PALMYRA >> Motorists honked their horns and cheered from their windows. Jedi Knights in robes held lightsaber duels against masked Sith Lords. Superman posed, flexed and waved. All the while, a dense stream of people funneled into Comics and Paperbacks Plus to receive free books as part of National Free Comic Book Day.
From noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Comics and Paperbacks Plus at 201 E. Main St. gave away over 3,000 free comics to about 550 attendees as part of a national promotion in which the store has participated for 14 years.
To date, this is the most successful Free Comic Book Day event the store has held, owner Ralph Watts said.
The timing of the day coincides with the beginning of the superhero blockbuster movie season and also signals the inception of the major summer comic book story arcs.
"They always say Christmas time is make or break for businesses, but this is my Christmas, not because its make or break, but because I like giving gifts," Watts said. "We have the chance to introduce people to new things; this might be the first time a kid will have a comic."
Comics and Paperbacks Plus offered a plethora of different free titles from major publishers. Comic book characters and topics have a broader range than ever before; comics are now being used to tell stories of realism, horror and historical fiction. In spite of this, the superhero story still remains in the forefront.
John Thomas, who dressed as Indiana Jones, brought along his young daughter, who dressed as miniature Superman.
"It's a great way to support a local business and check out the new books," Thomas said. "I also thought it would be a way to have fun with my daughter."
Parents bringing along their children both in and out of costume was a common occurrence at Free Comic Book Day.
Years ago, fans showed up randomly in costumes and they still do, but as time has progressed, Watts has been organizing these volunteer costumed characters as a way to promote the event and excite the crowd.
Jeffrey Lippy, who portrayed Superman, works as a home care aid for the elderly when not in costume, and has dressed as Batman, Iron Man, Thor and Captain America for other Free Comic Book Days.
Lippy reported that one of his fondest memories of Free Comic Book Day was from three years ago when he was dressed as Captain America, even equipped with the signature shield. A man on a motorcycle stopped and took a picture with Lippy to send to a relative serving in Afghanistan, saying that Captain America was his relative's favorite and the picture would mean a lot.
"We all have things that we deal with, but if I can make you laugh or smile, you feel better for that second and know things aren't all bad." Lippy said.
Although not characters from a comic book franchise, the Jedi Knights and Sith were welcome and quite popular. Dressed in a mixture of handmade and purchased costumes, they were members of Harrisburg's Capitol City Jedi Knights, an organization of Star Wars enthusiasts who portray characters at events, even demonstrating orchestrated stage fighting.
"It's a lot of fun and it's surprisingly good exercise," Amy Hill, dressed as a Sith in homemade black robes, said.
"Halloween always was my favorite holiday and the kids love it," said Tim Eller, dressed as a Jedi Knight, wielding a green lightsaber. "Besides, it's a lot fun. Why not do it?"
Comic book culture has always enjoyed a dedicated following, but in recent years the popularity exploded. Watts ordered more comics this year than any previous year; the characters and their franchises have never been more popular, he reports. Watts, his staff, and fans all agree that the success of superhero films is responsible for the swell in attendance and interest.
Watts explained some of the appeal of superhero comics.
"Readers like to root for the underdog and the one who does good in the world. Superheroes are people who have strength and feel the need to do good, and because of that, we root for them," he said. "Oftentimes, they start as normal people who become superheroes, and you think this could be me."
Lippy shared that dressing as Superman gives him strength.
"I suffer from anxiety but this helps me be around people," he said. "I don't feel like me. I feel like Superman."
With the positive response to the event, the store's best yet, we can hope that Comics and Paperbacks Plus will follow it up, in true comic book fashion, with an ever grander sequel next May.