As Captain America, Iron Man and The Hulk continue to smash box office records in “Avengers: Endgame,” it’s only fitting that the art form that created them prepares for its biggest event of the year: Free Comic Book Day.
“It’s comic book Christmas,” said John Cameron, owner of JC Comics in Cuyahoga Falls.
Saturday across Northeast Ohio and the nation, comic book stores will be marked by long lines of fans snaking outside. The more than 50 free titles will include installments of "Doctor Who," "Bloodshot," "Riverdale," "Casper," "Vampirella," "Spider-Man" and many more.
“It’s the one day when the entire industry is on the same page,” said Cameron. “People really show up when you give away cool free stuff.”
Kenmore Komics & Games in Akron will feature a guest appearance by local comics artist Matt Horak. In addition to being the art director at EarthQuaker Devices, Horak draws “The Punisher” and “Spider-Man/Deadpool” comics for Marvel.
It’s a familiar spot for Horak, who, as a kid, would ride his bike to Kenmore Komics to look through the bargain boxes. Those boxes are still there.
“I’ll have a back-issue sale and some quarter boxes for sale,” said owner John Buntin Jr. That’s “quarter” as in 25 cents per issue. “I picked up a couple collections recently that I’m going through now.”
Stuff Genie Emporium in Barberton, which also houses a wide array of collectibles, will welcome local artist Dan Gorman, creator of the webcomic The Akron Knight.
The Toys Time Forgot in Canal Fulton wants people to dress up.
“We will have a costume contest for all ages, with three separate age categories,” said General Manager Jami Meeker. “There will be prizes, and the grand prize for the winner of each age group will be one copy of every single Free Comic Book Day comic.”
Guests at the store will include local pop artist Ed Griffie and comics writer Chris Yambar. There will also be face-painting and a spray-paint artist.
On Mill Street in Downtown Akron, Rubber City Comics will host comics writer Tony Isabella, the man behind Black Lightning and Misty Knight, who has also written Captain America, Luke Cage, Daredevil, Ghost Rider and many other comics.
“For most of my appearances at the conventions, I charge for my signature," said Isabella. "But, hey, it’s Free Comic Book Day, so the signatures are free.”
Isabella, who has lived in Medina for more than 30 years, has enjoyed a resurgence of fame thanks to the “Black Lightning” TV series starring Cress Williams on The CW.
His experience with “Black Lightning” has been “very bipolar,” he said.
“The TV show people absolutely love me. I wrote the core values paper for the show. I had hours and hours of conference calls. Salim [Akil], the developer and showrunner, flew me out to Burbank to spend a day with the ‘Black Lightning’ writers.”
Isabella also traveled to Georgia in January to observe the last week of shooting on the second season and attend the wrap party.
“The other side is, DC Comics does not share the respect and regard for their most iconic black superhero as the TV show and the fans do,” said Isabella.
“I had done a series called ‘Black Lighting Cold Dead Hands.’ It was kind of a reboot. It was about a younger version of Black Lightning set in Cleveland. Rather than have me continue that, they think Black Lightning is best used as Batman’s support Negro in a book called ‘Batman and the Outsiders.’ They have no clue how insulting that is to the character and the character's fans and to me.”
When it comes to the explosion of Comic-Cons and the evolution of geek culture to the mainstream, Isabella embraces it.
“I’ve gone to so many conventions over the years, and unlike some comics creators, I like the variety. I like having movie and TV people there and voice actors and cosplayers — I love cosplay — and even gamers and YouTube personalities. For us comics creators it gives us a chance to win some new readers.”
Geeks and Greeks
Rubber City Comics is conveniently located next door to the enticing scents of Sweet Mary’s.
“We’re a comic book store with a bakery," said Scott Malensek. “Talk about hitting our demographic!”
One afternoon last week, Malensek, whose title is “director,” Chris Smith who is the shop’s “SGT@Arms” and Matt Dungee, who helps out on weekends and is nicknamed “Saturday Matt,” were talking about the state of comics, while The Joker, Spawn, Deadpool, Killer Croc and Sinthia - Princess of Hell looked on.
“I like Venom, Punisher, Wolverine, the darker stuff,” said Dungee.
Malensek notes that the “Batman-Elmer Fudd” crossover series “is still the scariest comic I’ve ever read.” He is being serious.
Smith points out that May 4th is also Star Wars Day — “May the 4th Be With You” — so Saturday could be a new zenith for total geekdom.
Of course, so-called nerd culture now is pop culture.
“Back when we read comics, or especially in our parents’ generation, if you said you read comics, if you said, ‘Batman can do this or that,’ you could be ostracized," said Malensek. "People would see that as an invitation to kick your ass.”
Comics characters taking over the film industry, said Smith, is a double-edged sword. "The movies have created a lot of interest in these characters, but when people come in and pick up an Iron Man comic, it’s not what’s going on in the movies.”
Then there is the sheer longevity and complexity.
"Take Superman or Batman," said Malensek. "Batman stories have more than 1,000 episodes. I can't think of anything in literature, in any sort of storytelling, where there are a thousand different stories about one character. If you tried to write a legitimate history of the city of Gotham, you would have to look at hundreds of different comics. That’s just an amazing fictional world.”
Superman took off in 1938. Batman began in 1939. Their antecedents reach back much further.
“I always compare it to Homer’s ‘The Odyssey,’ ” said Smith. “Comic books are modern mythology.”
Clint O’Connor covers pop culture. He can be reached at 330-996-3582 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ClintOMovies.