Been a little while since my last Still on the Shelf here at Comixtreme, but with Free Comic Day having come and gone, I thought I would take this opportunity to make last year’s Free Comic Book Day Rundown a tradition. So, without further ado –

SotS’s Free Comic Book Day Rundown 2005

Once again, thanks to Nuclear Comics, 28985 Golden Lantern # B107 in Laguna Niguel, CA – (949) 363-1263, for making sure these books were available for this article this year. I do appreciate it!

Alternative Comics Presents. By Various.

Alternative Comics contribution was well put together – a bit of a sampling of all of the various types of comics that they put out. Whether you would like the content though, is another matter entirely. This is a classic example of an “alternative” comic company – a few fairly intellectual cartoons, some borderline offensive political cartoons attacking anything to the right of Howard Dean, and several incomprehensible strips with the classic “alternative” comic art style (read: poor). There were some gems to be had; the lead-off story by Gabrielle Bell was excellent. This was the story of a couple arguing constantly over a giant hole in the bathroom, an argument that only ends when one of them is actually swallowed by this seemingly innocent hole. Random would be a good way to describe it, but however you would classify it, it was quite enjoyable. Forbidden Fruit, an all-ages friendly strip by D. Sakai was also interesting; he told a pretty good story without using a single word. Granted, it was a story about birds trying to get fruit from a tree and therefore pretty simple, but it was well done nonetheless.

Overall, this was a good submission to check out if you are a fan of this very formulaic alternative comic style – and it was a well produced introduction to Alternative’s product line.

Alternative Comics

Amelia Rules! #0. By Jimmy Gownley.

This one surprised me in more ways than one. For starters – it was an outstanding all ages story. The simple concept of a kid in a new neighborhood trying to make friends might seem old-hat, but it was exquisitely pulled off by Gownley in this issue. It had all of the right elements, right down to the mean-spirited kid who spreads rumors about the newcomer only to see the light in the end.

The interesting twist of this story was the divorce angle, something I rarely ever see pulled off very well. Divorce is hard on a kid, and adding that as an aggravating factor in moving to a new neighborhood was an interesting choice. But it seemed natural – it was a source of stress for Amelia, but it felt natural, and didn’t completely take over the story. It was just there – and presented in a way that a lot of kids these days might find familiar. I found it to be a most impressive issue, made all the better by the fact that it was a Free Comic Book Day original. You should check this one out.

Amelia Rules!

Arcana Studio Presents #2. By Various.

Last year’s Arcana Studio Presents #1 was one of the better Free Comic Book Day entries, and this year’s effort proved to be just as good. The Kade and Ezra were solid, as usual, but the 100 Girls and Starkweather stories were the most interesting to me. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to sample either series yet, and for a first taste, these stories were fairly impressive. I look forward to reading more.

In the end, once again, Arcana Studio Presents proves to be an excellent standard to judge all of the FCBD entries by. And outstanding and enjoyable production through and through, and I hope you managed to get a copy. It had a quartet of solid and original stories that were great introductions for the new Arcana reader, but not totally boring for someone familiar with the titles. Granted, the former is way more important, as FCBD is for new readers primarily, but it is still nice to be able to enjoy the story if you are a fan of the title.

Arcana Studio

Betty & Veronica FCBD #1. By Dan Parent, Jim Amash, and Barry Grossman.

Last year the Archie Comics FCBD effort was among my favorites. This year it was the most forgettable. Not that I have anything against Betty & Veronica as a title – quite the opposite in fact. But this story was less about promoting Betty & Veronica as a comic, and more about re-introducing globetrotting supermodel Katy Keene to the pages of comics. Sure, she is a character with a lot of history (but then, this seems more like an Ultimate Katy Keene), but I am not so sure this was a good move. Last year’s Archie comic had a broad appeal – this issue presented Betty & Veronica as a book about teenage girls with no higher ambition than designing fashion or becoming a model. I know Betty & Veronica is more than that – but would a new reader? I don’t think so. This issue was a big flop.

