Mark your calendar: this Saturday is the tenth annual Free Comic Book Day.
The first Free Comic Book Day was held in 2002. The premise was simple: stores gave short, free sampler comics to regular customers and newcomers alike, rewarding one group for their loyalty while introducing the other to the joy of reading comics. Not surprisingly, FCBD quickly blossomed into a major event, with thousands of retailers in the US and Canada participating. Many stores do more than just hand out free floppies; they invite local artists to do readings, sign books, and chat with patrons, and offer special promotions on popular series.
In recent years, the organizers of FCBD have made a concerted effort to include more kid-friendly titles among the giveaways — a smart move, since an event like FCBD provides many families with their first exposure to their local comic book shop. This year’s line-up of comics for kids is one of the best to date. Though it includes a fair number of “brand extension” comics — stories designed to capitalize on a game or TV show’s popularity — it also includes a number of original titles. Below are my picks for the best of the bunch, as well as a few survival tips for first-time attendees.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
This year’s FCBD will be held on Saturday, May 7th. To find the nearest participating store, click on this link, which will take you to a search engine on the official FCBD website.
If possible, go earlier in the day. The few times I’ve gone in the mid-to-late afternoon, I’ve come away empty-handed.
Do your homework about the titles being offered; it isn’t always possible to judge the content by the cover, especially with superhero comics. The FCBD site has a complete list of titles, with previews and information about the intended audience for each book.
Though many shops do a great job of making sure there are kid-friendly titles available on FCBD, you may feel more comfortable visiting a store that goes out of its way to welcome younger readers every day. The website kidscomics.com has a helpful store locator.
Below are my top picks for kids under thirteen. For each title, I’ve included the publisher’s synopsis and age rating, as well as some additional commentary about content and audience. (If we’ve reviewed it here at Good Comics for Kids, I’ve included a link to the review.) Keep in mind that these aren’t the only comics being offered on Saturday; for a complete list, click here. For more suggestions about what to take and what to skip, see Glen Weldon’s very helpful (and very funny) Guide for the Perplexed at NPR’s Monkey See blog.
Rated Free for Everyone: Power Lunch and Sketch Monsters
By J. Torres, Josh Williamson, Dean Trippe, and Vinnie Navarro
Publisher’s Rating: All Ages
What They Say: “Two all-new stories from two upcoming kids graphic novels! In “Power Lunch” the only thing remarkable about Joey is his astounding array of food allergies-or so he thinks. In reality, Joey is about to learn he has incredible super powers and they’re all tied to the foods his mom has always forced him to avoid. While in “Sketch Monsters,” Mandy must remember exactly how she used her wild imagination to create the giant booger monster terrorizing the city if she has any chance of stopping it!”
What GC4K Says: Lively artwork, tongue-in-cheek scripts, and plenty of slapstick humor make this a great choice for readers aged six to nine. Gross-out humor (see “giant booger monster,” above) and an imaginative approach to discussing food allergies are the frosting on the cake.
Super Dinosaur: Origin Special
By Robert Kirkland and Jason Howard
Publisher’s Rating: All Ages
What They Say: “Super Dinosaur is finally here! In this standalone origin special you will learn everything there is to know about Derek Dynamo’s best friend, Super Dinosaur! Where did he come from? How did he avoid extinction? What is Inner-Earth? And what the heck is DynOre and why is it so dangerous? All this and more will be revealed – and all for FREE!”
What GC4K Says: Robert Kirkland’s latest series is guaranteed to be a hit with someone in your household: what self-respecting elementary school student doesn’t love dinosaurs, cool gizmos, and secret, subterranean worlds? As our own Eva Volin noted a few weeks ago, the first few pages are very exposition-heavy — a bigger turn-off for adult readers than kids, I think — but on the whole, it looks like Kirkland and artist James Howard have produced an adventure for young readers that doesn’t talk down to them, and doesn’t look like a “kids’ comic.” (That’s very important if you have an eight- or nine-year-old in your house; they have an uncanny ability to avoid stories that are written especially for their age group.) Script-wise, Super Dinosaur is too challenging for beginning readers, but is just right for kids eight and up.
Top Shelf Kids’ Club 2011
By Andy Runton, James Kochalka, Christian Slade, Chris Eliopoulos, Ray Friesen, Jess Smart Smiley
Top Shelf Productions
Publisher’s Rating: All Ages
What They Say: “Top Shelf is proud to join the 2011 FREE COMIC BOOK DAY celebration with not one, but SIX all-ages tales. In this FCBD edition, we’ll not only present three adventures from our established all-ages series Owly by Andy Runton, Johnny Boo by James Kochalka, and KORGI by Christian Slade; but we’ll also feature three all-new stories from three brand new all-ages series debuting this year: Okie Dokie Donuts by Chris Eliopoulos, Pirate Penguin Vs Ninja Chicken by Ray Friesen, and Upside Down by Jess Smart Smiley. Perfect for everyone in the family. With a great cover by Chris Eliopoulos this time around to boot! ”
What GC4K Says: This anthology features some of our very favorite kids’ titles, including Andy Runton’s lovely, wordless Owly; Christian Slade’s beautifully illustrated Korgi; and James Kochalka’s funny, raucous Johnny Boo. For these three titles alone this sampler would be worth picking up; that it includes previews of three new Top Shelf series makes it a must-have. (Doesn’t Pirate Penguin vs. Ninja Chicken sound like the best short feature Aardman Studios never made?) Recommended for readers aged four to eight.
Top Ten Deadliest Sharks/Dinosaurs and Dangerous Animals
By Joe Brusha and Anthony Spay
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 8-12
What They Say: “Sharks, Dinosaurs and Dangerous Animals! This FCBD edition from Zenescope’s Silver Dragon Books’ imprint has got them all. This book previews Discovery Channel’s and Animal Planet’s first ever line of Graphic Novels and is based on some of their most popular programming including Shark Week. A book for animal fans of all ages to enjoy.”
What GC4K Says: If your son or nephew doesn’t think of reading as a recreational activity, these fact-filled comics — both inspired by Discovery Channel specials — might just change his mind. Writing about Top 10 Deadliest Sharks in December, our own Snow Wildsmith opined: “It won’t wow anyone with new and innovative uses of the medium, but it will attract readers with a pleasing blend of environmentalism, information, folklore, and, of course, gory shark attack stories.” Parents concerned about the content should rest assured that the book isn’t Jaws: The Graphic Novel. As Snow explains, “I’m terrified of deep water and what lives therein, so if the gore wasn’t too much for me, it definitely won’t be too much for an elementary school aged shark fanatic.”
Witch & Wizard
By James Patterson and Svetlana Chmakova
Publisher’s Rating: Teen
What They Say: “Yen Press proudly introduces the first chapter of the upcoming manga adaptation of James Patterson’s #1 New York Times bestselling series Witch & Wizard! With art by fan favorite Svetlana Chmakova, herself a New York Times bestselling creator, this series is poised to be a powerhouse! Tap into the legions of fans already following the adventures of Whit and Wisty in their battle against the New Order!”
What GC4K Says: Yen Press has had great success adapting James Patterson’s YA novels into graphic novel form, as the robust sales the Maximum Ride: The Manga attest. Pairng Patterson with popular global manga artist Svetlana Chmakova is a smart move, as Chmakova has the skill and imagination to make Patterson’s novels work in a graphic medium. (It doesn’t hurt that Chmakova has a devoted fanbase of her own, thanks to her work on Dramacon and Nightschool.) Though the cover image is enticing, note that some of the content is too intense for elementary-school readers; this title is better suited for kids aged 10 and older.