It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Free Comic Book Day on May 1

Wait. Did you say Free Comic Book Day? As in "I take home comics, and there is no payment necessary"?

Yes, indeed. Once a year, independent comic book stores shell out between 12 and 50 cents per book to publishers, and then graciously give them to you for free. And for cash-strapped college students, who make up a large chunk of the comics-reading populace, no greater word exists. (Except perhaps for Wow! Pow!, Wham! or Bang!)

Or as Chicago Comics manager Eric Thornton put it, "There is no better way to get people in the store than with a sign that says 'FREE.'"

May 1 marks the eighth annual Free Comic Book Day, a promotional event that celebrates independent comic book stores across North America -- mostly geared toward kids and new collectors, but also seen as a special "thank you" to those who've collected for years.

"All comic book stores have their own flavor and style, " Thornton said. "In American business, you can't find as unique and free-spirited entrepreneur opportunities as a comic store."
Using the handy store locator on the left side of the Free Comic Book Day homepage, you can check your local stores for their participation and rules, as guidelines vary from store to store. Yet, one rule stays the same: In every participating store, you will have a chance to receive free comics.

"I've actually gone to every Free Comic Book Day since they started a few years ago," longtime collector Bill Priestly said through e-mail. "What I love about the comic book community is how diverse it is; some stores will just give away the traditional free comics provided by publishers. Others will take it as a chance to give away the comics they've over ordered throughout the year, and other stores will have actual parties with food."

With so many giveaways, you might assume disaster is looming, with onomatopoeia text boxes exploding over an enthusiastic crowd hungry for hundreds of comics. But what if there happened to be a shortage of giveaways and the group at your store decided to riot, in the vein of "Jingle All the Way"? Well, maybe that's just the power of your comics-juiced imagination at work.

"We have a selection of 30 to 40 different books and we limit our customers to five or six," Thornton said. "That way, more people have a chance [to get free comics]."

It's a common misconception that comic books are exclusively stories about superheroes, those public protectors with superhuman strength and personalized disguises. However, comics of all genres and various aesthetics are sold at independent comic book stores. In fact, part of the goal of Free Comic Book Day is to enlighten collectors and non-collectors on the very diverse and very free-spirited art of comics.

"The best part about it is that people, especially people who don't read comics, see [comics] as myopic. Free Comic Book Day shows people there are other genres and it also introduces people to the tastes of a particular store. Comics have just as many genres as other art forms," Thornton said.

Other than being a great promotional tool for independent stores, publishers, and comic book artists, Free Comic Book Day also brings collectors and non-collectors together to share the joys of comic book collecting, and it's a way for parents, especially, to introduce their kids to comic books, in a fun and welcoming setting.

"An event like Free Comic Book Day has national publicity, so people show up who didn't even know the store existed, and then they could become regular customers," Terry Grant of Third Coast Comics in Chicago said.

This year, you can expect to see Iron Man, Shrek, and Superman, as well as characters from Archie, G.I.JOE, Mouse Guard, and Toy Story in the comics at participating stores. There have also been rumors that Sonic the Hedgehog, Green Hornet, The Tick (awesome!), Owly, The Simpsons, and DC Kids comics may appear in stacks at certain stores. If you'd like to get a good look, you can check out the whole list, or on Geekosystem.

It is also very important to note that comics are free for us, but they cost our independent stores money, which basically covers the cost of printing for the publisher. And since our local retailers pay between 12 and 50 cents per comic, that definitely adds up. Its been suggested by a few comic fan websites that, when you're in there, buy something else: a poster, manga, or a graphic novel to thank your independent store for giving you free comics.

Independent comic stores are doing a lot for Free Comic Book Day to keep you entertained and happy. Third Coast Comics in Chicago, for example, has invited several artists to the event to draw pictures and talk to fans, and other stores have similar events. So not only are they covering the comic costs, they are providing you with a chance to meet comic book illustrators while giving you a taste of their personal touch as a store.
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