Free Comic Book Day is Magical. It’s Also a Lot. Is it Worth It?

I love Free Comic Book Day.

What’s not to like? Free Comic Book Day is — as the owner of Third Eye Comics, Steve Anderson, put it — the comic book holiday. It’s like Christmas for comics, except what’s under the tree are free issues filled with promise for both today and tomorrow. It isn’t just a day at my local shop, Bosco’s; it’s an event that comes complete with a high school band, dice games to earn prizes or discounts, and a shop filled with joyous customers. I typically try to go as early as possible just to soak in the good vibes.

My side of the equation is easy, though. I just show up, collect my free comics, chat with fellow comic fans, and have a great time while I do.

It’s not as simple for the comic shops.

For them, it’s a marathon made of sprints, with wave after wave of customers looking to acquire free comics that aren’t free to shops 9 and maybe, just maybe, buy something beyond those items. Some shops approach it similarly to Bosco’s, turning this day into a massive party for all who attend. Others have simpler plans, focusing on the comics and little else. Whatever the tactics are, it’s an exhausting day, albeit one with an important goal: draw in new customers and hope to reap benefits from them going forward.

The good news is, Free Comic Book Day is seemingly about as effective as it was before the pandemic. Last year’s edition was the first to return to its typical first Saturday in May schedule, and amongst the shops I talked to, most were pleased with how the 2022 edition shaped up.

“It was better than ever, and we anticipate this year to be even bigger!” Anderson said.

“We really didn’t know what to expect, it being the first one we got to do since the pandemic,” added Bruno Batista from Dublin’s Big Bang Comics. “But we were delighted to see how well it went.”

Some noticed a drop-off. Jen King from Oak Ridge North, Texas’ Space Cadets Collection Collection, Eitan Manhoff from Oakland’s Cape and Cowl Comics, and Patrick Brower from Chicago’s Challengers Comics + Conversation told me they saw solid but slightly diminished performance compared to 2019. That dip was understandable, though. 2022’s edition has a glowing asterisk on it. It was the first Free Comic Book Day in May since the pandemic hit. Many customers might not have been ready to return. That was reflected in everything from in-store sales to the absence of pre-opening lines that were once the norm. As Brower put it, 2022’s edition was “still a very good day, but not a great day.”

Fingers are crossed and expectations are high for this weekend, though. Most are expecting another step towards normalization, and hopeful for even more than that. But we’ve now passed two decades of this event, and in a time when the job asks more of retailers than ever before, I’ve noticed decreased enthusiasm for it lately. Maybe that was just an incorrect assumption. Or maybe it wasn’t. So, I asked. Is Free Comic Book Day still worth the effort they have to put in?

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  1. While they are given away for free, shops do have to pay for each comic they give away. It’s less than usual, but it isn’t zero.

  2. While they are given away for free, shops do have to pay for each comic they give away. It’s less than usual, but it isn’t zero.

  3. There’s two layers of that for Manhoff. It’s a successful sales day, and Cape and Cowl teams up with a local tattoo shop for a food drive to correspond with the event. Bring in $50 worth of canned food and you get more comics and a free, small tattoo. It’s a big driver for them, and it helps a good cause.

  4. The vaunted soft drink company didn’t promote the event at all or push any customers to stores, to say nothing of sharing its own product. “They didn’t send shops cans of Coke to give away,” King said.

  5. Shouts to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, a giant release that has no connected FCBD release for some reason!

  6. Which is absolutely true, even if it’s insane.

  7. See: Marvel teasing Uncanny Avengers in its FCBD release, and that title not debuting until August.

  8. I’m very into these two ideas, as you may have guessed if you read the article I wrote about my trip to France.

  9. While they are given away for free, shops do have to pay for each comic they give away. It’s less than usual, but it isn’t zero.