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With four locations throughout Arizona, Atomic Comics is one of the best-known book stores in the country.  And for good reason too.  Every year on FCBD, instead of just putting the piles of free comics on a table and letting everyone pick and choose, they take a more active approach and make the day a huge event that will get not only long time readers excited, but also wants to make it the most accessible day for new readers as well.  BF spoke with Mesa store General Manager Julian Moraga about the day itself and a little of the history behind their event.

Click to enlarge“When we first heard about the idea of Free Comic Book Day years ago, we decided that just putting the comics out wouldn’t be enough.  Instead, we wanted to make it into an event—something that would get everyone excited about the industry… In order to do something like that, we decided it would be a great idea if we could get some of the better-known creators to come to our stores and promote the day properly.”  And that’s exactly what happened. 

In the 5 years that this event has been held, Atomic Comics has brought in over 73 creators to meet and greet with patrons, as well as sign their books. “Just this year we had Daniel Way and Steve Dillon (of Wolverine: Origins), Raven Gregory, Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark (of Daredevil), Scott Kolins, and Charlie Huston. In the past, we’d also had the likes of Joe Quesada and Brian Michael Bendis.”  For Julian and the rest of Atomic Comics staff it was an easy decision to make to bring these guys in, almost as easy as it is for them to come by. “Once we decided to do this and started making calls and putting the word out, creators were eager to attend.”

Daniel Way and Steve DillonBut bringing in famous comic creators was only part of the event.  For while regular comic book readers would certainly be excited to meet these creators, new comic book readers might not even know who Daredevil is, let alone who is writing and drawing his adventures.  And for an event that is supposed to bring new readers into the industry, Atomic again goes beyond the call of duty to get them into the store. “The big word being “FREE” usually attracts everyone and their grandmother, but we also go out and do what might be considered a ‘Grass Roots’ campaign.  We put flyers up around town and hand them out outside the store.  We’ve made trips up to [the local colleges] and hand out flyers up there.  We hit pretty much anywhere where we can find a crowd gathering—local carnivals, outside of malls, outside of sporting events.  It gets a lot of people in because of free books.”

Mike Kunkel, Shannon Denton and Patrick ScherbergerNot simply content to get potential new readers into the store to pick up their free books, Julian spoke proudly about the steps the staff takes to make sure that these people leave with something they like. “We are actively asking new people who don’t know the industry, ‘what types of movies are you into?’ and ‘what types of books do you like reading?” and we try to make sure they leave with something that they’ll enjoy.  It’s basically just talking to everyone that comes in and telling them that within our large selection we can definitely find them something that they want.”  And from the sound of things, the event has been a resounding success.  “We’ve gotten a lot of new regulars based on these events.  We’ve even managed to get some people who were away from comics to come back and start reading [them] again.”

Hearing this made me think that Atomic was doing everything they could to improve the industry, yet I was even more impressed by what else the great staff there does. Not simply content to go with one FCBD, Atomic Comics invented their own.  “We’ve even started having our own Free Comic Book Day, 6 months after the initial one.”  You may be wondering, “Where do they get more free books?” but to Julian and Atomic Comics, sometimes it’s not about having free books from publishers to give away, it’s about finding some of your own to do the same thing with. “We sometimes have leftover free comics to put out again, and most of the time we go back into our own stash to find some books that we think will get people excited and hand them out at the new event.”  And even the Grass Roots campaign continues, “… we’re out at [Phoenix] Suns games and Diamondback games, this time, not just handing out flyers for the event, but also giving everyone a free comic as well.”

Andy Owens, Madam M, Scott Kolins & Charlie Huston    Jeff Parker, Ed Brubaker & Michael Lark

With efforts like this, it’s no wonder that Atomic Comics has 4 successful locations and is one of the best-known stores in the United States.  Going above and beyond what is asked of them, they make sure that everyone who is even remotely interested in comics has a book in their hands.

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