Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday December 13th 2017

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Celebrating The ‘Original American Art’

By Jennifer Leigh

In an age where everything is digital, comic books—actual paper books—are still as popular as ever.

But perhaps they’re even more popular when they’re free.

Since 2002, independent comic book shops all over North America have celebrated Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) on the first Saturday of May to promote comic stores and introduce readers to comics. Participating stores will have a selection of free—yes free— comics that range from children’s titles, such as Barbie and Spongebob Squarepants, to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Marvel Universe Secret Empire and even the new Betty and Veronica series.

It’s certainly a good time to celebrate comics. In June 2016, comic sales had their biggest sales month in 20 years, when the top 300 comics accounted for a total of 8.3 million copies ordered according to the pop culture website Vulture.

“There’s still just something special about comics,” said Harley Orr, owner of Pensacola Pop Comics. “It’s a combination of two of our oldest forms of storytelling—a narrative of words and pictures working congruently. Now, with the added digital distractions, it’s nice to be able to unplug and hold something as simple as 15 pieces of folded paper in your hands and receive some solid entertainment.”

At Pensacola Pop Comics, there won’t just be free comics up for grabs, but the store will also be celebrating its fourth year in business with sales on select graphic novels and back issues as well as “a good quarter ton of comics for sale for a dollar a pound.”

The store opened on FCBD in 2014. As in years past, Orr will be collecting canned foods to donate.

“Now that Publix has moved in next door, there’s no excuse to come empty-handed,” he said.

As Orr points out, FCBD offers readers a chance to try out new titles without the risk of spending money.

“FCBD is an opportunity for publishers to try to catch a reader’s eye by showcasing some of their better work,” he said. “It might be a reprint of a popular story, a sampling of their entire line, or a lead-in to a story they hope to hook you with, and hopefully, it will get potential customers back into the shops.”

FCBD is also a way to engage young readers, which is why you’ll find plenty of books that cater to that demographic. West Florida Public Library (WFPL) is even getting in on the fun and giving kids the chance to win a special Guardians of the Galaxy book and other prizes by visiting local comic book stores and libraries and receiving a stamp from each location. Booklets can be picked up at library locations as well as Pensacola Pop Comics, TBS Comics and Price Busters. Orr leads a graphic novel discussion group at the library on the first Monday of the month, which happens to follow FCBD this year.

“Our next selection is Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan and Nico Henrichon,” said Orr. “You don’t even need to buy the book from me, though I do discount it heavily. The library has print copies available, and they have an awesome opportunity for patrons to access digital copies.”

Over at TBS Comics, there will be free comics as well as a coloring station and a photo op.

“We are calling all our costumed heroes and villains to come out and help make the TBS FCBD 2017 a super event again,” said Ed Nehring, who owns of TBS Comics. “Plus, FCBD kicks off our annual back issue comic sale.”

TBS Comics has been participating in FCBD since it began 15 years ago. To make sure everyone has an equal shot at the free stuff, each person will be able to choose four books from the FCBD selection starting at 10 a.m. Nehring suggests readers check out titles such as Marvel’s Secret Empire, Wonder Woman Rebirth, Guardians of the Galaxy, DC Superhero Girls, Captain Canuck and Lady Mechanika.

Nehring refers to comics as the “original American art form” and says he believes their collectability is what makes them continue not only to be relevant, but popular. He’s also seen an increase in gaming and role playing games recently.

“The digital age has put tremendous pressure and concern on the traditional comic book industry over the past few years to be sure,” he said. “I believe that comic books, unlike newspapers and magazines, have a collectability component that shields it in part.  Also, I love technology just like the next person, but how long can you look at screen in a single day? Comic books are a break from that. Sometimes it’s just nice to unplug.”

For folks who have passed by comic book shops with curiosity, but may have been intimidated—the world of comic books can be overwhelming—Orr said to just jump in. Store employees will always help guide you to something you’ll enjoy whether it’s on Free Comic Book Day or any other day.

“Comics are just another form of storytelling,” he said. “If you like to read or watch story driven TV shows and movies, then I can find you something. It’s such a diverse medium. And don’t think you have to start at issue one. It’s not like you turn on ‘Law & Order’ and think, ‘I can’t watch this, I’ve not seen the previous 743 episodes.’”

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY
WHEN: Saturday, May 6
DETAILS: freecomicbookday.com

Participating Stores:
PENSACOLA POP COMICS
909 N. 12th Ave.
pensacolapopcomics.com

PRICE BUSTERS
4771 Bayou Blvd. #5
pricebustersgames.com

TBS COMICS
6873 N. 9th Ave.
tbscomics.com

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY AT WFPL
For more information about the stamp booklet, visit mywfpl.com.