THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE: Interview with Calum Johnston!

It's almost that time again! The comic bookiest day of the year! FREE COMIC BOOK DAY!

In Halifax, we do it up right. It's a real comicpalooza, and it's all orchestrated by Calum Johnston.

Cal has owned and operated Strange Adventures in Halifax for thirteen years, and he's run the earth 2 version of Strange Adventures in Fredericton for fifteen. He's well known as the godfather of the Halifax comics scene, encouraging local artists, organizing community events, and breaking fingers when he needs to. I think he forced Darwyn Cooke to move to Nova Scotia at gunpoint. Strange Adventures is a household name in Halifax, and all over Canada, and Halifax is just a comicy city, thanks to Cal. It's actually pretty rare that I have to have that "Wha? People still buy comic books?" conversation. A big part of that is Strange Adventures' amazing and elaborate Free Comic Book Day event.

Cal is a busy dude, but he made time to tell LBW readers all about it.

When did Strange Adventures start participating in Free Comic Book Day?

Starting with the very first one about 8 years ago. It was thought up by Joe Field of Flying Colors Comics in California while he was at an ice cream parlour that was giving out free kiddie cones so folks could try new flavours. (Thanks, Joe!)

What usually goes down, and what can folks expect for this year?

Comic book madness, that's what happens!

We divide the comics, about 20,000 of them, into three age groups: appropriate for all-ages, teens, and mature. Then we cover tables with the comics and open the doors and let folks in. Each person is given a Free Comic Book Day bag and they can fill it up with dozens of comics. Not only are many of the official FCBD comics available, we also give out comics from our backstock, from collections bought over the past year and from comics donated by some of our customers.

Volunteers are on hand to keep the tables full, answer any questions, and some dress up in super-hero costumes to add to the festive feel. Magician Mister J performs for a few hours, entertaining people with his magic and making balloon animals for kids. Several cartoonists give up their Saturday to give kids sketches of their favourite characters.

Why do you feel Free Comic Book Day is important?

The event puts comics in the hands of people. That's the most important part, in my mind. The more people who are exposed to the wonderful world of comics, the more readers comics will have, and the more the merrier. I have great faith in what I sell and I believe that there is a comic book for everyone, they just need to find it. Free Comic Book Day helps give them a chance to sample what comics have to offer.

Do you think Free Comic Book Day reflects changes happening in the comic industry?

Perhaps it is a sign that the industry as a whole has woken up and is working on maintaining and improving the overall health and profile of the industry.   It certainly reflects one good change in the comics world. The event is made possible through great co-operation between printers, publishers, creators, distributors and retailers. Still, more needs to be done to make FCBD perfect and I hope we can work towards that goal.

How can people—retailers and average folks—get involved?

On May 2nd, visit your local comic book store and bring a friend. Bring someone who hasn't read comics in years or ever! Check out the website, print off some of the info and post it at your local school, library, or workplace. Retailers should already be finalizing their plans; sending out press releases, arranging advertising,  passing out fliers with info on FCBD.

You seem like an exceptionally great guy who gives a lot back to his community. Is this a cover-up so no one suspects all the bodies in your basement?

Completely a cover-up to mask my night job as an international jewel thief.

I don't think I'm an exceptionally great guy. I'm a very lucky guy who gets to share his love of comics with many people every day. I play matchmaker, striving to introduce someone to a comic they will enjoy.  You make a match, and you open a new world of fantastic stories for them. There's good days and bad days in any business, and at the end of my worst day - I can always remember connecting someone with a  book they love.

I am a very lucky guy who has the best job in the world.