EVERETT — Supervillain COVID-19 tried to give a big Kapow! to Free Comic Book Day this year.
The crowd-mongering festive event, traditionally the first Saturday in May, was not to be defeated.
It transformed into Free Comic Book Summer. Instead of having 45 titles available for free on one day where throngs of people line up early at stores, the books are doled out weekly, a few at a time.
The free editions, which are similar to regular issues, are released on Wednesdays through Sept. 9. Not all stores are participating and some are saving up the books for a later event.
The annual event was founded in 2002 on the belief that for every person, there’s a comic book out there they’ll love. Free Comic Book Day got bigger every year, with thousands of stores and libraries joining in. In 2019, a promo flashed in bright lights on the marquee in New York’s Time Square.
Titles were already in the works when the pandemic hit this year, canceling the big day. Organizers decided the show would go on, somehow.
Publishers include Marvel Comics, Dark Horse Comics and DC. Titles include superhero stories, TV and movie tie-ins, sci-fi adventures and all-ages tales.
Books the first week included “X-Men” and “My Little Pony.” This week, “Spider-Man Venom” and the Korean “Manhwa” are among the free issues. Next week, look for “Stranger Showcase” and Archie’s “Riverdale” with Betty and Veronica.
Charlie Knoedler, owner of Everett Comics, said so far the weekly handout at his store has mainly drawn regular customers.
“It’s not out to the general public as much as the hardcore readers,” Knoedler said. “Normally we would have thousands because it’s a big event. We’d have people in costumes.”
The uncertainty threw a monkey wrench into how many books to order for this year’s promotion.
“It’s a misnomer. It might be Free Comic Day, but they’re not free to us,” he said.
Merchants have to buy the special books to give away. It’s basically an advertising strategy to lure new readers as well as to give regulars a perk.
Local stores contacted for this story purchased fewer books this year due to a decrease in foot traffic. People have to come in to get the samples.
Better check with the store before you head out for freebies.
Wishes Toys-Books-Games at Everett Mall delayed the weekly giveaway until July 29.
“We are trying to adapt during this time and keep our customers engaged and enjoying comics with as little interruption as possible,” manager Paul Lewis said.
Phantom Zone Comics, also at Everett Mall, is saving the comics for later.
“We are going to be doing our version with all the comics instead of giving them out willy-nilly a couple a week,” said Joel Bowyer, owner of Phantom Zone Comics. “We will set a Saturday in mid-September to October, depending on how COVID is going.”
Sales of comics and graphic novels to consumers in the U.S. and Canada are about $1 billion annually, according to research by Comichron. Comic books started in the U.S. in the 1930s with the reprinting of newspaper comic strips on cheap paper.
Mill Geek Comics hasn’t yet decided how to handle the issues of Free Comic Book Summer. Last year, the day drew hundreds of people.
The Mill Creek store will give books away at some point.
Manager Jon Bell said there was a shortage of products in the early stages of the pandemic, when only online sales were allowed.
“We are finally up to speed now,” Bell said. “People want to spend. That’s the fantastic part.”
Funko came out with a Free Comic Book Summer Marvel Mystery Box with a Thor bobblehead figure, comic and character T-shirt. It is $34.99, not free.
More at www.freecomicbookday.com.