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A look at National Free Comic Book Day

Editor's note: This is part three in a three-part weekly series on comic books and comic store, leading up to Free Comic Book Day on May 7.

Free Comic Book Day is a real holiday for those who read and collect comic books.

“This is as important to people who collect comic books as Valentine’s Day is to most people since comic book collectors love comic books,” Ralph Watts, owner of Comics and Paperbacks Plus, said. “This has become known, after 15 years, as an event that is even on some calendars.”

Free Comic Book Day, which is the first Saturday in May every year, was started in 2002 as a single day when participating comic book shops across North America and around the world give away a selection of free comic books to anyone who comes into their shops, according to the Free Comic Book Day website.

“If you walk into the store, you’ll get two free books for just walking in on that day,” Watts explained. “If you give us your email address, you’ll get one more book, and if you wear a costume, then you’ll get another.”

To be clear, only select comic books are free, not every comic book in the store, Watts said.

“There are two different types of sponsors: gold sponsors and silver sponsors,” Watts explained. “The gold sponsors have about 12 titles, and the silver sponsors have something like 50 titles. I only carry the gold titles because they are typically all-ages appropriate.”

Out of the 12 free comic book titles Watts is offering at Comics and Paperbacks Plus, 201 E Main St., Palmyra, he said customers will receive at least four, possibly more.

“I have to look at my numbers again and see, because last year I almost ran out of books,” he said. “I can’t run out of books, so I better offer less and give more once you’re here than tell you I’ll give you more and then run out.”

Watts sees hundreds of people pass through his shop every year on Free Comic Book Day, he said.

“It’s a huge day,” Watts said. “I can have 500 people in here in a nine-hour period with the majority of people coming through in the first four or five hours. Every year has increased for the most part, but the last four years we’ve seen 400 to 500 people.”

With that many comic book fans coming through the shop in such a small window of time, it would be reasonable to believe things could get somewhat chaotic, but Watts disagrees.

“We have lines out the door, and we will route you right through the store,” he said. “It moves pretty smoothly, but at the same time, it is very busy.”

One would be justified in thinking that giving out free comic books to 500 people wouldn’t be good for business, but Watts said that is not the case.

“If there are 500 people in the store 250 of them will have purchased something,” Watts said.

Watts also brings in some comic book collector-friendly attractions to the event.

“We will have at least one comic book character outside, but sometimes we have as many as five,” Watts said. “It all depends on who is willing to show up.”

One of Watts’ customers, Jeffrey Lippy, has been dressing as a different comic book character each year and standing out on the sidewalk in front of the store to wave at passing cars or do photo opps with other patrons.

“He’s done Captain America, Thor, The Shadow, Batman – he does all kinds of stuff,” Watts said. “He owns all these costumes – he’s like a cosplayer who doesn’t play. He has all the stuff, but he likes talking to people, so he’s all into it.”

Chris Ring, an independent comic book artist best known for his Lunar Studios published “CarbonKnight” series, will also be on hand to give away free sketches and sell his prints and books.

“Chris has been coming to this event for most of the past 15 years,” Watts said. “He actually does a lot of sketches and drawings of the main DC and Marvel superheroes, but he can draw pretty much everybody given time. He is very, very good.”

The only tip Watts has for customers coming to the Free Comic Book Day event is to bring along a bit of patience.

“Our store is so well-organized that there isn’t anything they have to worry about other than they will have to wait because there are so many other people in front of them,” he said.

Local libraries are also taking part in the event, according to Watts.

“This year I’m supplying the Hershey Public Library, Annville Free Library, Lebanon Community Library and the Palmyra Public Library and in Schuylkill County I think I’m supplying every library up there,” Watts said. “They’ll have at least 40 books at each of those locations.”

Free Comic Book Day is Saturday, May 7, and Watts said the event at Comics and Paperbacks Plus will run from noon to 4 p.m. However, while Watts has an unofficial cut-off time of 4 p.m., he said if he still has free comic books left he will continue handing them out past that time.

Free Comic Book Day: Where to go, and what to look for

Figuring out where to go to get free comics on Free Comic Book Day, and determining which of the select comics to choose from the 50 available can be a daunting task for new readers and experienced collectors alike. Below is a guide to aid in deciding where to go and what to get.

Where to go:

Note: All stores listed are participating in Free Comic Book Day.

  • Comics and Paperbacks Plus, 201 E. Main St., Palmyra, 717-838-4854
  • Complete in Box, 368 N. Reading Road, Ephrata, 717-723-2140
  • Comics and Paperbacks Plus Ephrata, 114 W. Main St., Ephrata, 717-466-6546
  • The Comic Store, 28 McGovern Ave., Lancaster, 717-397-8737
  • The Fourth Wall Comics LLC, 1234 Millersville Pike, Suite 1224, Lancaster, 717-208-3524

Comics to choose from:

Gold Sponsor:

Note: All comics listed are special Free Comic Book Day 2016 Editions.

  • Archie issue 1
  • Bob’s Burgers
  • Bongo Comics Free-For-All
  • Boom! Studios Summer Blast
  • Camp Midnight issue 1
  • Avengers issue 1
  • Dark Horse Serenity/Hellboy/Aliens
  • Doctor Who: Four Doctors Special
  • Rom issue 0
  • Suicide Squad issue 1
  • Valiant 4001 A.D. Special
  • VIZ Perfect Square Pokemon Pocket Comics

Silver Sponsor:

  • 2000 AD Special
  • Assassin’s Creed
  • Attack on Titan Anthology
  • Awake issue 0
  • Bruce Lee: The Dragon Rises issue 1
  • Captain America issue 1
  • Help the CBLDF … Defend Comics
  • Z2 Comics Lab
  • Con Man’s Spectrum
  • Dark Horse All-Ages Sampler
  • Space Goat Presents: Dark Lily & Friends
  • DC Super Hero Girls issue 1
  • Love and Rockets Sampler
  • Grant Morrison’s Avatarex: Destroyer of Darkness
  • Graphix Spotlight: Dream Jumper Book One: Nightmare Escape
  • Grumpy Cat (and Pokey!) Special
  • Hilda and the Stone Forest
  • Junior Braves of the Apocalypse
  • Lady Mechanika issue 0
  • March Trilogy Sampler
  • Devil’s Due/1First Comics Mixtape
  • Mooncop: A Tom Gauld Sampler
  • Oddly Normal Chapter One
  • Overstreet’s Comic Book Marketplace
  • The Phantom: 80th Anniversary Special
  • The Pink Panther issue 1
  • Sanjay and Craig/Harvey Beaks
  • Science Comics
  • Sonic Sampler
  • Spongebob Freestyle Funnies
  • Stan Lee’s The Unknowns/Howard Lovecraft
  • Strawberry Shortcake issue 0
  • Street Fighter V issue 1
  • The Stuff of Legend Preview
  • The Tick Special
  • One Punch Man/My Hero Academia
  • We Can Never Go Home/Young Terrorists
  • Worlds of Aspen