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When Britney Spears needs a little publicity boost for an upcoming single, she'll get married in Vegas or do a little conspicuous tongue-wrestling with a crusty old pop diva on national TV. When George W. Bush slips in popularity polls, the terror alert level is raised and more "anonymous sources" tell us "an attack is imminent." And when the comic book publishers of America see declining sales and overall interest, they give that shit away like a fat chick on prom night.

On Saturday, July 3rd, for the third straight year, publishers big and small banded together under the banner of free swag for everyone. The fact this event fell in the thin and sallow shadow of the release of

  Spider-Man II was no mere coincidence -- each Free Comic Book Day has been meticulously scheduled to cash in on the renewed interest generated by        
  the release of a major funny book themed motion picture. In 2003 it was X2: X-Men United, the sequel to 2000's X-Men movie, and that horrid Daredevil movie. For the inaugural 2002 event, the original Spider-Man movie struck the match.

For hardcore fanboys, the event has become a national holiday -- a day to get out early and hit specialty stores far and wide in the search for the elusive "Ultimates" reprint or that limited edition "Barry Ween: Boy Genius" mini. For publishers and specialty shop owners, Free Comic Book Day marks a chance to drum up more business and inject life into a dwindling market with the promise of freebies.

Clearly, Free Comic Book Day is all about a simple, self-serving


purpose -- saving an industry that nearly killed itself trying to cash in.

In the 1990's, comic book sales spiked after years of mediocrity, spurred by an ever-increasing interest in the collectables market and the promise of top resale dollars for your pop culture knickknacks. Caught up in the swell of what is sometimes called the Star Wars Syndrome, armchair speculators became convinced that ridiculous profits were to be made in the resale of first and alternate edition comics, just as comic books, toys, and other assorted bric-a-brac from the 1970's and 80's were becoming the cash cow of a generation.

Hoping for the Dire Straits promise of money for nothing and chicks for free, these rabid shop hounds purchased multiple copies of books, artificially stimulating the market. The "The Big Two" publishers, Marvel and DC, noted the increased demand and quickly began offering all kinds of multiple covers, crossover projects, and limited series, in hopes of making their own dollar off the phenomenon. It was the 1990's that gave rise to the concept of the limited edition, holographic foil, and variant cover concepts that still plague the industry to this day. Marvel Comics is easily listed as the main offender, as each of their new or special event issue "X-title" lines featured as many as a half-dozen different covers.

Marvel and DC weren't alone -- new comic book publishers sprang up virtually overnight. While many of these new houses folded under pressure, a few flourished amid the chaos. Image Comics, founded in 1992 by noted comic greats Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri, and Jim Valentino, found its own niche in the market by charging head-long into the seedier realm of adult comic fiction where The Big Two were often afraid to tread because of





Please Buy Our Comics!

Here's a list of comic book companies who would love nothing more if you became a giant dork with an insatiable need to read books made from pictures and the occasional word.

DC Comics
One half of The Big Two. Batman and Superman live here.

Marvel Enterprises
The other half of The Big Two, home of Spider-man, that kind of thing.

Archie Comics
Welcome to Riverdale, bitches!

Image Comics
Young upstart come into its own.

Oni Press
Features work by the lovely Chynna Cluggston-Major and the equally lovely Scott Morse.

Dreamwave Productions
Geek-o-trons transform!!!

Punchthroat Productions
"Smartassed Comics for smartasses like you."

Dark Horse Productions:
Home of Conan and Hellboy.

Fantagraphic Books
Currently pimping "The Complete Peanuts."

Asylum Press
Their comics have both horror and action.

CrossGen Entertainment
Buy their books or they'll weep uncontrollably.



the Comics Code. Former Spider-Man penciller Todd McFarlane's Spawn series became Image's flagship and continues to sell well, despite the unfortunate movie it spawned. But even with Image's commitment to quality and special emphasis on "creator owned" projects, they too contributed to the comic book glut. Geeks can only buy so many books.

The most tragic consequence of comic book speculation was the drop in comic book quality. The irony was that, as armchair collectors looked to offload their books to hardcore comic book fanatics, many of the original hardcore collectors had left the market, turned off by the dropping quality and cheeseball covers. Simply, the comics market had become too bloated and fluffy to warrant their passion.

Fans weren't the only ones to lose out -- the ripple effect has worked its way throughout the million-dollar industry.

Comic book retailers saw sales plunge while overhead rose and many shops closed unceremoniously. Comic book publishers cancelled series and the writers, pencillers, and inkers they employed suddenly found themselves struggling to find work in an industry that had only recently welcomed them in with open arms and fat wallets. Even comic book distributors like Diamond and Capital, whom many still blame for the debacle, found themselves hurting. Though the initial inflated sales number benefited these distributors, whose sole purpose is to convince shops to carry more copies of more titles, the most of all, they were not spared by the collapse of the industry.

The problem is a page from an Econ 101 textbook on supply and demand.

Modern collectables, comics most specifically, are marketed as an incredible investment. Who wouldn't love to see a mint condition $2.95 investment grow exponentially in value over a decade or two? Unfortunately, the draw of this kind of marketing renders this kind of phenomenon unlikely. An object that's one of a million is not valuable; an object that's one of a dozen is.

The inherit value of comics isn't to be measured in dollars and cents, but in care, inspiration, and enjoyment. Collecting comics for cash may, on occasion, lead to a minor financial windfall, collecting for appreciation of the art, love of the writing, or even a long-forgotten connection to a childhood icon is the only reliable reward.

So please, next year, go out and enjoy Free Comic Book Day. Drive to your local specialty shop, get your fill of the free stuff, and hell, maybe even pick up a regular book for a couple of bucks if it strikes your fancy. When you're done, give it to a friend, because a comic book, much like venereal disease, means so much more when shared.

Just don't think you're gonna be able to parlay that shit into rent money.


Zachary DesRocher lives in the Deep South and reads comic books. He gets beat up a lot.