Yesterday was Free Comic Book Day, which is basically the best invention for tiny nerds since articles without comment threads. The door of my local comic shop, normally catering to people in their 30’s with Funko Pop and Snake Plisskin action figures, was crowded with cosplayers and children as young as four, picking up their free comics. Stormtroopers posed with kids, and the Predator waved at passing cars. It was truly magical.
When I was 7, just a proto-nerd, I went to my first comic shop. Now & Then Comics, just a few blocks from my home. It was owned by a guy named Harry, its counter continuously monitored by what felt like a younger version of him in Pete. They were nerds of imposing mystery and power, joking about Thaco and making references to comics I’d never even heard of. I was the kid who’d come in for an hour after karate and stare at the miniatures, combing through the racks just to look and desperately trying to imagine what they were used for. I loved the thought of moving them around on a grid, but couldn’t quite design why or how.
Approaching the counter was daunting. I didn’t know about comics, I’d never even heard of D&D, and Magic: the Gathering wouldn’t be out for a few more years. But I wanted to wow them, these alpha dorks, with my acumen and maturity. Needless to say I didn’t, coming through old copies of Maximum Carnage, and proclaiming my collectorness as I bought Dark Claw issue #1 (the only issue of the gag Batman/Wolverine cross). I didn’t know about ordering, I was a child and didn’t have any income to speak of. I was always nervous when I put comics down on that counter, seized by unexplainable anxieties that are hopefully familiar. And it didn’t happen very often, that slap of comics on glass. I was a child, and I was broke.
I love Free Comic Book Day because it helps kids negotiate that. It invites them in and gives them some cool comics, pulling away some of the mystery and giving them a chance to be welcome and ask questions. Proto-nerd Jim would very much have enjoyed that ease, and also the free comic books, even if the free comic books weren’t as good as some others. It gives kids a chance to find out what they like the risk of blowing an allowance on a shitty comic (for me, that led to picking the comic with the most hero guest stars. More bang for my buck, right?) or even just being talked down to by gatekeeping nerds.
I want kids to like comics. I want them to scratch their heads at continuity, to feel happy when Oracle comes out on top, and to wonder what it’s like to shoulder Superman’s burden. To cringe at Hellblazer, cry after reading We3, and get a little worked up at the Green Lantern oath. Heroes and villains and modern day myths, taken from the page to the big screen with movies like the Avengers. I want comics to have something to offer them. And anything we can do to make our spaces and our lit a more welcome place to be is totally rad.
Rock on proto-nerds. One day you will be us, only cooler.