The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
Free Comic Book Day organizers aim for new readers

May 1, 2003
By Franklin Harris

Nothing draws a crowd like free samples, or so the comic book industry hopes.

Saturday is Free Comic Book Day. Comic book specialty shops across North America will give away books in hopes of attracting new readers.

Most of the major publishers, including Marvel and DC, along with several small-press companies, are participating. Some have donated backstock issues while others have printed special Free Comic Book Day editions of books they believe have widespread appeal.

Second Free Comic Book Day

This is the second year that the industry has held Free Comic Book Day. Last year's event coincided with the release of the "Spider-Man" movie. This year's coincides with the opening weekend of "X2: X-Men United."

Not to miss such an obvious tie-in, Marvel's Free Comic Book Day contribution is a reprint of "Ultimate X-Men" No. 1.

DC Comics is countering with its most popular character, Batman. DC's preview edition of "Batman Adventures" No. 1 is based on the popular cartoon series, as seen on Cartoon Network.

Remember that these comics are free. Not every retailer will have enough copies of every book for you to take home one of everything. But here are some other Free Comic Book Day books of note:

Slave Labor Graphics weighs in with "Slave Labor Stories," an anthology featuring "Milk and Cheese," the hilariously violent "dairy products gone bad" written and illustrated by Evan Dorkin.

Oni Press serves up an issue of "Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things" by Ted Naifeh. I've praised this comic before, and this issue, in which Courtney's baby-sitting job goes horribly wrong, is a wonderful introduction.

Gemstone Publishing, which recently picked up the license to publish Disney comics, kicks off its Disney venture with "Donald Duck Adventures," which reprints classic stories by renowned cartoonist Carl Barks.

Another book that is fun for all ages is James Kochalka's "Peanutbutter and Jeremy" from Alternative Comics. As usual, Jeremy the crow is up to no good, trying to trick poor unsuspecting housecat Peanutbutter.

Image Comics reaches deep into its vault for a reprint edition of "Leave It to Chance," writer James Robinson and artist Paul Smith's all-ages adventure series starring Chance Falconer, who is the female answer to Jonny Quest.

To learn more about Free Comic Book Day and to locate participating retailers, see www.freecomicbookday.com.

While you are picking up free comics, you might buy some, too. That is what Free Comic Book Day is all about. If the industry were thriving, publishers wouldn't have to lure new customers with the promise of freebies. But the industry's woes aren't for a lack of quality comics.

Currently, one of the best superhero books is Marvel's old standby, "The Incredible Hulk." Under the guidance of writer Bruce Jones, the not-so-jolly green giant is enjoying his best run since longtime writer Peter David was unceremoniously kicked off the book in 1998.

Strong supporting characters

At first I was skeptical of Jones' new direction, which has the Hulk's alter ego, Bruce Banner, on the run, much as he was in the '70s television series. But Jones has kept things interesting by throwing in strong supporting characters, a vast government conspiracy and the return of one of the Hulk's deadliest enemies, the Abomination. He also has made Banner's personality stronger than ever.

Jones is aided by artist Mike Deodato Jr., whose style has evolved and improved immensely since he first gained fame as a "good girl" artist during the '90s. Deodato's art is grim, moody and reminiscent of his work from his native Brazil. It fits perfectly with Jones' "realistic" approach to one of Marvel's most iconic characters.

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