Free Comic Book Day, the comics industry's yearly attempt to bring new readers into the fold, is 15 years old. It's a peevish teen that smells of Speed Stick and Clearasil and a practiced, performative surliness. It demands that you drop it off a block away from school.
For the past eight years, I've written a preview of the comics on offer on Free Comic Book Day for NPR. So I'm kind of like Free Comic Book Day's annoying third-grade little brother, always chasing after him and telling everyone how cool he is.
And he — it — is very cool: Once again, this Saturday, if you walk into your neighborhood comics shop, they'll give you some free comics.
You can find your closest shop by typing your ZIP code into the Comics Shop Locator on the www.freecomicbookday.com page.
The usual caveats apply:
Not every comics shop participates in Free Comic Book Day — use the Comics Shop Locator to make sure your local shop will be taking part.
Publishers print special Free Comic Book Day editions of the books that will be handed out on Saturday.
There are 50 different FCBD books this year.
Not every shop will offer all 50 titles. Some stores lay them out and let you pick the ones you want; other stores hand you a sampler pack.
If you do get your choice of books, the mini reviews below might help you find the ones you're likely to like.
If you don't get a choice, hey: free comics.
While you're there, buy something.
No, seriously? Buy something.
Buy SOMEthing. The comics shops still have to pay for the "free" FCBD books they stock, and they're counting on the increased foot traffic to lift sales, so be a human being. And buy something.
How will you know WHAT you should buy? Ask someone on staff at the comics shop. It's that simple. Tell them what kind of movies you like, what kind of books, what TV shows you binge on. They're trained to make recommendations in line with your tastes.
As someone who has now looked at eight crops of FCBD books over the years, I can say that year's selection is heartening and reflects the (incremental and molasses-slow) progress the comics industry's been making over the past few years. By which I mean: realizing that there's an audience besides horny straight fanboys.
This year, you'll find more all-ages titles than ever before, fewer superheroes, and more books featuring female protagonists, practically none of whom are busty warrior-wenches who choose to engage in strenuous melee combat while wearing corsets. (When I say "practically no," I mean there's one.) The trade-off: more books tied to licensed properties, which are always a mixed bag.
Publishers approach Free Comic Book Day in a variety of ways. Some FCBD comics offer a whistle-stop tour though a given publisher's many titles — let's call these samplers. Others present a self-contained story, or a selection of stories, about one specific character — let's call these singles.
Samplers are a canny marketing move, but in casting such a wide net they can offer a less-than-satisfying reading experience. Sometimes you want the steak, not the charcuterie board, you know?
Singles give you a truer sense of a given comic's storytelling bona fides — what can its creative team accomplish in 23 pages? — but there's more pressure on them to deliver.
The FCBD site groups the books on offer every year using a rating system that parents may find helpful, though there's an awful lot of wiggle room built in. Which makes sense: After all, you know your kids and what they're ready for better than any publisher could. So if, say, the distinction between a TEEN and a TEEN+ book seems a bit nebulous, here's a handy guide to clip and stick to the refrigerator:
As a general rule:
ALL-AGES: It's fine.
TEEN: Don't worry.
TEEN+: Worry a little.
MATURE: You let your kid read this? Monster!
Got all that? OK. Let's start with the ALL-AGES comics.
Dark Lily & Friends
Genre: Fantasy/Science Fiction
Anything I Need To Know Going In? Four excerpts: Dark Lily is a gothy moon princess, Monster Elementary has li'l versions of Universal monsters navigating public school, Rocket Queen and the Wrench is the story of a teen tech-superhero and her male sidekick, and Mage, Inc. features a young woman interning at a magic business. In a canny move, the publisher includes a brief introduction to each excerpt that gives readers the basics.
Anything Else? Rocket Queen and the Wrench would be a great name for a D.C. hardcore band. Also, Monster Elementary is a riot.