Since 2002, independent comic book stores have been celebrating Free Comic Book Day on the first Saturday of May, not only to entice customers to support small businesses, but to engage young readers.
And yes, the comics are free. Dozens of titles including “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “The Tick,” “Archie” and “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,”—even “The Smurfs” and “Spongebob Squarepants” for the younger crowd—are up for grabs.
You can get in on the fun by stopping by Pensacola Pop Comics, a new comic book store in East Hill. It’s purely coincidence that the store’s grand opening falls on a day when comic books are just given away.
“Everything fell in place for me to start selling comics in May, so I figured I’d jump in headfirst and open up on the biggest day of celebrating comics,” said Pensacola Pop Comics owner Harley Orr. “There may still be sawdust on the floor, but I’ve got about 700 free comics to give away.”
Orr said Pensacola Pop Comics is different from other comic book stores in that you don’t have to be a die-hard comic fan to walk through the door—although if you are, there are plenty of offerings for you including a subscription service and a Book of the Month Club.
“I’m trying to be different in that I don’t want to be a store crowded with people playing role playing games or a cluttered, dusty den that is one sneeze away from becoming an avalanche of action figures,” he explained. “I look at it more as I own a bookstore. It just happens that all of my books have pictures too.”
The comic-novice can be rest-assured that they can find a book that interests them.
“I just don’t have comics for sale. I want to sell you a comic,” Orr said. “I love comics, and I’m trying to promote them to people who may have never picked one up before. I feel like if you’re a reader, then there are certainly a few comics that should be on your radar. My favorite thing when I was teaching was to help a kid find the perfect book for them. I look to do that with comics.”
On top of free comics, you can pick up new titles fresh off the press during Free Comic Book Day. Pensacola Pop Comics also has an inventory of first issues for just $1.
“It’s a great way to test the waters of some titles you might not know even existed,” Orr said. “There is also a new Spider-Man book on the shelves that week that should be a big deal. Peter Parker is back after a really good run of someone else inhabiting his body. And I’m super excited about a new book that week called “Southern Bastards.” It’s a hardboiled noir story set in Alabama. I got an early look and it’s great.”
For parents and teachers, comic books can be a great tool to engage young readers. Orr suggests comic book authors such as Art Spiegelman (who won a Pulitzer Prize for his comics) and Francoise Mouly who both have collections from Toon Books publishers. Top Shelf, a publisher out of Georgia, also has kid-friendly comics including one that will be available on Free Comic Book Day.
“I think it’s important that a kid reads something,” he said. “And if you can get them to read because a comic looks cool or easier to read, then give it to them.”
Comics are for everyone, and after seeing Pensacola become flooded with costumes during Pensacon weekend, it’s evident that the comic book culture will only continue to expand and grow.
“Comics were maligned for so long. For so many years they were thought to be harming the youth of America—nearly banned outright even,” Orr explained. “In recent years, comics were looked down upon as the realm of the 40-year-old man living in his mother’s garage.”
Orr said he’s seen an uptick in comic book interests in the last five to 10 years. After Marvel movies such as “Spider Man,” “Iron Man” and “The Avengers,” comic book characters have become a part of pop culture.
“Sales are up and more importantly, the quality is up,” Orr said. “In France, comics are celebrated as ‘the ninth art.’ I’m not sure what the other eight are, but I do look forward to more people appreciating comics for what they are here as well. It shouldn’t be a sub-culture at all. Comic readers should be as ubiquitous as movie and television watchers.”
Whether you’re a comic hoarding fan or just a beginner, stop in Pensacola Pop Comics and see what’s in store for you. As a way to pay it forward, Orr is also hosting a canned food drive.
“Let people be a real soup-er hero for the day,” he said.
FREE COMIC BOOK DAY
WHEN: Saturday, May 3
PENSACOLA POP COMICS
WHERE: 909 N. 12th Ave.