Sunday, May 2, 2010

I Got All The Comics: Kiel's FCBD 2010

Okay. So maybe I didn't get ALL of the comics literally, but on this year's Free Comic Book Day, I went all out and tried to do as much as I possibly could, and as a result I ended up nabbing 17 of the 33 issues published as part of the annual comics holiday. If you couldn't tell from my reminiscing last year or my outright promotion of previous FCBDs, I'm a big supporter of the event from all sorts of angles including the hopeful potential it holds for expanding awareness of both the medium and the Direct Market, the boring businessy way in a journo wank like me can watch publishers leverage their giveaways into awareness amongst comics core readers and the plain old school joy of hanging in a comic shop all day shooting the shit with fellow fans.

I ramped up for Saturday by lining up a mega-roundup of FCBD previews and events for CBR as well as writing a short feature on Arizona retailer Mike Malve's plans for the day and his participation in the "Kick-Ass" movie as a comics promotion tool (and I guess I did some sideline reporting as part of the site's CBR Live! coverage, which you should all scroll through), but I'm not beneath putting it out there that once the day actually came all I really cared about was seeing as many shops as I could and getting as many free comics as possible. Luckily, while Chicago may not be a comics creative community/publisher juggernaut in the way towns like New York, LA or Portland are, the city has got to be one of if not the very best comics retail towns in America, and in hitting five shops I only scratched the surface of what the Chi offers on FCBD or any Wednesday in the calendar.

I started my day off by heading to The Comic Vault, which I chose as my first stop because they were advertising free giveaway bags for the first 50 customers, and I'm a sucker for more free shit than I deserve. Getting there a half hour after opening, I was WAY behind my shot at a goodie bag, but I did happen to bump into my buddy and fellow CBR staffer Shaun Manning who was leaving with a handful of books (see up there?). Shaun said The Vault had a line out the door when he arrived, so bully for them on spreading the word.

I'm not 100% on this, but The Comic Vault may be the closest comic shop to my apartment, though I rarely get over to its Montrose and Clark location because traveling from 94 toward the lake on any Chicago street can be kind of a pain in the ass. Still, the few times I've stopped by the store for an event, the thing that's really struck me about the shop is the uncountable legion of teenage workers who man the store asking kindly if I know what the day's specials are. If there was a comic store in my area when I was in high school that would pay me in any way shape or form to hang out with a bunch of other nerds all day explaining the ins and outs of our hobby to strangers, my mother would have to call in a missing persons report because I would never have left. Good to see a such a young, dedicated crowd of readers.

The other really noteworthy thing about this store is how dedicated they seem to be towards single issues for a shop that's relatively new to the scene (they've been open about four years). There's a trade section at The Vault like in any other modern shop, but the wall space around the room is anchored on recent floppies which all come pre-bagged and boarded. You can tell that this place's bread and butter is the Wednesday warrior crowd, for sure. And as you can see above, that mentality extended to FCBD as The Vault was probably the only shop I went to that kept damn near every available book for the event well in stock, allowing me to get my hands on a few offerings I was interested in that I thought I might miss like Mike Raicht's new The Stuff of Legend/Mortal Instruments flipbook, Brandon Jerwa's Storm Lion (which I forgot he'd done until I saw his name on the cover and which you can download for your iPhone here) and Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt's superb new Oni series The Sixth Gun.

After stopping by to chat up my FCBD compadre Kegmeister (who couldn't do much shopping with me this year because he had to bartend his way through a brutal Cubs homestand), I made my way downtown to Chicago's Magnificent Mile and the city's longstanding retail anchor Graham Cracker Comics. I chose that stop on the expansive chain of Graham stores because they had Mouse Guard creator (and fellow Flint, Michigan native) David Petersen signing books. Best moment of the stop? While I chatted up Petersen for a minute about C2E2 (which I never got to blog about because my computer melted down during the show), a guy asked him to sign an issue of Iron Man. Rather than merely turn the comics neophyte away because he didn't want to autograph a book he didn't work on, David drew a rad little mustache on Tony Stark's alter ego. It was really pretty cute.

You know, even though I had the pleasure of attending two FCBD events featuring artists who actually had books out as part of the promotion, it really has to be said that having any creator sign at your store (The Vault had a massive lineup of local cartoonists with mini comics) is the basic promotion I'd recommend for any shop that has a local creator who can sit for a few hours with pen in hand and smile on face. Beyond the pull of getting your regulars out to meet someone whose work they admire in the way any signing does, I expect that having a creator on hand for FCBD adds that little extra zing of excitement for first time comic shoppers who beyond getting a free taste of the medium get to marvel at someone drawing something and ask questions like, "So do you make all the little bubble for the words too?"

Speaking of signings, I made it to my third stop – Dark Tower Comics – just in time to see one with Chicago-area artists Tim Seeley and Skottie Young wrap up. Seeley was on his way to another signing in the norther 'burbs, but I got to hang out for a while and talk about comics retail with Young, Jose Capetillo and the store's owner Mark. That's a really nice, old school comic shop, by the way. I'd been there once before when I did a guest spot on the late, great Around Comics podcast, but I'd never had a chance to really look through it until Saturday. A LOT of dollar comics (I got this one and this one), but Mark stocks up strong with as many varieties of trades and OGNs as you can imagine as well as all sorts of comic shoppy ancilary products. While we were standing there, some guy bought one of those hella expensive Marvel Bowen busts (a Green Goblin one), which always shocks me because I can't imagine paying 50 or 75 bucks or whatever for a superhero statue.

