How to celebrate Free Comic Book Day and promote literacy at the same time

This Saturday, every comic book store in the greater Seattle Area will celebrate Free Comic Book Day, an industry-specific holiday. FCBD is exactly what it sounds like: stores give away free comics — traditionally samplers of new and upcoming series that publishers would like to promote to new readers — to anyone who visits.

For many years, the Wallingford shop Comics Dungeon has put on Seattle’s greatest Free Comic Book Day show, with guest creator appearances, signings, and cosplayers dressed like superheroes or pop culture characters. One year, an entire team of Storm Troopers from Star Wars stood outside the store and waved people inside. Traffic in front of the store on NE 45th slowed down due to excessive rubbernecking.

Earlier this year, Comics Dungeon owner Scott Tomlin made a big announcement: he was taking his store nonprofit. Tomlin announced that he was founding a new comics-centric education program called Comics for Community, Compassion and Culture — C4C3 for short. We talked with Tomlin about his new roles as president of C4C3 and executive officer at Comics Dungeon, what C4C3 is all about, and what to expect for Free Comic Book Day this year.

Could you talk about the nonprofit, which I understand is fairly new?

Yeah it is. We actually launched the nonprofit in March at Emerald City Comic Con — we technically had applied a couple weeks before, but we launched then.

Our whole mission is about getting comic books into schools, libraries and classrooms. Over the years, we've done programs with schools and teachers and librarians, but we’ve been seeing this really big interest in the comics lately. One, because of the pop culture aspect — it's become more mainstream nowadays.

The medium of comics changes people's approach to education and reading, and we've found that the schools and libraries are actually surprisingly underfunded in some of these arenas. I just found out at least one of the middle schools in Edmonds, for example, has a zero dollar budget for their school library. We're finding that to be a little more common than not, unfortunately. When they do get money, they tend to focus on the staples and don't want to necessarily expand.

So that's what we're trying to do. Just last week, we opened up our grant period — our first one of the organization — where we're offering to librarians and teachers the opportunity to apply for grants of up to $300 to get comic books into the school library.

And what is the relationship between Comics Dungeon and Comics for Community, Compassion, and Culture?

The Comics Dungeon has actually been around for 26 years in Seattle. I owned it for 11 years. We just converted that organization into the nonprofit.

One kind of parallel, if it helps, is to think of us as the gift store at a museum. The museum's a nonprofit organization; they happen to have a retail arm. But all the profits we make out of this store go to funding our cause, and obviously paying salary of the staff. The store's our primary fundraising source but it's not our only one. We take donations and all of that as well.

Do you have any programs together yet? What does your outreach look like?

Our programs are going to be demand-driven initially. We have one in store; we're doing a kids art program. Basically, it's a drawing club. Kids who like to draw come together and hang out with other kids who like to draw. We have book clubs in the store as well, and we're going to be reaching to the schools and see what we can do about coming in and helping them out.

One of the things we're doing in this grant process is asking these educators what are they interested in having: Is it in-class presentations? Is it professional development presentations?

Has anything surprised you so far, in terms of the need and what people are interested in?

Yeah. When we launched at Emerald City, we were a little tentative. We weren't sure how people were going to react, basically, but we got an overwhelmingly positive reception. We met a lot of educators at the convention that were just doing backflips on the whole concept. People were asking, "can I volunteer for you tomorrow?" Things like that. That was really exciting.

What we found, too, is that we haven't yet found a teacher that wasn't interested. Whether you're a science teacher, a history teacher, an English teacher, or an art teacher, there's value for you in comic books. (We're still struggling with the math teachers, but we want to get there too.)

It's just really surprising how positive the reception has been and how generous people have been. We've received probably 10 longboxes as donations in our first month and a half, as well as a few hundred dollars’ worth of cash donations as well. It's been rewarding to see the value of what we're doing catching on so quickly.

That leads into my next question, which is what can people do to help?

Obviously, donations. It’s a great way to donate comic collections. A lot of comic collections aren't worth what people want them to be, and this allows them to have a better tax situation potentially at the end of the year.

And we obviously love cash donations, but the easiest thing to do is, if you buy comic books, just come shop here because it benefits our organization automatically. We're also going to be starting some volunteer programs to help us around the store.

We’re at, and our email is if you have any ideas or any interests we can be reached there and happy to discuss and figure something out.

With Free Comic Book Day, you guys have always had the biggest show in town. Do you have any plans for this year?

Yeah. This year, almost all day we’ll have at least one creator on hand. These are local creators that are producing well-known books. Obviously, we'll have the free comic books, and a sale to go along with that.

We always have our “Day After Free Comic Book Day Sale” as well. That focuses on back issues, and back issues are one of our best ways to raise money for the nonprofit, because that's typically where we have our best margins.

We might have some cosplayers this year, but we'll see. They're like herding cats, sometimes.