Happy Free Comic Book Day! Here in Columbus, Ohio, the day has been a huge success. The comic I was most excited about, The Guild: “Beach’d,” was awesome, and the event at which I acquired said comic was surprisingly pleasant. I am an impatient person, and I tend to avoid crowds and long lines, but, for free comics, I figured I could give it a shot. I will never understand people who are energized rather than drained by events such as Comic-Con, or its academic complement, the Society for Cinema and Media Studies annual conference, but this year’s Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) has given me a taste of the particular pleasure of convening with other fans in person.
My girlfriend and I arrived at the Laughing Ogre comic book shop here in Columbus around lunchtime, and we saw a line out of the store and several friendly, costumed superheroes. Amused, we joined the line, and were heartily welcomed by a man dressed as Superman, who, along with a little girl who was likely his daughter, and who was dressed as Supergirl, entertained the waiting comic book fans. Behind us stood a man and a woman, the latter of whom Superman asked if she’d been “dragged along” to the event. She said she hadn’t, and Superman seemed pleased that they were a comics-reading duo, rather than a fanboy-plus-support person. This was my first FCBD, so I can’t speak for the crowd in past years, but I imagine that Superman’s experience had been to notice particular demographic changes throughout the recent history of the event. Feeling moved by this public assessment of each fan’s authority, I planned a speech about how I was just here for Buffy, fictional feminist role model, and The Guild, authored by real life role model Felicia Day. Nobody asked, and so I didn’t get to give my speech, but it gave me some pleasure to know that I could share it with you in this venue later.
Normally, when I go to the Laughing Ogre, it’s on a Wednesday at 10 a.m. Twice a month, I make the trek to purchase my new Buffy comic (Buffy Season Nine one visit, and Angel and Faith the next), and I’m usually one of only a few people there. However, the staff always greets me kindly, and, knowing what I’m looking for, they never fail to tease me that Buffy Season Nine has been cancelled. I got the same personal greeting today, but I got the further pleasure of seeing some of the rest of the store’s clientele, and hence, some of the rest of Columbus’s comic book-reading community. There were a lot of children, for example, who I assume are in school on Wednesday mornings, and the store had prepared well for this, setting up superhero face painting, as well as photo opportunities with the costumed superheroes. Additionally, the staff members in charge of the free comics tables had divided up the comics nicely, explaining to children, parents, and those of us who are neither, which comics were intended for which audiences. The idea of the separation was not one of censorship, but rather one of clarity, helping visitors to find what they were looking for. In front of me was a kid of indeterminate age (perhaps a savvier observer of people could have determined it, but I couldn’t), who expressed interest in a non-fiction meta comic intended for adults, and he was invited to take it if he wished, but warned that it did not contain a story with action, but rather was more of a history. This interaction reminded me of one of the things I like most about comics, namely, the medium’s flexibility, and its fans’ desire to educate new fans about the form’s many histories and pleasures.
The free comic I was most anxious to read, The Guild: “Beach’d,” was, as I mentioned, an absolute delight, although this review admittedly comes from a reader who has adored every single installment of The Guild‘s transmedia universe, and a reader who feels that The Guild: Fawkes comic must have been created as a personal gift. But I feel like this free comic embodies Felicia Day’s mission beautifully for more reasons than my personal enjoyment of this latest extension of The Guild storyworld. The decision to package it with the Buffy comic was wise, as Buffy fans are likely to be familiar with Felicia Day, and might take this opportunity to acquaint themselves with The Guild, her best-executed project to date. Perhaps some of them watched the first few episodes back when they first rolled out, but forgot to keep up with the series. Others might have seen the music videos, but not realized that they were meaningfully attached to an increasingly complex and impressively fleshed out narrative. The Guild: “Beach’d” embodies the greatest pleasures of the series in an easily-digestible format. On its title page, we are reacquainted with all five of the show’s main characters, as well as their in-game avatars. This page showcases the adeptness with which The Guild comics represent the game/life balance as experienced by each of these characters: we see that Codex, Day’s character, responds as viscerally to violence in- and out of game, because she has an uneasy constitution and a low threshold for stimulation. By contrast, Tink, played by Amy Okuda in the series, can happily drink a soda out of game, while attacking brutally in-game. The language of comics works so well for this series, and I love the way this particular comic, offered to us as a free invitation to explore the series’s current stage of development, speaks so easily to a concern central to online fandom. It’s so funny to get up in the morning, walk four and a half miles to a comic book shop, wait in line with strangers who share only my anticipation for free comics, and then be transported back into the storyworld that feels like home. Henry Jenkins once described fandom as a weekend-only world, and, while it’s come a long way since then, my particular Saturday nevertheless revealed a kinship with that utopian idea.