Displayed are comics set aside for Free Comic Book Day at Brave New Worlds in Philadelphia. The annual event that’s grown from a few scattered stores hundreds upon hundreds worldwide publishers and purveyors of tales of fantastic heroes and nefarious villains is eager to court new readers who

Free comics spread the magic

There is, perhaps, no more inviting and seductive pitch to a prospective consumer than three simple words: “First one’s free.” Sound sketchy? Not to worry. “This time,” said comics creator Batton Lash, “the message is a positive one.” He’s referring to Free Comic Book Day, Saturday’s increasingly popular national event during which comics retailers and publishers join forces to entice new readers with the promise of giveaways.

There is, perhaps, no more inviting and seductive pitch to a prospective consumer than three simple words: “First one’s free.”

Sound sketchy? Not to worry. “This time,” said comics creator Batton Lash, “the message is a positive one.” He’s referring to Free Comic Book Day, Saturday’s increasingly popular national event during which comics retailers and publishers join forces to entice new readers with the promise of giveaways.

“Free Comic Book Day is a gateway for those who are unaware and an opportunity to get hooked on America’s indigenous art form and the world’s greatest entertainment medium,” says Lash, creator of the comics Supernatural Law and the Eisner Award-winning Radioactive Man.

The California-sprung promotional event has grown by leaps and single bounds since its 2002 launch.

In the Washington region alone, scores of creators turned to make in-store appearances.

After all, it’s not only about connecting new readers to comics, but also about introducing them to their neighborhood shops.

“The best thing is seeing the people who work in comics shops spending the day doing what they do best: recommending stuff,” NPR pop-culture contributor Glen Weldon says.

“So much of their usual customer base — hard-core geeks like me — settle into grooves, reading the same thing month after month. FCBD customers are clean slates, eager to try something, and comics shop staffers are enthusiasts, eager to supply them with suggestions.”

Customers may learn something new about comic book readers, as well.

“Every FCBD, people walk into shops prepared for dank nerd-pits smelling of must and Funyuns,” Weldon said, “only to find smart, friendly people like themselves.”

The best thing about FCBD, says Maryland comics creator Frank Cho (Liberty Meadows) is “hanging out with the fans, fellow pros and comic retailers, and [talking] about comics and movies.

“Kinda like sports fans hanging out and watching a game,” notes Cho, who will appear Saturday at Marc Nathan’s Cards, Comics and Collectibles shop in Reisterstown, Md., along with creators Adam Kubert and Steve Conley.

Another element of FCBD that gleams like a power ring: the celebration of narrative. “The coolest thing about FCBD is that it is another much-needed reminder of the value of story,” said Marc Tyler Nobleman, author of Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman.

“A lot that competes for kids’ entertainment time these days is not narrative — largely video games and social networking,” Nobleman said, “and while there is a time for those things, reading and absorbing stories should be a bigger chunk of the pie.

“That’s not just me as an author speaking,” says Nobleman, who on Sunday will deliver a lecture on Batman’s Bill Finger at the Washington Hebrew Congregation Temple in Washington. “It’s me as a father and a former kid myself.”

And to some, Free Comic Book Day is not just about the craft and wizardry on the comics page, but also about the magic within the bricks and mortar.

“FCBD tries to get new people into that [comic shop] environment to experience it for themselves,” said Charles Hatfield, associate professor of English at California State University Northridge and Eisner-winning author (Hand of Fire: The Comics Art of Jack Kirby).

“In a sense, FCBD is about selling shops, not just giving away — or selling — specific comics.“It’s a lovely form of outreach, from what was once a cultural outlier or ‘geek frontier’ to what we are accustomed to calling ‘mainstream’ culture. I’m all for that!”

By Michael Cavna writes for The Washington Post

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