In May each year, comic book shops around the world participate in a one day event called Free Comic Book Day. For me, this year was my eighth year of going into the city to take part, and the first time I’d been on my own.
Free Comic Book Day happens on the first Saturday in May each year, and comic book shops offer a selection of free comics to patrons, usually without even making a purchase! Often it’s accompanied by a bit of a festival or celebration which the stores throw to try and encourage visitors to lay down some cash, and get involved in the day in various ways, such as by dressing up (cosplaying), or getting a caricature drawn of themselves.
Like last year, I was feeling pretty disillusioned by the whole thing this year due to various factors: having been to so many now, and visiting comic book stores on a regular basis. Also, the lineup of free comics announced for this year didn’t really contain many that got me excited. So I wasn’t too enthusiastic about going, plus none of my friends were interested this year. So I took it easy, and decided to go in a bit later and get out earlier.
It’s also worth mentioning that since last FCBD, one of the four comic book stores in Melbourne’s CBD has closed down: Classic Comics. This was a pretty big shock when it was announced in mid-2018 and has left a pretty big impact in a number of ways. For one, Classic Comics was the most competitively priced of Melbourne’s comic book shops. It was a small, family run business and always had a good spread for FCBD. It will be missed.
So I headed into the city for just after 9am, knowing that it usually quietens down by around then, so I wouldn’t need to line up for too long. Boy, was I wrong.
As I arrived at about 9:20am, I could see people walking away with Minotaur bags full of comics. There was no one outside, but the line inside snaked through pretty much the whole store and seemed to move extremely slowly. It ended up taking just under an hour to reach the front of the line.
Minotaur’s setup was essentially the same as every other year. The first 30 people in line got a bundle of all of this year’s FCBD comics, and the first 150 got a goodie bag with their selection of comics. Each person could pick 5 comics from the available range, which seemed to include most comics on this year’s FCBD list, with family-friendly comics marked as such. However, on the board where they displayed all the free comics available, a few were missing this year. Initially I just assumed that those comics weren’t available, but I heard a woman after me ask about one of them, and it turned out that they were just in boxes still. This was especially disappointing as the missing comics seemed to all be indie titles, which many people wouldn’t realise weren’t there. Given one of the main purposes of FCBD is to promote the art, in all its variety and diversity to people who wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to it, this was a pretty unfortunate and disappointing occurrence.
Minotaur also had 15% off full price sale over the course of the day.
After wandering around Minotaur for far too long, I decided to give Comics-R-Us a go, as they almost never have a long line. I got there just after 11am, and was through the line in 5 minutes or less.
Comics-R-Us too used their typical setup, where people pick the comics they want from a display board, with one staff member serving them, and another staff member picking the comics out and bagging them. This double-staff situation is mainly only necessary because there are so many comics with the same or similar names on the board that need clarification. This year, they had returned to letting people choose 3 comics each. The selection was dominated by older FCBD comics, along with various ‘true believer’ editions which are supposed to sell for a dollar, so it’s always nice to see them as an option.
It was noticeably subdued in Comics-R-Us, with less decorations or festivities than other years. I overheard one of the staff mention that this was a conscious decision, although I didn’t catch why, and they even recommended visiting All-Star Comics for their costume competition.
Although I didn’t actually visit All-Star Comics, this year was the first time I’d checked out their Artists Alley, which they put on each year on FCBD. And the name is fairly apt; it was literally an alley full of artists doing caricatures or drawing requests, and I think a few were signing art. Located in the alley inside 333 Collins, it was a bit cramped, with queues taking up all the walking space in spots. Although, it was good to be in an enclosed space, out of the rain and wind.
I also observed All-Star from the outside, and the line looked a little shorter than about the same time of day last year. It looked like they were using the same queueing system as last year too, with 3 phases of queue, although they seemed to be moving relatively quickly. I also saw they again employed the use of little flyers listing all the comics on offer, so people could make their decision while in the line. I like this system, and it has interesting ramifications for the other comic book shops around the city. Once someone has visited All-Star, they have a list of comics they want and that should be available. In theory, this allows these people to move through the other stores more quickly and decisively as well. When a store’s offerings differ from this, this difference is made obvious, for better or worse.
In the end, I managed to pick up 9 new comics, with no duplicates this year. However, of the 6 or so comics I was interested in, I only picked up 4.
As I’ve said many times before, I highly recommend visiting a few comic book shops on Free Comic Book Day. It’s a fun time, and you end up with free comics! What more could you want!
To Infinity and Beyond,