Free Comic Book Day Q&A with Joe Field

Christmas is great, but if you’re looking for a present now know this: Free Comic Book Day is just days upon us. The annual event is exactly what it sounds like. Comic book stores around the world give away comics to anyone that walks in. This year it is this Saturday, May 5th. Yes, that’s the day after The Avengers hits theaters. In honor of the best idea since pizza Fridays at school, I spoke to Joe Field, the founder of Free Comic Book Day, about the comic book industry.

-What inspired you to come up with Free Comic Book Day?
The business of comics had come through a tumultuous time in the late ’90s. When things started turning around, I saw a need for a massive invitation for everyone to check out what’s going on weekly in their local comic shop. I wrote a column for a trade magazine, outlining Free Comic Book Day and suggesting it be modeled after other “free” events. The column was met with enthusiasm!

-What went into getting all of the other comic book stores involved?
I knew that I couldn’t coordinate the event, so I turned to the dominant distributor of comics in the English-speaking world, Diamond Comic Distributors. Their team has regular contact with all comic book stores on a regular basis, so I was confident they could do the job— and they’ve done it exceedingly well for these last 11 years.

-Was there any suggestion by the comic book industry to have The Avengers movie come out on the same weekend as Free Comic Book Day?
Free Comic Book Day  has been the “first Saturday in May” for 10 of its 11 years. In most cases, there has been a comics-related movie attached to the same weekend. I choose to look at it as Hollywood coming to comics, rather than comics being a barnacle on the Good-Ship Hollywood.

-Do you think the industry is taking enough advantage of the comic book movie franchises and their popularity?
Movies are passive entertainment. You pay for your ticket, then sit in your seat and watch. The reading of comics and graphic novels is a much more involved experience. There’s reading the words, interpreting the art, filling in the time between panels ans scenes. In short, there’s more required of a comic book reader than there is of a movie watcher.

Really, I think the movies have been a great calling card for comic books. I honestly hope that more movie-goers will want to check out the source material for all these comics-based movies!

-What do you think of the current state of comic book stores?
With some 2500 comic shops in the U.S. and Canada, I don’t think there is one “current state.” Many retailers are thriving and some are having a tough time paying the bills. That’s just like any other business segment these days.

As the current president of ComicsPRO, the only retailer trade association of comic book specialty retailers, the trends look good right now. More people are reading comics, other media are getting some of their biggest ideas from comics and comic retailers seem to be better prepared and more professionally adept than at any time since I got into the business 25 years ago.

-Are digital comics helping or hurting business?
I have seen no indication that digital comics are putting a dent into print comics. Every other print media would love to have the conditions that are current in comics— handling growth rather than managing a slow steep decline, new ideas, formats and ways of doing business, rather than the same old reliance on advertising to drive the editorial.

Make no mistake, digital comics are a growing segment of the overall comics business, but so are print comics.

-How difficult is it to maintain a store these days?
Owning any small business has a multitude of challenges.  I discovered a long time ago that I had a difficult time have anyone as my boss. Now that I am my own boss, I find the pressure much more significant, but also much more satisfying.

-Do you see this event growing more in the upcoming years?
Free Comic Book Day has been growing for the last ten years and it sure looks like there’s a lot of life in it! This year, events will take place in 2000 stores in nearly 50 countries, with more than 3.5 million comics available to be given away.

-Are there any changes you think should be made with stores or the industry itself?
The most significant thing to come out of the success of Free Comic Book Day , in my estimation, is that it has led to many retailers working much more effectively on reaching outside of their stores to find new customers, to do more events, to really integrate their comics’ businesses in with the overall business of entertainment.

-Anything else you would like to add?
Comics are a lot more than just being about whatever the latest super-hero movie is. If you like to read, if you enjoy reading novels or you enjoy going to art galleries, if you enjoy any of the visual arts, then I maintain that regularly visiting a well-stocked comic book specialty store is definitely worth outing on your “to do” list. Comic books and graphic novels are the white-hot core of visual entertainment!

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