Next Saturday is the third annual Free Comic Book Day, when thousands of super-hero-bedecked holes in the wall nationwide will hand out issues gratis. "There's a whole untapped audience," says Howard Welsch, an owner of Phoenix Comics & Toys in Herndon. "You get people coming in who say, 'Oh, wow, I didn't realize they made comics based on CSI.' " Almost all publishers are participating, though it may be hard to find titles from quirkier indie presses, as opposed to the sure-to-be-everywhere Marvel Age: Spider-Man.

Washington

Beyond Comics II. 1419 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-333-8651. www.beyondcomics.com.

Big Planet Comics. 3145 Dumbarton St. NW. 202-342-1961. www.bigplanetcomics.com.

Maryland

Alliance Comics. 6820 Hilltop Plaza, Suite 101, Bowie, 301-352-4322; 8317 Fenton St., Silver Spring, 301-588-2546.

Barbarian Book Shop. 11242 Triangle Lane, Wheaton. 301-946-4184.

Beyond Comics. Lakeforest Mall, 701 Russell Ave., Gaithersburg. 301-216-0007. www.beyondcomics.com.

Big Planet Comics. 4908 Fairmont Ave., Bethesda. 301-654-6856. www.bigplanetcomics.com.

Brainstorm Comics & Gaming. 177-B Thomas Johnson Dr., Frederick. 301-663-3039.

C&C Sports Cards & Comics. 2227 Bel Pre Rd., Silver Spring. 301-603-0780.

Closet of Comics. 7315 Baltimore Ave., College Park. 301-699-0498.

Collectors Crypt. 9925 Rhode Island Ave., College Park. 301-441-2273.

Comic Classics. 365 Main St., Laurel. 301-490-9811.

Comics to Astonish. 9400 Snowden River Pkwy., Suite 112, Columbia. 410-381-2732. www.comicstoastonish.com.

Cosmic Comix & Toys. 87 Mellor Ave., Catonsville. 410-747-3041 or 877-461-4161. www.cosmiccomix.com.

The Dugoutzone. Chatham Station Shopping Center, 9210 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City. 410-461-8664. www.dugoutzone.com.

Fudds Rabbit Hole Book Store. 8519 Fort Smallwood Rd., Pasadena. 410-437-5542.

H.A.L. Comic Strip. Penn Station Shopping Center, 5722 Silver Hill Rd., District Heights. 301-967-6300.

Twilite Zone Comics. 18 N. Crain Hwy., Glen Burnie. 410-766-0480.

Virginia

Aftertime Comics. 1304 King St., Alexandria. 703-548-5030.

Andy's Comics & Collectables. 116 Edds Lane, Sterling. 703-450-2289.

Big Planet. 426 Maple Ave. E., Vienna, 703-242-9412. www.bigplanetcomics.com.

Colzac Comics & Collectables. Manaport Plaza Shopping Center, 8369 Sudley Rd., Manassas. 703-330-8227.

E.G. Comics. 142 Maple Ave. W., Vienna. 703-938-4977. www.hometown.aol.com/egcomics.

Hole in the Wall Books. 905 W. Broad St., Falls Church. 703-536-2511. www.holeintheweb.com/oldsite/Hole.htm.

Painted Visions Comic Cards. 3065 Golansky Blvd., Woodbridge. 703-730-8457.

Phoenix Comics & Toys (was BC Comics). University Mall, 10647 Braddock Rd., Fairfax, 703-250-6479; 678 Elden St., Herndon, 703-437-9530. www.bccomics.com.

Ron's Collectors World. 7030 Columbia Pike, Annandale. 703-256-8408.

Chris J. Petropoulos

They say nothing in life is free. We love it when old maxims are proved wrong.