Maggie’s World 072: Treats
In October 2018, I was told about a situation that hadn’t occurred to me until then.
A couple of campuses for special-needs kids in New York were preparing for their annual Halloween events, and parents were in an early-October meeting about those kids. Many children were 24/7 residents of the schools involved, living in dormitories most of the year. Many of their special needs included dietary concerns.
And parents raised the question: “Given the restrictions some of the children experience—with many not permitted certain types of candy—does the school forego an annual ‘Trick or Treat’ event?”
Oh, it wasn’t a problem, they were told. The kids could “Trick or Treat” at various spots on the campus and would be given “Treats”: pencils and toothbrushes.
So I was asked about the possibility of putting together some sort of online search for true Treats for the kids: comic books.
The Comic Book Challenge
The goal was to find Treats for about 250 children in about two weeks.
Here’s the immediate problem that came to mind: Many comics in recent decades consist of chapters in longer adventures. Even if cheap random back issues could be found at short notice, chances are that their recipients would find only tantalizing snippets of stories. Moreover, they’d have no way of finding missing issues.
So comics couldn’t be the answer?
Wait A Minute!
In 1987, Marvel had experimented with a fresh format.
Not only would it provide an entry point for potential new readers, it would also make a point about the variety that comics had to offer. Halloween Treat-seeking kids could be figured as ranging from beginning readers to those in their early teens. So how about showing what entertainment Marvel could provide?
Or—as the Sales Department’s Carol Kalish joked—Marvel could rot kids’ minds, not their teeth.
The results were compact “Done-in-One” mini-comics, with Heathcliff and Care Bears for younger recipients and super-heroic Captain America and Spider-Man for older ones. (Oh, and [harrumph] there was a subscription form on the back cover of each.) There were 16 pages of story and a maze activity inside the covers: perfect fun.
Perfect—but not quickly repeated.
Even today, the price on those original packets isn’t prohibitive—which probably indicates that there remained lots of unsold packets.
But, in 2001, retailer Joe Field suggested Free Comic Book Day in the trade journal Comics & Games Retailer, and the first one occurred May 4, 2002. More than 2 million comics from DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, and Image were distributed—and it’s been an annual event ever since.
So, sure, the Done-in-One Free Comic Book Day releases came immediately to my mind in October 2018. But (a) FCBD had occurred (as we all know) in May, and, (b) of course, the “Free” only applied to customers. They cost retailers a bundle, and 250 was too much to ask. Moreover, a miscellaneous assortment would need curation considering the recipients. Hmm.
So that 1987 Marvel experiment came quickly to mind, when the question of plentiful, appropriate comics Treats arose shortly before Halloween. Hey, what about bagged batches of small-format comics? In fact, they’d been listed in Diamond’s Previews some time before!
Which was, of course, the problem.
Maybe you haven’t noticed it, but there’s a second “Free Comics” event at many comics shops these days.
The celebration started in 2012, and, as the project describes itself, “Halloween ComicFest is the Saturday on or before Halloween. It’s an international event that celebrates comics and the local comic shops that build community.” There are give-away comics (that the stores pay to supply), but there can also be bagged selections for sale from publishers choosing to provide such Treats for purchasers.
But there’s a catch. The orders must be made long before most people are considering autumn events.
I knew that—just as I was trying to figure out how to get comic books to 250 children who might otherwise have to make do with pencils and toothbrushes. In 2018, the October 27 event announced that “participating comic shops across North America and around the world will hand out more than 1.7 million free comics to anyone who comes into their shop.” There were 34 titles available, including 22 full-size and 12 mini-comics. The dozen minis came in separate “polypack bundles” designed for folks who wanted to buy the minis in quantity to hand out: Archie, Ghost Friends Forever, Hollow Fields, Johnny Boo, Nancy Drew, Over the Garden Wall, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Splatoon, Spookhouse, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Vamplets Undead Pet Society, and Zo Zo Zombie. Just what I was looking for! But the listings had appeared in the July issue of Previews. And, as I say, it was October.
I was lucky. After checking with an assortment of nearby stores that didn’t have enough on such short notice, I found a source that was willing and able to deal with such a late request and ship my purchases (total: 300 mini-comics) in time for the New York distribution I needed. (Tip o’ the Thompson Topper to Bob Moreau at Westfield Comics in Madison, Wisconsin; he went above and beyond to see to it that my order made it to New York in time for “Trick or Treat” at the two campuses packed with kids.)
Returning to That Opening Anecdote
What was the reaction from folks at the school prior to the emergency shipment? The school representative was enthusiastic and announced plans to distribute the comic books at the schools’ libraries. His follow-up: “We got them! They look awesome!” And the kids were delighted.
It’s a goal for 2019: Get involved long before it’s an emergency.
June 19 is the day the Halloween comics will be announced for what Free Comic Book Day calls #SpookyFreeComicBookDay (also known as Halloween ComicFest) for 2019.
Are there sites in your area that would benefit from donations of comics Treats? School libraries? Boarding schools? Hospitals? Heck—what about kids in your very own neighborhood?
Get ready! Comics are a Treat we can all share.
Maggie’s World by Maggie Thompson appears the first Tuesday of every month here on Toucan!