When Joe Field first penned the idea for a comics industry day 17 years ago, he had no idea it would become the world's largest comic book event. On Saturday, May 3, comic shops in 65 countries will give away more than 4.5 million special edition comics from 40 publishers to anyone visiting participating retailers during the 13th annual Free Comic Book Day.
We caught up with Field, the owner of Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff, to talk about FCBD's humble beginnings, its super-human strides and why everyone should pick up a comic book this weekend.
Q. When you first brainstormed the idea for Free Comic Book Day in your 1997 column, what was your goal?
A. I wrote the column in Diamond Comic Distributors “Year in Review" magazine proposing Free Comic Book Day as a way to get people into comic shops, which are great community-social hubs of pop culture, and as a way to see all the great things going on along the comic spectrum.
Q. How has FCBD evolved over 13 years and are you happy with it's changed?
A. I’m constantly happy and surprised at the ongoing evolution of FCBD. We started in 2002 with four publishers and there might have been 500,000 comics for giveaway. We now have more than 40 publishers, more than 50 FCBD editions and the total number of comics we’ll be giving away is more than 4.5 million. There’s this really solid trajectory that just continues unabated after 13 year. My little Frankenstein has taken on a life of its own.
Q. It took a little while and a second, more detailed column to get FCBD off the ground. What changed between 1997 and 2002?
A. Between the time I first proposed the open house in 1997 and my second column in 2001, a lot of good things started happening in comics. We had moved past the bust years of the late 1990s that were difficult for everyone in comics and started to see a resurgence in creativity in comics. Retailers were starting to see that, but we had no mechanism for doing a general invitation for people to come in our stores and see all the great things going on in comics
Q. In your original column, you said you wanted a media hook. Did you envision the media hook being multi-billion dollar movie franchises?
A. Who knew at that point? The way things have developed over the years, Free Comic Book Day is a constant surprise. It’s become the world’s largest comic book event. That’s something that I certainly didn’t see in those humble beginnings.
Q. Most years, FCBD has been aligned with the release of a comic book movie. This year, it's "The Amazing Spider-Man 2." Has that helped the events? How do you see that relationship?
A. I love it that we have these $200 million commercials for what we sell. There will be a number of people that see the movie and wonder what the original was like. “Gone With the Wind” was better as a book, but it’s remembered as a movie. The worst comic book movies will never destroy the best comic book stories.
Q. Do comic books and movies attract different audiences?
A. There’s a difference between people who are passive moviegoers who want to sit in a darkened movie theater and let everything on the screen tell them the story and entertain them and those people who are willing to invest time and and a little energy to read the comics.
Those people understand one of the magic powers of comic book reading: that the reader is the person who completes the story, who fills in the gaps between the panels, who gives voices to the characters, who creates the sound environments and who controls the speed of the action from page-to-page. A comic book reader is something of a film director who doesn’t have to worry about what Hollywood thinks.
Q. Something you suggested in one of your columns was that FCBD could be attached to a charity. Is there a reason that never came to fruition?
A. The interesting thing there is each FCBD event can be customized. So there are charity elements to a lot of FCBD events. We choose not to at my store because we do some other things during the year that are all about charity work rather than drawing people in to give them free comics and then hitting them up for funds.
The beautiful thing about FCBD is that each retailer can customize it however he or she would like to and that means you get some really nice, local events that mean something to their community?
Q. When you look into the future, what would you still like FCBD to accomplish?
A. I believe there are comics for anybody that likes to read and until we have every reader reading comics, there’s work yet to be done. So my hope is that everyone that is a comic book fan that goes this Saturday will bring someone with them that is not a comic book fan just to get in on the fun.
Q. What are you looking forward to the most about FCBD?
A. I’m looking forward to Saturday night, when I get to go home with my stack of free comics and read them all. That to me is victory. My little idea has become a juggernaut worldwide and at the end of the day, I get to read the comics.