Archie Comics

The Batman Strikes #1. Written by Bill Matheny, Art by Christopher Jones and Terry Beatty.

Another major publisher, another all-ages reprint. I have to hand it to Marvel in this case – at least they reprinted a decent issue. The Batman Strikes is the latest effort by Warner Brothers to appeal to a younger crowd by taking a time honored character (and most recognizable brand name) and stomping all over it, making it “Hip and hot for a new generation.”

Maybe I am being overly harsh – and this story isn’t all that bad. But there is one thing I know for certain – this isn’t Batman. I admit that I might have thought more of this story if the wholly original characters used in this issue were not assigned the names and costumes of a popular comic property, but the fact that they were ruined the whole thing. I was expecting more from DC today – perhaps I shouldn’t have.

DC Comics

Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards. By Jim Ottaviani and Big Time Attic.

This one was certainly a weird one. It was sort of a late 1800s tale centered on high profile antiquities collectors like P.T. Barnum. Paleontology also plays a large role in the story, as dinosaur bones are still considered among the more impressive curiosities. It does read as if there is some basis in fact for the tales – and those usually are the best ones. The story selection for Free Comic Book Day was a good one – after reading this issue, one would have a very clear idea of whether or not they would enjoy the graphic novel due out this fall. It is a little early for a direct promotion, but I can see people investigating the publisher after this most unique and fun effort.

GT Labs

Bongo Comics Gimme Gimme Giveaway, Written by Ian Boothby, Clint Johnson and Chuck Dixon, Art by James Lloyd, Hilary Barta, and Luis Escobar.

A Simpsons and Futurama Comics fan’s delight. But was it worth it? I think it was a pretty good showing for Bongo Comics, but like most Simpsons and Futurama books, they didn’t really capture what made the cartoons themselves so humorous. Sure, they same humor was there, but in the print form it seemed forced and unfunny. Homer being bored at a trip to the museum. Bender deleting his memory because someone told him to “forget you ever saw me.” May have made great gags in the animated show, but in the comic, they just fell flat. The Chuck Dixon penned “The Grotesque Garage Sale of Gargamash” was by far the most interesting story in the whole book. It featured a magician fighting with his mortal enemy at a garage sale over The Baster of Bastur. Quite funny.

Bongo Comics

Buzzboy.By Various.

I have to say that this one was pretty clever. The tagline on this issue read “Who knew comics could be this much fun again?” and they did deliver on that that promise. Three stories could be found in this issue – the first being about the title character, Buzzboy, followed by a Major Damage short (my personal favorite), and one about Roboy Red. All three stories appeared to be excerpts of larger stories, but they were well selected and they gave an excellent insight into who these characters are. This issue was certainly kid friendly, but the stories did not talk down to the reader in any way. In fact, the Major Damage story was almost heart-wrenching. I wouldn’t mind seeing more from this publisher in the future.

Sky Dog Comics

Comic Festival. By Various.

It looks like they debuted this comic at the recent Toronto Comicon – logical since it is intended to highlight the work of Canadian cartoonists. I can’t really say I was too impressed, though. The 23 strips and excerpts of comics ranged from flat out strange to potential-filled, but not incredible. I think a lot of the excerpts were poorly selected – giving someone a page or two out of a story when there is nothing particularly interesting about those pages on their own is not going to win over new readers. For this entry, they would have been wise to either go with fewer selections, or put more pages in the book. The strips themselves couldn’t have much been improved by more pages, but the comic excerpts could have been. A great con giveaway, but as a FCBD book, I can’t see this winning over too many new readers.

Toronto Comics

G.I. Joe, Defex, and Darkstalkers. By Various.

A strong outing from Devil’s Due this year, but not at all why I thought it would be. The issue itself was one of those flip books – one story on one side, then the other upside-down on the other. I don’t love that format, but it isn’t difficult to deal with, so it has never bothered me all that much.

