Every Day Should Be Free Comic Book Day: Mark Millar, John Romita, Jr., Eight More Talk About Their First Books

Books Lists Mark Millar
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Approximately eight years ago today, comic book publishers, distributors and retailers rallied together into a unified force the equal of any superhero team to accomplish a marketing maneuver most extraordinary: to give epic amounts of their product away for free. Pro bono. Gratis. On the house.

Appropriately enough, they called it Free Comic Book Day.

As free things have a tendency to go, the feat was a soaring success that has been repeated annually on the first Saturday of every May. It even inspired an imitator or two in the process. The first six years alone witnessed 30 countries dispersing over 12 million books alone. With Free Comic Book Day 2010 upon us, Paste would like to take a moment to illustrate the obvious appeal of an event that gives awesome things away.

As of this morning, every comic book store is offering 33 different books ranging in theme and style from a cache of notable publishers. And if you’re expecting to stumble into a specialty bookstore solely occupied with Technicolor men in kevlar tights throwing left hooks, the fare will include offerings for kids, manga fans and indie snobs alike. Even Lady Gaga will be making a cameo appearance. In addition, many stores are hosting creator signings and parties. Xander from Buffy The Vampire Slayer in Ohio? Excellent. Stan Lee kicking it in Pasadena? Excelsior.

But most of all, this is a fun time time for agnostics to discover an exciting and oft-neglected medium. To celebrate, we’ve asked some of our favorite comic book creators to talk about their first comic book experiences and discoveries of the trade.

Make sure to list your own in the comment section (The Impossible Man Summer Vacation Spectacular, anyone?)

Mark Millar
Writer/Co-Creator: Kick-Ass, Wanted, Marvel’s Civil War
“My first comic was a UK reprint of a Spider-Man book that was actually quite famous because it was the one where his girlfriend Gwen Stacy was murdered by the Green Goblin. In this issue, we not only had Spider-Man accidentally break his girlfriend’s neck, ‘accidentally’ crucify the Green Goblin with his own glider and fight the police in a crazed rage, but he went back home to find his best friend Harry Osborn out of his face on LSD. I was six years old and terrified, but also somehow knew that this is what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Cut to now and Kick-Ass and Wanted suddenly makes perfect sense.”

John Romita Jr.
Artist/Co-Creator: Kick-Ass
Artist: Amazing Spider-Man, Daredevil
“Daredevil # 12. I was eight years old and that issue was the first time I remember seeing my father draw super hero art and it blew me away. I asked who the guy in the costume, with horns on his head, was, and how he was going to fight all those bad guys that were surrounding him. The bad guys were led by The Plunderer, a futuristic pirate. My father explained that the good guy was Daredevil and he was a super hero, but, and it was a huge but, Daredevil was blind! That was it! I was hooked! I will never forget that moment.”

Mike Mignola
Creator/Writer/Artist: Hellboy, BPRD
“My earliest comic book memory—Going with my older cousin to some kind of a store (I remember it being more like a shack perched on the side on train tracks) in Modesto California. The place had a news stand and he shoved me over to the Archie or Harvey comics while he went to the MARVEL COMICS. Holy crap. I wanted what he was having. To this day I clearly remember a bunch of the covers of the comics he had—THOR 134 (introducing the High Evolutionary!) and 136 (Odin zapping Jane Foster with a flashlight) and (possibly my favorite cover of all time and I have no idea why) Fantastic Four 67—The Cocoon!”

Colleen Coover
Creator/Writer/Artist: Small Favors
Artist: Banana Sunday, X-Men: First Class
“My older sister had amassed a pile of ragged, often coverless comics before I was born, so I guess you could say I have been literally into comics since birth! I loved Harvey Comics—Casper and Richie Rich and Hot Stuff—and we had a lot of Archies, a good selection of DC and Marvel superhero books, even some horror titles. I think that’s probably why I never distinguished superheroes as being the ‘one true genre’ of comics the way a lot of people do; if it was a comic book, I would read it! But I think that the one book that really set off a true spark in me was ElfQuest, which I discovered at the oh-so-important age of 12, when you’re still a kid but are starting to gain the sophistication of a young adult. I drew a lot of elves in high school.”

Bryan Lee O’Malley
Creator/Writer/Artist: Scott Pilgrim, Lost At Sea
“My first comic book was Transformers #19, in the summer of 1986, when I was seven years old. I lived in a small town, we didn’t have cable, and I was obsessed with the Transformers cartoon even though I couldn’t watch it. I bought the comic instead, got hooked, and never looked back.”

