Monday, May 7, 2012

Let's Get New: Kiel's Free Comic Book Day 2012

What it is! I'm surprised to say that this is the fourth year – yes one, two, three, FOUR – that I've written up my Free Comic Book Day experience here on the Cool Kids Table. As you're probably well aware, I'm a big proponent of the annual industry promotion both as outreach to new customers and a celebration of the old school ones (read more from me on this here).

Like last year, I threw together a video chronicling my stops for your viewing "enjoyment," but my goal for this year's event was to try and stop at as many different Chicago area locations that I HAVEN'T ever been to in order to expand my base of shops where I can pick up stuff and chat up all the amazing folks who dedicate their careers to feeding my funnybook addiction. With that in mind, I had a few other thoughts outside the clip reel above to share on what I was up to. Let's get crackin!

Sadly, my usually stalwart FCBD companion Kegmeister was out of commission this year for a very good reason (he was super, super, super, super, DUPER hung over and couldn't get up at 11:00). But it was still a blast to start my day at the grand opening of acclaimed kids cartoonist Art Baltazar's own comic shop – Aw Yeah, Comics – just north of my place in the suburb town of Skokie. I'd actually heard the store was opening a few weeks back when I traveled to the UPS store in downtown Skokie to mail back the video camera CBR used for C2E2 to Uncle Jonah in LA. As I was filling out the address label, the guy who worked there saw "Comic Book Resources" and just excitedly launched into a "You know they're opening a comic shop right across the street!" conversation. I'd made a mental note then to come back and investigate, but when I heard it was Art's store, that cemented it.
As you can tell by some of the crowd shots in the video and the two cosplayers who were in attendance, the grand opening of the shop had a really festive atmosphere (there was even cake and hot dogs!). But more than that, the great thing about Aw Yeah, Comics was how it was essentially built to be the kind of store parents will bring their kids to. Art painted bright, primary colored murals across the various walls of the store, and aside from a real killer kids comics section and the standard wall of new floppy releases, the shop also boasts a nice toy aisle with crazy amounts of action figures from Marvel, DC, Star Wars and the like. That's got to be a boon to a small business in a high-foot traffic area like the main street in Skokie.
As always, Art and his partner in crime Franco had a long line of parents, kids and fanboys waiting to get free sketches and signed copies of the pair's Superman Family Adventure books. I've got to admit, I was incredibly bummed to hear that DC was pulling the plug on their Tiny Titans effort – perhaps THE definitive kids comic of the past ten years with a lot of young fans – in favor of the Super book, but Art spoke with a lot of enthusiasm about the new project and the crazy guest stars that will appear (including the Tiny Titans).

Aside from getting to chat the guys up, I also nabbed a Kid Devil sketch, which has been a favorite character for my girlfriend Jami and I since meeting one of Art and Franco's young fans at the first C2E2.

But yeah, I definitely plan on heading back to Aw Yeah, Comics before too long.

My second stop on the FCBD tour was Evil Squirrel Comics in Rogers Park. I'd actually been to the shop once before as it was the closest Chicago store that carried my friend Sam Humphries self-published series Sacrifice (Where's issue #4, bro?), and I enjoyed the visit. Though, unsurprisingly, there were a lot more folks filling up the shop this time. Plenty of kids were in attendance, but this was the first time I'd gotten a feeling for Evil Squirrel's core customer base as a lot of dudes there seemed to know each other and were chilling in the all ages-esque reading lounge that makes up the store's bay window area. Tucked away next to an underground theater and some other kind of bohemian-looking shops and such, this seems like it'd be a fun store to go to each week if you were nearby.

Oh, and I should mention that I tried to buy some comics at the shops I hit up for the first/second time on this trip. Here, I got a copy of James Robinson and Nicola Scott's new Earth-2 series, which I think has some legs.

I've been hearing that Third Coast Comics in Edgewater was a really nice store for a few years now, so I was psyched to pencil it in on my tour this year. The place did not disappoint. In a way, this felt like a more established version of the store Evil Squirrel (which I believe has been open for a year) is working to be. Third Coast had a nice sitting area up front with a few local artists plying mini comics and prints and a big section of high-end art and hardcover comics (flipped through Womanthology for the first time in person here) as well as a deep local mini comics rack.

