Sunday May 5, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- Eight-year-old Eve McDougall and her brother Owen, 6, of Lee, had never been in a comic book store before Saturday, but they both walked out of Fantasy Realms in Pittsfield holding three new tales of adventure and superheroes.

The annual Free Comic Book Day, a nationwide event held on the first Saturday of May, was designed as a way to reward faithful supporters of comic book stores while simultaneously giving new readers a chance to sample various stories for free.

Eve, who loves to read Archie comics, learned about the event several weeks ago after seeing an advertisement on the back of one of her books.

"I really like the stories," Eve said as she picked out her three new books.

Owen said he couldn’t wait to see what happened in his issue of "Sponge Bob Freestyle Funnies."

According to Fantasy Realms owner James Arlemagne, this year’s lineup of titles focused heavily on catering to young comic book readers.

"It’s great for the future of the comic book world," he said. "Free Comic Book Day promotes the industry and the hobby very well and it’s one of the few times kids are brought into the store."

As the stream of fans young and old flowed in and out of the store, Szofia Lewis, 11, and her brother, Calvin 8, of Pittsfield, walked to the table where free issues were laid out and began to study them to decide which three they were going to take.

Their father, Thomas, followed quickly behind and explained his children’s enthusiasm.

"I got them both into reading comics years ago, reading books like "The Adventures of Tin-Tin," he said. "Although the stories didn’t have superpowers, it was still a comic book, just set in the real world and filled with historical and political events we could learn about later."

Thomas also said there seems to be a much greater acceptance of "nerd culture" with the popularity of comics and superheroes spreading rapidly around the world.

As Friday’s release of the third Ironman movie shows, with projected sales numbers near record-breaking levels, the negativity of being a "nerd" has dwindled.

Thomas said he was proud his kids were into comic books, as he was when he was their age, reading every issue of "Spiderman" he could find.

Calvin clutched his new issues of "Superman," "The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "Batman" smiling widely, saying he couldn’t wait for the next issues.

Arlemagne said that’s exactly what the event is supposed to do -- hook young readers early with stories they want to follow.

"This is a great way to get new people in the store," he said. "Last year we had 90 new customers."

By noon, nearly half of last year’s total had already walked in the door, with people walking out with more books than just the free ones.

He said he’s hoping the momentum will carry over into next weekend’s BAMCon -- a large scale anime/ manga/comic/gaming convention -- to be held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Pittsfield starting Friday at 10 a.m. and running through Sunday.

To reach Josh Stilts:
jstilts@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6243
On Twitter: @JoshStilts