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The Margin: How Free Comic Book Day has become a global sensation


Have you scored your free comic book?

Yes, Saturday is Free Comic Book Day, a date on the calendar that is intended to promote an industry at the heart of American popular culture. After all, comics are the basis of many a blockbuster movie (this year alone, “The Batman” has grossed more than $750 million globally). And comic-book stores have become hangout spots of choice for many (ever seen an episode of “The Big Bang Theory”?)

The idea of giving away comic books on a particular day originated two decades ago with Joe Field, owner of a California store devoted to (what else?) comic books. He noticed how people would flock to a local Baskin-Robbins for a promotional free-scoop night and he thought he could try something similar.

“The only thing cooler than ice cream is comics. We can do that,” he recalled in an interview last year with the Mercury News, a California newspaper.

So he proposed the idea to his comic-book brethren. On May 4, 2002, the first free day took place, with hundreds of stores heeding the call.

And now? The day has become a global event with stores in 60 countries participating. Field said the success has come from the fact it’s prompted people to realize the world of comic books is an all-embracing culture.

“It opened the gateway for everyone to feel welcome about diving into what was previously the province of geeks,” he said.

This year is proving no exception. Already, people are sharing their freebie hauls or simply sharing the joy on social media.

Of course, the books being given away may not be of significant value — certainly from an investment standpoint. And comics are becoming serious collectibles: A rare Superman book recently sold for $2.6 million, for example.

But how do comic-book store owners profit from a freebie day? That’s easy: They also sell comics to those who come for those no-cost books.

“I don’t know if it’s just mental — like a weird anomaly — but when you give someone something for free, they feel almost obligated to buy something,” comic-book store owner Ryan Liebowitz told the Mercury News.

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