The Value of Free

We often discuss comics in terms of value. We debate whether it’s OK to download something for free if we intend to buy it later, we revel in events like Free Comic Book Day, and we’re constantly being inundated with our favorite stories in a new or different format and being forced to decide if a few extra pages of back matter and a different binding or paper stock is worth our time. These all center around the value we place on comics, be in it value in monetary worth or value in terms of how much the object, or digital file, means to us.

Oh man, I remember green. What a good day that was...

Oh man, I remember green.
What a good day that was…

Let’s start with the modern: digital. I have a fair number of files in my digital comics’ library, and as much as I hate to say it, very few of them have any value. As a person who “works” in this industry as a reviewer and commentator I am privy to a fair number of digital review copies every week and rarely do I have much time for them in the moment (hence the lack of reviews). However, I don’t like throwing things away, even files, so I keep a large percentage of everything sent my way, and there are definitely times it has paid off when I need to dig through my catalog and find a few issues to catch up on the latest story arc (can you tell I was just on the Pick of the Week podcast?). But at the same time, if my hard-drive crashed right now, you wouldn’t be reading this, but I also wouldn’t be that upset about the loss of those comics. I keep all my really important stuff pretty well backed up, but the sheer number of comics and their relatively low value, in that I didn’t pay for them and that they don’t mean a whole lot emotionally. This isn’t to say I don’t appreciate the access to review copies, far from it, it’s an amazing gift, but it’s also just some 1s and 0s, any one of which easily replaceable or bought as a collection down the road. And then there’s Private Eye which is theoretically free yet has immeasurable value because BKV is a sorcerer or something.

Then there’s Free Comic Book Day, which from what I can see on the internet seems to be a HUGE deal and I honestly can’t force myself to care. I get the impetus, it’s a good day for retailers to get new bodies in the door, and I hope my friends who are retailers are able to accomplish just that. People promote it as a great time to introduce your friends or kids to comics. Well I don’t have any friends kids so me trying to bring kids to the comic shop the first Saturday of May would likely get me banned from the park. Unless by kids we’ve all been talking about baby goats this whole time, in which case I wouldn’t bring them either because they’d probably eat all the free comics.

I always start with sports but then it's straight to the comics.

I always start with sports but then it’s straight to the comics.

And as someone without human children, I wouldn’t want to bring another adult friend to the shop on the Free Comic Book Day because I can’t imagine them wanting to return to a place with that many children running all over, especially when such a state isn’t representative of a normal day in the local comics shop. I think I’d be much better off taking someone to Isotope on a lazy day and kicking back on the couch, or to one of their parties and just blow their mind. I’ve done both, and they’re both fun in different ways neither of which got that friend into reading comics even though I like to think they had a good time.

Thus I don’t value the comics from Free Comic Book Day because I, at my current stage in life, don’t value the event and thus the comics from the event aren’t worth the effort of obtaining them. Even for something free there is a cost associated with things like time, convenience, interest, etc.

All this is making me sound like I don’t value comics at all, which is far from the truth. I have a pretty sizeable collection that I’ve moved across the country twice without ever seriously considering downsizing. And if my house were to go up in flames losing my collection would be very sad. But I think part of it is that the older I get the more I have begun to value comics as an idea. I cherish the idea of stories told with words and pictures. Of so many different genres and styles, mixing and matching writers, artists, colorists, etc. ad infinitum to create endless possibilities for stories in a way few other media can. With prose you’re getting one person’s voice, with movies you’re getting the collaboration of a small army, but comics seem to be in that goldilocks zone of really pure craft and collaboration. And I like the people involved in and around comics, my friends here at iFanboy, my friends in other parts of the industry, I put a lot of value into my relationships with them, which are intimately tied into comics. So I guess it all comes down to circumstances, the right mood, the right memory, and the right people can take something that was once free and borderline worthless, and make it priceless.


Ryan Haupt has been on the iFanboy podcasts a lot lately, but he also has his own show called Science… sort of. So there’s that.


  1. I actually value all my comics in their own way, the FCBD ones, the gifts, the ones I bought myself, the very very few rare ones etc. Maybe it’s just my personality, I have trouble just parting with any of them. Now that money’s tight, I’m trying to get myself to that place. I also have a free digital comic on my laptop, never read it. I scrolled thru it a few days ago, but the interest to sit and scroll thru the panels and take in the story wasn’t there. I’m alittle surprised you don’t partake in FCBD, to me it’s like a mini-holiday. The free comics are sort of a bonus, there’s a sale on the stuff I really want plus artists there to talk to; it’s just a fun time. Also this year I didn’t count many kids at my LCS. I was there for maybe 2 1/2 hours and I counted less than 10 kids. I think it was mostly store regulars and young people coming it to see what the fuss was about. It was actually one of the few times I saw kids in public and didn’t want to rip my ears off, so another bonus. I don’t get overly sad if I miss FCBD, but I look at it as a missed opportunity. Besides some of the stuff they just give away it’s actually pretty good.

