There’s no doubt MCU fans everywhere are going to be hyped out of their minds after they see the nerd-gasm that is Captain America: Civil War this weekend, and the absolute best way to keep the hype train rolling is to celebrate Free Comic Book Day this Saturday, May 7th, at your local comic book shop.
Not only can you pick up and read Mark Millar’s original Civil War series from the comics (it’s really darn good), but you can help yourself to some F-R-E-E new comics from the industry’s biggest publishers, including Marvel, DC, Image, IDW, Dark Horse and more. It’s a smorgasbord of geeky goodness and the closest thing comic book fans have to a national holiday, and it all started with one man.
Free Comic Book Day was brainstormed by comics retailer Joe Field, who proposed the idea in an article published in an industry magazine in 2001.
“The column got published in July and we had an industry meeting about it that October,” says the Field of the event’s inception. “From there, it was decided to do [FCBD] on the first Saturday in May 2002, attached to Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie.”
Little did comic book fans know, those first couple years of the millennium would mark the beginnings of the superhero-movie phenomenon that’s dominated the box office to this day and shows no signs of slowing down. The early aughts also saw an upturn in artistic quality in the comics industry, and retailers like Field needed a platform to champion the exciting stories filling up the shelves.
“The publishers started to be more concentrated on content rather than gimmicks. There was a renewed sense of optimism. The problem was, we had no invitation to tell everybody, ‘Come in and check this stuff out, because it’s really worth it.’”
Free Comic Book Day turned out to be just the thing the comics industry needed: As comic book movies surged, the popularity of the FCBD followed suit, to the point where, today, it’s a global celebration.
“It’s the world’s largest comic books-related event,” says Field with a warm smile. “This year, there will be in excess of 1.5 million people attending worldwide in about 65 countries and 2,300 comic shops.”
Each of those shops celebrates Free Comic Book Day differently, but few do it bigger and better than Field, who hosts upwards of 1100 comic book enthusiasts every year at his shop, Flying Colors Comics in Concord, California. Throughout the day, families, friends, avid collectors and new readers young and old line up by the hundreds to get their hands on the free offerings ripe for the picking, sharing the joy of reading comics with their geeky brethren and taking selfies with poor Captain America cosplayers sweating their butts off under the hot California sun.
Despite spectacular turnouts at shops like Flying Colors all over the world, Field is realistic about the fact that comic books are relatively small business compared to other forms of entertainment.
“It’s funny, [comics are] kind of the flea on the elephant’s butt in entertainment. Hollywood is so much bigger, video games are so much bigger. Everything’s bigger than comics. The thing is, all of the biggest ideas come from comics.”
It’s true: Movies based on comic books have been breaking box office records left and right as of late (even the bad ones…*cough*), and Captain America: Civil War is sure to continue that trend. But experiencing the stories of characters like Tony Stark and Steve Rogers on the pages of a comic book offers levels of richness and engagement no other medium can even sniff. Why, then, have people still not warmed up to comic books when millions flock to these same characters on the big screen?
“There’s something of a disconnect between people who are passive movie-watchers and those people who are more involved comic readers,” says Field. “Comic book readers are something like a film director. You’re putting the voices to the characters, you’re filling in the gaps between the panels, [you control] how fast you read…all of that is with the reader. In a movie, all of the work is done. It’s much more of an active experience to be a comics reader. That might be what holds us back from being as popular as video games or movies. It does require something extra.”
This divide between many moviegoers and comics is exactly why Free Comic Book Day is such a crucial pop-culture bridge. This weekend, people can go out and watch Cap and Iron Man duke it out in theaters, and then get dragged to the local comic shop by geeks like you and me, where they’ll find a whole new, amazing way to get lost in the larger Marvel Universe.
“Marvel has two free comics [available] for Free Comic Book Day. One is a lead-in to the new Civil War 2 series, which is a sequel to the blockbuster series they did a number of years ago,” says Field. “The other one is a new Captain America comic. After the last couple of years in which Steve Rogers has not been Captain America in the comics, he’s finally back. It’s a reintroduction of the classic Captain America.”
The offerings extend far beyond Marvel, however, with a whopping total of fifty free comics available to choose from come Saturday. Titan comics is providing a Doctor Who special, there’s a Love & Rockets sampler from Fantagraphics Books, DC’s serving up a new adventure with the Suicide Squad, and Image Comics is offering all-ages spook-fest Camp Midnight, written by Big Hero 6 creator Steven T. Seagle.
Field also notes that a certain square-chinned geek icon will have a distinct presence in this year’s FCBD line-up.
“[In a way,] this is Nathan Fillion’s Free Comic Book Day,” says Field. “There are two books [available to pick up] that feature his characters. There’s his online series, Con Man, from Automatic Publishing, which is making its FCBD debut. Then, there’s a Serenity story in the Dark Horse book. We’re hoping all of his four-and-a-half million Twitter followers come in that day.”
Everyone’s going to have a lot of superhero-inspired fun this weekend, and the excitement is sure to continue in comic shops across all over the globe. As the father of Free Comic Book Day, Mr. Field has but one request of those joining in on the festivities.
“I think it would be really cool if everybody who goes to see Captain America: Civil War would take a mental photo of the original creators who are thanked in the closing credits and seek out their work at a local comic shop. We’ll guide you through it.”