My library had a Free Comic Book Day/ May the Fourth Be With You Star Wars Day event this last Saturday and it was AWESOME. It was a lot of planning over an extended period of time but everything came together very well, with some room to grow on for next year but I’ll talk about all of that in a minute. It all began, like most things in the library, with a committee. It was myself and my co-workers Rebecca Bundy and Wesley Umstead who started talking about what we wanted to do and see on the magical May 4th, where both Free Comic Book Day and Star Wars Day would converge. Rebecca works on our library’s programming team so she did most of the heavy lifting when it came to all of the paperwork, scheduling, decorating and many of the other thousands of details such a large event requires. This post will focus on the lead up TO the event and all of the planning.
The event itself was going to take place at our main library location in Mt. Pleasant but from the beginning, we decided that we wanted to get the branches involved in some way. So leading up to the event, we had tie-in programs at all of the branches that were related to our May 4th events.
We had Star Wars Trivia at each of our locations that our patrons could answer. The question was the same one at each location and we had a new one every week for the month of April. Since we have WAY more patrons at our Main Location, we thought it would be fair to choose a winner from each location instead of five winners from a general pool of entries. The prize for this was a copy of Green Lantern: Rebirth that was signed by the artist Ethan Van Sciver. The Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) was the previous weekend and I had brought the books along with me to get them signed. We decided upon Green Lantern: Rebirth because we figured it would have the widest appeal across age groups as well as having brand recognition, which increases the implied value of the prize.
In addition to Star Wars trivia at all the locations, we all had “Super Hero Cinema” events at every branch. Each of our four branches showed a different popular Super Hero movie (make sure you have the rights, people) on a weekend in April. Our local movie theater, Celebration Cinemas donated free tickets for Iron Man 3 AND the Star Trek Film Festival that we raffled off at the end of each movie. Both the Star Wars Trivia and the Super Hero Cinema events were VERY popular at the branches. It allowed us to include our smaller communities in the large May 4th event with special branch programs and it was a great way to advertise the larger event, hoping that some people from the branch communities would make the drive out into the city on May 4th.
For the actual Free Comics part of Free Comic Book Day, we went two routes. Diamond Distributors, the main source for most comics and the company that puts on Free Comic Book Day, provides the “Free Comics” to all of the comics shops that order them. The comics are not actually free, they do cost some money but they are much lower cost than regular comics are. Unless you do business with Diamond Distributors, it would make more sense as a library to partner with a local comics shop to put in your order. We connected with our local shop, Hall of Heroes, several months before Free Comic Book Day to talk about partnering on the day and we put our order in through them. Additionally, Diamond Distributors will give surplus Free Comic Book Day comics to libraries if they ask for them, so we went that route as well. The benefit of the “surplus” is that they are actually free but the big downside is that you don’t know what you’re going to get until it arrives. If you actually want to choose what to hand out, you’re going to need to buy some.
You can see which Free Comics we purchased HERE but basically our decisions were based on a few principles: We wanted items related to things that we circulate in the system, we wanted wide appeal without replicating what could be found at our partner comics shop on the same day and we wanted lots of stuff that would appeal to kids because we (rightly) assumed that a lot of kids would be at our event. The surplus stuff we got from Diamond was actually pretty good! Some of it was stuff we also ordered through the shop so we had some backups and we got a bunch of other cool things like the Mass Effect comic and Archie. Working with Diamond and our local shop to secure comics worked out pretty well.
In addition to the Free Comics, we planned to have Star Wars characters at the library for photo opportunities. In case you weren’t aware, having real Star Wars cosplayers at your library ON Star Wars Day is actually pretty difficult. There is a finite supply of cosplayers and so many things going on during Star Wars Day that people end up getting spread pretty thin OR they have to be pretty choosy about where they go. We contacted the 501 Great Lakes Garrison very early on in the planning stages to get our hat in the ring. In lieu of payment, this Garrison does appearances in exchange for a donation to a charity, other Star Wars groups in your area may do the same if you ask around. The 501 very wonderfully told us that they would have people at our event and in my next post you’ll see who arrived!
Since we were taking over the entire library, we also planned to have a few more guests throughout the event. We invited Randy Scott, Librarian at Michigan State University and caretaker of the largest comic book archive in the world to come up from Lansing to speak about his collection and comics in academia. One of the organizers of the event, Wesley, spoke about the process of writing comics and all that goes into it. In addition, we also invited a local person who had actually been IN some of the original Star Wars movies to come and speak about his experiences. Wesley also invited his brother, artist Timm Umstead to be artist in residence and set up a table during the entire event. If you’re going to invite guests to your event, make sure they get all of the paperwork you require in as soon as possible. I’m not sure how your library does outside guests but it can be very time consuming to hunt everybody’s forms down and making sure everybody arrives when they need to, so that should be taken into consideration.
We did a lot of marketing for this event, both internally and externally. Not only did we have write ups in the local newspaper but we also had ads on our local radio station talking about all the cool stuff we were doing AND our partnership with Hall of Heroes. It’s important to make sure your marketing literature and products include your partner shop’s information since that will be one of the benefits to them for partnering with you. More than one library has informed me that they don’t do Free Comic Book Day because their local comic book store doesn’t want them to. The perception is that the library will actually pull people away from the comics shop instead of drive people there. One thing to know is that libraries often get far more people coming through the doors every day than comics shops so if you can convince the shop that you will actually be sending your patrons their way, it can only be a bonus. From the beginning, we wanted to make our Free Comic Book Day partnership mutually beneficial and we planned a promotion to make it that way.
Our marketing team developed these stamp cards that we would have at both our library and at Hall of Heroes. When you picked up a comic at the library you could get a card and get it stamped, if you took your card to Hall of Heroes to get ANOTHER free comic, they would stamp your card too. You would then drop your card in a box with your info on it and we would raffle off a free box of comics to the winner.
This way, we would be encouraging our crowds to go to the comics shop and vice versa. There are probably lots of people who have never been to the local comic book store but come to the library all the time. This gave them an excuse to head over there and see what it’s all about. Similarly, comics shop patrons may not have known we have large graphic novel collections in our library and this gave them an opportunity to head over and see what we’ve got. I will talk about how well it went in my next post but SPOILER ALERT: we ran out of cards within the first hour. It went over PRETTY WELL. And Hall of Heroes reported that they had WAY more people in the store this year because of our promotions and partnership. So there you go!
Other marketing included a lot of cool signage and handouts:
So be sure and tune in for my next post, when I go into all the fun details about how the actual event went. ANOTHER SPOILER: It went awesomely.