2014-05-02 / Community

Free Comic Book day celebrated

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – Newbury Comics, located at the Maine Mall, is bracing itself for a busy day for the 13th annual Free Comic Book Day. Assistant Manager Jake Cote said the event, held on May 3 this year, is one of the best days of the year for business.

The day originated in 2002, with independent retailers giving away free copies of certain comic books as a way to attract new readers and celebrate the comic art form. Diamond Comic Distributors, the largest comic book distributor in the nation, typically coordinates supplying retailers with copies of issues from a variety of major publishers. Free Comic Book Day also coincides each year within a day of the release of a major superhero blockbuster film – this year, the day after “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” opens in theaters.

Since its inception, more than 27 million comic books have been given away on Free Comic Book Day and this year, officials from Diamond Comic Distributors expect 4.6 million copies from among 60 different issues to be given away.

In Biddeford, a newly opened comic book store, the Awesome Hobby Shoppe, has not yet officially become a retailer of Diamond Comics Distributors, and is unable to give away the 60 issues the distribution company provides its retailers. Owner Matt Rahn said the shop will still celebrate Free Comic Book Day in its own way however, giving away $1 comics for free from Rahn’s personal collection of more than 20,000 books.

Cote said the Newbury Comics store will probably run out of free comic books within the first few hours and a line may extend around the corner and out the mall door at opening hour. Even if the free comics are gone, the store will continue offering special sales and promotional giveaway offers, Cote said.

“Comic books are coming back pretty hard, better than they’ve done in 10 years,” Cote said. “Probably because of all the Marvel films.”

Cote said some of the comics being distributed for free that day are storylines that lead into bigger film events happening later in the year, such as the “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “X-Men” and “Transformers” movies.

The Sentry caught up with John Barber, co-writer of “Transformers vs. G.I. Joe,” – one of the books being given away on Saturday – to discuss his experience from inside the comic industry. Barber, who had been writing and drawing comics since junior high school, started his comics career with Marvel Comics as an editor.

“There’s a pretty strict separation of writing and editing at Marvel –editors aren’t allowed to write,” Barber said. “After about six years I left to try to get back to writing.”

After writing an ongoing Transformers series for IDW Publishing, Barber was hired by the company as editor but still allowed to write.

“I didn’t want to stop writing, but at IDW that wasn’t necessarily an issue, so, well, here we are,” said Barber. “Editor by day, freelance writer at night.”

Barber said he tries to keep comics grounded in reality, no matter how fantastic the storyline.

“I try to keep some kind of link to reality in the work, no matter how far-out things get,” he said. “Writing about space-machinelife forms like the Transformers might seem pretty removed from the world we live in, but even if they’re metal, they’re still people, and they still have to interact like people do. Their wars are our conflicts – write larger and grander. Not be pretentious, I hope, but they can be metaphors for us, and for our lives.”

The ongoing series, “Transformers: Robots in Disguise,” that Barber does with artist Andrew Griffith, is an example, he said, of real-life metaphors playing out in comics. The story is set on Cybertron, the Transformers’ home world, after their war ended.

“So for me, I was inspired by the world post-World War II when the allies were moving in to all these countries that had surrendered and trying to rebuild them in a way that wouldn’t cause the next big war, like WWI had,” Barber said.

Barber co-wrote “Transformers vs. G.I. Joe” with Tom Scioli, who also drew, lettered and inked the comic. Every relationship co-writing a book with another author is different, Barber said. Although he and Scioli are still devising their “system,” Barber said the results of their work together have been “amazing.”

When Barber co-wrote “Dark Cybertron” with James Roberts, Barber said the two authors would trade ideas back and forth over email and talk on Skype, because Barber lived in San Diego while Roberts was in the U.K. They would even take turns writing the scenes for the other’s ideas.

The unique talents of certain illustrators can also influence how a storyline develops, but the author’s story is still the most important part of the comic, Barber said.

“I always say the ‘author’ of a comic is the writer and the artist together,” Barber said. “Drawing a comic is not really a case of illustrating – no offense to illustrators, illustration is a fantastic art form; it’s just not really what comics is.”

As an example, John Tenniel’s illustrations for “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” Barber said “inform our idea of what Alice and the Wonderland characters look like more than even Lewis Carroll’s prose does. They’re massively important and influential.”

Even still, said Barber, “If you take them away from ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, you still have ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.’ There are hundreds of versions of the book without his illustrations. The book still stands.”

Barber said he thinks visually when he writes and didn’t used to write things that he didn’t think somebody could actually draw. Scioli however, challenged Barber to do the opposite and write what might seem impossible to draw.

“ … Because I know he’ll draw it, somehow,” Barber said. “There are panels he’s written that are hard to imagine, that he’s written into the script, ‘just trust me and I’ll make this work,’ and then he does make it work.”

Before the release of “Transformers vs. G.I. Joe” on Saturday, Barber provided Sentry readers with a sneak preview of what to expect from the comic:

“Craziness. The comic starts as the G.I. Joe team has their archenemies Cobra on the ropes – they have Cobra Commander in their sights and they’re coming for him in an ultimate final battle … and then Starscream shows up chasing Bumblebee, and things get really out of hand. The story just grows from there – when the Transformers show up on our doorstep, the G.I. Joe team isn’t going to take it laying down.”

Although superhero movies have become popular in recent years, Barber said he writes his stories for the book medium and not the big screen.

“I really focus on the comic book page. I mean, they do make G.I. Joe movies and Transformers movies, but that’s not where my head is when I’m writing,” he said. “You have to keep your eye on the comic itself.”

Although he has never written a Spider-Man comic, Barber said the web-slinging crime fighter is probably his favorite superhero.

“As Peter Parker, he had real-world New York in the 1960s problems, but when he was Spider-Man, he was facing largerthan life metaphors for the problems everybody faces while growing up,” Barber said. “I think that’s a more interesting take on the superhero – they’re us, but grander – everybody can relate to the larger than life problems of heroes.”

Barber said Free Comic Book Day helps introduce comics to people who already know some of the characters, from movies or other mediums, or “who are just curious about the best artistic medium humanity has ever developed.”

It is the wide variety of genres, styles and ideas that makes comics great, he added.

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