By JENNIFER K. BAUER
Since 2001, the first Saturday in May has marked Free Comic Book Day, when comic book stores across the U.S. and Canada hand out free comics to visitors.
“Wherever you are, Free Comic Book Day is a chance to go into your local comic book shop and see the best they have to offer and see if comics maybe are for you, even if you don’t think so at the present,” said Tabitha Simmons, one of the owners of Safari Pearl in Moscow.
Comic books are an original American art form born in the 1930s. While heros and villains still SMASH and KA-POW through pages, comic books have evolved in ways that continue to attract new readers of all ages. One of the biggest trends is the rise of female characters, said Derek Yon, owner of the Lewiston comic book store Talk Nerdy to Me.
“Strong female characters are huge right now in comics. It’s awesome,” Yon said.
New characters include Spider-Gwen, who inhabits an alternate universe where Gwen Stacy was bitten by the radioactive spider instead of Peter Parker; and Marvel comic’s Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, a young woman whose only superpower is her ability to talk to squirrels, which proves oddly effective and humorous. In another series Thor is a woman.
“The writer told people, ‘This isn’t She-Thor, this isn’t Thora, this is Thor. Get over it,’ ” Yon said.
Both Simmons and Yon said that comic book story lines have also matured.
“It used to be it was all about the brawl. That’s not really it anymore,” said Simmons, who has watched the industry expand in the 25 years since Safari Pearl opened. Comics have come to the place of exploring interpersonal relationships. In some cases there’s some really informed literary commentary.”
“Comics have stereotypically been meant for males, now there are a lot more female readers. They want a well written, solid story arc,” said Yon, who opened his store last fall.
For his first Free Comic Book Day Yon is planning a barbecue from 3 to 5 p.m. and will have a cosplayer in the store dressed as Batman and Deadpool for photos. Many stores plan special events and promotions. While some hand out selected comics they have in stock, others distribute comics printed by publishers especially for the day. These issues highlight what will be coming out in the next six months, said Simmons, whose store hands out three free comic books to each visitor on Free Comic Book Day.
Past predictions that online comics would be the demise of printed issues have proven untrue.
The comics industry has not found a dependable way to make money online, Simmons said. Instead, artists go online to introduce and develop characters. If they find an audience they might move to print where they can make some money.
“People still want to collect, they still want the physical item,” Yon said.
If You Go
What: Free Comic Book Day
When: Saturday, May 2
Where: Participating stores include:
Talk Nerdy to Me, 620 Main St., Lewiston
Safari Pearl, 221 E. Third St., Moscow
Palouse Games, 141 N. Grand Ave., Pullman
Hastings, 139 Thain Road, Lewiston
Hastings, 2230 W. Pullman Road, Moscow