I was into comics as a kid but stopped reading them as I got older, until, that is, I started working at a roadside assistance call centre that was full of comic book fans. I bowed to peer pressure, went to Heroes (a nearby comic book store that I was familiar with), and bought my first comic book as an “adult”; thus began my long love affair with the medium of my youth. I had been in Heroes before, but only sporadically and mostly with my little brother in tow. When I came in to buy my first comic the staff was nothing but helpful and I was instantly hooked. Since then, Heroes has grown and moved (across the street) and so have I (across the Atlantic). That said, I still call Heroes my home and—even though I love the Silver Snail in Toronto—was proud that good ol’Heroes took the Harry Kremer Award in 2013. One of my favourite days to visit Heroes is FCBD, so I was thrilled when Brahm Wiseman (owner and operator) agreed to answer a few questions about one of the best days of the year.
How long have you been doing FCBD?
Since the beginning. It had a gradual growth of fans at the beginning, but in the last 6 or 7 years it has become a complete monster. Crowds are huge: it has become an official day in London.
What does it represent for you?
Free Comic Book Day is a celebration of comic books. We can almost take the word Free out of the title and just call it Comic Book Day. Free comics are a tool to introduce people to titles and are intended as an outreach to bring people to or back to comics, but I feel that the sheer spectacle and enthusiasm behind FCBD is a big part of the attraction. It is an extension of our comic book culture.
Do you build a larger event around it?
We usually run a month’s worth of different sales throughout May, bringing traffic back to the store for return visits, and making May our second biggest sales month next to December.
On the day itself, we collaborate with four other local comic stores and the Downtown Public Library. All five locations and our own give out free books. We create a passport for the event, and those who travel to all six locations and collect all six stamps in their passport are entered in a draw for a ton of great prizes. We also hold a costume contest at the library.
Does FCBD result in a same day sales bump or new repeating customers?
Every year’s FCBD seems to top the previous year’s sales wise. We do get new customers from the event as well. Word-of-mouth, media interviews, and promotions are a big part of FCBD helping increase our exposure
Do you try to make your shop particularly welcoming on FCBD?
We try and be as welcoming as possible on FCBD, especially for kids. It is extremely important to implement crowd control and order on FCBD. With around 2000 people through the door in one day, we try and make it as comfortable for everybody, especially families with children, to have a safe and fun time selecting their free comics, taking advantage of some of our sales, and soaking in all of the excitement that is FCBD. Sadly, the only way of keep the store safe and not above capacity is by having a huge line-up outside the building that can snake around the entire block. We appreciate everybody for waiting in our line, and reward them with beverages, candy, freezies, buttons, stickers, toys, and other giveaways handed out by our host of costumed staff. By the time someone has entered the store they have already scored a bunch of fun loot in line, and have been entertained by a parade of costumes and buskers.
What do you hope for from future FCBDs and what could they do to make it more special/effective?
I hope the future of FCBD is that it just continues to get bigger and get more recognition.
If there was one thing I would love to see change about FCBD, it would be its selection of free comics themselves. Diamond, the FCBD committee, and the publishers put up an extremely weak selection of free comics year in and year out. These comics usually do not offer much of a glimpse of the great comics available. Heroes does our best to source comics outside of the FCBD offerings to give away for free. We try and find books and graphic novels, if possible, that represent a broader range and are a taste of what a wonderful medium comics are. We want these free comics to bring readers back to store and to comics themselves. If we fed them crap, they wouldn’t be likely to want to come back.
Is there anything that you reckon makes your approach special?
I don’t know if the Heroes approach is special, but we try to think outside the box. Rather than ordering in weak FCBD offerings and just handing them out for free, we choose to take the day to celebrate comics, sharing what we love about the medium and generating community enthusiasm.