The True Meaning of Free Comic Book Day

Free Comic Book Day is less than one week away. Soon local stores will see droves, composed of everyone from their most dedicated patrons to curious outsiders, descend upon them in order to see what deals they might find or what the fuss with comics is all about. While the excitement that surrounds this day certainly stems, at least in part, from the word “free”, there’s a whole lot more to this manufactured holiday then handing out comic books.

Since the celebration was first created by Joe Field of Flying Colors Comics in 2002 it has grown exponentially. What began as a lure for some local shops to attract new customers has taken on a life of its own. Publishers plan many of their big launches around it and stores use it as a centerpiece for their year only rivaled by the holiday shopping season.

This certainly wouldn’t be the first time that a celebration created by industry took on a significant meaning of its own. Valentine’s Day was constructed out of nothing, but has become an important focus for romance and relationships to many people throughout the world. While Free Comic Book Day hasn’t grown quite as large, it’s still a big deal. For readers of comics and consumers of pop culture, Free Comic Book Day has become a very real holiday, which begs the question: What is it about?

Celebrating FCBD - I Hate Fairyland
(Photo: Image Comics)

A Day for Every Comic Book Reader

An important element of Free Comic Book Day is washing away the perceptions of comics perpetuated by television shows like The Simpsons and Big Bang Theory. The niche factor of the market, especially in North America, has led to it being caricatured as a setting somewhere between your grandparents’ basement and a flea market. Reflecting on the series of profiles we assembled in 2017 about the many impressive stores across the country, this could not be further from the truth. Each Free Comic Book Day gives these stores a chance to open their doors and display a welcoming environment for all potential readers.

This means they can show off what makes them unique, from their coffee shops and reading nooks to special programs that promote literacy among youth or encourage adult reading clubs. That wide array of activity is what makes many of these stores so welcoming to entire communities. There is something for everyone, allowing children a chance to develop their reading skills with favorite cartoon characters and adults to rediscover or expand their reading habits. While comics have become largely associated with superhero stories, just walking into a shop can reveal that fans of science fiction or young adult lit are just as likely to find their new favorite narratives.

Celebrating FCBD - Image Comics
(Photo: Image Comics)

A Day for Every Comic Book

That invitation to the neighborhood stems from the wide array of comics curated by publishers over the years. In assembling our list of top recommended titles, it quickly became apparent that the “something for everyone” concept was not hyperbole. Even when you look at a general category like “all ages”, there’s a world of different focuses. Something like Boom Studios’ Adventure Time appeals to fans of the cartoon and pre-adolescent readers. IDW Publishing’s Star Wars Adventures veers slightly younger and offers something to the fans of that franchise. DC Super Hero Girls not only offers a great reading experience for the youngest of readers, but opens up the worlds of comics and superheroes specifically aimed at young girls, an audience normally assumed to be ignored by comic book stores.

That only encompasses a very small section of the more than 50 free titles announced in 2018. It serves to not only help invite readers to the biggest publishers like Marvel and DC who each offer several different comics, but many small publishers as well. On this day there’s a wide open field of competition that encourages readers to think outside of their normal taste and take chances on particularly intriguing covers. This benefits anyone who might walk into a store. Even dedicated comics fans with pull files are likely to notice something they haven’t heard of before, and new readers are treated to a true smorgasboard. That only accounts for the free comics stacked out on tables. Particularly well curated stores will offer shelves filled with more options, allowing someone to take a look at a historical narrative like Berlin and then discover classics like Persepolis, Maus, or Safe Area Gorazde.

Celebrating FCBD - Sergio Aragones
(Photo: Sergio Aragones)

A Day to Celebrate the Real Heroes of Comics

The most important thing to remember and the thread that runs through both inviting new readers and celebrating the incredible array of comics being published are the local comic book stores that actually host this event. Without their planning, hard work, and money (the free comics aren’t free for stores), there would be no Free Comic Book Day. When Joe Field began the event it was just as much about small business as it was the comics themselves.

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Walking into your shop you’ll likely notice a lot more happening that the distribution of free comics. These places support schools, clubs, and charities. The people working behind the counter are folks you might bump into at a local restaurant or movie theater. Almost every dollar that goes into the stores returns to the towns and cities in which they exist. Free Comic Book Day isn’t just a celebration of comics; it’s a celebration of community.

That has been a theme within comics in North America for a long time. As a niche medium it has created close knit fandoms that shared their love through conventions and fanzines, many of which have grown to be the pop culture highlights of the past decade. The core focus on community remains. A single store likely knows almost every person with a pull file as an individual. They are based on relationships and order stories to help support the people they know love them. And so Free Comic Book Day isn’t just about finding new comics, but finding a new favorite place where you live. This medium we love and that inspires so many great parts of pop culture (just look at Avengers: Infinity War) is built on local stores. Free Comic Book Day is our opportunity to celebrate everything they do for us.