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What Is Free Comic Book Day?

May 03, 2011

An olive branch from a once-maligned industry? A chance for some free promotion? A push for youth literacy? Now in its ninth year, the annual Free Comic Book Day is a bit of all those things and more. Mostly, though, it's a fun chance to get some free reading material.

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By Eric Garneau

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In the long-ago time of the 1950s, a psychiatrist named Frederic Wertham wrote a book called The Seduction of the Innocent that cast some serious aspersions on the comic book industry. Comics were a medium that vindicated criminals, he said. They encouraged juvenile delinquency. Batman and Robin made pedophilia okay!

Sensationalistic? Certainly. Yet in some respects comic books have never fully recovered from those accusations, especially in some academic circles. However, many teachers and librarians have begun to embrace the medium, especially in the past decade. That's been bolstered by both an increase in high-quality, appropriate graphic novels for a younger audience, as well as more education professionals speaking out about the academic benefit of comics.

That atmosphere provides the backdrop for Free Comic Book Day (FCBD), an industry tradition that's grown every year since its beginning in 2002. Most independent comic shops across the country participate in FCBD, which means no matter where you live there's a pretty good chance you can take advantage of this fantastic event.

Here's the gist of it. On FCBD, most comic publishers elect a book produced by their company to be given away for free at participating shops. They sell massive quantities of these books to retailers for mere pennies, and the retailers turn around and give them away for free to any customers who visit their stores. Various shops may have different policies limiting the number of free books available, or they may request a charitable donation for every book after the first one or two, but they're obligated to give every customer at least one free comic.

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In addition, many stores put on special events to help pack people in. It's not uncommon for shops to have sales, creator appearances, costume contests and the like. Visit FreeComicBookDay.com to find stores in your area that are participating and learn about their special events.

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Since its inception, FCBD has fallen on the first Saturday of every May, which this year happens to be May 7. Conveniently, this usually lines up with a major comic book movie release, so it's even easier to remember (this year, it's Thor).

FCBD is geared towards family participation, so if you've got young ones at home, bring them out! Chances are kids will get more enjoyment from a free issue of Amazing Spider-Man than their parents will anyway. That's not to say, however, that adults have nothing to gain from FCBD. For instance, comics publisher IDW's free book, entitled Locke & Key, is written by Joe Hill, son of Stephen King and author of the short story collection 20th Century Ghosts as well as the acclaimed novel Heart-Shaped Box.

Here's a sampling of the books available at your local store for this year's FCBD:

  • The Amazing Spider-Man
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender/Star Wars: The Clone Wars
  • Betty & Veronica
  • Darkwing Duck/Chip and Dale, Rescue Rangers
  • Green Lantern
  • The Smurfs
  • Kung-Fu Panda/Richie Rich
  • Locke & Key
  • Mouse Guard/The Dark Crystal

Remember to get out on Saturday, May 7 for a day of fun! It's a great way to get kids - and kids of all ages - reading.

Check back the rest of the week for interviews with professionals involved in Free Comic Book Day!

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