flying Colors Comics in Concord, California, brainstormed the event in his "Big Picture" column in the August 2001 issue of Comics & Games Retailer magazine. Free Comic Book Day started in 2002 and is coordinated by the industry's single large distributor, Diamond Comic Distributors. The event has spread to countries in Asia, Europe, and Australia.

History[edit]

Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) was conceived by Joe Field, a California-based comics retailer, event promoter and partner in WonderCon.[1] In 2001, Field noted how successful feature films based on comic book franchises were providing the comic book industry with a positive cultural and financial turnaround from the speculator bust of the mid-1990s.[1][2] In his August 2001 "Big Picture" column in Comics & Games Retailer magazine, inspired by Free Scoop Night at the Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlor next to his store, Field proposed Free Comic Book Day.[1][3] The column received positive reaction and Jim Valentino, co-founder of Image Comics, suggested having the first FCBD coincide with the opening weekend of the 2002 Spider-Man feature film, in order to take advantage of the film's heavy promotion and related press about the comic book medium.[1][4] The first event was held May 4, 2002, the day after the film's opening.[1][5] The event has usually been held on the first Saturday in May, and is often cross-promoted with the release of a feature film.

According to Diamond Comic Distributors, which facilitates and promotes the event,[3] over 2,000 stores participated in the inaugural Free Comic Book Day and gave away more than 2 million comic books[6] from 4 publishers.[7] The following year, 29 publishers participated.[6] Attendance at FCBD 2012 exceeded one million, with over 3.5 million comics given away.[1][8] In 2015, 2,340 retailers ordered 5.6 million comic books to give away.[9]

An Asian man in a black hat and T-shirt poses with a comic book.
Artist Jim Lee holds a signed FCBD edition of The New 52 at Midtown Comics in Manhattan.

While giving out free comic books on FCBD, participating retailers often run additional promotions. This can include sales on selected merchandise, creator signings, prize raffles, cosplay contests, charity drives, karaoke,[10] and art exhibitions.[11] The event quickly grew to become a major celebration of comic book culture[12] and fan clubs may volunteer to support local stores and help manage the crowds of people attracted to the event. Cosplayers may be enlisted to entertain the lines outside the stores and pose for photos.[10]

Among some retailers, FCBD has been more grandly organized. A FCBD "shop hop" cross-promotion in London, Ontario, Canada, encourages people to visit five downtown comic shops for entry into a prize draw, and has evolved into a street festival. Cosplayers parade along the street which is chalked with murals, and many other businesses along the route cater to the theme.[12][13] Mesa, Arizona, and Portsmouth, England, have each expanded FCBD into a two-day comics convention.[14][15]

FCBD 2020 was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, after Diamond met resistance[16][17] to the idea of changing it to a month-long event to accommodate local restrictions.[18] On the weekend of the cancelled event, Alt Free Comic Days was held online, streaming panel discussions with comics creators and artists.[19] In mid-May, when it resumed shipments to retailers, Diamond Comics launched the Back The Comeback campaign. Merchandise sales and proceeds from a planned auction would go to three industry charities to support comics and game shops.[20][21][22] In early June, Marvel announced that it will be releasing its two issues on specific days in July. The X-Men issue, a prelude to the X of Swords event, will be released on July 15, and the Spider-Man/Venom issue will be released on July 22.[23] On June 18, 2020, FCBD 2020 was announced as "Free Comic Book Summer" for July 15 to September 9, featuring weekly shipments of select previously-announced titles.[24]

Year Date Associated film
1 May 4, 2002 Spider-Man[1][5]
2 May 3, 2003 X2[6]
3 July 3, 2004 Spider-Man 2[25]
4 May 7, 2005 none[5]
5 May 6, 2006 none[26]
6 May 5, 2007 Spider-Man 3[27]
7 May 3, 2008 Iron Man[28]
8 May 2, 2009 X-Men Origins: Wolverine[4]
9 May 1, 2010 Iron Man 2[29]
10 May 7, 2011 Thor[30]
11 May 5, 2012 The Avengers[31]
12 May 4, 2013 Iron Man 3[5]
13 May 3, 2014 The Amazing Spider-Man 2[10]
14 May 2, 2015 Avengers: Age of Ultron[9][32]
15 May 7, 2016 Captain America: Civil War[33]
16 May 6, 2017 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2[11]
17 May 5, 2018 Venom[note 1]
18 May 4, 2019 none[note 2]
19 July 15 to Sept. 9, 2020[note 3] none[note 4]
Notes
  1. ^ Originally this would have followed the release of Avengers: Infinity War which had a scheduled release date of May 4, before it was moved to April 27. The official website indicates that the Venom film is celebrated, to tie into the 30th anniversary of the character, despite the film not being released until five months later.[34][35]
  2. ^ Originally this would have followed the release of Avengers: Endgame which had a scheduled release date of May 3, before that was moved to April 26.
  3. ^ Rescheduled due to COVID-19 pandemic.[16][24]
  4. ^ No films were released at this time.

