I was recently asked to describe what Free Comic Book Day is like, and the best I could come up with was that it’s a bit like Christmas.

For those who aren’t aware, the day traditionally falls on the first Saturday of May and it’s a global event. Comic book shops all over the world open up their doors and bring joy to all the children, young and old, by handing out… well, the name of the day should be a good indication. But before you get your hopes up and think you’re going to walk out with a shelf of free Sandman trade paperbacks or a box full of free unsold copies of 52, it doesn’t work that way.

The way it works is like this: The various publishers come up with their specific offerings – from reprints to collected samples of new stories that are coming out, or even special one-off projects – and the comic book shops buy them. Yes, the retailers do have to pay for them, so don’t forget to say to say thanks to the guys at the shop and maybe even have a look around or buy something. These free comics aren’t made by elves and dropped off by Santa (even if he does have a beard and mystical powers like Alan Moore), they do cost something, but thankfully it’s not the readers who have to pay.

Yes, it’s advertising. It’s advertising for both the shop and the publishers, and good for business… but it’s also about thanking the old fans and introducing new ones to the medium. You may even find yourself getting more than just comics, like a free Heroclix, movie posters and whatever other goodies they hand out. This is real swag, the loot you carry in bags, not the type that means you wear your jeans around your ankles.

Like Christmas, some people choose to dress up for the occasion. At my local comic book shop the owners and staff have no problems appearing as Green Lantern, Reed Richards, Harley Quinn and so on. There’s been a consistent increase in the customers who have arrived in costumes too, and it’s good to see. It may not be ComicCon, but it’s a great excuse to don your Birds Of Prey apparel.

Yes, there are usually queues, so getting there early can be essential. What you do in that queue is up to you, but it’s best if you do something legal. I’ve seen people playing D&D, some having picnics, others drinking large amounts of coffee and a couple of people doing the Desperate For The Bathroom dance. One of the best things is just to talk to people though.

No matter how alone you may think you sometimes are as a fan, there are going to be others there who know what you’re talking about. Maybe they won’t necessarily agree with you that John Stewart has been a better Green Lantern than Hal Jordan (hey, read Mosaic!) but they’ll certainly be on a similar wavelength to you. It’s good to talk with them, because we’re all there for the same reason and it’s a love of comic books, free or otherwise.

This year I haven’t peeked at my presents. I don’t know what’s on offer, preferring it to be a surprise… although if 2000AD have joined in again I’m expecting something amazing based on previous years. I’ll be dusting off my suit for it too, and know some other people who’ll be doing the same. Like with Christmas, how much meaning it has and how successfully it goes is down to those who celebrate it and join in the festivities.

If you choose to join in, please make the most of it and enjoy it. It’s good for the publishers, good for the retailers and especially good for the readers, old and new. It’s the day of the year to celebrate, when you get gifts that aren’t socks and you don’t have to listen to Boney M. You don’t even have to unwrap the comics from polybags.

And best of all, you don’t have to buy batteries.

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