NOTHING IN LIFE OR ON FREE COMIC BOOK DAY IS EVER REALLY FREE

13 May

It’s an enormous daunting task just to get fifty damn free comic books, especially when they already have the words  FCBD_wide_logo bannered across their masthead.

It’s been baffling the bejesus out of me over the past few years of how I can be inconsistent at least in attaining only a half of the allotted free comics that are all displayed in its’ infinite glory across the website www.freecomicbookday.com . You’d think by visiting six or seven store across the giant urban landscape that is called Los Angeles would net about most of them, but you would be wrong. A couple of years back, I asked a Santa Monica merchant at Hi-De-Ho Comics who once boosted of having to order all fifty titles if there would be a way of skating around the red tape in getting all the free titles since they put a limit of five per customer.

But when I was refused, I cajoled to the clerk – I’m just not any damn customer I’m Cary Coatney, DAMMIT! The co-creator of the Deposit Man and once upon a time often contributor to the Comics Buyer’s GuideWHEN it used to be published on ancient parchment paper. I HAVE CLOUT IN THIS TOWN!!

“Ok, we’ll give you what we can spare – IF YOU AGREE TO SPEND $100 in our store.”

So I reluctantly bought a bunch of stuff I did not need and they give me in return a half filled Diamond Distributor box of all their available Free Comic Book Day edition titles.

When I got home, I was sorely disappointed, because all it amounted to was a little more than half of what I’d seen on the website, and some doubles, and EVEN triples of what they had. In other words, THEY PADDED the BOX.

Why, oh why, was my life in such a pivotal disarray? Why did these free comic book day books matter to me so much? Did I personally know all these creators and products? I dunno, let me check my facebook) DID I HAVE a personal horse in this perpetual ever psychedelic computerized four colored horse race?

Then, I started to think of the upfronts.

The upfronts? You know that merry time in May when all the television, cable, and digital platform streaming converge in a giant clusterf**K (sorry, I’m trying to make this blog a all ages entry) to determine what you’ll be watching for late fall 2016 – late spring 2017??

It’s the same exact feeling I’ve had lately about Free Comic Book Day, now going fifteen years strong. It’s become bigger with more participants every year trying to showcase their latest offerings.

So let’s refer to these editions as the pilot episodes. The one issue that is used to REEL YOU IN so that you’ll be a corporate everlasting obedient customer.

Free Comic Book Day is sort of like the comic book industry equivalent of the television industry’s Upfronts – a one day power point presentation by 50 companies large or small converging upon you like a pack of wolves hoping to sell on you on something. So, they all gather together, unbridled their thinking caps and voila!! A pilot is then made for you to sample in the mode of the 32 page simple to flip through pamphlet.

Only caveat though, NOT all retailers are willing to curtsy and serve you up that hors d’oeurves  tray with all the eclectic tasty shrimp puffs and mini hot dogs.  IF there had been no customer interest for that previous companies products in the first place, then chances are they’re not going to order a bundle of those fifty samples to pass out just to lose money on. So probably a good handful of those previews probably never get to be even seen.

If you go to the website (see link above), you’ll see that the books are divided into two categories; the Gold and the Silver. The gold ones will be the ones most retailers will order if you want the regular corporate representation from Marvel, DC, Archie, IDW Publishing, Dark Horse, Dynamite Entertainment. The other lot – the Silvers are the  bastard childs,  representing the smaller and independent companies, although, at the last, one of the majors such as DC did this year in getting a DC Superhero Girl comic out to publicize the new animated series that premiered recently on Boomerang Network and Marvel throwing a brand new Captain America comic in the mix to heighten the movie going public and to make abundantly clear that Steve Rogers was taking up the mantle of Captain America again and getting a new electric magnetic shield in the process. That was a mystery book.

The Silver books were the ones in short supply that were increasingly frustrating to get, as likely as all stores and events seem to give them out first. For many years, I missed out on a new Tick comic or a Phantom reprint featuring gorgeous sixties era Jim Aparo art.

