(Photo left, the line at 10 a.m.) (Photo right, inside at 12 noon)
EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m sure there are some comic books stores out there that simply put out some of the offered books on Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) and don’t do anything else. It’s another business day as usual, except for some increased traffic in the stores as regular and new customers turn up to score some free comics. Thankfully, those stores are in the minority.
Most comics stores in the immediate PA-DE-MD area do something extra on FCBD - - - from the minimum of having at least one guest artist to sign and sketch to the maximum elaborate extravaganza that takes place each year at CAPTAIN BLUE HEN COMICS in Newark, Delaware. As the traffic in their store started to taper off somewhat around 4:30 p.m., I heard someone state an unofficial head-count of 1,200+ customers through the doors. That’s an incredible turn-out!
As you might imagine, a day as ambitious as this requires months of planning and a lot of assistance on the day of the event. I decided to be a volunteer this year in order to get some insight into FCBD from the other side. My conclusion: It’s so much easier being a customer / spectator!
While many customers may spend several hours at their favorite comic store during Free Comic Book Day, a volunteer spends far longer. What a day! I arrived at 9 a.m. to help with some last minute outdoor tent and table set-up, and then assumed my duties as official “door man” at the regular entrance to the store. Once the crowds began to dwindle down after 5 p.m., I started helping with tear-down and storage right until 6:30 p.m.
(Photo left - - the worry-free Tie Fighter pilot)
Those wanting to pick up their free books needed to enter at the rear of the store, as well as get in line. By 10 a.m. that line stretched from the back of the store down the side street to the front of the store and snaked back and forth in front of the store. By mid-day the wait in line was approximately one hour to get to the back door and get some free comics.
(Photo right: Same worry-free Tie Fighter pilot assists with door duties, in the same casual fashion)
My job as door man was relatively easy, just reminding customers as they entered that the line for the free books started outside the store and entered through the back or giving directions, and answering questions about the events. Throughout the day, there was free face-painting (at next door Newark Arts Alliance) as well as art and cartooning classes being offered.
Looking down the customer lines (my way to pass the time for a goodly portion of the day) I was impressed by the huge number of adults and children who showed up in costume or partial attire/make-up representing their favorite comic or pop culture characters. At times it seemed like every other person was in costume. There were several planned character appearances from Star Wars to Batman to Spider-Man and Captain America, to name a few - -and they showed up to greet, entertain and take photos with everybody standing in line. There were a minimum of 3 Spider-Men who showed up, all in the classic blue and red costumes- - one a classic Ditko style including the spider-symbol on the back, a more 80’s-90’s representation and one I can only refer to as Cheesesteak Spidey (the photo will indicate why).
(Artists sketch –one of several stations) (Cap helps guard a FCBD stash)
One thing I really missed about being a volunteer was having any time to visit the artists and guests and learn more about them, chat a bit, and maybe get a sketch or two. However, being able to see young children and adults enjoy themselves and get caught up in the wonder and excitement of comic reading and collecting made it a good day for me. I was reminded of the importance of this original American art form and was glad to see parents helping their kids make selections and discuss the books with them. Here’s hoping those children ask their parents to make a return trip to Captain Blue Hen for more comics. Reading doesn’t need to be a lost art - - and there’s not better way to introduce it and to build a reading habit than through comics. “"’Nuff said!