Sunday, May 3, 2009

Free Comic Book Day... in Japan!

Saturday, May 2nd, found me in Harajuku for Free Comic Book Day, Japanese-style. "World Characters Store" Blister-- as far as I know the only place in Japan to find American comics other than a very few mainstream titles at certain bookstores-- participated in Free Comic Book Day, but they've given it a twist. Since Free Comic Book Day coincides with Golden Week, that wonderful time of the Japanese calendar where three major holidays drop at once so everyone (and I mean everyone) hits the road in search of fun and amusement, Blister has expanded it to several days and renamed it Free Comic Book Day Deluxe.

The store's exterior looks somnolent in this photograph, but that Saturday they had quite a few shoppers inside, lured by the promise of free magazines and a 40% off sale for back issues inside. Towards the rear of the store, the staff had set up two tables with several long boxes of comics on each, and Japanese comic fans were eagerly digging through them. The selection was heavily weighted towards DC, Marvel and Dark Horse. Oni and Fantagraphics-- to name two companies not represented at all-- fans were just out of luck.

They gave me an orange plastic bag just before I entered the store. I didn't look inside until I got back to my hotel room later that evening. I was praying to the Shinto gods for the Love and Rockets comic, but instead found a Bongo comics sampler, which I judged to be the best of the lot in that it felt more like a comic book and less like a glorified house ad in magazine style. It had a clever lead story by Chuck Dixon, who I would never have associated with Matt Groening-style satire/parody in a million years. But he pulled it off, a charming little story about... comic book obsession. Dark Horse's offering was second-best, a flip book with a nice Usagi Yojimbo story and some other tales on one side and a Star Wars: Clone Wars story on the other. The Usagi Yojimbo story was enough to overcome my distaste for Star Wars and all things Star Warsian, but I can see how Dark Horse would use the Wars to attract readers. The DC book was kid's stuff, none of which particularly impressed me. Heavy on the cutesy, light on the actually cute.

I bought close to thirty comic books! I haven't done something like that since I was in junior high and my dad would drive me out to the flea market on the edge of town where I could buy four comics for a dollar. I'd dig through the boxes until my fingertips were gray and I could rub off black snakes of dust and grime, and Dad would buy turnip greens. But Blister's imported American comics were more like three to four dollars each, still too expensive but a bargain compared to their usual retail price here. New comics can run from five to ten bucks in Japan!

I stocked up on Hellboy-related comics. I picked up a one-shot written and drawn by Mike Mignola I'd never even heard of, and lots of BPRD back numbers. Those were the comics I deemed most worthy of purchase. I also found Giant-Size X-Statix #1, which I own back in the States but wanted to have here. Can't get enough of Mike Allred. I passed on Gen13 volume one books (but I was surprised to see how many they had) and just about everything from DC (because it seems they're about to screw us Cassandra Cain fans yet again... as if that poorly-written miniseries from last year weren't painful enough) except All-Star Superman. I have a weakness for that title. My weakness is that it's so damn good, and the closest thing to real Superman DC's published in decades.

Hey, DC, you know how you could keep me as a reader? Print more stuff like that and less hackwork like Batgirl: Redemption Road, then using that practically self-fulfilling flop as an excuse to dump a character I care about. Oh, who am I kidding? No one listens to me, I'm just one person... therefore the good folk at DC obviously couldn't care less if I read their books or not, despite my having grown up on a diet of Sgt. Rock, Batman and Superman. I am comic book fan obsolete.

I also picked up some back issues of Astonishing X-Men, a Shang-Chi series written by Doug Moench and illustrated by Paul Gulacy, two Dracula-related comics I know nothing about and some assorted other goodies that caught my eye... namely everything Tom Strong I could get my hands on. Love that Tom Strong! How can you go wrong with Alan Moore writing and people like Art Adams and Jerry Ordway drawing? I also bought Astonishing X-Men: Torn and BPRD: The Warning trade collections, although they were mightly pricey at close to thirty dollars each.

I came whisper-close to buying some of the action figures they have there. The Spider-Man III figure from Medicom looked pretty good and was only around ninety dollars. They had the long-haired Superman (yuck... but still, it's Superman) and various Hellboys, Spider-Mans and Wolverines. But my sense of fiscal responsibility overcame such temptations.

Anyway, yes, Free Comic Book Day exists in Japan, and it was a lot of fun. It brought back a lot of the old excitement and joy I used to get from visiting the local comic shop back in younger, more innocent days. If you live in Japan or you're visiting right now, you still have a couple of days to join in on the thrills, the chills, the spectacle of girls in wild crocheted caps digging through boxes of X-Men comics and happily chatting away about them in Japanese-- it lasts until May 6th, and Blister is easy to find. And here's another view of Spider-Man, because we all love him so:

Oh-- one more note before I go. On the second day, I saw a small family getting their free comics. The little boy specifically pointed to the Dark Horse Aliens offering. I'm not sure what that says (if anything) about the Japanese little boy market, but at least one kids knows what he likes and what he likes are slimy xenomorphs!

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