Anyway, before going any further. Let’s pause for a brief wiki gloss-over history of the annual event,

“In 2001, retailer Joe Field was writing columns for an industry magazine, and saw how successful feature films based on comic book franchises were providing the comic book industry with a positive cultural and financial turnaround from the speculator bust of the late 1990s, Field proposed Free Comic Book Day in one of his columns, and received positive reaction to it. Then-Image Comics publisher Jim Valentino suggested having the first Free Comic Book Day on the same weekend as the opening of the 2002 Spider-Man feature film, in order to take advantage of the film’s heavy promotion and related press about the comic book medium, and thus the first event was held May 4, 2002, one day after the film’s opening. However, not all events have corresponded with the release of a film based on a comic book. In 2004 it was held in July, but it was moved back to the first Saturday in May the following year and has been held on that day ever since. On Free Comic Book Day, participating comic book store retailers give away specially printed copies of free comic books, and some offer special deals and creator signings to those visiting their establishments. However, retailers do not receive the issues for free; they pay 12–50 cents per copy for the comics they give away during the event.In addition to comic books, some stores also give away other merchandise, such as mini posters and other movie tie-in memorabilia.’

For the past six years or so, (there was one year I missed FCBD entirely when I was at my dad’s house in Las Vegas and I couldn’t get his ass to drive me to the nearest Las Vegas area comic book specialty store), I’ve been getting up early around 6 AM just to make the commute to the farthest point possible that I’m willing to make my six to seven store pilgrimage. Last year, I started down in Culver City and worked my way north to the San Fernando Valley winding up at Earth 2 Comics here in my local burb of Sherman Oaks. And it was there that an idea hit me: owner Carr D’Angelo, besides giving out free comics, handing out marshmallow treats, having cosplay contests, and having all sorts of great creators come and sign the free comic book day editions that they happened to have worked on, was also asking people if they could give a few dollars in donations to a charity called The Hero Initiative. In 2015, on a lark, I donated 20 dollars in the coffee can, and Carr told me that donation would net me another 5 or so Free Comic Book Day editions. So  last year that small token of generosity on my part helped me break the halfway point.

Earlier last month, entertaining the mere thought of buying all the yearly FCBD editions from an anonymous ebay dealer rotted me to the core of my ever constant runny diarrhetic soul. Why would I want to contribute to help profit a greedy second dealer when they were mainly free in the first place – and jeez, not to mention the price of postage to send out those books. And who knows where those hands of whose in Puerto Rico have been shipping that package from?  For all I know , I could be susceptible to contracting the Zika Virus.

For the uninitiated in the comic book industry – the Hero Initiative is a charity organization that rivals that other organization that I’ve sung high praises during my Comic Buyer’s Guide writing days, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF). Here is another history capsule provided by Wikipedia:

“The Hero Initiative, formerly known as A Commitment to Our Roots, or ACTOR, is the first federally recognized not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping comic book creators, writers and artists in need. Founded in late 2000 by a consortium of comic book and trade publishers, including Marvel Comics, Image Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Wizard Entertainment, CrossGen Comics and Dynamic Forces Inc., the 501(c)(3) charity aims to assist comic creators with health, medical, and quality-of-life assistance.

Many early comic creators, whose work laid the foundation of entire fictional universes that proved to be highly lucrative for the publishers that profit from them, were often paid little for their work, and were not allowed to keep their creations. According to the Hero Initiative, “to be eligible for financial assistance from Hero, an applicant must have been a working comic book writer, penciler, inker, colorist or letterer on a work-for-hire basis for no less than 10 years since January 1, 1934.”

Anyone who meets the eligibility requirements may apply for aid, which could vary from medical assistance, paying rent, or finding employment (in or out of the comics industry). Hero’s benefits are not meant to be a permanent crutch for needy creators, but assistance for those in debt, or who have trouble paying bills. Any granted aid is kept confidential.

The Hero Initiative utilizes many methods of fundraising. Foremost is their annual art auction, auctioning donated original comics art-work at fan conventions. Year-long, they sell donated art and special edition comics at conventions and through the Dynamic Forces website. Artists, writers, and publishers are invited to donate work, and fans are invited to donate money directly to the fund. ACTOR also sells a green Excelsior! wrist-band similar in design to the Livestrong wristband.”

So forming an alliance with Earth 2 comics, I decided to give a good sizable donation to the Hero Initiative in exchange of getting every FCBD edition that the store orders, thereby saving me time, long bus trips, and wear and tear on the soles of my pretty feet from walking around events and beer gardens thrown in FCBD’s honor. (yes, there was a beer garden in North Hollywood this year thrown under the auspices of Blastoff Books).

