Across Frederick, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, Free Comic Book Day may serve as an origin story for those who have not ventured far into the medium.
On Saturday, participating stores will give away free titles featuring standard superhero squads like The Avengers to fledgling series such as “Bad Medicine” and “The Hypernaturals.”
For Free Comic Book Day, publishers sell titles made specifically for the event at industry low rates with most books going for 25 cents apiece. To participate, comic shops are required to purchase at least 25 copies of each of the Gold Books, which include titles following the likes of “Mega Man” and “The Transformers.”
A slew of optional Silver Books also are available, including “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and “The Guild.” At each store, customers are asked to take only two to three copies.
The annual event, traditionally held the first Saturday in May, allows comic book store owners, such as Peter Casazza of College Park’s Big Planet Comics, to take on somewhere between 1,500 to 2,000 titles for the day without crunching his wallet. For publishers, it provides an opportunity to get the word out about new products or story lines.
And it works. Casazza says 90 percent of the books he purchased will be gone by the end of the day.
“Some we will give away in 40 minutes and others, because I’m getting 200 or 300 copies, will last the whole day,” Casazza says.
Ultimately, Casazza says some 3.5 million comics are given away nationwide, which includes Big Planet’s fellow stores in Bethesda, Vienna, Va., and Washington, D.C.
“Usually it’s our busiest day of the year,” Casazza says. “We see more people that day than every other day of the year and mostly everybody who comes by buys stuff.”
Free Comic Book Day affords Big Planet the chance not only to show off caped crusaders, but the individuals who created the characters behind the masks. At Big Planet, artists Jeremy Whitley and Jorge Aguirre will be available for signings for their recent projects “Princeless” and “Giants Beware!” respectively. Both will be present at Big Planet’s College Park location from 3-5 p.m. after a morning stop at the store’s Vienna location.
Casazza says “Princeless” is a new twist on an old theme.
“It’s different. It’s about these two kids, a princess and a prince who appear to be African-American in a fairy[tale] book kind of story,” Casazza says. “And it’s a unique take on, ‘What if one of them gets kidnapped?’”
Regarding Aguirre’s piece, Casazza says the artwork of the kid-friendly “Giants Beware!” features a fresh approach.
“It’s great when you see somebody who understands the idea of graphic storytelling and can really capture the fun in the medium,” Casazza says.
Beyond Comics also will feature artist appearances at its dual locations.
In Gaithersburg, “Finder” creator and illustrator Carla Speed McNeil, Nathan Richardson and Emmy Award-winning artist Dean Haspiel will stop by. Comic book creators Rafer Roberts, Megan Steckler and Terry Flippo will be present at the store’s Frederick location.
Beyond Comics owner Jon Cohen also is the creator of the Small Press Expo, which champions independent comics each year. This year’s celebration will take place in September in Bethesda. Cohen says when people meet the men and women behind the characters, their perspective on the medium shifts.
“Once you meet the people involved, it sort of changes your dynamic,” Cohen says. “I created the Small Press Expo years ago. ... And one of the things I quickly found out is that when you meet this guy who makes comics, all of a sudden you’re more of a fan.”
Beyond Comics ordered 2,500 to 4,000 comics for the day including 1,000 Justice League comics that bear the store’s name on the cover.
“We never get lines like that and it’s the only day where I actually make every employee work,” Cohen says.
Cohen says he also will offer deals such as $1 comics.
In Frederick, Brainstorm Comics and Gaming will offer not only free comic books, but also graphic novels. Owner Dan Webb says with a qualifying purchase, customers can choose from graphic novels such as “The Fantastic Four,” “She-Hulk” and “The Black Panther.”
The store also will feature a Doctor Who look-alike contest, with the victor taking home a Doctor Who Eleven Doctors Mini-figure TARDIS Box Set.
Among the almost 2,000 comics Webb ordered, he says standouts include the “Mouse Guard” hardcover and The New 52 Special Edition, which follows last year’s reboot of DC’s famous characters like Superman and Swamp Thing.
“It’s also about the character that caused the reboot that no one was quite aware of,” Webb says.
Among original “Avengers” and “Iron Man” titles, the store will feature the Free Comic Book Day return of Valiant Comics.
“Valiant Comics used to be a big thing back in the late 90s, and they’re retooling their entire company and ... coming out with a big free comic,” Webb says.
For Webb, the payoff of Free Comic Book Day is hard to gauge. Whether or not he gets new customers is a tossup, but he says he enjoys using the day to introduce independent titles to his regular customers. In the end, the best part of the day is the new stories he can offer to those he has served for some 28 years.
“I did it full blast for 10 years and maybe you pick up one kid and maybe you don’t, and the side part of this [is] that ... some of the Free Comic Book Day books are rare and really good.”
How will you plan out your Free Comic Book Day adventure? Tell us in the comments section.