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Free Comic Book Day 2024: What the World’s Premier Comic Event Looks Like in Melbourne

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On a staggeringly cold Saturday morning, a queue wrapped all around the block on Queen St in the CBD. While a line isn’t unheard of in Melbourne, this one wasn’t for a climate-controlled croissant or a two-bedroom rental. Instead, this crowd was waiting for All Star Comics to open their doors for Free Comic Book Day.

Free Comic Book Day is a staple in the comics community. First established in 2002, the first Saturday in May has grown into a global tradition, with comic book stores around the world filling to near bursting with crowds looking to get their hands on the year’s offerings.

The short of it is that big names like DC, Marvel, Dark Horse and Image, alongside other major and independent publishers, produce and release exclusive Free Comic Book Day issues. Comic book stores around the world buy them at a price subsidised by the publishers, and then hand them out, totally free, to storegoers on the day. It’s no surprise that the occasion draws millions into comic book stores internationally.

The event operates with the aim of bringing people into their local comic book stores and introducing comic books to new readers, giving them the opportunity to dip their toes in free of charge. Most Free Comic Book Day books are introductory issues to upcoming story arcs, or one-off stories, serving as primers to the world of comics for new readers. Children are also a key part of the target audience, with the years’ releases always including a good selection of books targeted towards younger readers. But for longtime comic fans, it’s a chance to get out to their local comic store, see what’s on offer and take home some free books.

Nowadays, Free Comic Book Day is practically a celebration. Patrons are encouraged to come by, dress up, and maybe even pick up a full-price issue alongside the free ones. It’s grown into a beloved tradition among fans. Why wouldn’t it? How many niche hobbies have a dedicated annual worldwide event? Record Store Day comes to mind, but Free Comic Book Day probably comes out on top just by virtue of being totally free of charge.

The event is orchestrated by North American distributor Diamond Comics Distributors, but is by no means a USA exclusive. Both of the CBD’s main comic retailers, All Star Comics on Queen St and Minotaur Entertainment on Little Collins, celebrate the event annually.

All Star Comics is a Melbourne institution. Opening their doors in 2011, albeit in a different location to today, owners Mitch and Troy have earned a retailer Eisner award in their time serving the Melbourne comic community. For the uninitiated, that’s essentially a comic book Oscar. They’re lauded by Melbournian comic book fans for their stellar customer service and vast comic knowledge.

This year, Free Comic Book Day at All Star Comics operated almost identically to last year’s event—they’ve got it down to a science. For an hour before opening, they exclusively serve families with young children, offering a kids pack of books aimed at young audiences. At 11:00am, they open the doors to the general public. They distribute lists of all the available comics to the queue outside, allowing visitors to select their four picks in advance and streamlining the process when visitors reach the front of the line. All the free comics were distributed in their downstairs foyer, but if you chose to do so, you could head upstairs to their store to buy something as well.

I arrived at 10:40am for an 11:00am opening, when the queue wasn’t too intimidating but was beginning to grow in anticipation. Soon, it stretched all the way up Queen St and spilled out onto Collins St. The families queue on the other side was still going strong, and apparently had reached all the way down to Flinders Lane at its peak.

I reached the front of the line about an hour after arriving. After picking up my free books, I headed upstairs, where the store was by far the busiest I had ever seen it.

Owner Troy calls Free Comic Book Day their biggest day of the year. “It's just a great excuse to get a lot of people in the store, get kids excited about comics, get them reading,” he said—and get people in the store they did. This year, All Star completely depleted their stock of free comics.

An important aspect of the day is that it runs at a loss for comic book stores. Troy thinks it’s absolutely worth it. “It's very tough to break even on the day, ‘cause we probably give away eight to ten thousand comics, but it’s great,” he said. This year All Star offered a storewide 20% discount on the day to encourage storegoers to buy comics as well, something that Troy said many do. Despite the possible losses on the day, Troy only expressed enthusiasm towards the day and what it represents for stores and customers.

The one thing he did not show enthusiasm towards was the idea of charging for Free Comic Book Day. “To me, that is completely contrary to the spirit of the day,” he said. “If people just want the free comics, they can just have the free comics”.

To Troy, the only cost of Free Comic Book Day is queueing up.

After doing just that, and slightly chilled by the morning weather, I left All Star Comics with four free books and headed just a few streets over to the second destination of the day.

Minotaur Entertainment probably boasts the title of busiest pop culture specialty store in Melbourne. Their Little Collins St location, which is also not their original storefront, features mostly manga on the ground level, but has a basement floor largely dedicated to comic books, graphic novels, and superhero collectibles. They’re also well-deserving of their self-appointed title of “pop culture mega store”. While All Star specialises in comic books, Minotaur has a bit of everything, whether it be board game dice or horror movie merchandise.

Minotaur’s Free Comic Book Day was a vast improvement from last year’s. In both 2022 and 2023, Minotaur required a purchase before free comics were available, and gave comics out depending on how much a customer spent.

This did not go down well. Disparaging comments can still be found on the store’s social media accounts, and I distinctly remember a disgruntled would-be patron last year outside the store telling me not to bother and to head over to All Star instead. It’s a move generally considered against the ethos of the event.

Minotaur clearly learned from past receptions. This year, they offered three free comics on entry, and up to two more upon answering comic-related trivia posted on signs around the store. Free comics were available on their basement level, and at their busiest the queue snaked all around the floor.

“I think we were trying to get a bit more cash flow from Free Comic Book Day,” Minotaur employee Jet said about the previous years’ decisions to charge for the books, “but this year we decided it kind of takes away from the whole point of Free Comic Book Day.” He acknowledged that the day’s intent was to introduce the medium to those who couldn’t afford to or hadn’t had the opportunity to try. “We want to make sure it's accessible to everyone, and everyone gets a chance to read comics and, you know, see how fun they are.”

By the time I arrived at Minotaur around 12:30pm, the line never stretched much longer than a dozen people. They had run out of a few titles by then, as shown on the board where they displayed the day’s offerings, but they still had plenty to satisfy the crowd. Jet estimated that around a thousand comics were distributed on the day, and said they cleared out their entire stock save for one title. Similarly to All Star’s storewide discount, Minotaur’s way of encouraging spending on the day was a $400 prize pack raffle for anyone spending over $100.

The decision to include an interactive trivia element seemed to go down well among storegoers. The trivia signs spanned in difficulty and included simpler questions like “Who were the two creators of Batman?” and “Which superhero is known as the Man Without Fear?”, as well as ones about specific comic authors and real-life inspirations for comic characters. “We were trying to make a bit more of a community event about it,” Jet said. “We’re just trying to build up a bit of a community around Minotaur.”

Free Comic Book Day is one of the most exciting pop culture events in the calendar. Last year, All Star was the obvious option for anyone seeking a free comic book. This year, either location was a good bet. No matter which you choose on the day, you’re in safe hands in the Melbourne CBD for Free Comic Book Day.

 
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