  2. The event for me was a way to hype to everyone I knew via social media that Local Comic Shops still exsist and to get them to stop in to one, hopefully my LCS, and rekindle a love they had for comics at zero cost to them. Alot of the titles were not for kids and some were really really good.
    I personally brought my daughter to the shop for the first time (she is 2) and she picked up some free comics (Sesame Street, Tinkerbell and a few other kids comics). I picked up a few titles and a trade to say thank you to my LCS.
    The end result. My daughter had fun at the shop and looking at all the comics. We read a few and at home before bed time and she is getting more excited about comics (but again she is only 2).
    For me I read the free The Tick comic and rememered how much I love that character and decided to seek it out and subscribe to the issues. So at least for one book for one reader FCB did work.

  3. I work every Saturday so have never been to a single FCBD.

  4. I value comics based on the content. Paper or digital, if its a good story that moves me, i’ll have that memory and i’ll value it accordingly. I”ve read plenty of forgettable print comics in my life and thrown them out/trade them, so i don’t really tie value to a physical object.

    I always try to stop by an LCS on FCBD. Its usually an event with big sales. This year, there wasn’t much of that going on which kinda disappointed me. I made it a point to travel to a few shops i never go to. Surprisingly there were 2 that weren’t participating at all (save for some old 90s comics in a short box on the counter that were free) and they had lots of kids at gaming tables in the back (the usual saturday crowd) I thought that was a bizarre thing, but i guess that’s where some of the market is going. 2 other shops across town had giant parties with costume contests and raffles. They were packed out to the parking lots.

    I got some freebies, but i made a defined effort to only pick up kids books. Not for me of course, but for my little boy so he can have them to read in a year or two.

  5. While I agree that FCBD can be a letdown to some people because of how excited they get, I tend to really love FCBD. Would I have bought 2 Archie comics today if I hadn’t read the Archie offering on Saturday? No. Would I have ordered Volume 1 of Prince Valiant from Fantagraphcis if not for Saturday’s event? No. That’s what the day does for me. Introduces me to stuff I wouldn’t give a chance otherwise. Also, if you didn’t read The Strangers from FCBD, do it! Very good stuff.

  6. The comic book stores in Toronto don’t really get the most out of FCBD for the most part. They either set limits on what you can get, or put their free comics far away from the rest of the store so they aren’t even letting people see what they have for sale.

    For example from this year:

    1,000,000 Comix : Only limit is one copy of each comic per person, so you can get everything, but they put their comics on a table at the front of the store, far away from the racks with all the new comics which are in the back. People just come in, get their free stuff, and leave.

    Labyrinth: They put their free comics in the midst of where all their trades are, but they limit it to 5 free comics total per person. So stingy that as a potential customer, I have no reason to even go there.

    Silver Snail: They put the FCBD comics on a table down the block, on the corner of an empty lot. The actual store is not visible from there, and if you do find it, they had a nightclub-style lineup to get into the store. They limit the free comics to 10 per person, which is reasonable. However, they put 4 of the FCBD comics inside the store, no advertising that they are up there (the 2 DC and 2 Marvel ones), so a lot of people will miss out on those.

    • I also think the free ones do not have so much value either. Especially when the companies just use FCBD as a place to advertise their next BIG event, instead of just putting a cool one-shot worth the time to read. I also believe that the way digital comics from the big 2 still cost the same as the physical copy, even though it doesn’t cover any printing (?), is making people think it’s much easier to just download the comic through torrents or something…

      This comics book project from indiegogo is meant to be free:

    • 5 per person is stingy? Really? I know some stores limit it to one free comic per person! I thought the store I went to that let me get 5 (and my nephew and 2 nieces – so 20 in total) was pretty generous!

  7. Soffocles Soffocles (@craigsoffer) says:

    To me, Free Comic Book Day isn’t about getting free comic books. It’s about promoting the industry that we all love, valuing the work of creators we admire, and getting out to show some support. One of the things about the digital age and the collapsing economy (happening simultaneously, which is weird, but I digress) is that people sometimes forget to support the things that really matter. I will visit my LCS (which is a very lame store) and buy some books every FCBD, because I don’t want to see the store disappear. I hope there is always a FCBD.