By Jeremy Konrad
Cleveland's best comic event of the year took place last night at Carol and John's annual Free Comic Book Day Midnight release party. In what has now become a yearly and eagerly anticipated event, the guys and gals from CNJ treat Free Comic Book Day as it should be: a true event and comic nerd holiday. By ordering over 25,000 free comics (3,000 plus given to the Cuyahoga county Public Library system), tpb's for giveaways, sales, an art gallery for local artists, hosting over 20 local artists doing free sketches, and reserving table space for area businesses and upcoming conventions, it is more like a mini convention than a regular comic shop event.
Their patrons are fiercely loyal, with the first in line for the event starting the line at 8 A.M. Friday morning (Brad Presutto, dressed in the photos as the 11th Doctor) with the line filling up throughout the day and evening with many people in costume and even breaking into spontaneous choruses of 99 Bottles Of Beer On The Wall (and making it all the way through the song). Talking with people in line, they all said the same thing: store owner John Dudas cares about his customers, his community, and is a great ambassador of the hobby, and they come to support him and his shop; the comics themselves are secondary.
The coolest feature this year was a tie between two events. For the over 21 crowd, there was a pop-up Hydra bar, featuring a special Hydra themed micro brew "Strucker's Pretzel Lager", brewed locally by Cleveland Action Brewery. The bar was flanked by the Hydra symbol, and sketch covers on either side hanging from the walls all done by local artists, and various Captain America and Hydra comics. Also being served were Hydra themed treats by local bakeries Darkside Desserts and Peace Love and Little Donuts. The lines were long, but I managed to get my hands on the Strucker's lager, and boy was it tasty. All of the desserts from both treat-makers were fantastic as well.
The main event for me was discovering all of the wonderful artists brought in for the event, all doing free sketches. All of them had long lines into the wee, wee hours of the morning, but I managed to snag four new sketches for my Winter Soldier theme book. All of them were very engaging, and very generous with their time. Check out the sketches below. And check out the Rustbelt Monster Collective and the talented artists there as well.
After everything else, getting free comics didn't seem as important anymore, but while waiting to get them, I spent some time checking out the tables set up for a myriad of groups representing many different aspects of pop culture in Cleveland, including The Doctor Who Society of Cleveland (they brought a Tardis!), Cleveland Concoction, GeekCle, Pop! The Comic Culture Club, Akron Comic-Con, and The Side Quest, which is a group trying to build a geek centered bar in Cleveland (good luck guys! Such a great idea!).
Finally it was time for comics. Really excited to dig into the Guardians issue, along with Valiant's offerings, the Mouse Guard HC (how cool is it that Archaia does that?), and yes of course, Bleeding Cool's offering as well.
The final stop of the evening was the art gallery next to the free comics room, with many, many great examples of the very talented local art scene. All of the original pieces were for sale, with prints of everything on the walls as well in case you had already spent all your money in the shop.
Next time you are in Cleveland, make it a point to stop in and see the gang at CNJ. Not only are they some of the most knowledgeable and helpful people working in any comic shop, but they are strong members of our thriving small business and art community here in Cleveland.
Thank you guys for putting on this event every year. Maybe next year I will get there Thursday night.
Special shout-out to the artists who put their time and energy into the Winter Soldier sketches:
And here are some more photos of the event: