Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) is that wonderful day of the year where comic publishers sent out free samples and previews of their biggest books to comic book stores to distribute for free. In return, comic shops get a plethora of promotional material to hook new readers and bring them in as new customers, while providing big sales. It’s a great day for publishers, shops, and readers alike.
Yet this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues and the Delta variant is on the rise, Free Comic Book Day was a little bit different.
For starters, the date was changed from the first Saturday of May to August 14th, in order to buy more time for everyone to get vaccinated and for the disease to get under control. Well, the continuing spread of variants among the unvaccinated has made the latter a little more difficult, but FCBD still went off this weekend.
Which brings us to the second way it looked different: the many ways comic shops managed their FCBD events this year.
After spending all of Saturday visiting as many local shops as possible, I’ve identified several ways that shops have set up safety measures or adjusted their FCBD events in these COVID times.
This is a given for every comic shop, as the CDC guidance has returned to a “masks indoors” policy. At every shop, there were clear signs saying masks must be worn indoors, and a recommendation to keep six feet apart.
While the six foot distance was a little easier said than done, depending on the size of the shop in question, the mask policies were still thoroughly enforced. Some shops left it at that, and opened their doors to all, while others went a bit further.
In other years, comic stores would be filled with customers looking to stock up on freebies and purchase comics. This year, while there were still plenty of attendees, many stores had limited occupancies. Customers lined up as they waited for their turn to enter, where they could then grab their freebies, shop a little, and leave to let another person in.
Fortunately, many shops that anticipated this came prepared with ways to engage with customers in line. For instance, Green Machine Comics in Newark, CA, had members of the Mando Mercs and Rebel Legion outside the store, taking photos with attendees and drawing crowds. The store’s owner and employees were also conscientious of the wait time and made sure everyone in line was comfortable.
Even then, it was often difficult for stores to ensure customers were properly spaced apart, so some took it one step further.
Free Comic Book Day often increased foot traffic to local comic stores significantly, and while that would be welcome any other year, some stores thought it would be better to be on the safe side. Those stores decided to keep their doors closed, but still provided this year’s free comics through online orders.
For stores like that, customers could go online, select the free comics they wanted, peruse other comics for sale, and place an order. The store would then gather the comics and send an email to the customers letting them know when their orders are ready.
Does it work? I’ll let you know when my comics are ready for pickup.
In spite of current events, comic shops still found a way to make Free Comic Book Day work. Shops celebrated by bringing in special guests to sign comics, invited cosplayers, and held big sales to bring in customers aplenty.
It was good to see shops taking the safety of their customers and staff seriously and implement safety measures. With any luck (and if everyone does their part to get vaccinated) 2022’s FCBD will allow shops to open their doors to all without needing to worry about COVID-19 or any of its variants. Until then, we can still safely enjoy all that Free Comic Book Day has to offer in a safe and responsible manner.