Get Your Free Comic Books on Saturday

May 02 at 1pm

By Josh Wilson

Free Comic Book Day, that annual event that returns tomorrow, May 3, was founded in 2002 by Joe Field of Flying Colors Comics out in Concord, and the event has pretty much changed the industry. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, there are now 2,000 participating retailers in 60 countries around the world getting ready to give away "millions" of comics tomorrow. 

Get 'em while they're young. Free Comic Day may be a bit of marketing genius, designed to draw in both youthful seekers and lapsed adults alike, but you can also connect with some truly great art and storytelling.

San Franciscans have a plethora of shops to stop at — Amazing Fantasy in the Inner Sunset, Mission: Comics & Art on 20th Street between Mission and Valencia (which will be featuring in-store artists at work, superhero facepainting, superhero pastries, and 25 percent off all other books in the shop), Two Cats in West Portal, Isotope Comic Book Lounge on Fell above Van Ness, Comic Outpost out on Ocean Avenue above Junipero Serra, Comix Experience over on Divisadero, and Cards and Comics Central out in the Richmond.

There will be 80 different titles to select from; here's a cheat sheet on what to look for.

The Big Dogs of the industry — Marvel and DC — have risen from their pulp origins to become vertically integrated corporate properties, owned by Disney and Time Warner, respectively. Thus Marvel's free "Guardians of the Galaxy" is also a canny marketing tool for the upcoming movie. You'll also find iconic megabrands such as Hello Kitty, Archie, the Smurfs, Spongebob Squarepants, and the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

And it ain't all superheroes, either. Fantagraphics delivers with a "Hip-Hop Family Tree," and Drawn and Quarterly steps up with manga pioneer Shigeru Mizuki's "Showa: A History of Japan.” The book is focused on the wrenching years of World War II, and is a preview of a 2,000-page history of the Land of the Rising Sun.

Dark Horse (my FAVE indie publisher) rocks the house with a kid-friendly anthology featuring Nickolodeon's "Avatar," plus the cheeky "Itty Bitty Hellboy." They'll also deliver thrills aplenty with "Project Black Sky," featuring Dr. Midnight and Brain Boy. When it comes to savvy pulp nostaglia, no one delivers like Dark Horse.   

Speaking of nostalgia — 2000 A.D., the-now anachronistic but groundbreaking U.K. mag that gave the world both Judge Dredd and iconoclastic author Alan Moore — will have a new edition. Yow! And keep an eye out for a full reprint of a classic, digitally restored "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" serial that ran every Sunday for three months in 1933.

The beauty of comics is that they are more than serial adventures, but a profound path into visual and verbal literact. Parents will want to grab the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund's "Raising a Reader: How Comics & Graphic Novels Can Help Your Kids Love to Read." (As the dad of a four-year-old, my eyes are actively tearing up as I write these words.)

And it ain't all superheroes, either. Fantagraphics delivers with a "Hip-Hop Family Tree," and Drawn and Quarterly steps up with manga pioneer Shigeru Mizuki's "Showa: A History of Japan.” The book is focused on the wrenching years of World War II, and is a preview of a 2,000-page history of the Land of the Rising Sun.

Comics have come to define our experience as moviegoers and serial-adventure fans, and their influence in the world of art and design only gets started with Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. These modern myths may be cash cows for huge corporations, but they're also vehicles for profound forms storytelling, both visual and literary. In a world of mobile tech and distracting apps, the arresting visuals and storylines keep the printed page alive and relevant for a whole new generation of readers.

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