Comic books were the gateway drug that made me a lifelong reader; more on that later. Now, back to our story, already in progress:
Maybe you knew they were coming again for the seventh consecutive year, but they are closer than ever. They're on your planet! Soon, they will be in your country, your state, perhaps even your town. Just listen to the dramatic voiceover on this promotional video, and you'll begin to understand:
Saturday, May 3rd . . . heroes and villains . . . from across the universe . . . will unite for one goal . . . Free Comic Book Day.
Or travel to freecomicbookday.com for the graphic details, including a list of sponsors and a search tool for locating participating comic book stores near you.
There has been a wave of media coverage leading up to Saturday's festivities. I think columnist Drew Hendrickson at the Daily Aztec--San Diego State University's student newspaper--sums up the process nicely: "Here's how the day works: You show up to a participating comic book store, tell the nice clerk you're there for Free Comic Book Day, and he or she will give you a modest-size stack of comics (in varying genres) for free. That's it."
He also offers an intriguing long-range perspective on his own reading habits: "I tend to gravitate toward graphic novels because although they're essentially a giant comic book, they have the word 'novel' in them so I feel like I'm reading something important. Plus, if some poller came around looking into reading statistics, I'd look like a freaking genius with how many books I could claim."
Wired's blogger GeekDad notes that this weekend "we will descend en masse on our local specialty retailers, hopefully with our geeklings in tow, and emerge resplendent with swag."
And a piece in the Journal-Gazette, headlined "Drawing adults to comics stores," suggests comic book shops "these days cater as much as anything to adults who are still fond of reading stories of superheroes." Not breaking news to aficionados, perhaps, but Tracy Scott, owner of Books, Comics & Things, Fort Wayne, Ind., says the point of Free Comic Book Day is "largely to get people into comic book shops who don't know they exist."
Reading all the recent news items about FCBD made me recall, for the first time in many years, just how important a role comics played in my reading life. So I'll celebrate in a quiet, nostalgic way because a long time ago comics lured me into the magical world of words and images where I still work and play.
As a teenager back in the late Paleolithic era--aka the 1960s--I was a comics fanatic, one of those kids who knew the day each month that new issues arrived at the store. i was also, without realizing it, a prescient collector. Since my obsession happened to coincide with the rising popularity of the Marvel line, I bought the first couple dozen issues of new releases like Spider-Man and The Mighty Thor, as well as less well known titles like Rawhide Kid and Sgt. Fury & His Howling Commandos.
All extremely valuable collectibles now, I'm sure.
Those comics might have made me a rich man, but I treated them casually, as if simply reading was the prime directive. Naive, I know. Then I dispensed the collection to younger brothers during a high school "put away childish things" phase.
FCBD reminds me of all that.
I've also observed the phenomenal growth of graphic novel sales as a bookseller, and seen this category transcend age, gender and genre barriers. The shelving of Art Spiegelman's Maus and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis in history or biography/memoir sections means something, as does this week's New Yorker article on the septuagenarian comic book artist and editor who turned the 9/11 Commission Report into a graphic bestseller.
Recently, in an English course I teach at a local college, we compared Kafka's "The Hunger Artist" to R. Crumb's graphic adaptation of the story. One of my younger students--not a recreational user of the reading drug--later said that he loved both versions and planned to look closer at this "graphic novel stuff."
Who knows why we become the readers we do?
So, to all those adults who told me to get my nose out of comics and go play in the sun, I offer two bits of advice: Use plenty of sunscreen and have a happy Free Comic Book Day!--Robert Gray (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)