[box]BANG! POW! Batman clobbers the Joker in the face! ZIP! CRASH! Robin swings in and gives a henchman a stiff kick to the gut. The Caped Crusaders are once again the heroes of Gotham City.[/box]

Independent comic book stores are opening their doors Saturday and letting the customers be the heroes by giving away free comics for the 11th annual Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) aimed to create more interest in comics.

More than 3,500 U.S. and European comic shops, including local stores Captain Nemo Games and Dr. Cain’s Comics and Games, will participate in FCBD by giving away more than 3.5 million special editions of comic books, said Leslie Bowser, FCBD spokeswoman. There are more than 40 different comics to choose from, including “SpongeBob,” “The Avengers” and “Spider-man.”

“FCBD is a perfect occasion for customers to discover comic books,” Bowser said. “We encourage new and current readers to use FCBD as an opportunity to learn about the great comic books and pop culture merchandise to be found at their local comic book shop. Hopefully, they’ll walk away with free comics they can’t wait to read, then keep coming back to their local shop for more.”

FCBD was first conceived by independent comic book storeowner Joe Field of Flying Colors Comics. North America held its first FCBD in 2002, and its main goals were to introduce the joy of comics to new readers, bring back old readers and show appreciation for lifelong readers.

Cal Poly English professor Brenda Helmbrecht knows there is more to comics than meets the eye. She has helped usher in a new curriculum that focuses on graphic novels and comics and the different visual techniques used in them.

Helmbrecht uses graphic novels specifically in her “Rhetoric of Image” course because of the various techniques they use to tell a story. For example, the uses of gutters between each image help tell a reader how to interact with the images, Helmbrecht said.

Together, graphic novels and comics have also evolved in the types of stories being told.

“I’m continually amazed when I look at new comics and graphic novels, and how complex the stories are,” Helmbrecht said. “They are so personal. The stories are almost moving away from focusing on the supernatural and fantastic, and they are getting into the personal lives of the artists themselves.”

Though classes such as Helmbrecht’s teach students that comics offer more than children’s entertainment, local comic shops are looking to spread the excitement of comic books within the local community.

Captain Nemo Games is not only offering free comics, but the shop is allowing people to leave with up to five comic books. Everyone can pick two comics from the FCBD collection and three comics from their back stock with no purchase necessary, said Ray Hanson, co-owner of Captain Nemo Games.

“We look forward to this day every year,” Hanson said. “It’s a blast. Nothing is more uplifting and fun with a Saturday then free comics.”

Dr. Cain’s on the other hand will be offering free comic books in addition to allowing customers to use its screen printing machine to make T-shirts, said Reid Cain, owner of Dr. Cain’s Comics and Games.

To screen print a shirt, Dr. Cain’s will be selling shirts for $5 or students can bring in their own shirts for free. Cain said he has been planning on getting more obscure entertainment for this year’s Free Comic Book Day.

“We are currently trying to get a palm reader to come out,” Cain said. “You know, try and get something different and weird out here.”

Captain Nemo Games and Dr. Cain’s Comics and Games will be giving away free comic books while supplies last all day Saturday.

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