Pop Culture

Free Comic Book Day offers everything from A (for Archie) to Z (for zombies)

Captain America, Deadpool and Kick-Ass (or reasonable facsimiles thereof) welcome readers to Free Comic Book Day.

Moms are showered with flowers on Mother's Day, the second Sunday in May; dads often get colorful ties on Father's Day, the third Sunday in June. And on the first Saturday in May, comic book fans have their own four-color feast: Free Comic Book Day.

Dozens of titles will be handed out Saturday at participating stores across the country, specially prepared for the event by publishers both big and small. At Archie Comics, for example, "We've got two amazing offerings that really represent our line as it stands today: Archie Digest No. 1, which collects a number of classic and modern Archie teen tales that fans will love, and a flip book featuring [video game heroes] Sonic and Mega Man," said Jon Goldwater, the company's co-CEO and publisher. 

Archie Digest #1 is one of 60 special comics that will be handed out free on Saturday.

"Free Comic Book Day has grown over the years, and it’s now practically a national holiday," said Gerry Gladston, co-owner of Midtown Comics in Manhattan, where hundreds of customers waited in line for the event last year. This year the retailer is taking a novel step: a separate online Free Comic Book Day on Monday, May 5, when comics will be given away through its website.

"FCBD '14 will be the biggest ever, buoyed by two major Marvel Comics movies in the theaters at the same time," Gladston added, referring to "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and "The Amazing Spider-Man 2," which opens today.

"We've always been big supporters of Free Comic Book Day," Goldwater told TODAY.com of the event, which started in 2002. "We're providing content not only for the core comic reader who already comes to comic shops, but for kids who are coming in for the first time." 

Other publishers are following suit, offering fare for everyone from small fry (SpongeBob, Hello Kitty, The Smurfs) to mature adults (Zombie Tramp, the misadventures of an undead prostitute).

"I grab as many as I can; I'll try to swing by a few shops near my home and see what's available," Goldwater said. "Free comics! Who could pass that up?"

This year's offerings include:

For all ages:

Kaboom! Summer Blast! A grab bag of excellent stories for kids from much-awarded Boom! Studios, including "Adventure Time" and "Herobear and the Kid."

kaboom! Summer Blast! features a collection of comics for all ages.

Jellaby: A female answer to "Calvin & Hobbes": charming adventures of a feisty young girl named Portia and her pet monster.

Finding Gossamyr: A coming-of-age fantasy adventure set in a land where math is the language of magic, with the glossy look of a Pixar animated feature.

Skyward: A coming-of-age fantasy adventure inspired by role-playing games.

For Teens and Tweens:

Epic: A lighthearted take on the hoary trope of the teenage nerd who gains awesome powers. The twist: Epic's kryptonite is... hot girls.

"Epic" features a teen-age superhero for whom pretty girls are like kryptonite.

Project Black Box: Mid-century crime-fighter Captain Midnight returns in a sci-fi adventure with an unusual innovation: gorillas that communicate in American Sign Language, conveyed in pictograms.

Rise of the Magi: A young carpet-mender gets more adventure than he bargained for when he sets out to master magic.

Les Miserables: First it became a Broadway musical; now Victor Hugo's 19th-century classic is adapted into manga (Japanese-style comics). 

For Adults

Hip Hop Family Tree: A hip-hop history pointing up the culture's many parallels with superhero comics, including its urban milieu and penchant for alter egos.

Hatter M: Far from Wonder: From Frank Beddor, author of the best-selling "Looking Glass Wars" novels, darkly witty adventures of a Mad Hatter decidedly more dangerous than Lewis Carroll's. 

Sherwood Texas: Robin Hood rebooted as a Quentin Tarantino-style saga of revenge against a corrupt sheriff in cahoots with brutal bikers.

Defend Comics: An illustrated history of comics censorship, plus stories about First Amendment issues.

Raising a Reader! Advice from a PhD on how comics and graphic novels can promote love of reading in children.

Find the participating comic book store nearest you here. Not all titles will be available at all stores. 

Follow Rick Schindler on Twitter.