This is the first year in a very long time that I decided to check out what Free Comic Book Day has to offer. To say I was pleasantly surprised was an understatement. I stopped at two comic shops in the Tampa area, both very far from my home or office but I chose them for different reasons. Here’s the story.
Yancy St Comics in New Port Richey – My first stop.
I chose Yancy St because two of my favorite creators were going to be there, Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan. If you don’t know who they are, shame on you. Besides creating one of the most memorable Batman villains ever, Bane, these guys are the pros pros. Chuck is a great writer, his run on Airboy is till missed by me today, and Graham was one of the best Bat artists. His latest book, Joe Frankenstein is something to read. A real fun book, highly recommended by moi. Anyway back to Yancy, I took a major schlep over there expecting very little and boy was I surprised. First I found out they’re located in a mall, always a good sign for me. I’ve been a proponent of shops in highly trafficked areas forever (too many shops go too cheap when it comes to locations to rent). Well in front of the shop, it looked like a mini-convention, with artist tables, a podium with announcements and giveaways, it had the feel of a carnival. Tons of fun. Then I entered the store and except for one pet peeve of mine, new comics encased in bags (discourages browsing), the shop was a delight. And to really blow it out, they had EVERY GRAPHIC NOVEL AT 50% OFF!!!!! And there were kids and teenagers everywhere I looked. First sign that times have changed.
Emerald City Comics – My second stop
I went to Emerald City because I believe it to be the best shop in the Tampa Bay area (though Yancy St may be tied for first now that I’ve been there). It’s the only shop I go to with any frequency. It is a full service comic store, the kind you expect in bigger cities. ECs special guests were two of my favorite people in comics, Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner and I would have loved to have caught up with them some more but there was a huge line and I didn’t want to be a dick and make people wait longer than they should have. As soon as I saw them, what did I see? Once again I saw little kids enjoying the day. One especially cute little girl hugged Amanda as a thank you. It made me ferklempt and gave me hope for the future. It’s not a secret that one of the biggest failings of the comic industry has been an aging fanbase (and catering to them, a topic for another day). However in all my xxxx years of being a fan and in the business in various ways, I can safely say there has never been a time when it was COOLER to like comics. When I used to go to shops, we never saw girls, EVER! Let alone good looking ones. And little kids were non-existent unless a dad brought them in. And here we are and cute girls of all ages are buying comics, enjoying them discussing them, buying toys etc. and little kids are excited about meeting a creator. Very very cool. A long way from hiding my love of comics from the people around me when I was a youngun. So who is responsible for this? What changed? In my opinion there are three people that stand out. And here they are in no particular order.
Chuck Lorre – The Big Bang Theory not only made comics seem cool, they also made going to the comic shops seem like a fun times. The biggest hit on TV showed us Sheldon, Leonard, Howard and Raj doing their weekly visit to Stewart’s shop and made us all want to join them (even Penny did on more than one occasion). Thank you Chuck, I’d love to know if you were a comic geek too.
Kevin Feige – Marvel Films. The visionary behind the Marvel movie blockbusters, who remembered to make sure the movies were fun and escapist, so ALL-AGES and fans and non-fans alike, could enjoy them. Something the comic book divisions have forgotten (another topic for another day). The movies do it right and starting out with Iron Man (a B character in the comics), but realizing it works better in a movie (and with merchandise and toys) was genius. Kids love the Avengers and buy the toys, which could lead them into a love of comics (so publishers, don’t drop the ball).
Finally, the one I want to thank the most, is the least know name of the bunch and that is Joe Field of Flying Colors Comics in Concord, California, the creator of Free Comic Book Day. When I was co-running Future Comics with Iron Man legend Bob Layton, we wanted to bypass Diamond Distributors and sell directly to the retailers. So I got to speak with a lot of them and my favorite was Joe. When speaking with him, I always felt that eh cared not only about his own store, but the future of comics and especially the future generation of comic fans. The love was genuine so it’s no surprise that he was the one who came up with this wonderful idea, which has grown into such a monumental event. And it looks to me like it’s doing exactly what he had hoped, which was bring in new readers to the shops. Well done Joe!