THERE IS, perhaps, no more inviting and seductive pitch to a prospective consumer than three simple words:

“First one’s free.”

“We all heard habits are formed with the promise of ‘first one’s free,’ but this time, the message is a positive one,” comics creator Batton Lash tells Comic Riffs. He is referring to Free Comic Book Day (aka #FCBD), the national (and spreading) event this Saturday in which comics retailers and publishers join forces to entice new readers with the promise of giveaway works.

“Free Comic Book Day is gateway for those who are unaware and an opportunity to get hooked on America’s indigenous artform and the world’s greatest entertainment medium,” says Lash, creator of “Supernatural Law” (”Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre”) and the Eisner Award-winning “Radioactive Man.”

Free Comic Book Day (courtesy of Free Comic Book Day/courtesy of Free Comic Book Day)

The California-sprung promotional event has grown by leaps and single bounds since its 2002 launch. In the Washington region alone, scores of creators will turn out to make store appearances. After all, it’s not only about connecting new readers to comics, but also about introducing them to their neighborhood shops.

“The best thing is seeing the people who work in comics shops spending the day doing what they do best: recommending stuff,” NPR pop-culture contributor Glen Weldon (Monkey See blog) tells Comic Riffs. “So much of their usual customer base — hardcore geeks like me — settle into grooves, reading the same thing month after month. FCBD customers are clean slates, eager to try something, and comics shop staffers are enthusiasts, eager to supply them with suggestions.

“I also love it whenever people’s received knowledge about comics and comics readers — wisdom received from ‘The Simpsons’ ‘ Comic Book Guy, among other places — gets challenged,” continues Weldon, author of the new book “Superman: The Unauthorized Biography,” who will appear tomorrow afternoon at Fantom Comics’ Union Station location (also scheduled to appear at Fantom: Troy-Jeffery Allen and Matt Rawson). “Every FCBD, people walk into shops prepared for dank nerd-pits smelling of must and Funyuns, only to find smart, friendly people like themselves.”


The best thing about FCBD, says Maryland comics creator Frank Cho (”Liberty Meadows,” Marvel, DC), is “hanging out with the fans, fellow pros and comic retailers, and [talking] about comics and movies.

“Kinda like sports fans hanging out and watching a game,” notes Cho, who will appear tomorrow at Marc Nathan’s Cards, Comics & Collectibles shop in Riestertown, Md., along with creators Adam Kubert and Steve Conley.

Another local creator, Carolyn Belefski (”Curls”), looks forward to her FCBD shop debut.

“The coolest thing about Free Comic Book Day for me is this is my first in-store appearance for FCBD, and I’m interested in meeting the people attending and distributing [D.C. comics newspaper] Magic Bullet #6,” says Belefski, who, with her partner Joe Carabeo, will appear tomorrow at the Laughing Ogre Comics in Fairfax. “I’m also looking forward to reading [the brand-new] ‘The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys,’ by Gerard Way.”

Belefski’s reference to “Fabulous Killjoys” highlights another element of FCBD that gleams like a power-ring: the celebration of narrative.

“The coolest thing about FCBD is that it is another much-needed reminder of the value of story,” Marc Tyler Nobleman, author of “Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman,” tells Comic Riffs. “A lot that competes for kids’ entertainment time these days is not narrative — largely video games and social networking — and while there is a time for those things, reading and absorbing stories should be a bigger chunk of the pie.

“That’s not just me as an author speaking,” says Nobleman, who on Sunday will deliver a lecture on Batman’s Bill Finger at the Washington Hebrew Congregation Temple in Northwest D.C. “It’s me as a father and a former kid myself.”

Katie Monnin, an author and associate professor of literacy at the University of North Florida, appreciates how FCBD spotlights comics literature for kids and former kids alike.

“The best thing about Free Comic Book Day is that it displays the generosity and appreciation the comic-book industry has for its readers,” Monnin (“Teaching Early Reader Comics and Graphic Novels”) tells Comic Riffs, “and, in today’s more literary comic-book age, an opportunity to introduce new and potential readers to just how brilliant, just how beautiful the comic-book medium has become in the 21st century, for both for students and for adults.”

And to some, Free Comic Book Day is not just about the craft and wizardry on the comics page, but also about the magic between the bricks and mortar.

“FCBD tries to get new people into that [comic shop] environment to experience it for themselves,” Charles Hatfield, associate professor of English at California State University Northridge and Eisner-winning author (“Hand of Fire: The Comics Art of Jack Kirby”), tells Comic Riffs. “In a sense, FCBD is about selling shops, not just giving away — or selling — specific comics.

“It’s a lovely form of outreach, from what was once a cultural outlier or ‘geek frontier’ to what we are accustomed to calling ‘mainstream’ culture. I’m all for that!

TO FIND A COMIC SHOP near you, click HERE .

FOR A LIST of comic-shop events and creator appearances Saturday, check out the Free Comic Book Day site’s Signings page..

HERE ARE some other scheduled creator appearances in the D.C. area: S.G. Artley, Michael Cowgill and Matt Dembicki, Big Planet Comics (Vienna); Andrew Cohen and Evan Keeling, Big Planet Comics (D.C.); Art Hondros, Big Planet Comics (Bethesda); Gail Simone, Cullen Bunn, Joshua Dysart, Joelle Jones, Charles Soule, Duane Swierczynski, Bryan Turner, Third Eye Comics (Annapolis); Mike Imboden, Rafer Roberts, John Shine and John Watkins-Chow, Beyond Comics (Gaithersburg); Gene Ha, Danielle Corsetto, Terry Flippo and Chris Williams, Beyond Comics (Frederick); Rob Anderson, Laughing Ogre Comics (Lansdowne); Michael Bracco, Tony Calandra, Marc Hempel, Joe Keatinge, Greg LaRocque, Mike Moreci, H.C. Noel, Cary Nord, Brandon Seifert and Steve Seeley, Collectors Corner (Baltimore). All appearances and schedules subject to change.