Free Comic Book Day is this Saturday, which means you can waltz into any participating shop in Portland (such as Cloud 9 Comics, Books with Pictures, Excalibur, Other Worlds, Things from Another World, and Future Dreams) and waltz out with an arm-load of free books, no catch, no strings attached. It’s the ultimate heist!!!
But just as with free pizza bagel samples at a supermarket, there’s a motive to this madness: Publishers, authors, and shops want to hook you on their product by giving you a tempting morsel that they hope will make your mouth water. Not your literal mouth, your brain-mouth. Hopefully you do not have a literal mouth on your brain.
Some of those free-comic morsels are great, but most are … well, I don’t think they’re worth quite as much attention, unless you are a superfan of Sonic comics (in which case, it’s your lucky day and I’m happy for you).
So! Here’s what you can look forward to on your Free Comic Day adventure, and which books you may wish to gather:
THE GOOD STUFF
There are five books that I absolutely love, available for free — I cannot emphasize this enough, free!!!! — and I hope you’ll love them too.
I don’t usually recommend DC books, for one thing because they’re weirdly uncooperative with critics but also because their stories tend to require encyclopedic knowledge of several decades’ worth of backstory. But that is not the case with Galaxy: The Prettiest Star, a sneak peek at a graphic novel coming out in two weeks about an alien princess disguised on Earth as a human teen boy. It’s a coming-of-age high school drama folded into a sci-fi adventure with absolutely gorgeous vibrant art, character designs that beg the eye to linger, and a very cute dog. I don’t normally dwell on panel layout, since that’s so wonky and technical, but good God Lemon this book’s panel layout is super creative. Sci-fi stories often talk a big game about being big bold explorations of the limits of human possibility, but it’s rare to find one that’s bold enough to incorporate gender into its explorations. From the look to the writing to the subject matter, author Jadzia Axelrod and artist Jess Taylor have illuminated a unique new adventure.
I also enjoyed It Won’t Always Be Like This by Malaka Gharib, an excerpt from her graphic memoir about growing up as an American girl with an Egyptian family. With this modest slice-of-life story told from a child’s point of view, Gharib has a keen sense of the right details to linger on: Teaching her stepmom the (accidentally wrong) lyrics to American pop songs; comparing the sleeping arrangements of her bifurcated family; suddenly grasping the sadness of adulthood. The art is, as Mary Berry would say, informal — not a problem, given the youthful POV — and the writing is innocently insightful.
There’s a strong foundation to Hollow, a modern-day all-ages horror inspired by The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. A tough-as-nails teenager moves to a town that’s obsessed with the Headless Horseman legend, and as she tries to make friends and get her bearings, something spooky seems to be going on. The full graphic novel doesn’t come out until closer to Halloween; should be a fun time.
It is a little irritating that the free Doctor Who comic is entitled simply Doctor Who Comic. Yes, very descriptive, great job everyone. A fun, jauntily-written story about little monsters planning to destroy Earth — and some other little monsters who turn out to be their undoing — this is a fun adventure that requires little knowledge of the franchise to enjoy.
Also intriguing is Neverlanders, a surprising modern-day retelling of Peter Pan. It’s an interesting premise with very fun art, but I’m not sold on the execution: The story starts with a group of rag-tag unhoused children living in a junkyard, which is certainly a real and tragic backdrop; but the kids all live in relative comfort, which is a bizarre flight of fancy compared to the plight of IRL unhoused youth. The book seems to engage in an uncomfortable romanticizing of youth homelessness in its early pages before the fantasy elements fully take over, and the tone seems to yank itself wildly from side to side — are we in a setting of gritty reality or cartoonish mayhem? The full graphic novel comes out this fall, and maybe that version will be a little clearer about the rules of this (beautifully illustrated and exciting) world.
THE PRETTY GOOD STUFF
My favorites won’t necessarily be your favorites, so I encourage you to let your gaze wander over every book you can get your hands on. There’s fun to be had in Red Sonja: She-Devil with a Sword, a reprint of an old pulpy t-and-a sword-and-sandals romp. That book pairs well with Barbaric, a new comedic bloodbath about a violent brute and his bloodthirsty talking axe. Lots of gore and decidedly modern quippy dialogue abounds.
Psychedelic space-opera awaits in The Incal Universe, which I found to be a bit overwritten and a little too rando; but when I read that it was based on a story developed by Alejandro Jodorowsky I said ohhhhhhhh.
Also worth a glance is a three-story sampler from Red 5 Comics: It opens with The Carriers, a book about violent warrior pigeons that does not fully explain the rules of its world and is therefore a little hard to follow; that’s followed by Dragon Whisperer, a cute/violent story about a Victorian-ish world in which magical creatures are subjugated; and Beorn, an absolutely adorable little Viking adventurer who calls to mind the hero of Calvin and Hobbes minus his tiger friend.
THE REST OF IT
Two books were so Teflon-coated they slid immediately off my brain without making an impression: Trese: Last Seen After Midnight seems to be an adaptation of a Netflix anime so maybe it makes sense if you’ve seen that. 10 Ton Tales does nothing to introduce or explain what seems to be a four-part sampler of a story about dirty clowns (???); psychedelic sorcerer clip-art printed at the wrong resolution; a coloring book infomercial for the Foo Fighters; and the actually-pretty-good (but untitled!?!?!?!) middle pages of a story about an alien who is also a genie.
The unwieldy title of The Winchester Mystery House: The Hundred Year Curse is not half as awkward as the story itself, which seems to be an ad for the real-life tourist trap — specifically, in the final pages, its gift shop. I found this one to be the most cynical offering this year, which is saying something when it’s up against yet another Sonic the Hedgehog cash-grab.