Comic book stores across the English-speaking world celebrated Free Comic Book day last Saturday, May 1. Held every year on the first Saturday in May, comic book stores give away free special edition comics on Free Comic Book Day, sponsored by comic stores and publishers. Many Free Comic Book Day comics are aimed specifically at young readers, in the hopes of encouraging the next generation of fans. This year, at comic book stores around Manhattan, morale was generally high, with most retailers seeing their largest Free Comic Book Day attendance ever.
“It was our biggest free comic book day ever. It was so big that two tables stacked high with comics ran out by 1 p.m.” said Midtown Comics founder Gerry Gladston, as a film crew from Diamond Comic Distributors interviewed customers. “We had a lot of new faces and a lot of families.”
Employees at Union Square’s Forbidden Planet agreed. “We had a line down the block at 9 in the morning and ran out by 11,” said Jean-Marie Whitley, at the store’s free comic book table, stationed on the sidewalk outside in order to avoid crowding. “We've been rocking it hardcore in the hot sun,” agreed her co-worker Travis, who preferred not to use his last name. A NYPD officer was stationed next to the table because of the immigrant rights protest in the nearby park, but the chants from the rally didn’t seem to be discouraging customers or the festive mood.
“There’s good chemistry in the air. It’s infectious—we feel like part of a community today,” said Jaclyn Sheer, from behind the counter of Madison Square’s Cosmic Comics on 23rd Street. The small, second-story store had a steady stream of customers up and down its steps.
“It was a beautiful day out, I think that brought more in,” said Michelle Desante of Jim Hanley’s Universe on 33rd street. “I really think it was busier this year.”
“It’s almost like a holiday. It’s been fun to have so many people—not just the regulars but kids, and that’s great. That’s the direction comics should be going,” said Becca Dunlap of Cosmic Comics.
At Jim Hanley’s Universe, a four-year old boy named Julian clutched his bag of comics to his chest. “I like Iron Man and Superman and the Hulk,” he said as his father, a comic shop regular, looked on proudly.
“It’s pretty amazing to see they have free comic books,” said thirteen-year old Marleen Taveras after picking up her free comics. Usually she reads manga, like Special A, but she was happy to try American comics. “Sometimes I read them, whenever I see them.”
At the Jim Hanley’s comic book giveaway station in the back of the store, staffer Larry “Golden Age” Johnson, pointed out another benefit of free comics—he was looking forward to repeat customers attracted to the store because of the giveaways. “Giving out free books is cute, but seeing them come back weekly and monthly is great.”
Free Comic Book Day was not without its complications for comics store staff—or creative solutions to them. In response to line-jumpers in previous years, at both Midtown Comics locations, customers who waited in line for free comics were given a ticket before entering the store—no ticket, no comics. “I was downstairs regulating the line,” said Sean Griffin at the Grand Central store. “We have limited staff and space here, so letting people bum rush the table would have been chaotic.”
“We have successfully proven that if you give things away, people will take them,” said a harried Mitch Cutler, owner of St. Mark’s Comics, in the midst of his crowded store. “People assume if we don’t have something, that we’re keeping them to sell them or we’re just being mean,” he said, explaining his difficulty with customers who simply had to have a specific Free Comic Book Day title. In response, St. Mark’s instituted a blind giveaway system—comics were sorted into stacks for young readers or for adulta, and customers were given whatever was on top of the proper pile.
Forbidden Planet and Cosmic Comics both supplemented their Free Comic Book Day comics with books from their back stock. “In order to order enough and not run out, it would cost more than I make with people coming in,” explained Mark Friedman, owner of Cosmic Comics. “We could limit the amount we give out, but that would take away from the fun of it.”