I started with the Darkstalkers story – which was pretty forgettable. I think it was a pretty decent overview of the main character in the series, but I typically find that comics based on video games tend to be weak at best, and this one seems no different. On the flip-side, the Defex story was an exert of a previously printed issue – while decent, I think an original overview would have served much better.

But the real jewel of this issue was the G.I. Joe short. I dropped G.I. Joe a long time ago, but after reading that sample, I am regretting that. If all of the G.I. Joe issues are that good these days, then the series has improved dramatically since I dropped it all that time ago. If you missed it – find a copy of the FCBD book and take a look. Wow is the best word to describe it. What a difference making Cobra an intelligent enemy makes!

Devil’s Due

Flare Adventures #13. Written by Wilson Hill, Art by Gordon Purcell, J. Adam Walters, and Chris Marrinan.

From the cover of this one, you probably thought the same thing that I did the first time I saw an issue of Flare – a big bosomed blonde beauty who can barely stay in her costume fighting crime. Fanboy’s wet dream, huh? Despite the image that the cover might convey – sexuality really plays a very, very small part of Flare. In fact, she is even aware of it herself, and comments on how much she hates the image that she has (in the story) from time to time.

The Flare story itself is a reprint, but a pretty decent story, and a nice introduction to Flare as a character. The back-up stories featuring Psyche and The Black Enchantress are original though – and very entertaining. One thing you will notice when reading just about anything from Heroic Publishing is the “old school feel” that the comics have. Stories wrap up quickly, and have just as much oomph as the six issue behemoths that are so common these days. I can’t say that this will be to everyone’s tastes, but I think older comic readers who are a little jaded about the all too serious tone that comics take today should enjoy what Heroic has to offer.

Heroic Publishing

Impact University. By Various.

If you have any interest in actually creating comics, this entry most probably caught your eye. It was pretty enjoyable and informative. Granted, you had to power through an overly egotistical introduction that most people probably skipped all together (the smart ones to be sure), but on the artistic side I found it satisfying. Impact includes samples from a wide range of their “instructional manuals,” from Manga Secrets by Lea Hernandez to a taste of Will Eisner’s Comic’s and Sequential Art.

This wasn’t so interesting an entry from a story perspective, but this isn’t really a comic book in the traditional sense. It was an excellent sampling of the products that Impact has to offer. I know there are a lot of people out there who could use a publication like this one – you should check out their site if you missed this one.

Impact Books

Keenspot Spotlight 2005. By Various.

This one was a monster – 120 pages in total. As you might guess from a book this size, there were a lot of different comics to be had here. Unfortunately – nothing really jumped out at me in particular. Not that there wasn’t some serious effort put into the work here 0- it just didn’t appeal to me all that much. You can’t really enjoy them all, I suppose. The original stuff didn’t seem all that interesting or amusing, and the strips inside seemed to rely a great deal on spoofs of mainstream comic properties (Batman breathing in space, or the Incredibles), and even those weren’t terribly funny. Maybe this is an example of something I just don’t get. It isn’t uncommon for me to be the only person who doesn’t enjoy something.


Manga Sampler. By Clamp and Ken Alamatsu

Manga has never been something I have gotten too excited about. Despite that, I have enjoyed certain manga titles from time to time, and picked this one up with an open mind. Unfortunately, in was incomprehensible.

For one, it was in that obnoxious left-to-right printing style. I know that is a popular gimmick among manga fans, as that is how they are actually printed in Japan. Thing is, that is because it is written in Japanese. Trying to read English written properly, but with the pages ordered improperly is more of a headache than it is worth. I am sure Manga purists are ripping their hair out now, but the way I see it – by printing it in English in the first place, it is already not authentic. Ordering the pages top make the story readable in the language it is printed in seems like a small concession. Beyond that, the story is difficult to understand in the first place – making the formatting issue all the worse.

Mangaphiles probably enjoyed this effort. I am pretty sure it didn’t win over too many new readers, however.

