We started with a simple question: Can we feasibly hit every comic shop in Oakland, San Francisco, and Berkeley in one-day? After mapping a number of potential routes it was determined “maybe, but unlikely, and we’ll probably die.” It would have been a case of quantity over quality. What would be the point of rushing into a store, taking some photos, purchasing an item and grabbing a couple of free comics, and rushing to the next store? In the end, we settled on sticking to our backyard and hitting the East Bay Comics Trail. The West Bay Comics Trail will need to wait for a future date.
In my opinion, Free Comic Book Day serves three purposes. In order of importance:
- To bring new or lapsed readers into stores
- To get kids excited about comics
- To educate regulars on what’s coming soon or what else is out there
I acknowledge I’m not really the target of Free Comic Book Day. I have pull lists at three different stores in the Bay Area, on a daily basis I read mainstream and indie comic news, I attend conventions, and I stay up to date on happenings at my local shops. I do know those free comics actually cost the stores money, so the least I can do on Free Comic Book Day is give back if I can. I made a rule: For every free comic I pick-up I’ll purchase an item. This rule seemed simple enough but as you’ll see below we went a bit overboard.
It’s for the best we didn’t attempt to do a combination East/West tour. Circumstances meant we didn’t leave The Shared Universe headquarters until nearly 11 a.m. This is well after all of the stores on the trail had opened.
Stop 1: Cape and Cowl
Cape and Cowl is the most recent addition to the East Bay Comics Trail. The shop at 1601 Clay Street in Oakland combined comics, tattoos, and a food drive. On the store’s Facebook page they said more than a thousand pounds of food had been collected for the Alameda County Food Bank. Cape and Cowl is a 10-minute bus ride from where I live so it’s now the most recent shop to hold one of my pull lists. Below is our haul:
Free Comic Book Day selections:
Mooncop: A Tom Gauld Sampler
We Can Never Go Home/Young Terrorists
Invader Zim #9
Aftershock Genesis #1
Heart Throb #1
Hot Damn #1
Rough Riders #2
Army of Darkness: Furious Road #3
Stop 2: Dr. Comics and Mr. Games
Dr. Comics and Mr. Games had the added treat of a table filled with comics from previous Free Comic Book Days. As a combination game store, it additionally provided us with the opportunity to pick-up a copy of the espionage word game “Codenames.”
Free Comic Book Day selections
Love and Rockets
Beasts of Burden
Renato Jones The One% #1
X-Men ‘92 #3
Wonder Woman Earth One Vol. One
Stop 3: Escapist Comics
Since moving to the Bay Area I’ve only made it out to Escapist a handful of times. It’s a regret because Escapist always impresses with their indie comic selection. I always walk out with something unusual. For this year’s Free Comic Book Day the store featured illustrators Ramon Villalobos and Meggie Ramm.
Free Comic Bok Day selections
Attack on Titan Anthology
Valiant 4001 AD
E is For Extinction #2 (signed by Villalobos)
Harrow County #11
Mars Attacks: Occupation #1
The House of Montresor #1
The Punisher #1
The Finder Library Vol. 1
Stop 4: Tr!ckster
This was our first time visiting Tr!ckster. It’s always been on our list of stores to visit but we’ve somehow never made it. Walking in it was obvious why this store received an Eisner award nomination this year. I’ve never visited a store like it. Tr!ckster is what would happen if the Mad Hatter ran a comic shop in Wonderland. The interior decorating is beautiful and relaxing plus they always have a kettle of tea waiting for visitors. The store’s focus is on independent comics with a prioritization of graphic novels. Sure you’ll find your Image and Dark Horse titles, but Tr!ckster makes an effort to make sure what might be a hidden gem at the average store is presented front and center. I was pleased to find a copy of Nick Abadzis’ Laika sitting on a central display. The title has long been on my “must read” list but I always forget to look for it.
Due to the store’s focus, they couldn’t participate in Free Comic Book Day on the same scale as other shops. Instead, they welcomed us with the deepest discount of our journey. Everything in the store was 35 percent off. When you’re shopping for graphic novels that’s a significant saving.
Ink for Beginners
Edwin Windsheer’s Pocket Guide to The Sphere
The Little Man
The CBLDF presents Liberty
Spirit Leaves #2
Stop 5: Fantastic Comics
Fantastic was celebrating Free Comic Book Day with a signing by writer and cartoonist Kate Leth. She’s written for Bravest Warriors, Edward Scissorhands, and Adventure Time. Currently, she’s the mastermind behind Patsy Walker a.k.a Hellcat. Bonus: they had a Rule 63 Rogue holding down the front entrance.
Fantastic receives additional props for helping me fulfill my secondary mission while out and about for FCBD. I’d been hoping to find the first two anthologies of Josh Simmons’ Jessica Farm. I’d mostly given up by the time we reached Fantastic but as I was standing in the check-out line they were on the corner of store’s indie publication display table.
Free Comic Book Day selections
Civil War II
Junior Braves of the Apocalypse
Jessica Farm vols. 1 & 2
Hellcat! #5 signed by Kate Leth
Moon Knight #2
Second Sight #3
No Mercy #9
Poe Dameron #2
Sex Criminals #15
Stop 6: Jeffrey’s Toys and Comics
Jeffrey’s Toys and Comics had a location in San Francisco for years. They were perhaps one of the longest running stores with a selection of comics in the city. Unfortunately, a convergence of circumstances (predominately, the rising cost of living in the Bay Area) forced Jeffrey’s to pack up and move across the bay. The store is now located on Berkeley’s boutique friendly 4th Street. I never had a chance to visit the San Francisco iteration of this shop but the Berkeley location is definitely much more focused on toys over comics. Walking in we were greeted with stacks upon stacks of Free Comic Book Day selections but it took me a couple of minutes to locate the rest of the comics (at the top of the stairs).
This was Jeffrey’s first FCBD in this new location so I don’t want to be too critical but I think there was a significant missed opportunity. By 4 p.m. on Free Comic Book Day most shops tend to be picked over but Jeffrey’s still had plentiful stacks of everything. We waited in a long line of customers purchasing toys before we could leave the store but not once did we hear the clerks mention “hey, all of these comics are free. Take some.” Every kid in that store should have left with a Strawberry Shortcake, Camp Midnight, DC Superhero Girls, Grumpy Cat, Hilda and the Stone Forest, Junior Braves of the Apocalypse, Oddly Normal, Science Comics, and so on. If you aren’t going to use Free Comic Book Day to put comics in the hands of kids why participate? Plus, you’re rewarding your customers for shopping at your store by giving them a stack of free things. How often does a store have that opportunity?
FCBD criticism aside I’m happy Jeffrey’s has joined us in the East Bay and is providing an additional opportunity for people to discover comics.
Free Comic Book Day selection
Bruce Lee The Dragon Rises
Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom
Alex + Ada #12
Art Ops #4
Art Ops #5
Honorable Mention: Alameda Sports Cards and Comics
I feel guilty about this one. Due to our later than expected start we had to make a sacrifice and this was it. We’d discussed hitting it after the Jeffrey’s stop but our wallets and bodies were exhausted. If you’re going to do the East Bay Comics Trail the right way Alameda Sports Cards and Comics should be on the journey. Next year they’ll be stop number one.