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May 5, 2014

Free Comic Book Day 2014: Let’s Get Reading


On the first Saturday of May, Doré Ripley made a pilgrimage to the birthplace of Free Comic Book Day. While at Flying Colors Comics, she had the opportunity to speak with plenty of creators and fans --- and, of course, grab some free comics. Check out her report!

“Courtney Crumrin,” enthuses nine-year-old Brynn. “She’s my favorite comic book character.” 

Brynn pulls two books out of her Yoda backpack. COURTNEY CRUMIN: The Night Things Special Edition which she had signed by the author at San Diego Comic Con. The other volume, COURTNEY CRUMRIN: The Coven of Mystics, needs an autograph and Brynn is going to get it today. Her favorite author and creator of Courtney Crumrin, Ted Naifeh, is at Flying Colors Comics in Concord, California celebrating Free Comic Book Day.

Flying Colors Comics is the birthplace of Free Comic Book Day, traditionally held on the first Saturday in May, and this year it was celebrated in 2,100 stores across 64 countries giving away millions of comics.  Flying Colors’ owner, Joe Field, led the charge 13 years ago when he created a national literacy holiday (at least that’s the way this professor sees it) that encourages camaraderie, art and reading. 

FCBD 2014 featured over 50 different titles including a hardcover Mouse Guard, Peanuts, and Adventure Time, DC’s Futures End, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and Rocket Raccoon. Visitors to Flying Colors picked their favorite title, and if they presented their library card they could get two more. Librarians have taken a shine to comics --- visit your local library and you’ll see why as you walk through the aisles. Eventually you’ll stumble over kids laying in front of the graphic novel section reading their favorite books. If you want to encourage literacy meet kids at the spin racks and hand them a comic.

When the doors opened at Flying Colors the new reader crowd took center stage, partly because the store opened its doors to the Courtney Crumrin and Sonic the Hedgehog creators/artists.    

Brynn is just one of the hundreds, yes that’s three digits, waiting in line to get a free comic book.  The nine-year-old tells me she began reading comics “shortly after she started reading” at around age four. This veteran reader appreciates My Little Pony, Spiderman, The Avengers, and chapter books like Spirit Animals. She really likes Courtney Crumrin because she’s a “12-year-old girl with a wizard uncle, and there are monsters.” 

Another enthusiast, Ella, is in first grade, but reads at the second grade level because of comics. Her dad reads to her every night and they enjoy titles like Teeny Titans, Batman, My Little Pony, and Hero Bear. Her brother, Lucas, at three-and-a-half is also an avid reader (right, at three) and he loves Green Lantern and Sonic Fox. A young Green Arrow and his sister, Supergirl, come to Flying Colors almost every week. “If we get perfect on spelling we get a comic.  I got 16 out of 16 last week.”

Ted Naifeh (Courtney Crumrin) is puzzled when I ask about comics and literacy. He laughs saying that comics are “promoting literacy by illiterates,” but does recognize that the “world is becoming more visual.” When he began creating comics he noticed a neglected audience --- women and girls --- who didn’t see themselves in comics.  Courtney Crumrin and Naifeh’s new Princess Ugg books contain stand alone stories with strong female protagonists. Naifeh writes for children, and while some of his stories can be scary, he believes one should let younger readers decide that for themselves.  He “writes up a bit for kids. Stories that are relatable, but not dumb.  After all, kids are not dumb.”

Naifeh’s latest, Princess Ugg, is coming out in a couple of weeks and can be summed up as “Conan the Barbarian’s daughter goes to Disney princess finishing school.” The story is “funny, tragic, beautiful, silly and adventurous.”  

The other hero for the younger set was Evan Stanley, a penciller for Sonic the Hedgehog. Stanley works from her home in Santa Cruz, California and attends San Jose State University’s animation and illustration program. A fan of Sonic since she was thirteen --- when she began creating fan art --- she’s also got some ideas for her own comics that are “fresh and unconventional”. At the artists' table, a ten-year-old holds out his hand saying, “Sonic is my favorite comic, and I just want to shake your hand.” His friend hangs back stunned by the appearance of this real-life celebrity.

Later in the day comic book fans were treated to a visit from Jimmie Robinson, creator of Evil and Malice and Five Weapons. Robinson is definitely a crowd favorite as the demographics of the crowd began changing a bit with the addition of conventional comic book types. A few years ago the line for FCBD would be largely 16-24 year-old males, but not anymore. Today there are fanboys and fangirls, men and women, boys and girls, moms and dads and the curious. “Comics…” remarks one newcomer to FCBD, “I haven’t read one in a while, but look at all these people. Comic book movies are popular, so I just wanted to see what comics are like these days.”

The veteran creator, Jimmie Robinson, fashioned the cover for a FCBD Flying Colors Sketch Edition, which  allows fans to create their own comics --- or get their favorite autographs.  Joe Field, ever the comic trendsetter, believes that the sketch book is an innovation --- it creates a space that can lead to connect fans and creators. “Fans can take the sketch book with them to conventions or when they come to Flying Colors for one of the many artist events.” Maybe working with the book will encourage a personal connection with comics; maybe fans will get into reading --- or even creating --- more comics.

For this sci-fi loving, comic book reading older demographic DC’s “Back to the Bat Future” in Futures End was one great ride… although my red pen was itching to add that apostrophe regardless of whether it’s Future’s End or Futures’ End --- but I digress.  The full-color artwork had me lingering over panels, but the storyline, set in a dystopian future where Brother Eye has gone out of control, creates an urgency that propels readers quickly to the end of the book. There’s a lot going on here and the possible plot goes off in a myriad of directions.

In total, over 1,200 people waited in line outside Flying Colors Comics on a sunny California day. They spent the time swapping comic anecdotes, sharing favorite storylines, and offering cosplay advice. Comic book fans, new and old, were treated to free books and refreshments while getting to meet some of their heroes. A national literacy holiday?  You bet. How’s that for a great Saturday!






Image #1 Ted Naifeh and Brynn

Image #2 Flying Colors Comics owner Joe Field

Image #3 A new Courtney Crumrin book and a FCBD Sketch Edition

Image #4 A plethora of free comics!