Del Rey Manga

Marvel Adventures. Written by Todd Degazo, Art by Michael O’Hare and Derek Fridolfs.

OK, not only is this a reprint – it is a reprint of a title no longer in publication! Marvel Age Spider-Man Team Up #1 was the source of this issue’s story, and that just brings up bitter memories of Marvel’s inexplicable dumping of the Marvel Age line in favor of Marvel Adventures. Sure, it has a similar theme, but why work that hard to establish brand identity only to dump it for no real reason? Outside of a neat little “How to Build a Comic” feature at the end of this issue, there was very little new to be had here. I really would expect that the major publishers would do more on Free Comic Book Day. Granted, their marketing presence is such that people don’t need to push to sample a Spider-Man comic, but with such strong efforts by the small press on this day – well, let’s just say that all things being equal, Marvel wouldn’t be at the top of my “must sample” list if I were a new reader.

Marvel Comics

Minimate – Free Comic Book Day. From Diamond Select Toys.

This little guy was a trip. When I first saw a picture of it, I wondered how a little Lego-guy wanna-be without even the backing of a well-known comic property behind it was possibly going to get people into the line of toys. Sure, make it a Spider-man minimate, and people will buy it in droves on name association in droves. But to put the product itself up like this – no known superhero, just a plan white mini-mate with the FCBD logo splashed across its chest? Selling the product for what it was, and nothing more? Suicide!

After playing around with this little guy for a few minutes, I found myself glad that my toy collecting days are well behind me. I could easily see myself dropping way too much money on these things. At first, they seem like your typical Lego-man – they even have holes on the bottom of their feet which SUGGESTS that they might stick to Legos. Granted, I was never able to test this theory, but it wouldn’t surprise me. All of the body parts are easily removable and presumably interchangeable with other Minimates – something a kid might enjoy. There is a lot of articulation as well, allowing you to pose your Minimate however you like.
The FCBD Minimate changed my mind about the toy. Heck, if they ever make a Deadpool Minimate, I might end up picking it up. I can see how these things are addiction now.

Diamond Select Toys

Owly: Splashing Around. By Andy Runton.

If I were to give an award for most improved Free Comic Book Day entry, Top Shelf would have to take the prize. Last year they submitted a collection of various strips and short comic stories. This year, instead of a potpourri of both the good and the not-so good, Top Shelf submitted a singe Owly story, to outstanding effect. Owly is an all ages title, and another of those comics without actual dialogue. Runton expertly tells the story of Owly and his quest to win first prize in a bird bath contest through art alone. It is a fun and expressive comic story, and I was impressed with the results. Normally I like to see FCBD efforts from smaller publishers focus on the whole of their line-up, but in this case, I think the single story approach worked better. Having this one outstanding comic be the face for all of Top Shelf will have more people curious about what else they have to offer. An excellent approach. This is one of the few solidly kid-friendly books given out this year – one you could pass on to your youngsters without hesitation.

Top Shelf Comix

Roninhood of the 47 Samurai. Written by Jeff Amano, Art by Craig Rousseau.

I guess this kind of qualifies as an Image submission as well this year, huh? I know that Beckett will maintain a degree of independence (Image only signing on to actually publish the books), but this was a great piece of news. I have been a fan of Beckett since I first cracked an issue of Ganglords of Chinatown, and this move means I will get so see a lot more from them in the future.

So the FCBD issue – impressive as expected. As the title suggests, it is an adaptation of Robin Hood, only set in feudal Japan. The change works so well, I am surprised it has never been done before. If it has, I have never heard of it. Of course, this was only the first part of the story, but a powerful start. I am sure I am not the only one who will be scrounging to find the remaining issues of this series.

Beckett Comics

Runners: Remastered #1. By Sean Wang.

There are a few different sort of FCBD comic styles out there – this was the first of the “reprint” variety that I read this year. While I do frown on Marvel’s tendency to simply reprint an old all-ages issue, for these small press companies, this is often a very good idea. Especially in cases like this, where this reprint of the first Runners issue could well spur a boost in sales for the remainder of the series, already available.

