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Free Comic Book Day: where to go to spend a whole lot of money

If I've learned one thing since the inception of Free Comic Book Day, it's that nothing in life is ever free.

Oh sure, there are piles and piles of gratis funnybooks to be had at dozens of comic book stores around the city today, but the grand marketing scheme behind FCBD reveals itself pretty quickly: the tried-and-true shopper candy called "impulse buying." I've never made it out of a FCBD having spent less than a hundred bucks, and given that my comics spending has easily doubled in the past year anyway, I'm worried that by tonight at closing time, I'll have dropped north of two bills at my favourite Toronto stores.

Free Comic Book Day got started in 2002 on the day following the release of the first Spider-Man movie, as an uncanny marketing maneuvre to start funnelling some of those big moviebucks (Marvel's motion picture licenses have been vastly outgrossing its publishing division for quite some time now) back into the comic book stores from whence they, at least theoretically, originally came.

This year, it's Spider-Man 3 that's being paired with FCBD, with the hope that Spidey fans will find it hard to turn down the idea of a free issue of a Spider-Man comic after they've been all juiced up by the third installment of the seemingly-unstoppable film franchise.

Each of the major publishers tends to produce a special edition comic that can be given away free at participating stores around North America. This year, 40 publishers are having their work featured. The work can vary wildly in terms of quality or likeability, and stores tend to limit giveaways to 2 or 3 titles per customer to avoid blitzing, but if you conduct a proper crawl through Toronto's best comic shops, you can end up with a pleasing deck of potential winners to spend your entire Saturday afternoon consuming.

Here's how I do it:

1. Silver Snail

No getting around it, if comics have a mecca in Toronto, it's the Snail, whose international renown and sheer size makes it ground zero for FCBD. This can work both ways, though; the place will be jammed, tends to only give away 2 titles per customer, and to top things off, is holding its anniversary sale on the same weekend. Jason Armstrong, Karl Kerschl, and Ty Templeton will all be in-store for signings, and there will be a free anniversary poster designed exclusively for the Snail by Adam Hughes.

Result? Pandemonium. I loves me some Snail, but I'll aim to get in and out of there as fast as I reasonably can this morning. (Well, that's always the goal, says the guy who was once dragged out of the store by his friends after he'd spent almost an hour arguing with an employee about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.)

2. Third Quadrant

The Silver Snail's badass kid brother is just a few blocks along Queen Street, at McCaul. It is a refreshing alternative to the ivory tower vibe at the Silver Snail; this is a grungy basement shop packed wall-to-wall with comics and toys, and as comic book informants go, you can't do much better than asking Daryl what you should be reading.

3. The Beguiling

Toronto's other mecca, The Beguiling is notable for having been one of the few Toronto stores to have the stones to stock Alan Moore's turbo-controversial Lost Girls. It's an artsier, alternative-er spot at Bloor and Markham in the Annex, tends to get better, rarer stuff, and if it's a bit cramped (particularly on Free Comic Book Day), it's still always worth exploring for the sheer quantity of stuff you won't find anywhere else. They're promising 5 titles per customer this year, and will have dozens of local creators on hand to sign books.

4. Comics & More and Atomic Age

As my day winds down I hit two stores closer to home; the first is Comics & More, right across from the exit of Greenwood Station, and the second is Atomic Age on Pape south of Danforth. The good thing about hitting the smaller stores is that there will generally be less crowds and more to offer; you can pick up stragglers that you missed elsewhere and take a bit more time to talk to the experts. It's a nice wind-down at the end of a good day of comic book geekery... and reckless spending.


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