Saturday, May 5, 2012

Free Comic Book Day Reviews: Part One

Yesterday was Free Comic Book Day and between three stores our intrepid party managed to grab an impressive haul of 18 titles as well as some unexpected extras. Many thanks to Quality Comics, Empire Toys, and the freshly re-located Comic Zone for making everybody feel welcome. We saw huge lines and even a lot of excited (and often costumed) children! There are still comics for children?! Consider me gobsmacked!

Join me after the jump to find out about the additional surprises and read the first batch of reviews of the books themselves!

I want to give special thanks to Quality Comics who really went above and beyond the call of duty yesterday (and they're still celebrating Sunday if you're in Perth!). Free comics are fun but it was also the perfect day to buy stuff with 10% off store-wide for everyone and 20% off for club members (and cheap club membership on the day). They also had a 3-for-2 offer on T-shirts and extra freebies when spending certain increments. I bought a couple of fun things that I'll review another time, but was gifted this unexpected Thor Heroclix figure...

Obviously based on the Chris Hemsworth movie version...

And best of all I got to choose a free book from a large selection. I picked this amazing hardcover Jack Kirby collection which was a very generous and welcome addition to the day's festivities. Devil Dinosaur!!! RAAAWWRR!!

Look at how stunning this book is!

 I'll do a full review of that one later!

But now onto the free comics. The retailers definitely did their part by ordering tons of books, piling on the promotions and creating a fantastic atmosphere, and the crowd did their part by turning up and taking part. So now the real pressure is on the artists, writers and publishers to produce work of a quality that makes people want to return. Is Free Comics Day capable of cultivating new readers? And will any of these enthusiastic children stick around?

My first batch of reviews will focus on some of the more kid-friendly books (although I've thrown DC's New 52 book in here as well because it reads like it was created by children). ZING!

Even though I might love a television show (and I do love Adventure Time) I'm generally wary about even looking at a comic spin-off. My fears were ungrounded here. This is both a beautifully drawn and hilariously written book featuring three short stories that showcase the talents of indy greats like Dinosaur Comics' Ryan North, and the adorable work of Lucy Knisley. If you have kids and you're awesome then this is the book I would most recommend. The characterisation is right on target.

This book isn't all Adventure Time though, if you flip it over the back half is a preview of the new post Schulz Peanuts comic. 

The longer format work looks to be a fair facsimile of Schulz's art but fails to capture the pace and impact of the shorter strips. A couple of pages of classic Schulz work is included and his precocious child punchline on the first one will remind you how incredibly brilliant Schulz was but also make you realise what a hard task these new creators have on trying to live up to any of that work. My suspicion is that you would be better off reading through some classic collections.

Next up is another flip book, the first half of which is Moomin.

I've seen Moomin around a lot but never actually engaged with it and I'm happy to report that it's quite old fashioned and charming. It may not appeal to all contemporary tastes but if you have a child that's enchanted by classic children's literature then I think this has a lot of appeal. This book contains a story excerpt that ends rather abruptly and I was definitely intrigued enough to want to find out more.

The other half of the book is Anna and Froga.

I'll admit that Anna's sketchy Charlie-Brown-in-drag look put me off this one initially but the stories themselves are actually quite clever and funny. There's a wonderful story where Anna and Froga are terrible to a fish, and another one when they think Anna has accidentally eaten her worm friend. This book warrants further investigating too. I would buy this for a kid.

Less successful for me was Yo Gabba Gabba!

I haven't seen the show but I love the design and concept - it's for hipsters with kids, right? The book contains the work of some wonderful comic creators like Mike Allred and a story by Sarah Dyer and Evan Dorkin, but it's aimed very young and the writing is pretty flat (the Dyer being the best of them). It's just not consistently funny or exciting and each part has a shoe-horned in moral - mostly about stealing for some reason. Is stealing a large problem among Yo Gabba Gabba's target audience? Not a favourite for me.

And the last of the children's books (for today) is this Top Shelf collection featuring Owly, Korgi, Johnny Boo and friends:

I was really disappointed by Top Shelf this time around. These are some really unambitious stories for me where nothing happens and there's little energy. Owly and Korgi are both dead on arrival with very little attempt to do anything with their given pages, and this is a stark contrast to the Pirate Penguin story which feels like a rambling, not especially funny web comic that is in need of an editor. Even James Kochalka (who has many books I love) gives us a flat story where nothing really happens. The only one with a hint of vigour is Okie Dokie Donuts but it trades real characterisation for cliches: "That's the way the cookie crumbles" is the punchline for a story involving a giant cookie. Sorry guys, but this is a really lazy book! Compare it to the sharp writing in Adventure Time and tell me that I'm wrong!

And finally, something for the developmentally stunted adults. The New 52!

There is so much assumed knowledge in this book that it may as well be written in code. I think it begins with part of a story that is maybe suggesting some new versions of old characters (I could pick out The Question but god knows what else is going on here) and then we cut to some splash pages that promote ugly, jumbled things that I know nothing about. It's like DC saw Free Comic Book Day as an opportunity to make sure that nobody ever reads comics again. If you were a newcomer and you thought this book would be a great time to see what's going on with Superman and Batman then it's hard to imagine a worse outcome for you. 

So that's just the beginning! I have plenty of books left and I'm sure my fellow contributors will also have plenty to share as well. How was your Free Comic Book Day?


  1. I picked up about 5 or 6 comics yesterday. Out of these we got the Adventure Time book for Elle (4 years old) and the Yo Gabba Gabba book for Trix (2 years old). We also got the Spongebob book for Leon (2 years old), and the Mouse Guard book for me (32 years old). We read the kids books about 700 times in a row, and I haven't even peeked at Mouse Guard yet.

    I'd agree with you about the Yo Gabba Gabba book. It was a bit off of the genius of the TV Show, but I was really excited to see an advertisement in there for Yo Gabba Gabba board comics. If anyone doesn't know what board books are, they are the thick books for kids with thick cardboard pages, usually only about 10-12 pages long. I'm definitely going to keep an eye out for them.

  2. I agree! We noticed the board comics too. It's a wonderful idea!