The issue itself was a fairly good read. It had a shoot-em-up sci-fi format, with a few fun elements tossed in to lighten the mood. Sci-Fi is still a very under-represented genre in comics, and I think this a pretty solid effort in the Star Wars style action space-opera. Something you should check out if you are in the mood for something action packed and fun.

Sean Wang

Star Wars. Written by Miles Lane, Art by Nicola Scott, and Michael Atiyeh.

Star Wars comics have certainly made a resurgence over the past few years, thank in large part to the prequel trilogy that is about to wrap up this month. What was once only enjoyable to the hard-core Star Wars fan is now a solid story accessible to just about anyone who likes the genre. Dark Horse’s entry this year was clearly meant to act as a bridge between fans of the movie and the comic books that bear the Star Wars name, but might be totally unrecognizable to anyone unfamiliar with the Expanded Universe. The story focuses on Anakin and Obi-Wan, hot on the trail of Count Dooku and General Grievous, only to end up falling into an ambush. Some pretty standard banter between Obi-wan and Anakin was the focus of this book – and it has very reminiscent of Episode II’s dialogue between the two. Star Wars comic fans might find it a little dry and basic, but for a new reader, it actually ended up being a pretty solid introduction to Star Wars in comic book form. Solid package and all-ages friendly – Star Wars is an overall good pick by Dark Horse for this event.

Dark Horse Comics

Superior Showcase #0. By Various.

Ah, now this is something I have some familiarity with. I picked up Project: Superior several weeks ago, a pretty thick anthology book (287 pages at $19.95, and very worth the cost) filled with various cartoons. And I loved it! I was very happy to see that the Superior Showcase issue was just as good, and very much in the same spirit. Many of the strips have the look of a standard alternative stereotype (bad art), but I am a firm believer that a great imagination can make the worst art work. One work at the introductory cartoon, Onion Jack, will confirm what I am saying. This is a talented group of people, and I highly recommend checking out their work if you weren’t fortunate enough to sample their FCBD submission.

Adhouse Books

Uncle Scrooge. By Carl Barks.

Ah, if only Gemstone didn’t overprice their Disney books so much. They made an excellent move here in reprinting the very first full-length Uncle Scrooge story by the legendary Cark Barks – a great all ages piece. Even someone whose only exposure to Uncle Scrooge was through the old Duck Tales cartoon will recognize this incarnation – they are very much the same. Even the plot is similar to a standard episode of Duck Tales – Scrooge, worried about the Beagle Boys stealing his money, enlists the help of Donald and his nephews to hide the money from the would-be robbers. A definite oldie-but-goodie here – hopefully if your local comic shop limited the number of books you could pick up, this one was on your list.

Gemstone Publishing

Of course, as I am sure was a common occurance in most stores, my local comic shop did not get a copy of every issue that was put out for Free Comic Book Day. This was expected, and I wasn’t surprised to see it happen, but I must admit some real disappointment at missing the Flight sampler and the Mortal Coils Presents issues. The Flight issue especially – I was always curious about Flight, and I saw the Free Comic Book Day issue as a great way too see whether it was worth the cost. I hear it was fantastic too. I am really sorry I missed that one.

Overall, in terms of product quality, I felt this year was much stronger than 2004. I have to hand it to the small press- they have taken this concept and ran with it. While the bog boys at Marvel and DC are doing the minimum required to pass without notice, the smaller publishers are putting it all on the line to give you an example of their best work, and doing everything they can to get you to give their work a shot. I hope you are all rewarding them for their efforts.

A solid year – let’s hope they can get it together once again in 2006 for an even better one! And as always, do remember that these books are free. While it is natural that all of us, as comic fans, showed up to get our copies, this day is for the new comic reader. The more people we bring into comics, the healthier the industry will be. So once you are done with your copies – pass them on. Especially those all-ages books – make sure they get into the hands of kids – any kid. You will be doing the comic industry a service!