A Northern Quarter comic book store will be hosting a party complete with balloons and cake for the 15th anniversary of Free Comic Book Day this Saturday.
The Travelling Man on Dale Street, which has participated in Free Comic Book Day throughout the store’s eleven year history, has received over one ton of free comics to hand out on the day.
Free Comic Book Day takes place on the first Saturday of May every year, offering newcomers an entry point into comic book culture and veterans a limited edition glimpse into new story arcs.
“What [Free Comic Book Day] is is that publishers put out free comics for people to just come and pick up,” explained Ant Higginson, the 30-year-old manager of the Travelling Man.
— Travelling Man (@TravellingManUK) May 5, 2016
“You can have one of each and there’s no obligation to buy anything once you come in.
“It’s just a chance for comic book stores to give back to the people that come in every other week of the year.”
Free Comic Book Day is celebrated by big and small comic publishers alike with comics banded into three tiers, Gold, Silver and Bronze, according to the prestige of the publisher.
The Gold band is dominated by big-hitters Marvel and DC, responsible for Batman, Spider-Man and The Avengers, while Bronze represents independent publishers like Aftershock and Turnaround.
“The tiers are just for the brand recognition really because some of the Bronze ones will be really good quality,” Higginson said.
“[Publishers] generally want to give you a taste of what’s coming or a taste of what they normally do so if you’ve not picked them up before you’ll be more inclined to pick it up then.”
Similar to the music industry’s Record Store Day, Free Comic Book Day has a noticeable impact on visitors and sales at The Travelling Man with customers queuing outside from 7am in previous years.
Weavers #1 signing at TMan Manchester soon! Don’t worry if our lovely guys there seem a little out of character… pic.twitter.com/7p7VYkt5YU
— Travelling Man (@TravellingManUK) May 4, 2016
“Some people wait to buy things because they know they’re going to get free comics so they’ll buy them on the day,” Higginson said.
“It’s that very British thing of being really polite, feeling there’s some sort of social contract: ‘I can have that for free, but I feel really rude! So I’ll just buy loads of things as well’.
“It’s never bad for us.”
Higginson emphasised that the day is not just observed by comic book aficionados, with the friendly Travelling Man making a particular effort to welcome as wide a demographic as possible.
“There’s that stigma, isn’t there?” he laughed.
“People always presume that comic book shops are dark, smelly [places] where if a woman walks in everyone’s going to gasp!”
“All the Travelling Man shops are inclusive. They’re for everybody, comics are for everybody, and we have ranges from little kids to businessmen coming in and everybody in between.
“It’s the worst thing in the world to get pigeonholed if people are like ‘urgh, you like comics?’
“But that’s like saying ‘oh, you like to read books?’ We think we’ve got something for everybody.”
Does this even need a caption? pic.twitter.com/8wayCQFYS4
— Travelling Man (@TravellingManUK) April 30, 2016
Higginson has noticed a positive change in the popularity of comics in recent years, with the success of film adaptations like The Dark Knight Trilogy making it more acceptable to be a geek.
However, he has hopes that over the next fifteen years of Free Comic Book Day comic publishers will move past superhero tales into more diverse, ambitious styles of storytelling.
“There’s been a lot of changes at Marvel and DC – they’re trying to be more inclusive,” he explained.
“They’re trying to get more female characters up front, different sexual orientations up front. It seems like there’s just been really strong comics recently.
“I quite like what some people do with web comics, long-form so it’s on the one page and you just have to keep scrolling. That’s really nice.
“They need to take chances. There’s nothing wrong with tights and capes but you can only read so many stories about a man punching another man in the face.”
Accordingly, The Travelling Man is thinking about its own future, with the shop planning to transform its basement into a community space at some point this year.
School’s back but you can still learn science in style with Professor Astro Cat! pic.twitter.com/DpCb3NrK11
— Travelling Man (@TravellingManUK) April 16, 2016
“Our basement’s going to be made into an organised playspace, so we’ll run board games and stuff down here, but we want to run screenings as well,” Higginson said.
“Maybe we could have a poop your pants pyjama party where we play spooky games and watch scary films, paying x amount. That’ll go towards getting pizzas in and the rest of it goes to charity.
“It’s going to be a rentable space as well, so people will be able to book the day out to do a workshop.”
With suggestions of hosting artists’ talks and inviting in local schools, the Travelling Man’s emphasis is on making sure that its facilities are welcome to all.
That accessibility to comic book culture is what Free Comic Book Day is all about.
“There’s no risk in it at all,” Higginson said.
“No one’s putting money down on something they might not like.
“It’s just a good atmosphere on Free Comic Book Day because people come in just to enjoy themselves. Who doesn’t like free stuff?”
To learn more about Free Comic Book Day, click here.
Image courtesy of Sam Howzit, via Flickr, with thanks