Not-So-Free Comic Book Day

The annual celebration of pen-and-ink is a great opportunity for local comic retailers hoping to make year-long customers out of one-day shoppers

Once a year, every comic book retailer in the Old Pueblo participates in the annual Free Comic Book Day.

It all started 13 years ago, when 20th Century Fox's X-Men movie released and Sony Picture's Spider-Man was in production. Joe Field, owner of the Will Eisner Spirit Award winning comic book store Flying Colors, inspired the idea that comic retailers should give away free comics to gain media coverage and promote the art in his former column printed by the Comics & Games Retailer periodical in 2001. The idea grew into a widely celebrated shopping event that is said to have helped independent comic stores stay in business.

Last year, North American retailers gave away 4.6 million comic books. The misconception is that the 60 comic titles are free, but they're not. The retailers have to pay for every single copy.

There are five comic book stores in Tucson that will be handing out free reading material in hopes that they will come back and start reading comics regularly.

"Free Comic Book Day brings more traffic into my shop than any other day of the year so I'm grateful and fortunate to be able to use the event to give back to the community where I live," says Charlie Harris. While it's not uncommon for the sole employee and owner of Charlie's Comic Books to host events at his shop, on those occasions, Harris and local artists often team-up to raise money for charities like EMERGE, Red Cross and various local non-profits; consequently, Free Comic Book Day will be no exception. Last year, Harris held an art auction and raffled graphic novels, action figures and variant comics to raise money for the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. The shop collectively raised $600 and 60 pounds of food, according to Harris. This year, husband and wife power art couple Beatrix and Ernesto Romero, Tucson native/French based artist Dan Christensen, local comic book publisher John Chihak, Orbital Decay's Jacob Breckenridge and Mike Esham and will donate original art that features comic book family trios to raise money for the Salvation Army.

"(The Salvation Army) are a wonderful organization that helps people that have fallen outside of the government programs," Harris said. "They feed the hungry and give shelter to the homeless."

Fantasy Comics, Tucson's oldest comic book store, went through some drastic changes last year. Matt Sams purchased the store from the founder Tom Struck. Before Sams started working for Fantasy, he was a behavioral health technician. "I spend thousands of dollars on Free Comic Book Day," Sams said. Sams' plans on flying out two comic book artists: the artist of IDW's Blue Yonder Zack Howard and New York Times best-selling artist Jolyon Yates. Yates is the penciller behind unexpected success Papercutz's Ninjago. The Night of the Nindroids series, based on a line of LEGO toys, has sold 2 million copies in sales, beating Robert Kirkman's Walking Dead. Local artists Tim Champion, Eric Schock and Jason Batts will be sketching and signing in the parking lot because of the constant growth of the event. Sams says that Smiling Dog Rescue will be on hand taking donations and will have pit bulls for adoption. Fraternal Order Police Hall will be on-site fingerprinting children for free. Sams says he will be trying to raise money and collect nonperishable items for the Community Food Bank.

Heroes and Villains has a full day of activities planned. There are a lot of family friendly arts and crafts for the kids like making your very own Captain America shields to lightsaber Popsicle Koozies. Cosplay is encouraged with a photo booth on hand to capture your finest costumed moments. In the parking lot, representatives from 91.3 KXCI will be playing music and You Sly Dog Food Truck will have food for sale. H&V owner Mike Camp said last year the store gave out more than 7,000 free comics and anticipate to hand out 10,000 this year. "The success of comics in film, video games and other media has created an increased interest by folks that are new to comics," Camp said in an interview via email. "Hopefully we'll be able to help them (new comic fans) start on their path to a new form of entertainment."

R-Galaxy owners Rick and Maritza Keefe curtailed their stock and relocated their business since last year's Free Comic Book Day. "The primary reason was the expense," Rick said. Since the move, however, things have been looking up, according to the couple. "Much more of the money is going into our pockets than at the old place. We were just meeting expenses, and we weren't having much of a personal life. I come to work with a smile instead of a face of anguish and worry." R-Galaxy is just now stabilizing after the economic collapse in 2008. "Not only will they get six free comic book day comics (of their choosing) they will also get $5 off any comic," Rick said. With the addition of trivia and costume contests, R-Galaxy is making an effort to stretch the excitement past the one day burst of commerce. "We are celebrating he whole weekend .... We don't just make it one day."

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