The first Saturday in May is always the date for the Kentucky Derby. Now, actually living in the area this is a big deal even if you don't care about horse racing. My grandfather only has two enthusiasms in life: bettin' the ponies and drinking, and he's had to pretty much give up the latter. I, on the other hand, count comic books as one of my life-long enthusiasms (though I freely admit he's stayed far more dedicated to his than I have to mine). In fact, I distinctly recall the day he took my brother and me to Churchill Downs, we stopped at a gas station and I bought a pair of comic books (Star Trek #26 and Star Trek: The Next Generation #25). You'll understand then, why I find a sort of humorous, familial connection to the fact that the first Saturday in May has also become Free Comic Book Day.
The premise behind Free Comic Book Day isn't hard to understand. Comic book publishers took a look at their sales and decided to borrow a page from the drug dealer's playbook. They would give away an assortment of comic books, hoping to lure in new readers. Maybe you'd pick up a free issue of a title you weren't already reading and become a paying regular. Better still, maybe you'd pick up your first comic book ever and then begin buying all kinds of issues of a number of books. Even if you just popped your head into your local comic book shop for the first time and looked around, maybe coming back later to buy stuff, it was a win. Rather than earmark old issues for distribution, the publishers went ahead and printed special issues just for the occasion. Many times these have been reprints, or preludes to forthcoming, ongoing titles. Whatever they are, the point is to give new readers an introduction to the characters and series.
One little aside: this year's assortment is very heavy on licensed comics, so you'll see a lot of issues here based on TV, movie and video game characters. It's sad, really, that FCBD 2011 is focused on non-comic book properties when there are countless comic book series deserving of an audience. I suppose the theory makes sense (use something familiar to lure in browsers), but I fear that the majority of this year's titles will be dismissed as little more than a novelty by many of the people who pick up the issues. "Oh, look, an Inspector Gadget comic!" I doubt the same people who will pick up that issue have any intention of ever paying for the actual series, though. They didn't ask me, though, and I'm sure people with a far greater stake in the outcome of all this have already voiced their concerns.
This year, FCBD is 7 May (next Saturday). You can check here for a list of participating comic book shops to see where you can go locally. These are this year's Free Comic Book Day titles:
2011 Gold Comics
- Amazing Spider-Man
- Avatar: The Last Airbender/Star Wars: The Clone Wars
- Pep Comics featuring Betty & Veronica
- Darkwing Duck/Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers
- Green Lantern Special Edition featuring Green Lantern: Flashpoint Preview
- Geronimo Stilton/The Smurfs
- Kung Fu Panda/Richie Rich
- Locke & Key
- Mouse Guard/The Dark Crystal
- Super Dinosaur Origin Special
2011 Silver Comics
- 2000 A.D.
- Darkness II: Confession
- Atomic Robo
- Baltimore/Criminal Macabre
- Bongo Free-For-All 2011 (The Simpsons & Futurama)
- Captain America/Thor: The Mighty Fighting Avengers!
- Civil War Adventure
- Top 10 Deadliest Sharks/Dinosaurs: Prehistoric Predators (Discovery Channel)
- Elric: The Balance Lost
- Inspector Gadget
- The Intrepid EscapeGoat
- Jake: The Dreaming
- Witch & Wizard - ("a new manga series by James Patterson & Svetlana Chmakova")
- John Stanley's Summer Fun
- Path of the Planeswalker II (Magic: The Gathering)
- The Mis-Adventures of Adam West
- Overstreet Guide to Collecting Comics
- Rated Free for Everyone! (Power Lunch/Sketch Monsters)
- Silver Scorpion
- Sonic the Hedgehog
- The Tick
- Top Shelf Kids Club 2011
- Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse
- Worlds of Aspen 2011
- Young Justice/Batman: The Brave and the Bold Super Sampler
- DC Heroclix 50 Set Green Lantern
If all goes well, I'll manage to make it to The Great Escape and at the very least, snag The Mis-Adventures of Adam West and The Tick. Green Lantern Special Edition would be my third choice. Which reminds me: each store has its own policy regarding the distribution of these free issues. I've heard some stores only allow one free copy of a few issues per customer, whereas other stores allow you to grab a copy of as many different titles as you wish. There's no official policy assigned to the comics, so don't get into any kind of petty squabble with your local store personnel. They're trying to bring in as many customers as possible with this promotion, and they won't do anything to upset someone just to do it.
Also, I know that the Half Price Books where I shop will be running a 20% off sale on comic books all day Saturday and, I believe, Sunday as well. You may find a similar effort by a local business to tie into FCBD, even if they're not an official participant.