Steven Bates of Bookery Fantasy in Fairfield, Ohio saw Anthony Furrferi's comments on Free Comic Book Day (see 'Anthony Furfferi of Empire Comics on Free Comic Book Day') and has this to say:
Mr. Furferri makes a good point, though in an antagonistic way that belittles the success and potential good of Free Comic Book Day. We participated heavily for the last two years, and feel that the event is one of the best, most proactive, and successful positive image builders this industry has seen in its entire history. We support FCBD next year, the year after, and beyond, and hope that others will be equally enthusiastic about jumping on board in the future. So, yes, definitely, 'hats off' to Joe Field, Steve Geppi, and all of the participants responsible for the last two amazing Free Comic Book Days.
Mr. Furferri had this to say: 'With so many other issues at hand in the industry, I would suggest we begin to focus on the other days in the year... it's time to get creative and come up with some other ideas that have been placed on the back burners. There must be many. Our industry is huge and we can do better, let's take advantage of it.' I agree. FCBD should be just one of the high points of our year. If Hallmark can create holidays just to sell more greeting cards, surely we can come up with something as an industry to generate more interest in comics.
In my town, there's a family-owned business call Foy's. It began as a 'five and dime' sundries store 80 or so years ago. When Mike Foy took over for his parents, he transformed this local novelty shop into a mini-empire themed around Halloween. He sells masks and make-up, rents costumes, coffins, and fog machines, and hosts a month-long Halloween party downtown. I know what you're thinking, 'that's just one month out of a year, how much impact can that have?' Today Foy's is one of the largest local retailers, with over seven locations, including two costume shops, a 'Haunted Saloon,' rock-n-roll grill, and the original Foy's Halloween Store. He does 90% of his annual business in October--90%. All based around one holiday.
Comic books might not have the advantage of being holiday-friendly (unless you count Captain America's affinity with Independence Day), but my point is that with a little vision, some work, and a lot of dedication, comic book shops can build the same kind of following in their communities. Why can't Free Comic Book Day be Free Comic Book Week or Month? Would that dilute its special ness and effectiveness, or enhance and expand it? Must it be themed around or associated with a film? I believe the proliferation of comic book movies might actually be hurting comic book sales in the long-term. Before the first Superman film, most attempts to recreate a comic book universe were cheap and cheesy. But as special effects have improved and budgets ballooned, Hollywood has been able to effectively capture (and in some cases improve upon) comic book staples like flying, optic blasts, super-speed, and telekinesis. If we can see the 'real' thing on screen, why bother with a four-color 'imitation'? If the comic book industry becomes dependent on the film industry for survival, we're all dead in the water.
On a somewhat related note: for about 15 years I've been beating a dead (?) horse about a comic book advocacy campaign, similar to the commercials, advertisements, and promotional spots for Florida oranges, California raisins, Idaho potatoes, and the dairy industry. I tried 'selling' the idea to DC, Marvel, Capital City, and Diamond Comics many times over the years. Each time, I was met with a response that publishers and distributors wouldn't work and play well together, that everyone would be worried that the competition would benefit more than they would. Basically, I was told it was unrealistic to expect the comic book industry to cooperate for its own benefit, for the greater good. I was told it would never happen.
Free Comic Book Day proves that we can cooperate 'industry-wide' for the promotion and proliferation of comic books in America. Thanks to visionaries like Joe Field, and the organization of Steve Geppi and Diamond Comics, FCBD was realized not once, but twice, gaining ground and garnering more media attention this year than last. Taking the same initiative and the same incentive (the success and survival of the comic book industry), why not an organized media campaign promoting comics?
As I originally conceived it, this advocacy coalition would contribute resources and funds for 'generic' advertisements promoting the comic book as entertainment and literature: 'feel good' commercials (similar to McDonald's) showing fathers and sons going to the comic shop to resolve the question of who's stronger, Thor or Superman; 'What Kind of Person Reads Comics?' ads, showcasing women, business professionals, and celebrities (someone recently posted on a Website parody ads with just such a theme); profiles of industry professionals like Steve Geppi, Stan Lee, Paul Levitz, Mark Alessi, etc., and the numerous talented creators past and present; and other campaigns. Governed by a central body made up of representatives from participating publishers and distributors, this council would manage both donated monies and resources (art, ad copy, talent, etc.), and coordinate events similar to FCBD, including a national tour of creators to promote city-by-city comic book entertainment.
Ambitious? Perhaps. But no more so than Diamond's Comic Shop Locator Service. Logistical nightmare? Maybe. But no more daunting than Free Comic Book Day. Necessary? Absolutely. Statistics might be suspect, but it looks like the comic book industry is losing the youth market to other forms of entertainment even in the wake of Hollywood's 'discovery' of the comic book hero. Many older readers left the industry in the 1990's and haven't returned. And we've made great strides as an art form to be more appealing to female readers (especially manga and anime fans), but we're still dominated by males in their 20's, 30's, and 40's. We need an organized outreach program, one that promotes comic books in general, designed to bring in new readers, create new fans.
Good things are already being done. Free Comic Book Day and the Comic Shop Locator Service, for example, or CrossGen's 'Bridges' program for schools. Marvel's cooperation with the Dairy Council has been awesome, getting exposure in commercials (Avengers recruit Milkman) and the 'Got Milk?' ads. And the History Channel's documentary on comic books was promoted with mini-comics available through Blimpie restaurants. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. To quote Anthony Furferri, 'Our industry is huge and we can do better, let's take advantage of it.'
Up, up, and away.
The opinions expressed in this Talk Back article are solely those of the writer, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.