When I was a child, I remember a time before both Hawaii and Alaska achieved statehood. I pledged allegiance to a flag with 48 stars. I remember a time before color television. I remember a time before zip codes.
And I remember when there was no Free Comic Book Day.
Yes, those were barbarous times.
Free Comic Book Day was created so that people who didn’t read comics could sample them without risk. It was a way to get them into the store so they might consider becoming regular – or even occasional – customers. The price to give away comics can be high, but publishers participated by providing specially printed, low-cost copies. A person who would walk into a store, even if only to get something free, is presumed to be somewhat interested in the product. For example, you don’t see a lot of people lining up for free swine flu samples.
Over the years, the event has evolved into something more than an introductory offer for new readers. The date is now in early May, to coincide with the release of the first summer blockbuster movies. Instead of all publishers offering all-ages material, some offer titles with cussing and boobage. Stores advertise well in advance on their websites and in-store. At least one of my local outfits promises that the first hundred or so people who come in will get all the different books.
In these difficult time, it warms my heart to see an industry that’s investing in marketing. However, in this case, it seems to me to miss the point. I mean, I know that every store is different, and relies on individual relationships with customers both current and potential. The store I frequent offers steady customers a discount on new comics. Others may offer price breaks for those who order ahead. Still others give free bags and boards with purchase.
However, I’m already a regular customer. I routinely pay for those comics I want to read. While I have my regular books that I follow like soap operas, I’m also open to trying new titles. For me (for now), an extra five dollars or so to see if I like something doesn’t seem like too much of a risk compared to the chance of finding joy. I don’t need anyone to offer free samples to me.
I don’t know what they would do with this year’s titles. The Avengers, Savage Dragon, Blackest Night — these are not for them. More friendly titles include media tie-ins like the Archie, Boom!/Pixar, Star Wars, Transformers or Bongo books.
Still, in my opinion, none of these really shows what fun graphic story-telling can be. Instead, they’re either heavily geek-oriented, or counting on the readers’ familiarity with the source material.
Even more to the point, it’s not anything that you need to offer your regular customers. Most likely, they already have it, or they know enough about it to know they’re not interested. Instead of your regular customers getting all the issues, I think they should get none.
In my day, we didn’t need introductory comics for newbies because every comic was introductory. Every comic contained at least one complete story. Publishers didn’t do this out of the goodness of their hearts, but because distribution was so funky that no one knew where or when the customer would find the comic. At the same time, it was understood that comics were for kids, specifically between the ages of six and twelve, so that a significant percentage of the market was always new.
The direct market and the emergence of retail catering to hard-core fans over the last three decades changed all this. To my mind, this has been mostly a good thing. The quality of the material, at least at the high end, is much better, and there is more variety in tone, style and subject.
The medium is ready to bring happiness to millions (or at least twenty minutes or so of cheap, escapist entertainment, which is also a good thing).
We just have to find a way to tell them.
Media Goddess Martha Thomases is neither cheap nor escapist. As for entertaining, you’ll have to judge that for yourselves.