May The Fourth Be With Free Comics

Photo By Samantha Schwartz

The first Saturday in May is a call for comic book fans across the nation to make it out to their beloved comic book stores. This year, Free Comic Book Day fell on Star Wars Day — May 4.

In the days leading up to the annual event, SUNY New Paltz’s Comic Books United prepared to celebrate at local comic shop, October Country.

Although  Henry Varona, president of Comic Books United, arrived to October Country 30 minutes after opening, he said there was already a line of about 15 people standing by the free comics.

“We waited in line and when we got to the table, we were allowed three of the new free comics,” Varona said. “There was an additional section for more free stuff, including older comics and videos, but unfortunately we didn’t have time to wait for that line to clear up.”

Varona said, there are general comics that are offered among the different stores, but there are perks to going to multiple stores.

“Every year, Free Comic Book Day offers a few books from the major publishers that serve as a jumping on point,” he said. “Then, we talked about the different ways stores celebrate, including sales and giveaways. October Country, for instance, gives away additional free comics that they have laying around. Some of them new, some of them old.”

Varona said the club discussed the event multiple times leading up to it, but because of scheduling conflicts, they weren’t able to go to the store as a group.

Alex Deger, a member of Comic Books United, didn’t get to go to October Country for Free Comic Book Day, but he did visit three local shops near his hometown.

“At each place I saw children and their parents reading together with many of the assorted freebies that were there,” Deger said. “To me, that’s what this day is really for, a welcoming with open arms to the next generation of readers to the world of graphic literature.”

In the Graphic Literature course at SUNY New Paltz, Professor Pauline Uchmanowicz teaches an introduction to the comics medium — art, story, technical operation and ideology — as well as graphic novels, memoirs and visual essays ascendant in both the comics canon and the literary canon.

Uchmanowicz  said she has mentioned Free Comic Book Day in classes and encourages her students to frequent comic book stores and hobby shops. Along with Uchmanowicz, Varona and Deger agreed that comics are a form of art.

“Comics are sometimes referred to as the ‘ninth art’ in a list that includes music, painting, film, literary production, etc.,” Uchmanowicz said. “When comics are well done, an incredible amount of drawing craft and technique, lettering and inking skill, panel composition and layout strategy, sequence design and word-image combination savvy is necessary.”

Deger said he believes comics are a great combination of the written word and graphic art.

“I learned how to read through comic books by associating the pictures with the words in the same panel,” he said. “I believe it is a true art form and I don’t think it gets the proper respect because of the stigma that comic books are just for kids and the fact that they are commercially driven, in fact while there is a thriving all ages readership most titles are intended for teenagers and older.”

Along with the annual Free Comic Book Day, Comic Books United’s weekly Wednesday meetings coincide with weekly releases of new comics. The club often gathers as a group to walk together to October Country during the afternoon before meeting again in the evening.

“I think there is a real art to [comics],” Varona said. “People disregard them as garbage, but these are men and women who pour out their souls to produce 20 pages a month. I would gladly display an image of comic book art before a standard painting graces my wall, and there are thousands of people out there that would agree.”