.Excelsior! Local Retailers Stock Up for Free Comic Book Day

Up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a couple dozen boxes towering over a corner of Atlantis Fantasy World!

Normally, this inventory would already have been entered into the system and on the shelf ready for busy hands to flip through. However, this week’s haul is poised and ready for the comic shop’s busiest day of the year: Free Comic Book Day.

“In 2007 we ordered 4,800 comics to give away,” Atlantis Fantasy World owner Joe Ferrara explains.

“This year we have over 8,800. So it’s grown and grown and grown over the years.”

Since its inaugural launch in 2007, Free Comic Book Day is a staple in the industry. Held on the first Saturday of the month, the event gives readers a preview of publishers’ next big storylines and shows non-readers that comics aren’t just for kids. This year alone there are more than 2,300 retailers across the country giving away up to 48 different titles.

And it all started right here in the Bay Area with Joe Field of Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff in Concord.

“Joe went to work one day and there was a line around the block,” Ferrara states.

“He asked what was going on and they said it was the day Baskin Robbins gave away a free scoop of ice cream. So he said, ‘If they can do it, we can do it.’”

This year, just as it was in 2007, FCBD also falls on May the 4th, which—officially since 2011—has been recognized as International Star Wars Day.

“It only happens every few years,” Ferrara says. “And it’s going to be even more exciting because Downtown Santa Cruz is having their yearly Kids’ Day event on the same day.”

To celebrate, Atlantis Fantasy World is offering 40 percent off all Funko Pops and 10 percent off all Star Wars graphic novels in addition to free comics. Rebel Scum beware, because the 501st Golden Gate Garrison—a ragtag group of storm trooper cosplayers from the Star Wars universe—will be on site to keep things in an orderly fashion.

A couple blocks over, Comicopolis on Front Street is similarly surging with excitement.

“We’ve participated in every single one,” Comicopolis co-owner Johnnie Arnold says of FCBD.

“We usually have a little bit of a line in the morning but by the first hour we’re pretty packed. It’s usually one of our biggest non-holiday days of the year.”

As for the books that will be handed out, readers will have a smorgasbord of different titles from the familiar—like The Avengers, Star Wars and Pokémon—to the more obscure, like The World of James Tynion IV. Those looking for nostalgia need look no further than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or the G.I. Joe and Transformers crossover, Energon Universe.

Arnold says Comicopolis is busy going through the more than 1,000 free comic books they ordered, and customers should look out for upcoming sale announcements.

“We call it ‘Nerd Christmas,’ because there’s something for everyone. Everybody leaves happy, and it’s so festive,” Atlantis Fantasy World operations manager Trisha Wolfe exclaims.

This is Wolfe’s 18th Free Comic Book Day and she has watched it grow into the unofficial national holiday it’s become.

“Comic Book Day lets us fulfill our mission statement,” Ferrara says, turning to Wolfe before asking, “Which is what?”

“People will be happier when they leave than when they came in,” she says in earnest.

Her colleague, inventory manager Nate Brand—who will be marking his 14th Free Comic Book Day this year—has fond memories of past holidays.

“In 2019 it was another Free Comic Book Day, Star Wars Day lineup,” he recalls with a laugh.

“And this little kid came in dressed as a stormtrooper. He was so in awe of this entire rack of free comics and the other stormtroopers walking around that he dropped his helmet on the floor and said, ‘This is the coolest place ever!’”

Since the inception of comic books, there has always been a market for titles aimed at adults.

Early pre-code (before 1954) horror books contained themes of the macabre, while many Marvel comics of the 1960s and 1970s were aimed at college-age audiences. Despite that, comic books have historically been seen as either for kids, or as potentially profitable collectibles.

Today’s comic books, however, are finally getting the credit they’re due as viable sources of entertainment, often with philosophical and existential themes. Ferrara says it all changed in 1992 when D.C. published Superman #75, also known as “The Death of Superman.”

“That was the first time the media talked about the editorial content of a comic,” he remembers. “That was really a quantum leap for comics.”

That same year, Art Spiegelman won the Pulitzer Prize for his graphic novel, Maus, an autobiographical story about being the child of Holocaust survivors and the generational trauma surrounding the horrors of war.

Since then, authors like Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Alan Moore, James Tynion IV and others have written content that continues to show the diversity of comics and graphic novels with award recognitions like the Hugo and Nebula.

“I’ve spoken to librarians who say, ‘I’m afraid [if they read graphic novels] they won’t read real books,’” Ferrara states. “And I have to say, ‘Excuse me, these are real books. Have you ever read Persepolis?’”

Michael Mitchell, a lifetime Atlantis customer turned employee, agrees.

“You’re reading a movie,” he says of today’s books. “It’s an escape from everything in the world and provides you the enjoyment of an awesome story.”

Thankfully for Santa Cruz’s young minds, Atlantis Fantasy World and the Santa Cruz Public Library have a long history of working together to get kids reading more. Through the library’s summer reading program, AFW has given away $92,000 in comics and graphic novels since 2008.

Back at Comicopolis, Arnold touts Free Comic Book Day as “a great way to get younger kids into the shop and get them reading.” He asserts, “Our biggest market right now is selling ‘Under Teen’ graphic novels to the younger kids.”

Today, comics have taken modern society by storm with the help of billion-dollar franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fans of all ages can find virtually anything about their favorite comics from the books themselves to movies, television shows, podcasts, worldwide conventions, clothing lines and much, much more.

Heed this word of caution, however: It’s an incredibly addicting hobby for anyone who enjoys having complete sets of things, shiny art, or twisted tales of the good, the bad and the weird.

Brand sums it up nicely.

“There’s something for everyone. Comics are a medium like television or film. It’s a format and an accessible one at that. For people that tell me they aren’t into comics I say, ‘Give me five minutes and I’ll find something you’ll be into.’”


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