If Paul Doerfler was a superhero, he might be called Prescient Man. The comic books he loved as an adolescent, the ones that got him labeled a nerd, now seem to inspire every other summer Hollywood blockbuster.
“It’s big business now,” said Doerfler, manager of Prairie Dog Comics. “It’s just amazing how much pull and power they have now. Stuff is happening in the movie industry from comic books I read when I was 12 and 14 years old.”
Fortunately, Doerfler’s the type who’d use his powers for good, not evil, which is why he’s happy to participate in Free Comic Book Day, an event that’s perhaps unlike any other in modern culture.
Imagine all the nation’s professional baseball teams, for instance, letting people into their ballparks for free one day. Or every rock, rap and country star giving away free CDs once a year.
Doesn’t happen. But once a year in the comic book industry, all the major players — Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image – do the equivalent in cooperation with stores across the U.S., Canada and worldwide. Industry leading Diamond Comic Distributor expects 5.6 million comic books to be given away.
In addition to Prairie Dog, two other stores in Wichita are taking part – Collectible Bulk and Wizards Asylum Comics and Games.
Doerfler, a former commodities broker, started his new job on Free Comic Book Day last year. It was, he recalled, quite a day.
“We had a line outside the door of 400 people,” he said. “We probably had close to 1,200 come through last year.”
The giveaway started in 2002. This year, publishers are producing 50 new titles just for the event and shipping copies to participating stores, who pay a nominal fee. A full list of the titles can be found online at freecomicbookday.com/comics. Each year, the event is held in conjunction with the release of a movie inspired by comics: “Avengers: Age of Ultron” opens Friday.
Prairie Dog plans to give away two free comic books to each customer. For every six comics a customer buys, she’ll get one more free one.
Doerfler expects a couple of titles to be the most sought after – “Secret Wars” from Marvel, and “Divergence” from DC. The store will also feature autograph signings by three local artists whose work has appeared in comic books – Kevin Nowlan, Chip Reece and James Dean. Store hours will be from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
At Wizards Asylum, self-described “lowly store clerk” Jeremy Miranda said that the business is also preparing for a big crush of customers. Last year, there were about 70 people lined up outside the store when it opened.
“That’s kind of our black Friday, so to speak,” Miranda said.
Miranda expects some fans to engage in Cosplay – that is, dress up and act like characters from manga and anime – and the store hopes to have an artist on hand making sketches on the spot.
The store is giving away three comics per person. It will be open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Miranda said the giveaway “gets bigger every year,” and he expects that trend to continue.
“Lately, the movies have really brought a lot of people into the comic book stores,” he said. For example, he said he’s fielded three calls recently from people seeking the comic book “Civil War,” on which an upcoming Captain America movie is based.
“That’s actually a comic book that was printed five or six years ago. The movies have opened up everything,” he said.
Longtime comic book fans say some other fictional characters, these ones on television, have also helped make their hobby popular and cool: “The Big Bang Theory,” whose smart, geeky characters love comics.
“I think ‘The Big Bang Theory’ really helped normalize the hobby,” said Robert Esau-Rutherford, who owns Collectible Bulk in the Village Flea Market.
Esau-Rutherford also expects the comics his peers mentioned to be hot commodities, along with others featuring the Teenage Mutant Turtles and Doctor Who. He will be giving away two free comic books per person, with another free title for every $5 a customer spends. Local self-published comic artist Kim Cotterell will be there Saturday, and Esau-Rutherford expects that some cosplay enthusiasts will show up. The shop will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
“I find it very unique for an event like this to be successful,” he said.
Unique, but not surprising, says Doerfler, who figures the rest of the world has just caught up to the pleasures of those flimsy paper paths to fantasy.
“I never have a bad day when I think of comics,” he said.
If You Go
Free Comic Book Day
Participating stores on Saturday:
Prairie Dog Comics: 4800 W. Maple, Suite 122; 316-942-3456; Hours: 10:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Collectible Bulk: 2301 S. Meridian Ave.; 316-773-7695; Hours: 9 a.m.-7 p.m.
Wizards Asylum Comics & Games: 1309 W. 31St. S.; 316-262-6642; Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.