How I Spent Free Comic Book Day

We did go to downtown Evanston today, eating Thai food at Blue Sapphire (the sign on the window says “Farang” but everything online says the place is named “Blue Sapphire”). While my wife shoe shopped and got her hair cut I dropped off a library book and went to Something Wicked. I bought the first three issues of Steve Rude’s The Moth and all seemed well. However, when it came time for the “free comic book” the very corpulent clerk (straight out of the Simpsons) didn’t let me choose the one I wanted. “You only get one and only at random” he said, pulling one out of the box. That was a pretty pissy and stingy attitude, I thought, considering that these folks didn’t pay anything to get those comics. It is worth noting that their box o’ free comics has several hundred in it and while there were two guys when I first got there, for most of the time I was browsing I was the only customer in the store. It had been storming on and off. I’m willing to bet that between now and closing they don’t give away 20 more comics.

I thought that was sufficiently unsatisfying that I also went to Comix Revolution. Since the first place had no Love and Rockets I was still in the market for some of those. Previously I have had customer service issues with that joint but today they were great. I bought the L&R comics I needed. As I checked out, the clerk pointed me to the table with the stacks of comics on there and said “Take one of each if you like.” Wow! There were 10 or 12 different choices, all pretty much in the alternative pocket of what they focus on in that store. I took a good 7 or 8 comics, skipping over the couple I knew I had no interest in. That’s really just plain good free marketing. What hair is it off the store’s ass if I take more than one? At worst, they run out of a few choices. It was a few hours to closing and they still had hundreds of comics to give away. In the best case, I might really like one of the comics (such as 100 Bullets which was one of the choices and a comic I hear good things about but have never read) and come back to buy more of it. Their way of going about it certainly makes much more sense that the way Something Wicked did it. Come tomorrow, there will still be that big ass box of comics sitting on the counter at SW. Also worth noting, there were people in this store browsing and they all had things in their hand, suggesting that they were all buying stuff.

In general, as a category comic book shops tend to be the worst retailers I have ever seen. Something Wicked really was blowing it badly, considering that they are around the corner from a movie theater that was showing Spider-man 2. In my opinion, here are ways they could have done much better (note, they may have done some of these, I don’t have complete knowledge of this):

  • Pay the movie theater to let them have a table in the lobby and give out the free comics there. Stuff every comic with a full page flyer for the store including a time-limited coupon (ie, give them a reason to go to the store this weekend, preferrably right after leaving the theater).
  • Advertise FCB in the Daily Northwestern, and include a coupon. There are 10,000 nerdy kids walking distance away, for God’s sake!
  • They had a FCB poster hanging on their door, but with massive clutter in their store and on their windows, it really didn’t jump out. Normal folks walking by would never notice it. They should have taken those posters and set them on the sidewalk in front of the store on a sandwich board, perpendicular to the flow of foot traffic. You can’t give away the free stuff until someone actually walks into the store!
  • Hire a guy dressed like Spider-Man to hand out flyers and coupons on the street, walking up and down the adjacent blocks. I see people dressed like gorillas, hot dogs and slices of pizza handing out flyers most days downtown in the Loop. Today would have been a well placed use of someone like that in the suburbs.
  • Set the free comics on a table outside (wouldn’t have worked in the rain) and ask random passers by to take one (again, stuffed with coupons). The whole point of FCB is about getting people to realize that comics are still a going concern so get them out in front of people’s faces!
  • Clean up the store and declutter the front area. Have someone right up front painting faces and making balloon animals and give away the kid friendly comics there.
  • Send the danged press release around a little bit and hope that someone writes it up on their paper. They have a canned one at the website, just add in your store as contact information and fax the thing out.

I’m not a retailer, but none of this stuff is rocket surgery. These are the ideas that occurred to me in 5 minutes. Someone who really cared could probably come up with better ones if they really applied themselves. The basic principle here is to get people into the store, give them free stuff, remind them that this industry still exists, and generally make a splash. What I saw from the comic book store closest to the movie theater was doing basically none of that.

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father. Member of the Podcast Hall of Fame class of 2022.