Oh, and just like The Comic Vault had its take on FCBD with its massive wall of everything, I should note that both Dark Tower and Graham Crackers took their own track for what comics to get and how to distribute them. Dark Tower did what I've seen a lot of bigger shops do, setting up a free comics table on your way out the door where a staff member would help you pick out a few choices to get with whatever you got while shopping. And for what it's worth, their selection seemed more focused on the kid-friendliest comics of the bunch while Graham's was a mix of the DM staples from Marvel, DC and the other big publishers while also having a metric ton of Mouse Guard for Petersen to sign. While it's great that there are 33 comics available for distribution, I always find it telling what specific kinds of free comics the stores put in for and how they arrange those titles on day of. Says a lot about who they think the days is for or who they find comes in.

That afternoon, I made my way over to what I thought would be my last stop of the day: my regular Wednesday home of Challenger's Comics. Store owners Pat and Dale looked a little harried, and by the looks of the free comic rack right out front, they'd had a lot of foot traffic coming through. I like the store's general approach to comics retail a lot as Challenger's is a clean, friendly space anchored by book shelves that run DEEP in the variety of material without skimping on the week-in, week-out single issue stuff. This was my second year stopping by the store for Free Comic Book Day, and like last year, their selection seemed heavily focused on stuff that would be good for newer, younger readers...including the DC Comics kids offering featuring a story drawn by neighborhood artist Mike Norton who was signing books and leading a small dance party while I was there.

In addition, Challenger's event served as (I believe) the debut for kid fantasy series Verum Corpus by writer Josh Emmons and artist Katie Cook. The first issue had been printed up just for the day, and both Emmons and Cook were on hand to sign and sketch for the kids along with Norton. I may be totally wrong about this, but I could easily see that kind of "comic created just for one shop on FCBD" launch becoming a regular thing for web cartoonists and other small press folks. Certainly got me to check the book out, and it looks like really fun stuff. I didn't get to chat up at all because she were talking to Petersen (who apparently followed me over), but Emmons seemed super excited about everything.

Two other things of note from Challenger's:

1 - The two-piece nerd rock outfit Wednesday Heroes was on hand and recording personalized songs about any comic of your choice which they'd then burn to disc for you to take home with your free comics. I actually think one of the guys wasn't super into comics as much as he was into rocking, but everyone seemed happy with the tunes they were pumping out.

2 - Challenger's employee Ashley was rocking the same new Scott Pilgrim shirt as me because apparently we're the two raddest people in Chicago, and somewhere on the interwebs there's probably a fun picture of the pair of us showing off the full Bryan Lee O'Malley bass spread, but Lord knows I don't have it.

I swear to God I was more than satisfied with my Free Comic Book Day at that point and after saying goodbye to the gang at Challengers, I took off for home. But after I decided to take a detour on the East side of the city while heading north both to avoid the traffic on 94 and check out some neighborhoods for a possible move, I totally drove by Chicago Comics on accident. As Alex Ross once told me, Chicago Comics is the store worth going to because "they just have everything" and holy shit, it's so hard to walk around that place without spending obscene amounts of money (Rickey, you'd die there, bro). I fought hard and won the battle not to buy that Russell Davies book about writing "Doctor Who" I hear is so good, but I may go back and get it once I finish watching all his episodes of the series. Anyway, the store ended up being the perfect spot to end my day as the staff had taped up copies of the FCBD offerings in front of their checkout counter, and by the day's end I was lucky enough that out of the books they had left were two that I really wanted just to read for fun and not for work: Drawn & Quarterly's John Stanley sampler and the totally sick Jim Woodring Weathercraft book from Fantagraphics. How many totally unsuspecting people do you think nabbed copies of these completely different yet completely brilliant comics this weekend? It blows my mind a little.

Wow. Writing that all out made me almost as tired as living it. After this long, rambly rundown of what I did, I'm not sure there's a real takeaway I can give for Free Comic Book Day except that it's still a great day for the medium and it's main sales outlet and that one of the things I enjoy the most about how the holiday works is how pliable it is in providing readers with experiences unique to comic shop shopping. Ultimately, there are thousands of different ways to celebrate FCBD, and at least in my neighborhood, the retailers seems to be doing their best to give people a reason to come out.

How'd your day go?


Rickey said...

I wish I coulda rolled with you on your Free Comic Book Day 2010 adventure!! Luckily, Sam likes comics enough to have gone into the city with me and visit three stores. She totally knew what 5 comics she wanted from the free batch, too!

Oh man oh man oh man, I wanna go to Chicago Comics now!!!

Jesse T. said...

Hit up one old, musty, LAME comics shop while visiting my cousin in Knoxville (well, Clinton, TN, technically). At least the guy was participating in the event...though he was limiting the giveaway to two comics per customer.
I picked up the Iron Man/Nova and Mouse Guard/Fraggle Rock books; I gave Mouse Guard to my LOTR-loving cousin, as he had already nabbed the Iron Man/Thor and Sonic comics.
The only things I actually bought were two old Hero Illustrated mags...still sealed with their exclusive Bone and Radioactive Man comics! Hoorah.

KP said...

Hero Illustrated was fun from what I remember. Isn't it insane how many random comics mags there were in the '90s? Ahhhhhh, glory days.

Drake said...

Thanks for rolling in on Chicago Comics and giving us a shout out! I remember you! You were really happy to find those two books and we were really happy to have them for you! We hope you can come by next year too!