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Artists find inspiration and connection in annual Free Comic Book Day

West Linn Public Library gets in on the action, giving away comics


TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Chris Sept checks out the free comic books given to the public at Saturdays Free Comic Book Day event at the West Linn Public Library. In the middle of a very polite scrum, 8-year-old Nilajane Miranda clutched copies of comic books she had selected and smiled through green face paint. She was most proud a “My Little Pony” book she planned to purchase with her own $5 bill.

“I got my comics!” Nilajane declared after she and her mother, Elena Miranda of Portland, gathered their 10 free comic books at Milwaukie’s Things From Another World on Main Street. They moved through the crowded store so others who had been waiting most of the morning on a block-long line outside could grab their free comics.

Welcome to Free Comic Book Day, a 15-year tradition that sent comic book lovers and novices to more than a dozen stores around the region, where special editions of comic books were free for the taking. Each person who stood in line for sometimes hours (depending on the location) was able to take home 10 comic books.

Opening doors to new readers

Free Comic Book Day began in 2002 after Joe Field, owner of Flying Colors Comics in Concord, Calif., was inspired by a local ice cream shop’s free scoop day that attracted crowds and attention. Field persuaded publishers to print special editions of comics for the annual event held the first Saturday of May. Local comic book shops had 50 to 60 titles to distribute by the fist-full during Saturday’s event.

Comic books, graphic novels and trade paperback manga are a nearly $850 million-a-year business. In March, the latest monthly sales figures available, industry website Comichron.com reported that the top 300 comics sold slightly more than 6 million copies that month.

TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Justin Lowmaster and his son Owen work on an Angry Birds design using pearler beads.

Publishing giants Marvel and DC Comics dominate most of the industry. Portland has become a hub of graphic art activity, with major independent publishers Dark Horse Comics, Oni Press, Top Shelf Productions and Sparkplug Books.

The Rose City is also home to studios where artists, illustrators and others work on comics and graphic novels.

So Free Comic Book Day is kind of a big deal to publishers and local comic book artists and writers, who set up tables to sign their work and meet fans.

“I think Free Comic Book Day is all about bringing readers into these amazing specialty shops,” said artist Steve Lieber, whose new R-rated comic, “The Fix,” sold out within days after it landed on store shelves. “The people who run brick-and-mortar comic shops have played an enormous role in building a robust community around comics, and curating the medium, expanding everyone’s ideas of what comics can be. They’re in their stores every day, helping one reader at a time find their new favorite book.”

“Most artists work in isolation by necessity, and Free Comic Book Day gives us a great opportunity to get out of our caves and see the sun,” said artist/illustrator Benjamin Dewey of Portland. “I like getting to meet people who share my interests and see the places where those folks will ultimately go to interact with my work. It’s also fun to do quick sketches with no pressure.”

Sparking inspiration

Downtown Milwaukie’s Things From Another World, an extension of Dark Horse Comics, was swarmed early Saturday morning, May 7, with a line of about 100 people stretching a city block along Main Street. By mid-afternoon, the store had handed out thousands of copies to people, according to red-shirted volunteers who guided customers through the comic-selection process. The line outside the shop continued to spread down the block.

TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - McKennah Whiting, 8, of West Linn designed her own superhero mask at Free Comic Book Day in West Linn.

In Beaverton, lines were shorter, but the Things From Another World shop was just as busy, with free titles laid out on a table next to science fiction author Chris Roberson (“I, Zombie,” “X-Men: The Return” and “The Dragon’s Nine Sons”), who signed copies of his Dark Horse title “Hell Boy.”

Does being in the middle of Free Comic Book Day give Roberson a new perspective about how his work is received? “Sometimes,” he said. “There have been occasions when I’ve met people who tell me that something I wrote years and years ago mattered a great deal to them, sometimes in very personal ways, and that’s always flattering and humbling to hear.”