I want an Executive Assistant: Iris of My Own
— or —
I didn’t even know what the term “comic crawl” meant until Allison brought it up
This last Saturday was Free Comic Book Day. The idea is you can go to any or all of the area’s participating comic book shops and pick up a selection of comics for free. (At the Comic Book Shop — either of the two local stores, Northtown or North Division — the limit was three free books each.) Having a dark, conspiratorial soul, my first thought when hearing about this was, “What are the subsurface mechanics of Free Comic Book Day?” After all, very few things in this world are free. And when things are free, there’s most often a reason — though the reason isn’t necessarily obvious.
So — a little investigation seemed in order.
First off, they’re not exactly free. As part of an industry wide promotional effort, the “free” books are costing the local retailer something like ten to fifty cents a copy. Secondly, the primary distributor for the comic book industry, Diamond Comic Distributors, reportedly donates the distribution cost of all “free” comics “ordered” by the local retailers. And thirdly, the comic book publishing companies are supposed to be taking a hit themselves when it comes to the actual cost of creating and printing the books to be “given away.”
Having qualified the term “free”, the next thing to look for is the why.
It’s a promotion. It’s an advertising gimmick — though one of the better I’ve seen. It’s intended to acquaint or reacquaint the local populous to the fact that comic books still exist, and that you have local retailers who offer all kinds of comic related services to people interested in this kind of thing. And this promotion came about because — in the year 2001 the comic book industry agreed to an ongoing promotional campaign called Free Comic Book Day just to get your attention.
As for how it works; publishers are broken into three levels related to their size within the industry; that being based on the number of titles they published and their market share of overall sales. The three levels are labeled the gold level, the silver level, and the bronze level. Within the promotional package offer to retailers are a set of compulsory gold level comics — meaning when you (the retailer) buy this year’s promotional package you’ll be required to take “X” number of the gold level titles. The gold package contains 10 different titles this year. The upside is that since these are the big guns among publishers they can offer their promotional issues to the retailer at the lowest per issue cost — allegedly. And the titles they’re putting in the gold level package are, according to sales statistics, more likely to be what the public likes. The silver level is optional to the retailers — or at least it appears to be from what sense I can make of the available data. That means any given retailer can, for his local promotion, choose what he wants to buy from the list of silver level titles. In other words, he makes his own judgment as to what patrons in his area might want. This year 27 titles were offered to retailers in this category. And lastly, the publishers who fall into the bronze level; well, Diamond will distribute their stuff if they're willing to bear all the cost themselves — including what would normally by passed on to the retailer.
As for what the public is getting for free; some of the comics are reprints or compilations of stories from prior issues. And some are promotional materials containing teasers (portions of ongoing stories) from current editions. The latter are neat in that they give you a good sense of the art quality, story lines, and maturity levels that any given publisher attunes his products too.
Regardless, all the titles selected for the FCBD have to be suitable for display to the general public — meaning non-offensive to normal sensibilities (and of course the term “normal” can be interpreted as automatically excluding most sci-fi and fantasy fans).
I heard about FCBD from Allison — current leader of our local group, the Spokane Science Fiction & Fantasy Community. Allison was arranging a “comic book crawl” in which members of the group would move in a pillaging mass from shop to shop, picking up anything not nailed down. Now this is something us coupon clipping retired people can relate to.
As near as I can tell, the term comic book crawl was derived from the common pseudonym for bar-hopping — namely pub-crawling. And as those of us willing to be honest about the addictive quality of comic book art can attest, that’s an apt derivative.
I didn’t go with the group this year. My wife has a cast on her foot, meaning each stop requires pulling the wheelchair out of the trunk, assembling it, and disassembling when returning to the car. And then too, spending too much time with her foot down causes it to swell painfully. So we only went to Northtown’s Comic Book Shop — as did a lot of other people; though I'm uncertain of the "only" part in their cases.
From what I've seen the Comic Book Shop usually has two or three “customers” at any given time. We arrived there a few minutes after the 10 AM opening and there were maybe thirty people in the place. Just outside the entrance Craig, the chain’s owner (Can two shops be considered a chain?), was slicing open boxes and stacking the contents on a table. He was admonishing his helper with, “Try to keep the ‘mature’ material toward the back of the table — away from the little kids.”
Craig look stressed. But thinking back, I can’t recall many small business owners who don’t look chronically stressed. After all, from what I’ve read he wasn’t giving away free stuff, he was giving away stuff for free.
We picked up our three “free” comics — our basis for selection being something for the grandson and something for the grandpa.
The book I selected for myself was Aspen Publishing’s World of Aspen 2011 — one of those aforementioned “promotional” comics. This issue previewed a few of the publisher’s titles — specifically Soulfire, Charismagic, Fathom, Broken Pieces, Lady Mechanika, and Executive Assistant: Iris. I follow the last two of those, and was particularly interested in this “free” issue’s cover — featuring a drawing of Lady Mechanika — and its contents which include a preview of several upcoming Executive Assistant: Iris spinoffs.
Even though all the “free” comics are clearly marked with the FCBD logo, there’s an aftermarket for these too. Just to point out that there are varying degrees of free; though most FCBD titles have no real collector value, a few of last years crop are currently selling for as much as five dollars a book. As a result of this speculative aftermarket, you can currently buy this year’s entire gold level set online.
Buy and hold — the epitaph of many an amateur comic book speculator.
Despite the usual mercenary undercurrent of it all, I have a feeling everybody enjoyed Free Comic Book Day — even Craig. Hopefully it served its function of promoting his local comic book shops. Those shops may be a bit geeky, with their patrons on occasion appearing a bit spooky, but fandom in itself only exist to be fun. Meaning none of the geeky or spooky aspects should be taken seriously — despite what any given spooky geek might prefer you believe. And as to what degree certain people can profit from all this, the market will decide. Regardless, the first part of allowing consumers to make a market decision is to make them aware of the products available, and that’s the entire idea behind the Free Comic Book Day.
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