Don't know what Free Comic Book Day is? Well, I'll tell ya. Starting in 2001, Free Comic Book Day is held on the first Saturday of every May and is an initiative to help get people into comic stores. Publishers like Marvel, DC Comics, Image, and Archaia print specially labelled issues and distribute them to comic shops to be given away to anyone that walks into the store. As the years have passed, comic stores have been making a bigger and bigger deal of Free Comic Book Day to make it a special event and bring in even more people. From what I've seen in the years that I've been participating, FCBD has blossomed into an amazing annual event.
I make a big deal out of FCBD personally, hitting up as many shops as I can in one day. Even though the draw is the free comics, I always try to spread a little bit out to the different comic book stores. I never go with the intention of getting the free stuff and leaving; that would be a dick move considering the shops have to pay for the free books. Besides, there's always something that I would drop a few bucks on and this year is no exception. So, without further ado...
Stop Number 1: The Hobby Shop, Aberdeen, NJ
The Hobby Shop isn't a comic book store. They actually specialize in model trains and paraphernalia, but they do offer a wide range of goods, like model cars and airplanes, learning toys, art supplies and more. It's a cute store, one that caters to almost every hobby under the sun. They have a small section in the front of the store dedicated to comic books and super heroes, like Funko Pop toys, plushies and action figures. Because of this, they partake in Free Comic Book Day and take it rather seriously.
The last few years they've had a couple of comic book creators there for signings during their business hours. Dave Ryan and Joe Martino were on hand to promote the industry, sell some sketches and get kids excited for super heroes. They've also arranged a number of sales, including certain items for 50% off. One thing that surprised me was that they had the Free Comic Book Day Heroclix, the Batman and Joker two-pack, available. Throughout the day, this was the only place I went to that had them. Though it's a small celebration for the event, they at least put a hell of a lot of effort into it.
|The haul from the Hobby Shop|
Stop Number 2: Little Shop of Comics, Scotch Plains, NJ
Little Shop of Comics is one of my favorite comic shops to visit. The staff is always friendly and helpful and the place is clean and well organized. They have a wide selection of graphic novels and trade paperbacks so I always know that if I'm looking for something specific, I can find it there.
Of all of the comic shops in the area, Little Shop makes the biggest spectacle of Free Comic Book Day. Each year they seem to have a group of cosplayers (mostly Star Wars from the 501st Legion) outside greeting customers, waving to traffic, and bringing attention to the store. And it clearly helps as they had a line outside to get in.
This year, they also had creator Tim Yates in store for a signing of his independent series Anne Bonnie. By chance my wife picked to the first issue thinking it looked interesting and as we were checking out, the owner directed us to the back to where Yates was situated. He was interacting with a few kids, sketching for them and taking pictures with customers. Once again, another creator trying to bring a good face to the comic industry. It was great to see.
|Our loot from Little Shop.|
Stop Number 3: Rogue Comics, Cranford, NJ
This shop is one that I have been too the least but it's a nice little shop. The employees were all very friendly and attentive to their customers. The store itself is somewhat disorganized but they have a great selection of action figures and back issue comics, which made for a nice balance. One thing that I was impressed with was the Heroclix they had on display in the center of the shop. They were selling individual Clix for 3 bucks a pop, which seemed pretty reasonable if you were looking to expanding your Heroclix lineup. Also, they have a life-sized replica of R2-D2 and a Stormtrooper in the center of the store and a few replica Star Wars helmets for sale. Of all of the stores, I spent the least amount here but that's not a knock at the store. It really is pretty good.
|What we reaped from Rogue Comics.|
|I had to grab this from their site as I|
forgot to snap a pic of the storefront.
