Challengers Comics + Conversation is known for its family friendly atmosphere and creator signings year-round, so FCBD is like a normal Saturday for the store in many respects. That is except for the free comics, cosplayers, and non-stop stream of people coming through the door from open to close. Owners Pat Brower and W. Dal Bush tell us about their experience hosting the event over the years and how this year will be different.
How long have you been doing FCBD?
Patrick Brower: Both of us have been a part of every FCBD since the beginning. First at separate stores and then together as Challengers. I’m too old to remember when it started, but I know that we have done them all.
W. Dal Bush: Since the very first one in 2002. Right? 2002? I remember it was the summer the first Spider-Man movie came out. I’ve been working at comic shops for every single Free Comic Book Day, and the, like, 11 months I didn’t were between FCBDs.
What does it represent for Challengers?
WDB: It’s the best outreach we can do as a business: spring day, free comics, party atmosphere, tons of like-minded comics fans of all ages. Hopefully it’s as much (or more) fun for attendees as it is for us.
Do you build a larger event around it?
PB: We always try to make FCBD at Challengers special. It’s our goal to always have someone signing that has a free comic out that day. Since Challengers opened, we’ve been lucky enough to host Art Baltazar, Franco, Erik Larsen, Mike Norton (3 times), Katie Cook, Christopher Mitten (twice), Tim Seeley, Jamal Igle and Chris “Elio” Eliopoulos. And this year we have Kean Soo and Brian Azzarello. Kean is the creator of Capstone’s Jellaby and Brian is the writer of DC’s The New 52: Futures End. For the first few years at Challengers, we also had bands play, and now we have cosplayers, including our very own hero, The Challenger.
WDB: Yeah, absolutely. Any additive thing we can do, from creators in attendance to people in costumes, and more besides, it’s worth doing. We want people to spend the first Sunday in May looking forward to next year’s Free Comic Book Day.
Does FCBD result in a same day sales bump or new customers?
PB: FCBD is always the highest grossing sales day of the year, by a wide margin, and it almost always beats the previous year. And while we do see new people in every year, we usually don’t see them again until the next FCBD.
WDB: Definitely a sales bump. Most of the people who come in on Free Comic Book Day aren’t regular customers (who may’ve just bought comics from us that Wednesday), but people who only make a stop at a comics shop on Free Comic Book Day. Since they’re unlikely to come back soon, they’re more likely to spend on the one day they’re in a store. The problem, I guess, is as I just said: they only go to a store on Free Comic Book Day. So, no, it doesn’t really translate to new ‘regular’ customers.
How do you try to make your shop particularly welcoming on FCBD?
PB: For Challengers, FCBD is the day we put our best foot forward. More people come in that day than any other day of the sales year and we need to make sure each and every person in gets the best service we have to offer. And that means all hands on deck; every employee and volunteer is needed. And obviously the shop gets a strong cleaning beforehand, but we usually keep up on that regularly anyway. The biggest challenge is the logistics of the free comic placement. Wherever the free books are located, there has to be room for many people to gather around, hopefully not in each other’s way. We have to coordinate traffic flow and make sure that the creators have enough room as well. Every year we try it a little bit differently and this year is no exception.
WDB: Everything Patrick said, plus I personally tell every free comic the night before, “We will find you a home.”
What do you hope for from future FCBDs?
WDB: It would be nice if one year, just one, people read a FCBD book and decide to pick up the corresponding comic or graphic novel. Despite dozens of comics each year informing readers of other comics or graphic novels they can buy if they like what they just read, we rarely see a corresponding sales increase for a FCBD title.
What could publishers and retailers do to make it more effective?
PB: This is a tough question to answer. The immediate answer is to make the books cheaper for retailers because we spend more and more each year, but I know that the publishers are losing money on their books as well, so it’s not really fair of me to ask for that. I think most comic fans still don’t realize that while the books are free for THEM, they are not free for us, or for the publishers.
WDB: A little more compelling content in some of the books. Valiant’s 2014 title, Armor Hunters, is only five pages each from two different books, plus a couple pin-ups and text pieces. It didn’t feel like anything that’d make a reader want more. And, again, that feels like the biggest missed opportunity, is that there’s a bunch of books each year that don’t seem eager to capitalize on THOUSANDS of potential new customers; they just toss together a sampler comic of a few pages from each of their books and hope for the best. For certain participating publishers, these books are their most read comics of the year by an order of magnitude. Don’t cut corners on content.
If any, what have been the most / least successful cross promotions you’ve done to promote FCBD?
PB: Honestly, we don’t usually cross-promote. FCBD is about getting people into Challengers, so we don’t really work with other businesses. Although last year we had pro-wrestler Lisa Marie Varon in (Victoria in WWE; Tara in TNA) passing out flyers for her restaurant The Squared Circle.
WDB: The least successful promotions are the ones that take up valuable floor space. The most successful ones are the ones that we can do outside the store.
Do you usually stock all of the offered free comic titles?
PB: No. We look at the free comics as introductions to books that we actively stock at Challengers. If we don’t carry a title normally that has a FCBD book, we don’t give it away in the off chance someone would come back looking for a title we don’t carry. And there are just so many that it’s not cost effective to stock them all. We’d rather stock less titles in higher quantities than fewer copies of all the free comics.
Do you limit quantities?
PB: We never used to. I mean we know a lot of other stores impose specific limits, and we never used to do that, but man, this event really seems to bring out the greed in people. We used to say each person could take 1 of any comic that interests them, meaning one of each but no doubles, but people would then take one of EVERY book and we’d run out faster than expected. No one needs 30 free comics, you know? So now we impose a rule of Adults get up to 5 books; Kids can have one each of whatever they want (age appropriate). And still no doubles. I’m sure your friend wants a copy, too, but the minimum requirement we have for your getting a free comic is that you have to actually show up.
Do you run a Sale on FCBD?
PB: No, never. First of all we’re already spending thousands of dollars on the free books; secondly we’re flying in and lodging out of town creators. We have no desire to makes less money on our product on top of that. And the majority of people that come in on FCBD don’t shop with us during the year, so we would rather not reward them for it.