Craig Thompson
Creator/Writer/Artist: Blankets, Good-bye, Chunky Rice, Carnet De Voyage
“My first comic book was an issue of DROIDS—the adventures of C3PO and R2D2—purchased from the gift shop at the Yogi Bear Jellystone campgrounds in Baraboo, Wisconsin. In the eighties, Marvel comics was licensing Saturday morning cartoon shows for children’s comics. My brother Phil got an issue of EWOKS. We could have spent our dollar on a plastic tomahawk or a polished stone or shredded beef jerky in a snuff can, but instead we hid in the tent reading those humidity-wilted comic books over and over.”

G. Willow Wilson
Writer: Air, Cairo
“The first comic I ever read was an X-Men anti-smoking PSA they handed out in health class when I was in fifth grade or sixth grade. It was about a high school athlete who jeopardizes his track career by taking up a cigarette habit. Storm and Wolverine come in and straighten him out. I was totally enchanted—the costumes, the powers, flying around in a stealth jet. Though between you and me, Wolverine getting in some guy’s grill over cigarettes seems like the pot calling the kettle black.”

Tomm Moore
Creator/Director: The Secret of Kells
Artist: An Sclabhai, An Teachtaire
“My first comic book experience was probably with British and French comics, I collected the Asterix ‘bandes Dessines’ and my dad used to help me puzzle out the Latin puns in the names of the characters. I used to spend my weekends creating my own Asterix stories. I also read ‘Buster’ a comic from England which was nominally the adventures of the son of ‘Andy Capp’ the famous newspaper comic strip character. But it was’nt until the summer of 1989 that I discovered American comics, my cousin came back from a trip to Canada with a stack of DC comics—mostly Batman. I’d had no experience of the new gritty ‘Batman’ that had evolved, and this was so different to the campy TV Adam West version I knew, that I could hardly believe it was the same character. I soon became totally obsessed, my 11 year old brain overflowed with the cool gadgets the sexy girls and dynamic artwork in American comics. I was far too young for them, but I soon had digested The Dark Knight Returns, Year One and The Watchmen. It kickstarted a love of comics that I still have, even if I prefer the slightly left of field stuff like these days.”

Dean Haspiel
Creator/Writer/Artist: Billy Dogma, Street Code
Artist: The Quitter, The Alcoholic, Cuba: My Revolution
“Growing up in the upper west side of Manhattan, from the late ‘60s to the late ‘80s, my corner was graced with two local newsstands which I visited, religiously, every week for new Marvel and DC Comics until I discovered West Side Comics and Funny Business [alas, both shops are long gone]. It was then that I became forever loyal to THE FANTASTIC FOUR, C.C. Beck’s Captain Marvel via SHAZAM! [partially written by Denny O’Neil], and other comics like SPIDER-MAN, IRON MAN, HULK, BATMAN, DAREDEVIL, POWER MAN & IRON FIST, MOON KNIGHT, SWAMP THING, GREEN LANTERN, CAPTAIN AMERICA, and MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE, featuring my favorite Stan Lee and Jack Kirby character, THE THING. It was during that time that I picked up a comic book called STAR WARS, which was an adaption of a new movie that was coming out. It was drawn by Howard Chaykin. Nine years later, I would befriend a kid named Larry O’Neil who’s father, Denny, worked in comics and had a tip that Chaykin was looking for assistants at Upstart, his shared studio in the garment district which housed the likes of James Sherman and Walter Simonson [and, previously, Frank Miller and Jim Starlin]. Down the hall was a cat named Bill Sienkiewicz, alongside Denys Cowan and Michael Davis. In 1985, my senior year of Music & Art High School, Larry and I would grab a slice of pizza and hop the subway to Upstart and help finish the art on AMERICAN FLAGG!, THOR, NEW MUTANTS, ELEKTRA: ASSASSIN, and other comics. It was downtown that I discovered Harvey Pekar’s AMERICAN SPLENDOR, and Chester Brown’s YUMMY FUR, at a hip joint called Soho Zat, that my mind began to expand and encourage me to think beyond franchise comics and create my very own, BILLY DOGMA, and tackle semi-autobio comix. Way before there was an internet or a phone to read your regular funnies.”

Jeff Smith
Creator/Writer/Artist: Bone, RASL, Shazam!: The Monster Society of Evil
“An early favorite of mine was Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge by Carl Barks. Uncle Scrooge was a stingy, rich old duck who financed expeditions to the far corners of the earth—and even under the sea to Atlantis—all to increase his vast wealth. Of course, Huey, Dewey, and Louie were there to show him the truly important things in life; like honesty and integrity. Those comics were beautifully drawn and well written, I still marvel at how real those worlds seemed, even though the main character was a duck in spats!”

Paste would like to extend a special thanks to the contributing talent and Martin Wendel