Christmas is coming to comic-book stores. And the stores are playing Santa.
Free Comic Book Day, an annual event in which the stores give away products to customers, is Saturday, and it is more than likely that many comic buyers will take advantage.
They might include lots of regular customers. John Buntin of Kenmore Komics & Games in Akron, Ohio, estimated that three-fourths of his visitors that day will be familiar faces.
But some might be the comic-book equivalent of "Christmas-and-Easters." John Cameron of JC Comics and Cards in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, who said that Free Comic Book Day is his business's Christmas, expects visitors he sees only a couple of times a year. There also will be newcomers, including children getting their first exposure to illustrated adventures.
In any case, there will be as many as 56 titles available through the national promotion by comic-book store owners, publishers (including Marvel and DC, the dominant companies in the field) and Diamond Comic Distributors. It aims to get visitors into stores and to get readers for print comics which — like newspapers, books and magazines — are facing ever more competition from the digital world.
The day promises that each visitor may get at least one free comic; the total quantity and number of selections will vary from store to store. Some stores also offer other specials in conjunction with the event.
The available offerings include kid-friendly items with SpongeBob, Smurfs and Sesame Street, and reproductions of classic comic tales like Prince Valiant, esoterica and titles with broad appeal.
That last category especially features a Walking Dead comic with a new story that, the publisher vows, will not be included in any other collection. It's bait not only for fans of AMC's hit TV series based on the Walking Dead books by Kentucky native Robert Kirkman, but admirers of the books themselves, which according to one industry analysis were seven of the 10 best-selling graphic novels in 2012.
Another TV-connected title is Grimm, a free comic based on the NBC series. In addition, there is a Superman Special Edition which, in addition to a vintage story, contains an early look at Superman Unchained, a new series launching in June. Interest in the title could be heightened by the buzz over Man of Steel, a new Superman movie also coming in June.
Not everyone will come out of love of comics. With the appearance of special free-day-only titles, the event brings in collectors whose interest in the books is more about their financial potential.
Unseen Peanuts, a collection of Charles Schulz cartoons that had not been in other anthologies, was free on comics day in 2007. Now one vendor is asking $25 for it on Amazon.com. An Iron Man/Thor comic from the 2010 day is being offered for as much as $35 on eBay.
"There's nothing I can do about that," Cameron said of the money- minded visitors. "But it's not what the day is about. I want everyone to walk out of here with a smile on his face."
IF YOU GO
Free Comic Book Day
For a list titles available and more information, go to Freecomicbookday.com. Check individual stores for hours and items. Central Kentucky stores listed as participating are:
■ A+ Comics & Collectibles, 466 Southland Dr., Lexington. (859) 276-1118.
■ Collectibles Etc., 115 Locust Hill Dr., Suite 115, Lexington. (859) 269-6633.
■ Collectibles Etc. North, 127 Town Center Dr., Lexington. (859) 368-7495.
■ Comic Interlude Inc., 393 Waller Ave., Lexington. (859) 231-9237.
■ Heroes Realm, 1624 Old Paris Pike., Lexington. (859) 268-0097.
■ Hastings Entertainment, 2193 Lantern Ridge Dr., Richmond. (859) 624-0171.