May is here again, which means one very important thing: Free Comic Book Day! If you’re wondering what to pick up this year, don’t fret, we’ve put together 10 choices representing the diverse offerings available in order to help you decide.
We’re living in a Golden Age of licensed comics, with Adventure Time essentially kicking off a boom of incredible adaptations of animated properties in particular. Dynamite Comics unveiled their Bob’s Burgers comic last year and it was a hit from the start, selling out multiple printings. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, it’s an excellent all-ages title done in a kind of Belcher Family anthology style, with creators offering up shorts in formats like “Tina’s Erotic Friend Fiction” and “Gene Belcher Presents: The Musical.” This FCBD offering takes the best of these shorts and puts them in a tidy sampler, making it a perfect pick-up for kids and adult fans alike.
Boom Studios 10 Year Celebration
Speaking of those Adventure Time licensed comics, the Boom Studios 10 Year Celebration is what you’re going to want to pick up to satisfy your Adventure Time craving. The anthology features a brand new Fionna & Cake short by Jen Wang and Britt Wilson, and fans of that duo will also enjoy the Lumberjanes short in this Boom collection. This year’s Boom issue also features an all-new Labyrinth short as well as original material like the rodent fantasy series Mouseguard and Iscariot, a new magic tale by Iron: Or, the War After creator S.M. Vidaurri. Boom has become one the comics publisher with perhaps the best range of all-ages material, and this collection shows that off.
For more adult fare, 2000 AD’s Free Comic Book Day offerings are always solid. Collecting an original Judge Dredd story as well as some “hits” that show off other 2000 AD mainstays like Celtic legend Slaine, Tharg and pioneering British sci-fi hero Dan Dare, this FCBD issue makes for a great entry point into 2000 AD for the uninitiated or those who have fallen off the wagon. As the cheeky, punny cover suggests, 2000 AD has always been big on satire despite Dredd’s reputation for dourness, so don’t overlook this issue if you’re worried it will be heavy on the grim and gritty. As an added bonus, this year’s FCBD issue comes with free digital downloads.
I usually avoid suggesting Marvel or DC stuff on Free Comic Book Day because the Big Two normally take the odd position of using FCBD to hype whatever impenetrable crossover they’re about to unleash. They are still doing that this year, with DC putting Divergence out there and Marvel giving a Secret Wars #0 out. But I’m most interested in Avengers, because it seems to be more new reader friendly than usual. It’s written by Mark Waid, who has an excellent track record with similarly new reader friendly takes on everything from Daredevil to The Flash, and newcomer Mahmud Asrar is on art duties. Even better, the line-up is one of the most diverse Avengers rosters in ages, with shapeshifting superstar Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel, Miles Morales as Spider-Man, Sam Wilson as Captain America and the still unnamed lady Thor all represented front and center. If you want to test the waters of the Marvel Universe, this is as good a starting point as any.
Marvel and DC aren’t the only ones with superhero fare on offer at Free Comic Book Day, though. Valiant Comics, who are about to have their own film franchise, have a 25th Anniversary special featuring contributions from Jeff Lemire and others. But I’m particularly intrigued by the Captain Canuck issue, which reboots a gone but not forgotten Canadian superhero, and brings together talent like Ed Brisson and George Freeman. The summary of the issue makes it seem like a very modern take, forcing Captain Canuck to not only fight against your traditional baddies but also sinister government agencies, all while trying to redeem his brother.
Canada is very well represented this year at Free Comic Book Day, with Captain Canuck joined by Comics Festival, an anthology that assembles some of the best Canadian talent working in comics, from webcomics sensation Kate Beaton to comics vet Faith Erin Hicks. The anthology features all-new stories from these Canadian creators, making for not just an excellent sampling of Canuck artistry, but also a fantastic standalone artifact. Canada and comics have always been tied together, and Comics Festival serves as a marvelous introduction to the current crop of Canadian creators.
SuperMutant Magic Academy/Step Aside Pops
Kate Beaton is also represented on Free Comic Book Day with the Drawn & Quarterly special that pairs her with Jillian Tamaki. The special provides a sample of Beaton’s upcoming work Step Aside, Pops!, a follow-up to her bestselling collection Hark! A Vagrant, which established Beaton as one of the most clever cartoonist working in modern comics. Tamaki is an exceptional creator as well, as her and her cousin Mariko Tamaki’s This One Summer ably showed (go pick it up if you’re a fan of works like Persepolis and Blankets, you won’t be disappointed). SuperMutant Magic Academy started as a webcomic four years ago but now it has been collected in print, and it’s one of the best gag strips out there, following the adventures of a misfit gang of mutant students. You’d be hard pressed to find a better sampling of modern cartoonists anywhere, let alone for free.
Hip Hop Family Tree
Last year, Ed Piskor’s Hip Hop Family Tree made its debut with a Two-in-One special, so naturally this year it goes bigger and harder with a Three-in-One. I’d be excited about it no matter what, but the inclusion of a comic version of that time Spike Lee and Rob Liefeld made a comic together makes this priceless. There are also some fantastic artists on board for pin-ups, including R Crumb (!!!) and Jim Rugg, and samples of stories from all three volumes of Piskor’s seminal series on hip hop history.
For whatever reason, comics have been the target of book bans more frequently lately, with Fun Home and Love and Rockets being two of the most notable. Thankfully the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund exists to thwart these challenges and bring attention to censorship. Once again, they’ve put together an anthology for Free Comic Book Day, collecting excellent YA material from Gene Luen Yang, Sonny Liew, Dan Parent, Larry Marder, Andi Watson and more. Educational and fun rather than dour and sermonizing, the Defend Comics anthologies the CBLDF do are always a solid pick-up.
It’s disappointing that Free Comic Book Day is light on manga offerings every year, and this year is no exception. The best manga option is Kodansha Comics’ sampler, collecting snippets of Attack on Titan, Noragami, Fairy Tail and more. I’ve only read the first volume of Attack on Titan, but it’s kind of amazing to me that the series has taken off like it has. Essentially an epic take on Goya’s terrifying painting Saturn Devouring His Son, Attack on Titan is a post-apocalyptic work where humans have been overrun by massive, hungry “Titans” and are forced to live in small, walled off compounds. The remaining people are fighting back with aerial combat that wouldn’t be out of place in Shadow of the Colossus, but the odds aren’t in their favor. Definitely not an all-ages title, Attack on Titan is gory and horrifying, but at heart it’s a Battlestar Galactica-like soap opera, mostly focusing on the drama of confined spaces.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover