Don’t Forget to Pick Up Your Free Comics! (They’re Free!)
Free Comic Book Day, which takes place annually the first Saturday of May (TODAY!), comes as a response to one of the biggest questions facing the comic book industry: how to bring in new readers, which I’m pretty sure is an even bigger problem in comics than in book publishing. The event is all about giving new readers a chance to dip a toe into comics and check out their local comic book store. Free stuff is an awesome incentive, and just maybe while the newbies are in the store they’ll have a look around and find something on the shelves that interests them.
(In Bill Willinghams’ Fables, Snow White, the Big Bad Wolf, Pinocchio, and a whole community of fairy tales exiled from their homelands work, play, and plot against each other in modern-day New York City. Also, James Jean’s covers are abso-freakin’-lutely beautiful, especially as you move further into the series.)
There are quite a few misconceptions about comics that stop potential readers from considering giving graphic novels a try before the thought can even fully take root in their minds. I often still feel like a comics newbie myself because I came to comics later in life than a lot of diehards who were seemingly born with a comic book in hand. I don’t remember thinking about comics much before I got into them, so I can’t say what misconceptions I held about them, but I do know that once I started reading them I feel in love with comics as a medium for dynamic storytelling.
(Set in the 1920s, in Mat Johnson‘s Incognegro a fair-skinned Black man travels to Mississippi while passing as a white man in order to uncover the truth behind his brother’s arrest.)
One of the biggest misconceptions is that comics are only about superheroes. It’s true that in American comics, super heroes make up a big bulk of what gets published. According to Diamond Comic Distributors, Marvel and DC, from whence we get the majority of our most famous and beloved superheroes, accounted for 68.62% of the comics sold in 2010 (38.23% and 30.39% respectively). At 5.17%, comics publisher Dark Horse comes in at #3 on the market share list. But even Marvel and DC publish more than just superheroes. While superheroes dominate the Top 500 Comic Books list, if you look at the Top 500 Graphic Novels, you’ll find everything from zombies to organized crime.
(When people make the case that comics are able to cover serious material and should be read by adults, Maus in which the artist Art Spiegelman tells his father’s story of surviving the holocaust, inevitable will come into the conversation.)
Then there are the other publishers Dark Horse, Image, BOOM! Studios, Oni, Slave Labor Graphics, First Second, Top Shelf and others who have set specific goals to do things differently than the Marvel and DC way, and to offer comics readers more diversity.
(A group of teens take on L.A.’s nightclub scene in Poseurs by Deborah Vankin.)
Some folks reading this may already know what I’m talking about, but maybe the best way to illustrate my point is to mention some movies - the great equalizers, movies - adapted from comic books and graphic novels, keeping the list non-super hero. (Not that I have anything against superhero movies. I’m totally going to see Thor today!)
In alphabetical order:
30 Days of Night
Art School Confidential
Bullet Proof Monk
Cowboys Vs. Aliens
A History of Violence
Human Target (TV show)
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Men in Black
Road to Perdition
Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
V for Vendetta
The Walking Dead (TV show)
Quality of movie and faithfulness to original material aside, this list is just to say, hey, if you went and saw (or plan to see) any of these movies, there are comics out there for you. Or if you saw a preview for one of them and thought, “Hmm, that movie looks interesting. If only it looked like it had good writing, acting and directing,” the same can still be said—because everyone knows the original material is almost always better than the film or television adaption.
Then, of course, there’s manga. Japan simply has a completely different mindset when it comes to comics and because of that manga is wonderfully diverse. If Japanese comics were dispersed among all sections of a books store, you’d find something in every genre.
(In the suspense-filled Monster by Naoki Urasawa, surgeon Dr. Kenzo Tenma travels Germany hunting down the serial killer whose life he saved ten-years ago, uncovering many dark truths along away.]
I’d also like to briefly address the misconception that comics are just for kids/too graphic for kids. There are comics for ALL ages. From light and fun to dark and philosophical, there is literally something for everyone in comics.
(The Sandman aka Morpheus aka Dream peeks into the lives of everyone from the common man to the fading gods of old to Death, who is just one of his large-than-life siblings. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is comics classic.)
All I’m asking, as someone who loves comics in all its forms, is that folks don’t let the misconception of “Comics aren’t about anything I’d ever read” be the reason for not giving comic books and graphic novels a try.
In the dystopian world of Ice, a webcomic by Faith Erin Hick, Great Britain is in a state of constant winter, and the divide between rich and poor has become a gaping chasm. Webcomics are especially awesome because they are always free!)
So if you do take advantage of Free Comic Book Day (C’mon! It’s FREE!), take a minute to look around the comics shop. You might find something you like.