Sunday, May 03, 2009
As you may or may not know, yesterday May 2 was Free Comic Book Day across the nation. Usually in May around the release of whatever tent pole comic book film adaptation is being released, comic book publishers get together and release free comic books. Most publishers put out one book, a sampling or special story featuring their top creators and characters to get new readers into the industry. Big publishers put out 2 books, one usually more kid friendly and another more teen centric, usually one will highlight whatever film is being put out, like Last year Marvel out out an Iron Man/ Hulk book, this year was Wolverine.
Free Comic Book Day is done for a lot of reasons. Bringing in new readers is crucial and this usually gets a lot of coverage in the media. Comic book readers are getting older. The average reader is in his 20's or 30's these days as kids have so many other options for stimulus. The Internet, video games, television, movies, music, everything is more accessible nowadays. Getting comics into kids hands can help foster many great things, promoting reading and imagination, as well as bring in new blood to a business that sorely needs it.
This year I got an opportunity to do some volunteer work for Free Comic Book Day at my local comic shop. Originally I was going to help box up comics to ship overseas to stationed troops, but they decided that they wanted me helping out with the signings and sketching sessions with the comic creators they had set up to come in. While most of the heavy weight talent they had booked went to their more high profile store, we did have a couple of local talent in for signings. I arrived at 10am for my shift, ready to do some packing, but they told me what my plan was. As the signing didn't start until 12, they asked me to go and hang out at the Free Comics table and talk to the people that came up for their free book. Roger, the guys running the table, was their warehouse guy in charge of back issues and is a bit older. While a nice guy, he isn't great at working up conversations with strangers.
I'm pretty personable and soon I was in charge of the table. I got to talk to people all day about comic books, giving kids free books and watching their faces light up. Talking to regular readers about the good stuff on the table and the current state of the industry. We talked about the new Wolverine movie and different books we all liked. I even got to talk to people that never read comics and introduced them into a new medium of thinking. That was one of the best parts. If they had never read a comic before, I'd ask what type of movies of TV shows they liked and picked something out. We had a different genre of book for everything, romance, science fiction, horror, fantasy, mystery, action, popular culture, or just plain super hero. It was a blast. So many people commented on how good I was at talking to people and how personable I was. I didn't really think about it at the time, but it was easy when you enjoy what you're doing. Part of my everyday job is being able to relate to different types of people and that definitely helped prepare me for this.
I ended up working the table for 11 hours. To be honest, it didn't feel that long. Talking to the staff and people just came really easy to me. The staff at the store is great, from the owner and assistant manager of the franchise, to the store manager and the sales staff, they all know me and we had such a great series of conversations. One of the artists, Patrick Scherberger, who draws Marvel Adventures (a fun all ages book) drew me a really cool sketch even.
The weirdest time of the day was talking to one girl who had never read comics and was only their to hit the Cold Stone Creamery next door. I was talking to her and found that she had in interest in anime and manga. I gave her a manga sampler and talked to her about some of the selection that they had to offer in the store. She was really excited and even made a purchase. I had made a new customer! The strange part was her telling me about why she was out. She was on her way home when her friends wanted to stop for ice cream. They had just left an adult bookstore and she detailed her purchases to me, including $150 worth of porn and a new vibrator. At first I thought she was flirting with me, but two other staff members told me the same conversation about 20 minutes later. Now I think she was just excited about being in an adult bookstore and wanted everyone to know.
Honestly though, the whole day was fun. I got to talk about comics and hang out with some really great people. I got a little closer to the staff at my store and I got to read all the free books I wanted. The reason I love comics so much is that in them anything is possible. They unlock the imagination and creativity and create a truly singular experience that you can't get anywhere else. Not as static as a book, not as exacting as a film, it lets you fill in the gaps in between. Its a medium that allows you control over the flow of the story, you can savor every panel or flash through the gaps. I can't wait for next year.
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