Marvel Comics Marc Sumerak couldn't believe that, at the age of 58, I was a virgin. Neither could John Galvin or Jason Fitch. I tried to tell myself it was nothing to be embarrassed about, but, inside, I felt emptiness. What had I been missing?
It was true. Up until I walked into York Comics and Games in Parma, Ohio, on Saturday morning, May 1, I'd never been a guest at a FREE COMIC BOOK DAY event or, for that matter, visited a comic-book store on that most auspicious of holidays. But, there I was, ready to be deflowered.
I will now digress. Shamefully.
I hadn't stepped foot in a comic-book shop in years. The last time I went into a comics shop was when I visited one between going to a funeral and then visiting my dad in the hospital where he was recovering from hip replacement surgery. Entering that particular store - I'll call it Sweaty Steve's Comics Dump - was not remotely a pleasant experience.
My wearing a suit appeared to alternately frighten and offend the lout pecking away at a laptop behind the counter. Perhaps he thought I was a tax collector or health inspector. In the center of the place was an old pool table where he "displayed" the week's new issues. They were scattered on the table haphazardly; it might have been the worst such display I'd ever seen.
I was looking for an issue of Walt Disney's Comics for which I'd script-doctored a foreign Donald Duck story and, in doing so, slipped in the address of my boyhood home. I thought my dad would get a kick out of seeing that. I was also looking for some recent Marvel western comics from that month when they did a bunch of issues featuring new material and reprints.
When I inquired about these comics after failing to find them on display anywhere, the counter person lifted his sloped brow and, with evident annoyance, mumbled that they didn't have them and that they never carried Disney comics or westerns. Indeed, he seemed to take offense at my inquiry.
Since he never actually made eye contact with me, I shifted my position to get a glimpse at what was so clearly captivating him on his laptop screen. He angrily closed the computer. I didn't get a good look, but it looked...spicy...to me. I thought of rocking my offical-looking suit and ordering him to put both hands on the counter, but I really didn't want to know where the hand I couldn't see had been.
Given that I receive many review comics from publishers, that a good friend lends me many more comics after he's finished them, that I can get comics from my local library system, that I can get comics via Amazon, eBay, and other vendors without having to walk into a comics store, I was okay with never going into that comics shop again. It wasn't a conscious decision for me not to go into other, certainly better and cleaner comics shops in the region. I just never made the effort.
Every year, some non-local comic shop would contact me to be a guest on Free Comic Book Day. My requirements were fairly basic: one copy of each FCBD comic they were offering, a table to sign at, travel expenses, and hotel expenses if they were located beyond the distance I could drive (there and back) in a day. I don't ask for an appearance fee or charge for autographs.
I'll be the first to tell anyone who wants to have me appear at their comics shop or convention that I am not a superstar draw. No one should be embarrassed if, on crunching their numbers, they decide they can't afford me. I understand that. What I do not and will never understand is why they can't do me the simple courtesy of actually telling me this via e-mail or phone call.
I digress more than I intended.
Jason contacted me on behalf of John's York Comics. I figured it was time to lose my FCBD cherry. I asked only two things of the store: a copy of each FCBD comic they were offering, which turned out to be a lot, and that they have copies of 1000 Comic Books You Must Read on sale. Communication got a little delayed due to illness (Jason's, not mine), but they were good to go and I was good to go. I dressed nice, but not slutty.
The York Comics parking lot was filled when I arrived a little before the store was due to open. We maneuvered the owner's truck, Marc's car, and my van into the alley alongside the store. There was a long line of eager customers waiting to get their free comic books and, hopefully, take advantage of the many specials John was offering that day.
Inside the store, two long tables were filled with stacks of FREE COMIC BOOK DAY issues. There were 35 different titles. There were also attractive displays and a fantastic selection of comics, trade paperbacks, hardcovers, gaming things, action figures, and back issues. It was the kind of comic-book store that does comics proud...and it's only about 30 minutes from my Medina home. Maybe it's time to listen to Sainted Wife Barb when she tells me I need to get out of the house occasionally.
Marc Sumerak - Remember him from the start of this column? - has written such fine Marvel comics as Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius, Power Pack and others. He was a Marvel editor from 1999-2003. I had a ball chatting with him about old friends from my 1970s days at Marvel, as well as the current state of the comics industry. You should visit his website at:
I was at York Comics a little over two hours. In that time, I saw those stacks of FCBD comics shrink to just a couple stacks of the more heavily-ordered Marvel and DC titles. I also signed about a dozen copies of 1000 Comic Books You Must Read, comics I'd written when I was writing comic books, and even a Black Lightning action figure or three. I had a great time losing my FCBD cherry and, when John asked if I'd come back next year, I didn't hesitate to accept. Heck, I'm even thinking of coming up with something special for the 2011 event.
My favorite thing about FREE COMIC BOOK DAY in years past was reading and reviewing the free comic books. I think a FCBD issue should accomplish three things:
1. It should be entertaining and/or intriguing.
2. It should be friendly to new readers.
3. It should make readers want to buy other comic books from the publisher.
Let me show what I mean...
I feel ungrateful when I give a less than sensational review to a FCBD issue, but Archie's Summer Splash: Free Comic Book Day Edition #1 compares poorly to other comics from the publisher. Featuring Cheryl and Jason Blossom of the ever-so-posh Pembrook Academy, writer/penciler Dan Parent's "Whose Beach Is It, Anyway?" ignores Cheryl's character development from her tragically short-lived solo title. He writes her the same way he wrote Alexandra Cabot in the recent Archies/Josie and the Pussycats team-up, a true disservice to the far more interesting Ms. Blossom. That leaves him and us with a too familiar story that never truly engages the readers.
Learned elder that I am - it's a joke, kids - I love telling publishers what they should have done with their FCBD issues. In this case, I would have showcased the grand diversity found in the current Archie comic books. The company's writers and artists have created some intriguing new characters in recent years and I would love to see those characters get more "screen time."
Archie's Summer Splash: Free Comic Book Day Edition #1 earns a disappointing two Tonys.
Starting tomorrow, I'll review all the FCBD issues I received at York Comics. Your guess is as good as mine as to how many days that will take.
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
Please send material you would like me to review to: