Rich Heldenfels

Christmas is coming to comic-book stores. And the stores are playing Santa.

Free Comic Book Day, an annual event in which comic-store operators give away products to customers, is Saturday and it is more than likely that many comic buyers will take advantage.

They may include lots of regular customers. John Buntin of Kenmore Komics & Games in Akron estimated that three-fourths of his visitors that day will be familiar faces.

But some may be the comic-book equivalent of “Christmas-and-Easters.” John Cameron of JC Comics and Cards in Cuyahoga Falls, who said that Free Comic Book Day is his business’s Christmas, expects visitors he sees only a couple of times a year. And there will be outright newcomers, including children getting their first exposure to illustrated adventures.

In any case, there will be as many as 56 different titles available through the national promotion by comic-book store owners, publishers (including Marvel and DC, the dominant companies in the field) and Diamond Comic Distributors. It aims to get visitors into stores like Kenmore and JC, and to get readers for print comics which — like newspapers, books and magazines — are facing ever more competition from the digital world.

The day promises that each visitor can get at least one free comic; the total quantity and number of selections will vary from store to store. (For a list of all the titles and more information, see Check individual stores for hours and items.) Some stores also offer other specials in conjunction with the event.

The available offerings include kid-friendly items with SpongeBob, Smurfs and Sesame Street and reproductions of classic comic tales like Prince Valiant, esoterica and titles with broad appeal.

That last category especially features a Walking Dead comic with a new story that, the publisher vows, will not be included in any other collection. It’s bait not only for fans of AMC’s hit series based on the original Walking Dead books, but admirers of the books themselves, which according to one industry analysis were seven of the 10 best-selling graphic novels in 2012. Cameron and Buntin both said that the titles have done very well for them.

Another TV-connected title is Grimm, a free comic based on the NBC series. In addition, there is a Superman Special Edition which besides a vintage story contains an early look at Superman Unchained, a new comics series launching in June.

And interest in the title could be heightened by the buzz over Man of Steel, a new Superman movie also coming in June.

The comics-movies tie-in is evident as well in Infinity, a Marvel free-comic selection which highlights Thanos. That Marvel villain appeared briefly at the end of the Avengers movie and is expected back in a bigger way for Marvel movies in 2014 and 2015.

But while some have argued that free-comics day is designed to take advantage of comic-book movie interest (this summer also includes new Iron Man and Wolverine films), Cameron thinks the event stands on its own. Indeed, the first free-comics day in 2002 was in July, he said, after that summer’s big comic-book movie, Spider-Man. Now it has settled in on the first Saturday in May, where it is often well ahead of the major summer movies.

Store owners pay for the comics they give away, usually about 20 to 35 cents a title plus shipping, and the customers follow. Last year, Cameron said the line snaked far outside his store. Buntin has also seen a good turnout in previous years — though not in 2012, when he closed his store and instead hosted a party celebrating Kenmore’s 25th anniversary.

Not that everyone will come out of love of comics. With the appearance of special free-day-only titles, the event brings in some collectors whose interest is not so much in the books as in their financial potential.

Unseen Peanuts, a collection of Charles Schulz cartoons that had not been in other anthologies, was free on comics day in 2007. Now one vendor is asking $25 for it on An Iron Man/Thor comic from the 2010 day is being offered for as much as $35 on eBay.

“There’s nothing I can do about that,” Cameron said of the money-minded visitors. “But it’s not what the day is about. I want everyone to walk out of here with a smile on his face.”

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and, including the HeldenFiles Online blog, He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or