Also in a way, this is a way to honor writer and creator Steve Perry – which is the main focus of why I’m attracted to this organization like a moth to the proverbial flame. Not to be confused with the once lead singer of Journey, this Steve Perry was a prolific writer who wrote a good handful of Thundercats and Silverhawk episodes as well as notable comic books such as the creator owned TimeSpirits (which many may argue that the James Cameron stole the inspiration for the movie, Avatar, although my argument would be that Cameron stole the idea for Avatar from many numerous Roger Dean Yes album covers) for Epic Comics with artist Tom Yeates and Wally Wood’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. My favorite work of Perry’s were the two episodes of Batman: The Animated Series that he penned introducing the protagonist, The Ninja, in Night of the Ninja and Day of the Samurai. Perry, had a series of domestic problems with his girlfriend and custodial battles concerning his son, and wound up nearly homeless as a result of it. The situation worsened when he started sharing a place with a shady despicable couple that led him to be found murdered with having his limbs amputated. Although all the way down through this dark descent, the Hero Initiative and his best friend in the industry, Steve Bissette (Swamp Thing) stepped in to try to help and in return, Perry would devote countless hours at comic book conventions at the Hero Initiative booth to help raise funds and awareness. On top of that, Perry was also suffering from cancer.

 

Perry’s plight hit me too close to home, because if you scour through any of my past blogs, I can tell you straight up, I’ve had my patches of dark times, the longest going on for seven years since I’ve had the viable funds to self publish the conclusion to my Deposit Man saga. I’ve been on long period of unemployment in the entertainment industry, and as you get older, worse so in your fifties, you find fewer people want to hire you because of your age the last two years have been the most tumultuous, when my EDD benefits ran out and wasn’t subject to renewal, I ran out and resorted to getting a EBT card and had to rely on General Relief. However, with someone finally taking notice of my residual and royalty experience, I’ve been recently been hired by a prestigious and beneficial organization that realized my full potential and have been making the best money I’ve had in nearly half a decade.

I promised himself, feeling wretched upon reading the tragic fate of Perry, that I would dedicate myself in picking up the good work that Perry selfishly did and try to help out those who inspired me creatively throughout my life. So I told Carr, I’m starting out with donating a day’s worth of salary (after taxes taken out), approximately  $125.00 into the till (you should have seen the eyes of the cashiers widen like something out of a Sailor Moon episode when they saw six twenties and a five magically slowly depart my hands when I did this).

And it felt good to help out. Much better than I did last year. With my best friend, Harry Perzigian now dead and gone, this small act of bravado sort of gives my life new meaning.

My facebook posting on the morning of May 6th:

$125.00 donation to the Hero Initiative. Carr D’Angelo & Heather Kenealy are witnesses. I always swore that once i got back on my feet, that i would be more charitable to my peers and now with my permanent job at THE PLACE THAT SHALL NOT BE NAMED I have made good on that promise. It may be Free Comic Book Day for the rest of the world, but keep in mind, those blockbusters based on comic book properties you see up on the screen? They didn’t just materialize out of corporate suit’s ass. They came from the blood, sweat, and the India ink of kind individuals who are probably long forgotten living in a trailer park and eating Alpo out of a can. So if you’re out today at your local mom and pop comic book shop and you see a donation can. Try to help your local struggling artist in any way you can, because the work will forever survive, but the one who created those simple moments of enjoyment for you will not.

 

Let’s close out by talking briefly about the comics. By the way, this is first half of a two parter. Look for part two in a couple of weeks that will encapsulate the content of remaining thirty or so books left to talk about. PLUS a little known surprise from Free Comic Book Days holidays past handed to me personally by a famous celebrity.

On this go around I’m going to cover at least the first twenty that came out of the box. I’m not categorize them from best to worst, or place them in some wacky preference reading order.

fcbd set1

Science Comics (First Second Books) –

First one out of the box harkened to memories of being in fifth grade perusing through all the career comics I used to read during lunch period that featured Popeye as your guidance counselor. I was particularly engrossed in how Maris Wicks’ stuck to her lifelong dreams and goals to wanting to become a deep sea diver and marine biologist and is able to capture it all in a simplistic easy to follow narrative that should engage and lively inspire the Marine Boy in all of us. The back up feature by Jon Chad should appeal to those who are looking to have a Cliffnotes study on volcanos the next time you have to cram for a geology exam that is equally informative.

