Free Comic Book Day 2014 in Baltimore, Maryland:
“The Universal Language of Comic Books” by Shawn Warner
There’s a certain holiday-like quality surrounding FCBD for any true comic book fan; it is preceded by a restless night’s sleep filled with dreams of all the incredible quarter and dollar box treasures you are sure to find, at least that’s how it is for me. Although I have never found an Amazing Spider-Man #129 or Brave and the Bold #28 or anything more valuable than a New 52 Batman #2 (which I dug out of Gorilla King Comics’ FCBD Special box last year) in all my long hours of long box searches, it has none the less paid off in filling in runs of miscellaneous titles and hours of fun and comic book camaraderie. This year was quite a bit different for me due in large part to this being my first FCBD at a new shop, Universal Comics in Arbutus, Maryland. Well to call it a new shop would be misleading since Universal has been my shop since I was about 9 years old when it was owned by the man responsible for deepening my then budding comic book obsession, Mike Noon. Mike owned the neighborhood comic book shop throughout my adolescent years and well into my “adulthood” (a term used here as loosely as possible). He was a bit older but had that Peter Pan kind of way about him that made it easy for him to relate to the younger customers, like myself. When I was about 16 and able to drive, Mike and I, along with a gang of other Universal subscribers would pack into my Nissan Pulsar and head off to a con or a comic book related exhibit at the Smithsonian or just to the current super hero or sci-fi movie; it was a friendship as much as a business relationship. In the years that have come and gone Universal has changed owners several times, for a while Mike’s dad, Mr. Ray, tried to keep the shop up and running while Mike went on to start another career, but that arrangement didn’t last very long and soon another owner took over Universal and soon I had a new friend. The new owner was a laid back guy with a 60’s sort of vibe named Doug. Doug was a great shop owner and wonderfully clever with a knack for conversation that turned many a quick trip to pick up the new books on Wednesday into a shop closing debate on the countless reasons why X-Men Origins: Wolverine should never have been made or what was Rick Remender taking when he came up with the idea for Franken-Castle. However, Doug didn’t stick around terribly long and I was faced with the dilemma of finding a new comic book shop for the first time in decades; sure I visited other stores during my extended patronage of Universal but I never subscribed at another shop in all those years. It was a daunting task that involved a couple of rocky arrangements that each ended for reasons mostly of my design but location, hours, discounts and chemistry with the owners all conspired to return me finally to Universal Comics; who says you can’t go home again?
It was a Saturday afternoon and my wife and I were returning home from running some errands when we noticed the Universal Comics sign that had been taken down months ago was now being re-hung a few stores down. Needless to say I parked the car immediately and ran over to investigate this most fortuitous of events. I walked into the shop, took a look around and was greeted by the new owner, John Coe. John is the kind of guy that you instantly feel at ease talking to about almost any subject; well after a few minutes of conversation we found that we knew several of the same people and I left there with a subscription form and another new friend. I have been back at Universal Comics as a subscriber and loyal customer ever since and plan on remaining such as long as there a new books on Wednesdays. That’s the story of my long history with my local comic book shop and though this was not my first FCBD at Universal it was my first since John has been the owner.
I started the day at another local shop called Cosmic Comix and Toys in Catonsville and boy do these guys really pull out all the stops on FCBD. In addition to their large, very spacious store the guys had opened up the store front next door and used it strictly for the many long boxes full of .50 comics. There was a carnival atmosphere in the air that was only enhanced by the smell of freshly popped popcorn from the old-time popper cart, the myriad balloons and several cos-playing customers scouring the boxes as their favorite super hero or villain. I made my way through the cordoned off path that led to the free books, even though I arrived rather early most of the big draws were gone, no Marvel or DC FCBD offerings remained but I was able to grab several of the other publishers books including Image and IDW. I also was lucky enough to find a few Grant Morrison items I needed in the .50 boxes, so I left there a happy hunter.
I had plans to go to several other shops in the surrounding area but money has been so tight lately I had to scale back my original itinerary and head straight over to Universal Comics. The shop was full as I could see upon my arrival by the small crowd around the table of FCBD sale boxes (from which my buddy and fellow Universal subscriber, Matt found an entire Sword of Azrael mini-series, not a bad find Bat-Fans) and the steady flow of traffic in and out of the store. Universal is a great shop, when you are in the store you feel like you are walking around someone’s personal collection. The walls are full of rows and rows of action figures, including some rare Marvel and DC figures for very fair prices but that’s just on corner. You can also find any of the current hard to find figures from The Walking Dead, Reaction’s Alien line of figures as well as high end items from Hot Toys and Side Show all at extremely reasonable prices normally but even better priced for FCBD.
There was a very different vibe here than the one at Cosmic, instead of a carnival Universal felt like a party at a friend’s house; it was more intimate and everyone knew everyone else, like Cheers. In fact there was something of a celebration when a Universal regular found a copy of Man of Steel #17 he had been looking for with no luck until now. We captured the moment for posterity here at Bag and Bored. The FCBD material was arranged beside the new books from that week and was available as long as it lasted. I was able to pick up the books I was looking for making my FCBD 2014 a complete success. The good times continued and were still in full swing when I had to extricate myself from the event to catch a showing of Amazing Spider-Man 2 with my wife and the kids.
I caught up with John after the festivities to get the official word on FCBD 2014 at Universal Comics and just as I expected the day was a rousing success; sales were up from a usual Saturday, subscribers who picked up their books up on Wednesday made a return trip to grab the FCBD swag as well as to check out the sale boxes and enjoy a festive day at our local comic book shop (try doing that digitally). There is no doubt that John is an exemplary shop owner, wearing many hats during the course of the day, he has to be an entertainer, a gracious host and shrewd but exceedingly fair businessman. Whether in the store or on-line you are sure to come away from the experience a satisfied customer. These attributes come shining through almost immediately upon meeting him, just ask any of the numerous first time customers who stopped by Universal Comics in Arbutus, Maryland on Free Comic Book Day.
As the day drew to a close and I returned home after a day of comic book shopping and seeing an unexpectedly entertaining film, I looked through my bags of FCBD booty and began to count the days until Baltimore Comic-Con, the next big local event of the year. This was another experience that re-affirmed why I love comic books and the people who share this passion for sequential storytelling, nothing brings people together like good stories; it has been that way since cave men scrawled images on stone walls. The creators are the real heroes of these printed adventures, the men and women who fill the panels and pages with imagination and inspiration, they are the ones who make this world super, amazing, uncanny and incredible. Free Comic Book Day is an open invitation to anyone who ever wanted to escape the mundane work-a-day world, to enter a realm of fanciful ingenuity a few pages at a time but more than that it’s a celebration of the medium we love so much and an example of what a positive influence comic books can be. In an age when social media takes up much more of our time than actual human interaction it is nice to have a common interest that unites us in reality and away from our electronic devices, even if it is for just a day and best of all it’s free.
GALLERY FROM FCBD 2014:
Shawn is an aspiring writer/ artist who has been reading, collecting and living comic books for over 30 years. He lives in Baltimore with his wife, their son, lots of cats, dogs and other various finned and furry friends.