601 Markham Street
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M6G2L7
When I was seventeen, my boss and I bonded over our shared love of comics. He liked Spider-Man, I liked X-Men, but we were both making ours Marvel, so it all worked out. We took a trip down to The Beguiling from the wilds of North York and called it professional development. It was my first exposure to the wider world of comics — not just to literary comics, autobios, and art books, but to the international comics scene. I’d grown up thinking Metal Hurlant, Italian editions of the Disney comics, and the odd sneak at a Milo Manera book, were as wild as it got. But oh, The Beguiling. Underground comix! Original art! Zines! Comics by and about queer women, and holy shit, locals!
The Beguiling and The Silver Snail are the two stores tourists and newcomers are directed to as must-sees, with the Snail neatly sewing up the Big Two/collectibles crowd and The Beguiling the artier types. While the second floor of the store is packed to the rafters with genre books — Marvel, DC, Image, manga — the downstairs is all art comics, art books, and books about the art of comics. It’s a heavily curated shop with a very particular vision of what comics is and can be: it’s not the genre that’s so important, it’s the art of it all.
But don’t despair, new readers. They do Free Comic Book Day too, and they do it well.
I spoke with Christopher Butcher, local comics hero, Toronto Comic Arts Festival overlord, and Beguiling staffer, about The Beguiling and their sister store Little Island Comics’ approach to Free Comic Book Day, and how they manage to balance it with TCAF.
How long have you been doing FCBD?
The Beguiling has been doing FCBD since the first year, and I started working here just before the second one… so about 10 years now?
Do you build a larger event around it? Maybe with a particular theme?
Year to year. FCBD falls very close to TCAF, The Toronto Comic Arts Festival. The Beguiling is TCAF’s premier sponsor, and as such, organizing a big event the week before TCAF can sometimes be too difficult. Still, we do participate every year, providing thousands of free comic books to the community every year and encouraging new customers.
How much time do you spend getting ready for it?
That’s a little hard to judge. I’d say we spend about thirty staff hours on the event total, including manning the giveaway tables on the day-of.
Does FCBD result in a same day sales bump or new repeating customers? Does it tend to bring in particular types of customers, for example, new or lapsed readers?
The Beguiling, and our sister store Little Island Comics (the world’s first comic book store for kids!) put on about fifty events per year, of which FCBD is definitely one of the bigger ones. We have a strong belief in doing outreach year-round, and FCBD is very good for getting attention for both stores both inside the comics community and outside of it too. In terms of a sales boost specifically attributable to FCBD, I’d say its there, but its hard to pull out. We do great sales day of though.
The type of customer it brings in is about 25% existing comic fans who are touring all the shops in town for the day, 25% people who heard about the event and are new or lapsed readers coming to check it out, and 50% people just walking by the store. We try to do the event outside (when weather allows) and really do community “outreach.”
Do you try to make your shop particularly welcoming on FCBD? And do you target particular groups, for example, kids?
Well Little Island Comics targets kids 362 days a year. We actually split the books, giving away the kid-oriented ones at Little Island (around the corner from us), and the teen and adult-oriented work here at The Beguiling. We try to have extra staff on hand at both stores to explain the event, help find comics, etc. We bill the event as having something for everyone, and we get around the inherent limitations of the event (kid-safe material only) by supplimenting the give-away books with other promotional comics available throughout the year.
We do try to make the event special though, with creator signings whenever possible. This year we have the HIP HOP FAMILY TREE FCBD Book author Ed Piskor, the GI JOE VS. TRANSFORMERS FCBD book author Tom Sciloi, and the TOP SHELF KIDS CLUB FCBD author Eric Orchard, all on hand signing and sketching for fans all day. That’ll be pretty awesome!
What do you hope for from future FCBDs? What could they do to make it more special/effective?
Honestly, as a retailer I’ve given up trying to influence the Free Comic Book Day event, at least so far as it’s run at Diamond and with their committee. It’s not really looking to promote a vision of the industry that we particularly support, with an over-reliance on kid-safe books and licensed properties, and any complaints we’ve sent their way over the years have fallen on deaf ears. The best I think we can hope for at The Beguiling is to take this event and pick and choose and sculpt it into something that makes sense for us.