Overstreet (Gem Publishing) usually sticks to its’ guns to put out an annual pamphlet chockfull of articles focusing on what’s hot in the collective market and what auctioneer’s are bidding for these days. (check out the pic on page 20 of a Frank Frazetta sketch of Superman that sold for 35k).

Nickelodeon Sanjay and Craig + Harvey Beaks (Papercutz) Papercutz is usually your source for everything Smurfy, but I guess they took a different route with two animated shows that I’m not familiar with, and I’m usually a guy who’s up on the latest in all animation warfare. Then again, the only show on Nickelodeon I ever fell in love with was The Legend of Korra, so what do I know. Fun laughable adventures with a Hindu-American kid and his pet snake and the back up Harvey Beaks, I don’t know what to make of it. Kids my niece’s age ought to get it more than me.

Avatarex: Destroyer of Darkness (Graphic India) This is a preview look at some of the projects that Grant Morrison coming out from some publishers out in India. I like Grant’s work on the majors (and I’ve got his Wonder Woman Earth 2 graphic novel on my radar), but when he tries to go all George Harrison on me, I feel if I’m just better off in a corner by myself with a sitar and a copy of Autobiography of a Yogi, trying to play diatonic scales along to the entire four sides of Yes’ Tales From Topographic Oceans rather than him have trying to explain how we should be embracing the lame concept of superheroes who hail from Mumbai.

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2000 AD (Rebellion Riverside House) usually has the usual extra hodge-podge of British sci-fi adventure, but ups the ante this year (whilst discarding the usual comic magazine format) with digital  comics and music downloads. If you need to hear the final word on super hero movie competition, look no further than the funniest rip roaring Judge Dread story that gets this issue off to a running start. The Death Man story is a mini fun ride too.

Dream Jumper (Graphix/Scholastic Books) After years of experimenting with bringing graphic novels into the classroom (starting with Bone), Scholastic launches into a new series of light grade school suspense with the adventures of Ben and his imaginary quest to rescue his fellow classmates from a dream demon. Written by none other than actor Greg Grunberg (ABC’s Alias and NBC’s Heroes Reborn) and cartoonist Lucas Turnbloom. Very inventive excerpt read that certainly gets the J.J. Abrams Seal of Approval.

Junior Braves of the Apocalypse (Oni Press) – as the cover blurb says “Junior Braves is the Walking Dead for kids“. Boy scouts vs. zombies. Nothing here really worth screaming and shouting over the dead of silence.

The Tick (New England Comic Press) FINALLY! A Free Comic Book Day Tick Comic to call my very own. Every store I have been to on Free Comic Book Day has either run out or under ordered copies – but fret not Spoon believers – FOR THE MERE PRICE of postage: you can order the previous five editions to be delivered to your very own doorstep. An offer, I shall severely take advantage of that offer. Now if only, they would come up with cheap binders to store them in. The Tick never disappoints in super hero satire, with a three season animated series and one short lived sitcom behind him, The Tick jumps into new streaming television show territory when its’ new series debuts later on Amazon Prime. The first story in this edition parodies a Jonathan Hickman storyline from his early run of the Fantastic Four in which infinite versions of the Tick hold a private get together without inviting Arthur.

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HILDA (Nobrow) the tales of Hilda, a pubescent girl and her dog Twig hopscotch between the real world and the surreal world is in similar vein to what the Little Nemo in Slumberland comic strip used to be at the turn of twentieth century. Brilliant stuff. Even its’ two companion stories featuring Akissi, a modern African village kid and the anime influenced Fantasy Sports are worth a look see. This is stuff I should be cramming down my 11 old niece’s throat, who by the way hates comics.

March (Top Shelf/IDW Publishing) Hands down, one of the top Free Comic Book Day offerings of the year! I have read comics throughout my whole life that alerted me to trials of the human condition beginning in the late eighties with Maus by Art Speigelman,- the fall of the Jewish Holocaust,  Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse – which defined the gay movement. In the 2000’s, Fax from Sarajevo by Joe Kubert, a nail biter of a tale of a family narrowly escaping genocide. Now midway through the 2010s’ comes a preview excerpt of a very important graphic novel trilogy detailing the brutal desperation of standing for your right to be counted as a human being in the civil right movement as recounted by a person who actually was there to help make it happen written by none other than Congressman John Lewis, recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. This is the subject matter that more free comic book day editions should strive for. To teach and inspire.