In the second, "creator with a Free Comic in distribution" sighting of the day, DC inker Christian Alamy was on hand signing books for a few folks. He was having a very intense-sounding discussion with a fan. At least I think it was intense. They were speaking French, so maybe it just sounded that way to me. Either way, I chatted up a mom who was picking up free Sonic The Hedgehog and buying new Scooby-Doo for her son. Then I bought a copy of Saga #2 and headed out. Not to sound like a broken record on all these shops, but I'm totally coming back to Third Coast again.

I've had people I've told about my multi-shop FCBD excursions shocked there are so many stores I can hit up in one day. But what's really crazy is that if I only went to Graham Crackers comics locations, it'd still take me all day. This year, I hit a different Graham Crackers location than I'd ever been to: their Edgewater location.

While each location in the chain has its own particulars, all the Graham Crackers I've been to really do feel like part of a chain – similar set up and even shelves and what not. But they're always run by very friendly staff and seem to be full of folks. One thing I noted this year (and I think MAYBE you can tell this in the video above) is that for the DC New 52 FCBD special, Graham Crackers had special covers printed for their chain with the store logo on the cover rather than the traditional "White spot for mailing labels" that most shops get. Being a big account with Diamond has its perks, huh?

For the second half of my trip, I ended up hitting shops I'm more familiar with. Alley Cat Comics in Andersonville is a relatively new store (less than a year), though since I've got a friend in the area, I've been in a few times. As you can tell by the video, the store is situated off the main street in the very busy neighborhood by way of a long alley next to a Potbelly Sandwich shop. I'd often wondered whether being set off only by some (very classy) iron lattice sign work and a sandwich chalk board on the street meant that Alley Cat had trouble getting foot traffic. But it sure as hell didn't seem like that when I stopped by Saturday.

There were a ton of people in the store whose best fixture to my mind is a very well-curated kids comics section (only place in town I've found copies of Princeless), and the manager was saying to a regular that it was even crazier earlier in the day. Aside from picking up some free books, I also dipped into the $0.50 bin at the shop and got Stephen Platt's final issue of Moon Knight from the '90s (FACT: I am an unashamed fan of both that artist and that character). Solid!

Second to last for the day was foundational Chicago comic Comics (sorry, I'm too tired to come up with a more clever transition). I've written about the pleasures of this very well stocked shop in the past, so I'll just add here that you should watch the video above to see how many people were coming in to ask the staff behind the counter for their three FCBD book picks. And the guys working were pretty hilarious in their calling out for comic requests.

Finally, I wrapped the day at my regular Wednesday stomping grounds of Challengers Comics + Conversation. As in year's past, Patrick and Dal tapped some of the local cartoonists with books available on the day to do a signing. This time out it was Chris Mitten signing Oni's Bad Medicine and half of the Four-Star Studios team in Tim Seeley and Mike Norton (each of whom had two upcoming series previewed in Images releases with Witchblade, The Atomics and their team-up series Revival. Early in the day, I saw on Twitter that Challengers had a line going out the door for people showing up, and surprisingly, they still had free books when I got there shortly before the signing ended around 6:00. I was witness to Seeley signing the last two copies of Witchblade in stock as Mitten had maybe just a dozen Bad Medicines left. So yeah, Challengers orders just the right amount of free books, it seems.

Crazily, there were a few more stores I wanted to hit on Saturday that I just couldn't get to including two of my regular shops in Dark Tower Comics and Variety Comics, and I'm pretty bummed I didn't get to check out G-Mart Comics for the first time. But there'll be plenty of time on FCBD 2013 to hit them up. Hell, I think I'll end up doing it before then.


Rickey said...

Shut up and sit down -- let's talk about this.

1. Great song on the video.

2. Alley cat Comics looks SICK and I am THIS jealous you found a copy of the final Stephen Platt issue for that cheap. I dunno if it's even collectable -- it just sounds super.


4. Seeley's Revival comic has me pretty excited. I know horror movies and zombie movies, but this story seemed, I dunno, personal? I'm looking forward to it.

5. I only went to one shop cause Sam had me doing errands with her later in the day. I only got three free books (wish I was allowed more cause I missed the Dark Horse ones and the Boom one and the Donald Duck one and, shit, so many more...) but I bought the first volume of Rachel Rising, so I'm happy.

6. I want to fly out one year and travel with you for one of these!!!

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