The global event Free Comic Book Day, which began in Concord about a decade ago, is now what Mountain View’s Lee Hester of Lee’s Comics calls it: “the world’s biggest comic event, bigger than the SanDiego Comic Con or any comic con.” This year, the comic-book shop near you will be disbursing one of 50 titles with an array of samples. While mentioning a free comic by Gilbert Hernandez (Love and Rockets), Hester is also enthusiastic this year about the reprints of classics that fans would have been far too young to see the first time around.

Take Brian Bolland (of pretty much the tangiest Jokergraphic novel ever, The Killing Joke) demonstrating his formative work on England’s Judge Dredd. Dredd is known to us as spawner of two movies that weren’t as good as the original series. Hester explains: “What we’ve got here is Judge Death, Dredd’s nemesis. Judge Dredd of course is the judge, jury and executioner of the future. But Judge Death’s idea is that all life is a crime.” On a different note, the trove of free pulp includes reissues of Prince Valiant, Hester’s all-time favorite, by one of Sir Walter Scott’s most hardworking and ardent disciples, Hal Foster. “The stories are even better than the art,” Hester says.

Comics are called to the attention of the Powers That Be right around May 1, the beginning of Superhero Spotting Season, with Iron Man 3 and the actually good-looking Man of Steel coming soon. The synergy between comics and movies will be amped-up May 18-19 by Big Wow! ComicFest. This San Jose comic convention is now the Bay Area’s largest—big enough to lure Marvel Comics luminary Stan Lee. Another major name at Big Wow: the DC Silver Age’s renowned action cartoonist Neal Adams, who will also make appearance at Lee’s Comics for Free Comic Book Day.

Consider artist Dan Clowes’ idea that there’s something in the DNA of words and pictures that preserves it even as cinema and downloadable content should have killed it—something that dwells in the pictures, as unkillable as Batman, who is served up these days in every graphic texture from bloodstained leather to cuddly terrycloth.

Meanwhile, I’m poring over the corners and cubbyholes of a great comics edifice: Chris Ware’s Building Stories, which shouts defiance to the general publishing trend to go simple, accessible and young adult. It’s like The Magnificent Ambersons as told from the point of view of the dying mansion. I can’t overpraise Ware’s lapidary skill as an artist, his ability to slice a century’s worth of moments of Chicagoland loneliness and chagrin, cutting them so small and fine that they glow like gemstones.

Free Comic Book Day
Saturday, May 4
SpaceCat, Hijinx Comics, Heroes, Illusive Comics and Games, Lee’s Comics