For years, JC was my regular comic shop. This is where I had my pull list and visited there every few weeks. The owner is a nice guy that takes the time to chat up each of his customers and his parents are found in the shop regularly and are a sweet couple. JC has a definite focus on back issues, which you don't find in a lot of stores, but also action figures, statues and a ton of other hobbyist odds and ends. He was running a promotion of a selection of $5 trade paperbacks and was giving away a hard-cover collection of Marvel's The Dark Tower with every $25 or more purchase, so he was definitely trying to take advantage of the FCBD traffic. It seemed to work out well as the tiny store was full of people, some browsing the new issues, some looking through the trades. It had been over a year since I'd been to JC (I missed out on the chance to enjoy Free Comic Book Day last year due to a family wedding) but it was nice to be back.
|No clever alliteration for 'JC'. This is what we bought.|
Stop Number 5: Elite Battlegrounds, Green Brook, NJ
Right down the street from JC Comics, Elite Battlegrounds is the newest comic shop around. They specialize is trading card games and, as we walked in, this was evident as the employees were talking to a customer about Magic: The Gathering. They have a wall of new issue comics and seemed to have a collection of older issues in short boxes set up in the back of the store to grab a little extra from FCBD. I tried to look through them a bit as most of them were priced at 50 cents or less but they were hard to browse as the boxes were overfilled. I quickly gave up and just browsed the rest of the store, stopping at the super awesome giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man Funko Pop toy from their Ghostbusters line. I didn't even hesitate grabbing it up and regret nothing.
What was really cool, though, was as we were checking out, the owner had come out of the stock room with a box of Pez dispensers to restock the shelf. He handed me and my wife a Spider-Man and an Iron Man Pez, telling us that they were on the house. Oh, I guess I should mention that we were dressed like this...
|What we got at Elite Battlegrounds.|
Stop Number 6: Comic Fortress, Sommerville, NJ
I hadn't been to Comic Fortress since FCBD 2012 and was surprised to see that it was in a new location. Now, since I got back into comics around 2001, this is the second time Comic Fortress had moved storefronts. Despite that, the store is pretty cool, with a large selection of action figures and statues. To help promote FCBD, they had a few young girls dressed in super hero costumes interacting with people as they passed along on the street. One benefit that Comic Fortress has that the other stores don't (with the exception of Rogue) is that it is on a road that gets a lot of foot traffic throughout the day. The store sees hundreds, if not upwards of a thousand, of people passing by each day so that kind of publicity is sure to help. And it must have as when we walked in, a woman was asking the clerk what were good books to get for her son who was starting to collect comics and really enjoyed the Avengers. So to see that gave me hope that FCBD was a success.
One reason we go to Comic Fortress is because of their statues. My wife looks forward to FCBD as it gives her the chance to expand her collection. Normally, she doesn't buy statues and busts as they tend to be pricey, even though she likes them. But every year on FCBD, she makes it a point to pick up a new one. It's kind of her thing now.
|Our newest bust addition from Comic Fortress.|
Stop Number 7: Classic Comics, Rahway, NJ
This one wasn't part of our route; it was just close to home and we decided to stop. We normally leave out Classic because...well, I hate it. But we figured what the hell.
Classic Comics is an absolute shithole when it comes to comic shops. The store is a disorganized mess with long boxes stacked haphazardly on rickety old folding tables. They have a large selection of back issues but good luck browsing through them; not only are they not in any kind of logical order but they also have boxes of statues and toys stacked on top of them. This isn't just a "we're restocking and just placed that there until it gets into its proper place" kind of deal. Every single time I've been in that store, the back issues have been covered in boxes.
|This was taken in 2011;|
It doesn't look any better today.
Looking for new issues? They line the wall but even those aren't organized. My wife picked up a DC comic that she said sounded interesting from the wall labeled "New". It was a #2 issue and she was trying to find #1. I pointed out to her that the issue was from 2005 and wished her good luck. I also pointed out a few other "new" issues the store was advertising, like from Dark Reign and Civil War.
The front window was stacked up with discarded long boxes, I assume to prep for their "Long Box Sale" that they were holding the following week. I get that, but it made the store look messier than it normally is, which is saying something. The irony is that they have a lot of room behind the register where they could have stored the boxes until the sale...but that was so over piled with back issues and other inventory that there's no longer any room. And good luck finding a price on anything. if it's not a cover price, it's not marked.
|They expect people to buy that stuff.|
Like, with money.
All in all, this year's Free Comic Book Day was a rousing success. The best part about it is the natural promotion that they get from the movie industry as well. Each year, FCBD always lands the day after a high-profile super hero movie hits theaters; this year it was The Amazing Spider-Man 2, last year it was Iron Man 3, and on it's been for years. If only that relationship could be used better to get more people into comic book shops, the industry would have a huge influx of sales.
Regardless, I'm looking forward to what 2015 has in store.