It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Free Comic Book Day!
Cosmic Comix + Toys in Catonsville and Universal Comics in Arbutus wil be among the comic book stores around the world that will celebrate Free Comic Book Day on Saturday, May 4.
The two stores will both hand out free versions of about 40 new titles created specially for the event in an effort to engage new readers.
"They print specific books for that day," said Jon Coe, owner of Universal Comics on East Drive. "It was a really great idea."
Coe bought Universal Comics two years ago but has been visiting the store and purchasing comics for almost 30 years, he said.
"It's my little nerd kingdom," the Catonsville resident said. "I'm a huge comic book fan."
Coe said he enjoys Free Comic Book Day and enjoys seeing people's enthusiasm about actual books in today's digital age.
"It's fun to see people get excited about this stuff," Coe said. "It's not about generating a sale, it's about making somebody happy."
Andy Bridges, general manager at Cosmic Comix, said the books that come out on the day of the event attract, "people who might not ordinarily come to the store.
"Those are designed to be good jumping off points," Bridges said.
Bridges said industry mainstays Marvel and DC are still the leaders, thanks to the popularity of superheroes such as Spiderman, Batman, the X-Men and Superman.
But the rivalry between fans of each is not so pronounced, he said.
"It's more about quality titles, the best writers, the best artists, major storylines," he said.
Free Comic Book Day began in 2002, according to the event's universal website and takes place each year on the first Saturday in May.
Luckily, Bridges said, the event usually coincides with the release of a new superhero movie. This year, the event comes the day after the release of "Iron Man 3" and the featured comic books include teaser story lines for the upcoming Superman movie and the forthcoming Avengers sequel.
Coe said his sales double around the time of a new movie release and that the slew of superhero movies in recent years has revitalized the comic book world.
"It exploded a whole new audience into the genre," Coe said.
"There's definitely a reaction to pop culture," he said. "It pumps new blood into the readers for sure."
While movies have given comics a jump start, both Coe and Bridges said AMC's cable television series, "The Walking Dead," has brought the biggest influx of new readers into the comic scene.
Saturday, both stores will feature a new Walking Dead comic book, made specifically for Free Comic Book Day.
Though it has been a comic book series for 10 years, after the show started in 2010, the comic's popularity grew immensely.
"I've never seen anything like 'The Walking Dead,' " Bridges said. "It's gotten a lot of new readers involved in comics.
"Walking Dead is easily the best zombie story," he said.
Coe said many fans expand their horizon from "The Walking Dead" to many of author Robert Kirkman's other works.
"As soon as they discover him, they come back for more," he said.
Bridges said that, in addition to handing out the free comics designated for the event, he will have "thousands" of comics on sale for 25 cents as part of a storewide sale on toys and books.
He also said the store at 87 Mellor Ave. will host a sketch artist and provide balloons and popcorn to visitors throughout the day.
"We try to make it a totally family friendly event," Bridges said.
He said the event gives his regular customers who typically only come in to get their new comics each week an opportunity to spend more time in the store.
"On free comic book day, they can bring the family, hang out for a while," Bridges said.
Coe said Universal Comics will also feature storewide sales on many products, $1 issues and 50 percent off old editions. Comic books usually sell for $2.99 to $3.99.
He also said that he plans to give out some other comics that are not designated for the day.
"I'm just giving away comic books," Coe said. "I'm trying to keep it fun and less commercialized."
He also said those comics designated to be given away will be also available after the event.
"If there's anything left the day after, you can have it," Coe said.