The Stuff of Legend (Th3edworld Studios) Young boy is snatched from his bedroom bed and dragged into the darkness of his closet by the Boogeyman. It’s up to the boy’s pet puppy and his toys to rescue him. Where have I seen this movie before?

Comics Lab!!! (Z2) is a mish mash of independent projects coming out from this company.  The only thing I found worth while of mention is an advertisement for a project with pretty artwork called Legend ‘where cat technology rules, dog partner with hawks and humans may be the most beastly creatures of all’. Ok, to all selling points, but give me some story to go along with it.

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Doctor Who (Titan Books) Somehow I appreciated Doctor Who more when only I knew about it. Now that the show is an US phenomenon more so than a world phenomenon, the show has lost its’ appeal to me. I once went to a Doctor Who convention back in the mid-nineties at the Van Nuys airport and I was instantly repulsed by the multitude of disgusting smelly fat chicks that flooded the hotel lobby just for a glance at actor Sylvester McCoy and that repulsive experience changed my life. So I switched to Blake’s 7 and Red Dwarf fandom instead. I shall take this book and gift wrap it for my hygienic bereft gigantic roommate who couldn’t bend over to wipe a menstrual stain off a bathroom floor in order to save her life.

Strawberry Shortcake (IDW Publishing) I got the most astonished looks when people saw me reading this on the bus ride to work. I bet there’s an APB out for my arrest right now and I’ll be brought up on either proposed child endangerment charges or attempted bodily harm to a diabetic. I kind of got the message that every character in this universe has to be named after a sinful delectable dessert, but do each character have to have a pet with an equally dumb name. Seeing as how as this is marketed towards daddy’s little girls, expect a tsunami of parents’requests for an easy bake oven in your near future.

Archie (Archie Comics Publications) I have to admit, I wasn’t completely on board with the rejuvenated version of Archie to appeal to older readers and I’m kind of glad I stuck to my guns (although wandering around with a loaded pistol in a school hallway would certainly raise a red flag), because this more ‘realistic‘ approach doesn’t really appeal to me at all. The last thing I need in my life is to evoke memories of Parsippany High School social misfit flashbacks when looking at a comic book, even though I sort of identify with this souped up version of Jughead Jones as a cheap dime store morose douchebag.

Bongo Comics Free For All (Bongo Comics) What’s a Free Comic Book Day celebration without a free Simpsons comics. They never seem to disappoint. Although, this edition could have used a little Futurama air freshing.

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Serenity Firefly Class 03-K64 (Dark Horse) Quite honestly, Serenity is so passé as a space opera, that I’ve honestly given up trying to philosophize on why this is even still lingering around as a cult hit with only 14 episodes and one movie that basically eradicated nearly the entire cast. My hard earned 0 cents for this issues was plunked down for the appearance of Hellboy. Hellboy f%@king rules and the back up Aliens story wasn’t half bad either.

Boom! Studios 2016 Summer Blast (Boom Studios!) This is a shared book between three imprints all published under the auspices of Boom! Studios: Arachaia, Boom! Box, and kaboom! Depending on your tastes, your mileage may vary. There’s familiar licensed fare such as Adventure Time! and a preview look at a new teen girl detective series named Goldie Vance. I was kind of disappointed that Boom! didn’t spring this year for a hardcover of Archaia’s ware, but as per yearly, there’s a new Mouse Guard short story included by fan favorite David Peterson that never fails to disappoint.

Bob’s Burgers (Dynamite Entertainment) is a very charming witty animated show on FOX, although takes place on Coney Island, is somewhat very, very  popular in Los Angeles. So popular, that the entire voice cast sold out two live reading performances at the Wiltern Theater a couple of weeks ago. The show is also animated out there at a small studio called Bento Box in North Hollywood. Everyone involved with the making of this issue was signing over at Meltdown Comics, which was my second stop on my five store tour this year.

Suicide Squad (DC Comics) Like I mentioned before, some big companies such as Marvel or DC sometimes use Free Comic Book Day as a way to promote their theatrical counterparts. So rather than use Free Comic Book Day to push the company’s new make-over with Rebirth, a reprint of the first New 52 issue of Suicide Squad was used in its’ stead.

That’s all the time this month. Check back in a couple of weeks for part two and the rest of the reviews.

 

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