Organization[edit]

Diamond Comics organizes and facilitates FCBD, guided by a committee representing publishers, industry journalists, retailers, and its own management.[3] This committee selects the titles from publishers with the aim of providing a wide variety of what the industry has to offer.[33] The committee also investigates potential dates for the event which are then decided by a vote among retailers.[36]

Publishers pay for production of the give-away comic books and retailers pay the cost of printing the books that they order. Titles are divided by sponsorship level, price and anticipated demand into two tiers; participating retailers are required to carry all titles from the top tier, and may carry any or none of the second-tier titles. In 2007, the costs to the retailer were 12 to 24 cents per copy for the top tier and as high as 50 cents for the second tier.[37] The minimum buy-in is about $50.[3]

Products[edit]

A woman dressed as Wonder Woman reclines on a red sofa with a red comic book.
A cosplayer reading a FCBD edition of Graphic Elvis by independent publisher Liquid Comics.

The goal of the promotion is to showcase the breadth of the comics industry by putting comic books in the hands of people who might not otherwise read comics, or comic readers who might not otherwise read those titles.[26] At least 50 titles were available on FCBD each year from 2014 to 2018.[38][9][39][11] Most of the FCBD comic books are produced specifically for the promotion, and can become collector items.[5][10] On some occasions, retailers have partnered with publishers to make custom covers exclusive to their stores.[10][11]

Most books are complete 32-page single-issue stories serving as an introduction point for newcomers. These may be in the form of a "zero issue" prelude to a new story arc.[4][40] There have also been flip-books with two separate stories, or samplers with a number or short pieces.[10][41] Non-fiction titles have included collectors' guides, art books, biographies of prominent creators, and histories of the comics industry.[38] For 2020, age ratings were added to identify all-ages, teen, and mature content.[42] Stores may also be provided with posters or other merchandise to give away in cross-promotions with associated films.[35]

Reception[edit]

According to organizers, in the 2010s each year's event brought about one million people to comic shops[1] and gave away about five million comics.[43] Marc Nix of IGN called FCBD a "wonderful comic nerd holiday"[26] and F. Andrew Taylor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal said it was like "a combination of Christmas, Halloween and Burning Man" to fans.[10] Scott Thill of Wired wrote that "Free culture has rarely paid off so handsomely, for fans or publishers."[4] Diamond Comics reported that media coverage of the 2014 event was equivalent to $3.2 million in publicity.[44]

There have been criticisms of the focus on the event, questioning whether centering promotions at comic book shops is the best way to reach new comic book readers.[3] Other criticisms center around the selection of titles and their cost to retailers. Many retailers only order the titles they know are marketable at their stores,[3][37] and are reluctant to invest in promoting titles they can't sell for the rest of the year. This results in promoting the same titles that customers are already reading instead of exposing them to new titles.[37] The number of titles has also caused concern for some retail staff and journalists, who find it challenging to gain familiarity with all 50 to 60 titles to make recommendations.[37][38]

Related events[edit]

A crowd queues outside a comics shop and around tables.
2011 FCBD at Nexus Comics in Iceland

Gratis Comic Tag [de] (GCT) was launched in 2010, held in comics shops in Germany, Austria and Switzerland on the Saturday following FCBD. Eighteen publishers participate, with about 35 titles offered for free.[5][39][45][46][47]

The Netherlands and Flanders (the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium) have also observed Free Comic Book Day, beginning on May 5, 2012.[39][48]

Halloween ComicFest is an annual promotion launched by Diamond Comics in 2012, held roughly six months from FCBD on the Saturday before Halloween. This event similarly offers free comic books to visitors at comic shops, with the titles having a "spooky" theme. Participating retailers typically host a Halloween party with activities including a costume contest. Sixteen publishers took part in the 2013 event.[49] In 2019, there were 28 free titles available, including 9 mini-comics which could be purchased in packs, intended to be given away to trick-or-treaters or as party favors, spreading the effective range of the promotion.[50]

Children's Book Week (CBW), organized by American non-profit Every Child a Reader, was moved to May in 2008.[51] FCBD was named as an official CBW event, launching Children's Book Week, and the two organizations partner in promoting child literacy. In 2015, FCBD carried the literacy guide Raising A Reader! How Comics & Graphic Novels Can Help Your Kids Love to Read! among its free titles.[52]

Inspired by Free Comic Book Day, the pen-and-paper roleplaying game industry started Free RPG Day on June 15, 2007.[53][54] It is a moveable event held on the third Saturday in June.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ Miller, John Jackson (December 12, 2005). "The 1900s: The Century in Comics – Nov. 17, 1992: A $30 Million Day –– and the Days After". Comics Buyer's Guide. Archived from the original on 2013-03-26.
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