Captain Nemo Games & Comics co-owner Raymond Hanson started reading comic books as a 6-year-old boy in the Vermont countryside. Growing up in a remote area, Hanson had little interaction with people and little knowledge of city life, so he escaped from the quiet into the wild stories of comics and learned about the world beyond his country home — a world full of people and excitement.
“I thought I had all the comics,” Hanson said.
But when his cousin went to Vietnam and passed down a comic book collection to him, more than 2,000 comics found their way into Hanson’s hands.
“I was entertained for years,” he said.
Hanson began buying comic books in town and “renting” them to friends on the playground for a nickel per comic, until he earned enough money to buy the next book.
Since then, Hanson’s love for comics — and love for sharing and selling them — has grown into a full-blown business at Captain Nemo Games & Comics on Higuera Street.
And on Saturday, Hanson will share that love with customers for even less than a nickel: He’s giving his comics away for free.
Captain Nemo will be joining 2,000 other comic book stores in the 12th annual celebration of Free Comic Book Day.
“This is a way for us to get people into the store who wouldn’t normally come,” Hanson said. “To check out comics and become possible future customers.”
The event was originally created by Joe Field of Flying Colors Comics in Northern California “to show recognition for his customers,” Hanson said.
Since then, it has grown into a national holiday for comic book enthusiasts, with stores expecting to give out at least 4 million comics nationwide this year.
Last year, Captain Nemo handed out more than 2,500 comics — from Smurfs and My Little Pony to Mouse Guard — on Free Comic Book Day.
This year, each visitor will get to pick out up to six free comic books at Captain Nemo’s, including three “special selections” made just for the holiday from comic book companies.
The “premier comic” this year will most likely be Walking Dead’s special Free Comic Book Day edition, created just for the occasion, Hanson said.
Captain Nemo has been selling comic books since 1980, when the shop moved out of The Sub and became its own store.
“We felt that because it started as ‘Sub Comics,’ it was fitting to call the new standalone store ‘Captain Nemo,’” Hanson said.
The spacious, organized store is filled neatly with racks and rows of comics, video games, music and, on a typical day, approximately a dozen customers at a time.
But come Free Comic Book Store Day, the shop turns into a frenzy of families, college students and store regulars — all hungry for the latest book.
Captain Nemo sales associate Jay Fernbaugh remembered previous years as being “very busy.”
“There were tons of people coming in,” Fernbaugh said. “And we were running all over the place.”
Captain Nemo isn’t the only store in town that will be celebrating. Dr. Cain’s Comics and Games, tucked away on Marsh Street, will hand out freebies for its third year.
Owner Reid Cain said Free Comic Book Day “has been a really successful thing in the comic book industry.”
Cain said he loves that it gives people the opportunity to “discover the shop,” which he opened in 2008 after leaving his architectural design job to “do something a little more fun,” he said.
Cain said he will be giving out free comic books provided for the day by the industry, such as the Walking Dead edition, along with “choosing some of (his) favorite stories to give away.”
Attendance has grown approximately 20 percent each of the three years Cain’s shop has participated, he said. This year, visitors can also get T-shirts printed to commemorate the day.
Cain said he suspects there will also be some “costume play” involved in the celebration.
“Last year, a bunch of college kids came dressed as sidekicks,” he said. “It was pretty weird. Robin was in short-shorts and everything.”
Regardless, Cain, who has been an avid comic book reader for “a long time,” is excited to share his passion for comics with customers new and old.
Fernbaugh, back at Captain Nemo comics, said he is also excited for the comic book extravaganza.
“I love it,” he said. “I’ve been reading comics since I was a kid. It’s an avenue for people who weren’t into comics before to get into it and get a taste for what comics are about without having to buy them … It’s kind of like a little Christmas for kids.”
Plus, he added, D.C. comic’s “New 52” series will be on shelves.
“They restarted their whole thing,” Fernbaugh said. “So it’s fresh for everybody. Plus, Superman can beat up Batman any day.”
Whether customers are devoted to Batman or Superman, Hanson said there will be a comic book for everybody.
“There’s a lot involved in these stories,” he said. “And a lot of fun to be had, and a lot of adventure, and action and romance.”