Free comic book day brings out new crowd

ELDERSBURG - Last year on Free Comic Book Day, Joshua Farkas, manager at J&M Comics and Games in Eldersburg, attached a replica of the glowing blue arc reactor that gives Tony Stark his powers in the Iron Man series to his T-shirt and pressed it every time a sale was made.

Free Comic Book Day is practically a holiday for Farkas, who will have his usual gang of Star Wars Storm Troopers from the 501st Legion stop at the store, as well as the Mount Airy Elementary School Comic Club selling their handmade comics for charity, and the Westminster Astronomical Society.

And of course, Farkas will supply the 56 different comics that will be given away for free in celebration of the national holiday.

"It really is kind of a thing to raise awareness for the industry and for comic books right now," Farkas said.

Free Comic Book day occurs every first Saturday of May, which typically coincides with the first big superhero movie of the year, he said. This year, Friday, "Iron Man 3" will open in theaters. It will pair with a Marvel comic called Infinity, he said.

The comics will range from the Smurfs and Sesame Street, all the way up to Walking Dead comics, Superman and Star Wars. Farkas said he expects people will come in for the Walking Dead comics, which have gained immense popularity since the AMC TV show began more than two years ago.

"It's almost like the gateway drug for comics now," he said.

Keith Fourney, the owner of Gotham Comics in Westminster, agreed.

"There doesn't seem to be a ceiling with how popular the show has become," Fourney said.

Every time he thinks the popularity of the Walking Dead series is dying down, another person comes in asking for it, he said. That's pretty much Farkas' bread and butter. Once he finds out someone is interested in the Walking Dead, he has about 20 different comic books he can introduce them to, he said.

"Some of the best storytelling in any medium right now is going on in comic books," Farkas said.

The best comic books are getting optioned for TV shows and movies, and that brings more customers into the door. Recently, he's seen a rise in female fans, who have become interested in the medium.

Moms will bring in their children and pick up a more adult-themed comic that will have more sophisticated story lines, he said. Farkas said his favorite part of the job is introducing people to new comic books.

"Some of my biggest subscribers come from people who never read a comic in their life," he said.

Every Tuesday night, Farkas will receive a pile of comic books that he will read. This week, the pile was about 40 different comic books, he said. Then he writes a review on the business' Facebook page, letting customers know about it. Customers will ask him to add a comic to their subscriber box, and then they pick it up at a later date.

Since beginning two years ago, Farkas has gone from 49 subscribers to 110, he said. Most of those came from last year's Free Comic Book Day, he said.

Last year, Farkas had about 200 people come out all day, he said. But from last year, sales overall are up 60 percent, he said.

Fourney, of Gotham Comics, said he expects a couple hundred people to come in Saturday for Free Comic Book Day, but every year the event keeps getting bigger. He keeps thinking he's ordered enough comic books, but sure enough, he runs out by the end of the day, Fourney said.

For Farkas, who started reading comic books as a child and learned to hide it by the time he was a teenager, the phenomenon is really great.

"We're becoming the cool kids in a way," he said.