PHILADELPHIA — It worked with ice cream so why wouldn't it work with comics?
A decade after Joe Field saw people standing in line for free scoops of ice cream, the effort to lure new and lapsed readers by offering up free comic books has become an annual event embraced by publishers and comic book retailers eager for new customers.
Field, who owns Flying Colors Comics in Concord, Calif., said that the idea for the event, now in its 10th year, was inspired by an ice cream shop.
"I noticed a long line of people outside my store. The line was for Baskin Robbins 'Free Scoop Night' — and I thought to myself, 'Comics are way cooler than ice cream! We should be able to do something bigger and better than Free Scoop Night.'"
He wrote about the idea for an industry magazine and it took off from there.
"The first Free Comic Book Day featured just four publishers. This year, three dozen publishers are participating," he said, including Marvel, DC Comics, Archie, Zenescope Entertainment, Image, Dark Horse and IDW.
Geoff Johns, DC's chief creative officer, called the event a way to celebrate "an American-born medium and educating and passing that passion off to other people."
Some 2.7 million copies of free comics are set to be handed out across the country and in 40 other countries on Saturday.
In Denmark, Morten Soendergaard is gearing up for his third such time hosting the event at the Fantask comic store in Copenhagen.
"It is well-known among fans here but maybe not among a wider audience," he said. Soendergaard said the shop has ordered reprints of classic comic books, including Marvel, that will be "handed out for free on a first-come, first-served basis."
In Germany, nine stores are participating in the event, including Berlin's Grober Unfug. A store salesman, Christoph Wienke said they received two boxes of free comics, or about 40 titles, including editions of Archie's "Pep Comics Featuring Betty & Veronica," DC's "Green Lantern" and Bluewater Productions' "The Mis-Adventures of Adam West," a rollicking story about the TV star who inadvertently becomes the man that saves the universe.
Michael "Mac" McEwen owns Mac's Comics & Collectibles in Miami and he called Free Comic Book Day "the biggest day of the year" for stores to reach out to new fans.
He said that the summer slate of comics-oriented films isn't hurting, either. McEwen helped host a preview screening of "Thor" on Tuesday and handed out 700 flyers for Free Comic Day at the screening.
On Saturday, the first 1,000 people to visit his store will receive a comic featuring Thor and Captain America, who also has a movie coming out this summer. A new "X-Men" will be released this season as well as "Green Lantern."
"With all the movies coming out, a lot of kids are picking it up, and then their parents are also getting involved," he said.
Publishers have gravitated toward the event in increasing numbers every year, too, Field said.
"Fortunately, Free Comic Book Day was never a case of herding cats — there has been a strong spirit of cooperation since the beginning," he said.
Tom Brevoort, Marvel's senior vice president for publishing called it a chance to connect with readers of all backgrounds and ages.
"Free Comic Book Day is massively important to us, because it gives us the opportunity to reach out and hook the next generation of comic book readers, and to reconnect with lapsed readers of the past," said Brevoort. "And who doesn't like free stuff?"
The event features more than just comics, too. It's also a chance for the artists and writers who pen the tales of superheroes, zombies, rodent warriors and more to meet their readers and fans.
Joe Hill, the creator of IDW's "Locke & Key" graphic novels likened the event to a "Geek Christmas" celebration.
"Comic book stores are cathedrals built to pop culture, and Free Comic Book Day is a chance to convert as many folks to the faith as possible," he said. "Stepping in to a great comic book store is like stepping into the shared imagination of America itself, in all its giddy, bubblegum-colored glory. It's a trip even non-comic book fans often find rewarding and Free Comic Book Day is the perfect excuse to make the pilgrimage."
Hill is taking part in the event for the first time and will be signing copies of his book at Jetpack Comics in Rochester, N.H.
"It's also a chance to spend an afternoon in a place that closely mirrors the inside of my own head. My brain is a lunch box packed with old comics, decoder rings and Bettie Page playing cards," the writer said. "Comic stores aren't too terribly different."
Dan Parent, who writes and draws Archie comics, said the event's pull on new readers is palpable.
"And even though all of them may not become avid comic readers, a portion of them will continue to read comics even on a casual basis," he said. "And for some kids who aren't crazy about reading at a young age, this is a great way to get them started. I was one of those kids many years ago!"Comment on this story
Associated Press writers David Fischer in Miami, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Jenny Stoffel in Berlin contributed to this report.
Matt Moore can be followed on Twitter by searching (at)MattMooreAP.