Excelsior!: The Impact of Free Comic Book Day on the Geek Community

If you were walking around the streets of Claremont on 2 May 2015, you may have seen Batman or Spiderman walk right past you. Were your eyes deceiving you? No, they were not. Chances are, they were on their way to attend Free Comic Book Day at Stadium on Main; sometimes referred to as Cape Town’s own Comic Con. Hosted by Cape Town’s local comic book store, Readers Den, the event has attracted many faces over the years, young and old alike.

Lining up since the early hours of the morning, comic book fans await patiently for the doors of Readers Den to open. Many hope that they can be one of the lucky few to receive goodie bags as well as get first preference on the comic books and figurines they want to buy. The theme from Star Wars starts to play in the background, signalling to the crowd that the doors are about to open. As the countdown to Free Comic Book Day ends the crowd is allowed into the store to purchase their goods.

Comic Book fans waiting patiently for the doors of Readers Den to open
Comic Book fans waiting patiently for the doors of Readers Den to open

Free Comic Book Day, also known as FCBD, is a worldwide event celebrated on the 1st Saturday in May. The event celebrates the medium of comics and comic book culture. Comic book stores hand out specially published comics for free to those attending the event. Originally conceived in 2001 by a US comic store owner, who suggested that comic stores hand out free comics to those that attended, the event has since grown into an annual event worldwide.

The official Free Comic Book Day banner hanging in Stadium on Main
The official Free Comic Book Day banner hanging in Stadium on Main

“At our first event in 2002 we barely had 100 people,” says Nizar Abrahams, one of the owners of Readers Den. “We now have people coming from all over South Africa, including vendors, artists and cosplayers”.

The event has since grown in popularity over the years and is regarded as one of the most important days in the geek calendar. Readers Den have recorded between 2000 to 3000 people attending the event every year, with that number possibly increasing over time.

A collection of old Star Wars comic books on exhibition
A collection of old Star Wars comic books on exhibition

When attending Free Comic Book Day, one cannot expect to only see free comic books; the event has also become a platform for local comic book launches, cosplayers, vendors selling geek merchandise, exhibits and much more.

“Fans come for different reasons,” says Nizar, “but the main attractions tend to be store specials, the local comic launches and the cosplay activities”.

The Cosplay Masquerade, which is a showcase of people’s cosplay creations, is one of these main attractions at Free Comic Book Day. These cosplay creations range from traditional comic book characters, such as Batman and Deadpool, to famous video game characters such as Link from The Legend of Zelda and Scorpion from Mortal Kombat. When some cosplayers were asked how long it took for them to create their cosplays, answers ranged between four hours to five days.

From left: Spiderman, Star Lord, Ghost Rider, Deathstroke and Batman
From left: Spiderman, Star Lord, Ghost Rider, Deathstroke and Batman

When asked about the impact of Free Comic Book Day, Nizar says that the scale of the event today has had a major impact on the geek community: “The increasing media attention the event generates also shows that it’s slowly creeping into mainstream culture”.

Baka Sakura, a local cosplayer, also expressed that the event has had a positive impact on the geek community: “It’s such a fantastic international day that celebrates this entire geek culture that we love so much and it invites all types of people to come share it with us. I think it’s such an amazing way for people to share their love for comics and gaming and whatever it encompasses, all in one place.”

An exhibit of high quality figurines from Sideshow Collectibles
An exhibit of high quality figurines from Sideshow Collectibles

Free Comic Book Day has become a mainstay within the geek community and its future definitely looks big. With interest growing every year, Nizar says that the event will have to eventually move to a bigger venue: “The venue can hardly handle the crowds at this point, and this year may very well be crunch time”. Hopefully one day, we could see Free Comic Book Day reach the level of San Diego Comic Con at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. One thing is for certain; the world of comic books and comic book culture is not disappearing any time soon.

[All images and footage are my own]

[Music: Elektrobeat by Luigi Talluto]

Thanks to the following for their contribution to the video:

Baka Sakura                                                                                                                                                     Kuroneko Cosplay                                                                                                                                           Ashika Cosplay                                                                                                                                               Sakura Breeze                                                                                                                                                   Nakashi                                                                                                                                                             Kali Kitty Cosplay                                                                                                                                           Vincent Sammy                                                                                                                                               Harry Bell


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