The 11th annual Free Comic Book Day is just a few days away, and Joe Murray at Capt. Blue Hen Comics in Newark, Del., is still unsure what comic he'll choose.
'That's an excellent question, because there are so many good titles,' Murray said. 'I have a 6-year-old daughter, so 'The Smurfs' and 'Tinkerbell' are looking pretty good. But I think I like 'Superman Family Adventures' mostly, because 'Tiny Titans' is becoming that title.'
This is actually Murray's 12th free comic book event, having pulled two off the first year - one in May and the official one in July. And as usual, it's a huge blowout from the moment the doors open at 11 a.m.
'We're always trying to find ways to improve it, but at this point it becomes about managing it,' he said. 'It's actually growing organically to the point that the audience and the attendees are shaping the event itself, in a completely good way.'
Started as a way to promote both the comic industry and literacy among younger readers, Murray said that after a decade of promotion comics are finally taking off once again.
'Comics are doing better now than they have in years,' Murray said. 'The last quarter was the best, and people are returning in droves. And we're seeing many new faces, especially families.'
The rules of the day are pretty straightforward: come in, and get a free comic. If you bring a canned good to Capt. Blue Hen, you get another freebie, and a valid student ID gets you another one. And if you're lucky enough to have a 'CBH' T-shirt, you get another for wearing it that day. All other Free Comic Book Day titles can be purchased for 50 cents each.
As one of the area's largest sponsors, the party at Capt. Blue Hen is always a big one, according to Murray.
With a rotating list of artists like Neal Vokes ('Flesh and Blood'), Dan Parent ('Archie Comics') and Thom Zahler ('Love and Capes'), and costumed characters too numerous to list, Murray said that trying to top themselves each year is impossible.
'This year we have more guests than ever, and we're even supposed to have a Captain America and a White Queen showing up,' he said.
He added that even with superhero movies like 'The Avengers' touting the costumed hero archetype, zombies, werewolves and vampires are still the current favorites.
That's why this year, there will be a 'Drawing Dead' tent for artists like the gang from 'The Living Corpse' to do drawings of a more intense nature.
'This is still a family-friendly event, but we have to have something for the spooky crowd,' Murray said.
It's also the largest offering of titles so far, he added.
'There's a lot going on in comics right now, it's a great time to be a fan,' he said.
At Humungo Comics in Pottstown, owners John and Adrienne Crean are planning a low-key celebration for their first FCBD event as store owners.
Having just purchased a franchise through One Up Collectables in Reading, the Creans said they mostly want to let their regulars know that this year's celebration will be better than 2011.
'I heard the previous owners were charging for the comics, and charging way too much,' John Crean said. 'I think it left a bad taste in some people's mouths. So our main focus is to change that.'
Although he's a lifelong comic fan, Humungo is his first business, after having worked in fugitive retrieval for a number of years – just like 'Dog the Bounty Hunter' only with less cleavage and no paintball guns.
'That was me doing my part to be a superhero,' Crean said.
Since they've only had a short time to plan the industry's biggest party, the celebration at Humungo has a more intimate feel, with homemade cupcakes and cake, plenty of refreshments and costumed characters for the kids to interact with.
That includes a visit from the 'Rebel Alliance,' the area's largest collection of official Star Wars recreationists, as well as many others.
'I hate to say 'low-key,' because it sounds like we don't care or something. But the fact is, this our biggest party, and we plan to do it up right,' Crean said.
He's also unsure what title he's going to pick, although the 'Green Lantern Animated Series' title is starting to appeal to him.
'I'm slowly getting into Green Lantern, but I'm a Superman fan at heart,' he said. 'And Adrienne is a Batman fan, so we just have to agree to disagree on that point.'
All proceeds from Free Comic Book Day title sales at Humungo benefit an area charity.
Free Comic Book Day is Saturday, May 5. To learn more about the event, or to browse the titles, visit www.freecomicbookday.com.
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