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updated 5/4/2012 2:26:39 PM ET 2012-05-04T18:26:39

Marvel Comics
Liquid Comics LLC
Stone Arch Books
These are just three of more than 40 comics that will be given away at participating stores on Saturday.

For fans it’s like Christmas, the one day a year they can lug a huge stash of comics out of their local shop without spending a dime. For the casually curious, it’s a chance to dip their toes into new worlds of fantasy. And for publishers, it’s an opportunity to entice new readers and hopefully get them hooked.

On the first Saturday in May, dinosaurs, superheroes and talking animals rule: It’s Free Comic Book Day.

And it gets bigger every year. When FCBD began in 2002, only four publishers participated; this year more than 40 free titles will be offered at participating stores, put out by everyone from Marvel and DC (the Coke and Pepsi of the comics biz) to independents like Red 5 Comics and Boom Entertainment.

Not coincidentally, FCBD comes at the start of summer movie blockbuster season, and the much-anticipated opening of “The Avengers” this weekend only adds to the air of four-color festivity. “I've been doing in-store appearances during Free Comic Book Day for a few years now, and I love the sense of excitement,” said Cullen Bunn, writer of "Spider-Man: Season One,” one of the titles being given away this year. “I see all these readers, both existing fans and folks that are new to comics, browsing the shelves, reveling in and discovering and rediscovering comics.”

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And this year there are more comics than ever for them to discover: More than 2 million copies will be given away Saturday, featuring such iconic figures as Spidey, Superman and even Elvis, as well as newcomers like the Incredible Rockhead (a put-upon schoolkid whose head turns into a giant rock) and Jurassic Strike Force (a squad of mutated dinosaur soldiers).

Ducks and dinosaurs
In fact, dinosaurs dominate a lot of this year’s offerings: There’s also the lushly illustrated “Dinosaurs Versus Aliens,” in which the giant lizards take on extraterrestrial invaders in the prehistoric past, and the quirkily funny “Atomic Robo,” starring an antique robot battling a deranged reptile who calls himself Dr. Dinosaur.

Slideshow: When real people star in comic books

But for small fry there is gentler fare, including “Yo Gabba Gabba!”, a spinoff of the award-winning TV music show for kids; “Donald Duck Family Comics,” reprinting classic adventures by Scrooge McDuck creator Carl Barks, and “Top Shelf Kids Club,” an anthology of child-friendly stories.

“Publishers are wisely targeting young readers more with each new FCBD,” Gerry Gladston, co-owner of Manhattan’s Midtown Comics, told TODAY.com. He called it “a great idea” that “helps foster a comic reading habit among young people.”

And the FCBD crowd “is snowballing, getting bigger every year,” Gladston added. “We expect — and eagerly await — over 1,000 happy campers to line up at our New York City stores.” Among the titles he personally recommends are Bunn’s “Spider-Man: Season One,” which “retells Spider-Man’s origin in a contemporary light for today’s readers,” and DC’s The New 52 FCBD Edition, designed to orient readers to DC Comics’ recently revamped universe .

Story: Gay characters take center stage in comic books

But perhaps the most generous of all the giveaways is a 48-page hardcover edition of the award-winning fantasy “Mouse Guard,” set in a medieval world of talking mice, which Gladston says has “art so beautiful, it must be seen to be believed.

“FCBD always brings in new faces: Kids, parents, and lots of folks who may not normally frequent comics shops,” Gladston added.

“It's a perfect time to try something new or introduce a friend or family member to comics,” Colin Bunn agreed.

To find a store near you participating in Free Comic Book Day, click here. Note that not all titles will be offered at all stores.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints


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