Interview with the Founder of Free Comic Book Day – Joe Field
This year Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) celebrates its twelve birthday. Free Comic Book Day is the internationally recognised day by everyone in the comic book industry. When Free Comic Book Day was first announced I personally didn’t see many shops getting behind the idea but now twelve years on; it’s a great excuse for comic shops across the world to celebrate. Many have all day events from local comic creators to big name creators appearing in their stores. So what is Free Comic Book Day all about? It’s as simple as it sounds – free comics are available that day. These are pre-selected be comic book publishers (you can see a list of available books on the official site here). Free Comic Book Day is on the first Saturday of May every year and is this year it is on Saturday; 4th May 2013.
Free Comic Book Day wasn’t created by either of the big two though or another comic book publisher, the idea for FCBD came from the mind of Joe Field who celebrates 25 years for his comic shop; ‘Flying Colors Comics’ this year. To find out more about the creation of FBCD and what his store has planned for the big day I caught up with Joe to find out more.
Geeks Unleashed: After ten years working radio, what made you make the jump into the comics world and open your own store?
Joe Field: While I worked at KJOY Radio in Stockton California, I had the idea in 1985 to have Marvel Comics recognize Stockton as the “Birthplace of the Fantastic Four.” 1986 was the 25th anniversary of the Fantastic Four, so I wanted to do something that would promote comics and promote Stockton.
I was happy to have Marvel accept and then send Stan Lee to Stockton to deliver the official proclamation! After Stan saw the job I did with that promotion, he hired me to do a bit of freelance public relations for his wife’s first novel.
From there, a group of comic shop owners in the Bay Area were starting to work on a new comic book convention and they needed someone to do advertising and promotion for them. That convention turned out to be WonderCon and I started as the promotions and advertising guy, but soon became a co-partner in WonderCon.
GU: Was there a bit culture shock when moving from comic book fan to comic book retailers and any hurdles you had to face?
JF: My goal from the beginning was to bring what I learned about business in my ten years in radio and then apply it to comic book retailing. When I look back on those early years, I realize how little I knew about how to run a retail business. The “on the job training” was expensive, but it all seems to have worked out.
GU: What led to the creation of Free Comic Book Day?
JF: I was writing columns for an industry magazine in 2001 and realized that the comics business was definitely turning around from the dark days of the late 1990s. The comics were better and the culture for accepting comics was improving, especially with big budget movie epics acting as $100 million commercials for comics.
So in one of my columns I proposed Free Comic Book Day.
GU: How was it initially received when pitching it?
JF: I was stunned to get such immediate and positive reaction to the idea. The concept was right and the timing was right. It was almost a no-brainer to have the biggest players in comics want to be part of it.
GU: And what led the FCBD being linked to major comic movie releases?
JF: The first FCBD, it was then-Image publisher Jim Valentine who suggested having it the same weekend as the opening of the first Spider-Man movie. That will show you the level of camaraderie among usually competitive publishers!
FCBD has not ALWAYS been tied to a movie opening weekend, though. I believe that prior to FCBD, the summer movie season was always Memorial Day weekend. Since FCBD, it’s has become the first weekend in May.
GU: Free Comic Book Day is 12 years old as of this year – what have been some of your highlights during its 12 year run?
JF: Every year there have been highlights for me…and although we usually have lots of top flight talent visiting our store to sign FCBD comics, my personal highlights are always about hearing from first time visitors to our store. I love it when people new to comics are here on FCBD getting their very first comics! They could be youngsters or adults, but to be able to give these people the start on what can become a lifetime of wonderful adventure, that’s very satisfying.
GU: And do you have any plans to expand FCBD in the future?
JF: Each year, FCBD has expanded! More than one million people attended FCBD in 2012. I expect that number to go up this Saturday since retailers will have a record 4.6 million comics to give away.
GU: Any free comics out this year that you’re particularly looking forward to?
JF: I am looking forward to Saturday night, after my shop closes, and then being able to go through all the FCBD comics for this year. With 40 publishers involved, there are some awesome comics in the bunch!
GU: And what do you have planned for your own store?
JF: FCBD is always a huge party here. We have six professional guests— Vicki Scott, Alexis Fajardo and Justin Thompson from the PEANUTS comic book; Gene Yang from Dark Horse Comics’ AVATAR the LAST AIRBENDER; writer James Robinson from DC Comics’ EARTH 2 and STARMAN series; and Top Cow Studios president and publisher Matt Hawkins who is also the writer of Top Cow’s FCBD edition of APHRODITE IX.
In addition to the guests, our FCBD event is a fantastic party, with costumed characters, custom cakes, baked goods, prizes and fun.
GU: How do you feel FCBD has affected the industry?
JF: First, FCBD is now in its 12th year, so it has to have been a positive thing for it to continue to get stronger year after year. I do believe FCBD is part of a healthy comic book industry. As long as readers are engaged enough in the art and stories to want to buy comics, I believe FCBD will be part of the comics biz.
GU: In your own store have you seen many non-comic book fans been converted as a result of FCBD?
JF: Every FCBD, we keep stats on who is coming to the event, with basic demographic info. I am astonished to see that more than 20% of FCBD store visitors are making their first visit ever to Flying Colors!
GU: You’ve been something of a pioneer in the comic book industry with your drive in 1986 to have Stockton named “the birthplace of Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four”. In 1995 you and your wife; Libby Field received the Will Eisner “Spirit of Comics” and in 2002 you were behind the launch of FCBD which has now gone on for 12 years and recognised internationally. So my question is what’s next for Joe Field?
JF: 2013 is the 25th anniversary year for Flying Colors Comics. On FCBD, we’ll be making some announcements about upcoming amazing events. One thing I can share with you is that we will also be publishing two things this year— an art book from Jeff Bonivert through IDW Publishing and a commemorative 25th anniversary comic book with art from fans and pros. More details soon!
GU: Thanks for your time today Joe.
If you’re interested in finding out what titles are available, head over to the Free Comic Book Day website for more info or if you want to find out more about Flying Color Comics you can visit Joe’s website.