The first Saturday of May is a national holiday for comic fans. Free Comic Book Day is the one day during the year when participating comic book shops the world over give away free comic books to anyone who visits their stores.
It’s a day to celebrate the independent comic shops in your area and the communities of comic book fans they unite. From mainstream publishers to independent comics, a large variety of comic books are offered. When Free Comic Book Day rolls around, I’ll be at ASTOUND! Comics’ event at the Westlake Porter Public Library [updated with details for 2011 Free Comic Book Day event]. The knowledge of the guys at ASTOUND!, as well as their selection of individual issues, graphic novels and trade paperbacks has never disappointed Scott and me since we started shopping there a couple of years ago.
In honor of Saturday’s Free Comic Book Day, I figured I’d take a look at a few ways the world of comics meets the City of Cleveland. From characters found in mainstream books by Marvel and DC, to the Sunday strips and underground comics, there are many ways that Cleveland connects with comic fans.
True Believers can get their fictional Cleveland fix by reading Marvel’s Howard the Duck. Originally hailing from Duckworld – a planet in an alternate dimension that strongly resembles Earth, Howard lands in Cleveland after battling a demon focused on collapsing all of the universes into one. Although Howard may not be too thrilled about it, he has since made his home here. And although the portrayal of Cleveland in the Marvel comic book is highly fictionalized, mentions of familiar sites – such as Case Western, Hopkins International Airport, the Cuyahoga River and the downtown Justice Center – make the occasional appearance.
On the other hand, Cleveland finds a very real place in the DC Nation. Superman, the Man of Steel himself, was created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster in 1932 when they were both living in Cleveland. Although the ownership of Superman has led to numerous disputes between DC Comics and the Siegel and Shuster families, there is no denying the character had its birth in Siegel’s Cleveland home near the intersection of East 105th Street and St. Clair Avenue. The nonprofit Siegel and Shuster Society raised funds to fix the roof and make other repairs to the home. And last year during the Screaming Tiki Con, a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrated the restoration. As a private residence, it’s not a museum to visit; however, visitors can stop by the house and see the newly installed fence with a Superman logo and plaque to commemorate the comic book history that happened there.
The Sunday comics find their home in the Cleve through cartoonist Bill Watterson — Clevelander and creator of the influential Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. For the uninitiated, Calvin and Hobbes is set in an unnamed Midwestern suburb and follows the imaginative adventures of a boy named Calvin and his trusty tiger Hobbes. In addition to smart and engaging storytelling, Watterson told these tales in a redesigned Sunday format that permitted more panel flexibility. After a 10-year run, Watterson ended the strip in 1995 saying he did what he could “within the constraints of daily deadlines and small panels.” Watterson continues to live in the Cleveland area, having originally moved to Chagrin Falls when he was six years old (the same age as Calvin). Although he usually keeps out of the public eye, Watterson recently granted a very rare interview (believed to be the first since 1989) to the Cleveland Plain Dealer marking the 15th anniversary of the end of Calvin and Hobbes.
Another more visible comic legend also made his home in Cleveland. Underground comic hero Harvey Pekar lived on the Eastside in Cleveland Heights. His autobiographical American Splendor series (made into the movie of the same name) traces Pekar’s everyday life in Cleveland. And it was his philosophy ‘comics are words and pictures. You can do anything with words and pictures’ that makes his stories about the mundane a fresh alternative to typical mainstream fantasy and genre books. Taking the Cleveland connection even further, it was recently announced that Harvey Pekar’s CLEVELAND will be available in Summer of 2011. This 120+ page graphic novel written by Pekar will incorporate moments from Cleveland history like the Indians’ 1948 World Series win and the burning river into his usual autobiographical fare.
Whether it’s mainstream comics, independent storytelling or the Sunday funny pages, there’s a bit of Cleveland to be found in it all. And with Free Comic Book Day, local comic book stores are giving the opportunity to explore more of it.
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