Every year, on the first Saturday in May, all the people of the earth drop their weapons for a few hours, put aside their considerable differences, and come together to celebrate Free Comic Book Day. As I tend to observe the holiday at Ann Arbor’s Vault of Midnight, I reached out the award winning comic shop’s owner, Curtis Sullivan, and his Global Director of Results, Nick Yribar, to discuss what they have in store for this year.
NICK: I reject the premise of your question… And I won’t be party to your journalistic trickery! Hasn’t the age old feud between Comic Shop and Record Store gone on far too long?
MARK: As a tabloid journalist, it’s my job to stir shit up… And nothing would make me happier than if I could instigate a West Side Story-like dancing knife fight between the Vault of Midnight crew and the folks at Encore in that little alley next to the Michigan Theater.
NICK: I don’t know what your stake is in keeping the feud going, Mark, but we’re all about finding a peaceful resolution to these non-existent hostilities.
CURTIS: If things were to heat up, I’m pretty confident we could out-dance, or at least out-rhythmically snap Encore under the table.
NICK: With that said, yeah, I’m comfortable throwing down that gauntlet.
MARK: I just never felt that it was fair that you, the comic book store guys, were supposed to give things away on your holiday, whereas, with theirs, people were expected to buy stuff… You should demand that they make it Free Record Day, and level the playing field.
CURTIS: Don’t worry, Maark, in addition to being a huge marketing event for us, Free Comic Book Day is also our biggest sales day of the year. From a cost versus return point of view, it’s a huge win for us.
NICK: And, with the exception of the “free” element, the two events are pretty similar. Both Record Store Day and Free Comic Book Day are about setting aside an afternoon to appreciate something you love, to stand in line and hang out with other like-minded enthusiasts, and to acknowledge the benefits of shopping in a real-life, brick and mortar shop staffed by real-life nerds.
MARK: When did the holiday start, and how’d it come about?
NICK: Way back in the murky past of 2001, a retailer out in Concord, California by the name of Joe Field came up with the idea in a column he wrote about the state of the comic book industry. Essentially he wanted to coordinated a national promotional event to capitalize on all of the publicity the medium was receiving in anticipation of the first “Spider-Man” movie, which was about to be released at the time. So he suggested that shops give away free comics in hopes of catching new readers who might be intrigued by the movie.
CURTIS: The first one is free, if you will.
MARK: It’s always gratifying when you can put lessons learned in the drug trade to good use… So, how’s Free Comic Book Day evolved since its launch?
CURTIS: Every year has been bigger than the last. This year we’ve teamed up with a bunch of other local businesses in the downtown area to offer complimentary deals and free stuff in the spirit of the holiday. We also refined the layout of the shop and added door prizes, door buster deals, a downstairs sale grotto, and a costume contest. We’re trying to compete directly with the University of Michigan graduation in terms of turnout.
MARK: Can you give us an example of what we might expect to see from other businesses in the area? Will Orbit be offering Wolverine haircuts? Will the U-M be irradiating spiders and letting them bite people?
NICK: A lot of local businesses are involved this year. The Wafel Shop around the corner from us is offering “Captain Midnight’s Waffle of Doom.” Literati is offering a discount to anyone with a Vault of Midnight shopping bag. And different restaurants will be handing out samples and snacks to people in line. It goes on and on. We want to turn Free Comic Book Day into a city-wide event that benefits our neighbors as much as it benefits us.
CURTIS: And VG Kids is doing a Vault FCBD 2014 canvas bag.
MARK: Is there competition between our nation’s comic book stores to outdo one another on Free Comic Book Day? Do you feel a lot of pressure?
CURTIS: Yes, of course. We want to crush all who stand before us.
NICK: With that said, though, our industry is constantly expanding, and the room to grow is staggering. Events like Free Comic Book Day just serve to make the pie a little bigger for everyone. Getting more people into comics, and introducing more readers to the medium, just means more customers for everyone.
As for pressure, there is some, but it’s internal. We want to do a better job every year. Last year was absolutely nuts… like “line-around-the-block” nuts. We had thousands and thousands of people. So, this year, we’re trying to up our game, expanding the width and scope of the event as much as we can.
MARK: What do you have planned for this year that we haven’t already discussed?
NICK: In addition to giving out free comics, the door-buster sales, and the dozens of deals and freebies being offered by local businesses, there will be costume contests, spontaneous trivia contests (in cooperation with our buddies at Nerd Life Productions), and lots of swag.
MARK: What kinds of free comic books are we talking about? Do you know yet what you’ll be putting in people’s hands?
CURTIS: This years selection is the biggest yet, with comic books from a ton of publishers. Guardians of the Galaxy from Marvel, Simpsons from Bongo, Hip Hop Family Tree from Fantagraphics, Buck Rodgers from Hermes Press… There will be over 60 titles to choose from, and each attendee can choose up to three.
MARK: How’s Grand Rapids been treating you? Are people liking the new Vault?
NICK: It’s been outstanding. I couldn’t be happier with how it’s gone.
CURTIS: We feel the love, and we’re happy to be part of another cool downtown. It’s been gratifying as hell to grow our little company and land in a city that fits our style. Vault of Midnight is the next logical step for Beer City USA.
MARK: Would I be correct to assume that you’ll be celebrating the holiday there as well?
CURTIS: Absolutely. Same sorts of stuff; free comic books, costumed people, insanity, etc. WGRD, a local Grand Rapids radio station, will be broadcasting live from the event, and we’re doing a special Free Comic Book Day at the Helen Devos Children’s hospital on Friday. We’ve also partnered with a bunch of local businesses for deals and freebies, and we’re super excited to see the response to our first Free Comic Book Day in G-Raps.
MARK: One last thing. Assume someone comes out to celebrate Free Comic Book Day at Vault of Midnight, and you’re too swamped to make personal recommendations, can you give us an idea of three or four relatively new things on the shelves right now that you’re excited about?
NICK: Oh goodness, yes. We’re actually stuffing our lower-level-sales-grotto with tons of books that fit that bill. Everyone that is a living, thinking person should read Saga by Brian K. Vaughn as soon as possible. Also Letter 44 from Oni Press, written by Charles Soule. And our Tactical Book Quest Club book of the month for April is Snowpiercer, a kick-ass French graphic novel that was printed in English for the first time a couple of months ago. And there’s just so much more.
Free Comic Book Day will be celebrated at Vault of Midnight on Saturday, May 3, between 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM. Additional detals can be found here.
[note: If you’d like to know more about Vault of Midnight, check out this inveterview with Curtis that I did not too long ago.]