Comic relief

N.C.s oldest comic shop prepares for Free Comic Book Day

Clayton Abernathy—
(L to R) Shop owner Jeff Lamb and customers Clayton Hanson

ASHEBORO — Comic book heroes will generate long lines this weekend, and they won’t just be at the local cinema waiting to see “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” Comic book stores across the world celebrate Free Comic Book Day on Saturday, May 6, by offering titles from publishing juggernauts Marvel and DC to smaller publishers like Valiant, which was started by a former Marvel editor. Publishers print special editions of their comics just for Free Comic Book Day and sell these to shops at a reduced cost, allowing the shops to then give them away to attendees of the event.Jeff Lamb, owner of The Comic Conspiracy in Asheboro, said his shop will see lines forming hours before he opens, requiring the city to block off the street in front of his shop to accommodate the crowd. Free Comic Book Day is a way “to introduce everyone to the joys of reading comics,” Lamb said, and he anticipates this year’s crowd to be as big as years past.While Free Comic Book Day offers a chance for readers to be introduced to titles from a spectrum of publishers, Lamb said Marvel and DC are still the biggest draw.”Fans always want the books from the Big Two publishers because these books usually are a kickoff or a preview for an upcoming epic story line for that company,” he said.Beyond the printed page, the day has been a boon for Marvel titles at the box office as well. Since the free day started in 2002, a Marvel-based superhero film has coincided almost every year, and this year is no different with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” opening Friday night.Not surprisingly, Marvel features the Guardians in an exclusive comic in the Gold tier of the free comics. Publishers make free comics in Silver and Gold tiers. According to Lamb, shops cannot offer a Gold tier comic unless quantities of all the titles offered by various publishers in that tier are purchased by the shop. The Comic Conspiracy is a Gold tier shop.This year’s event features most of the big names in comics, from Captain America and Wonder Woman on the superhero side to classics like Barbie and Betty & Veronica from Archie Comics. Titles also include cartoon stars like SpongeBob SquarePants and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, along with television show titles like “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “Doctor Who” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Video games are also represented with titles like “The Legend of Zelda” and “Street Fighter.” James Cameron’s epic world of “Avatar” even has a special edition comic.While moviegoers prepare for a summer of blockbuster titles deriving from comic books, the paper copies that started the storylines will keep telling tales that have existed for generations. Free Comic Book Day was created to introduce the medium to new readers, recall former readers and thank loyal readers. Much like books and newspapers, comic books have experienced a rise in digital alternatives.But that hasn’t kept readers from continuing to buy hard copies, which offer more collectability than digital editions.”Customers say that they love having a product that they can actually hold in their hands,” he said.The Comic Conspiracy, founded in 1978, is North Carolina’s oldest comic store. Lamb said the store name came from the fact that he and his friends were conspiring to pad their personal collections by opening a shop.His business had changed over time — from the baseball card boon in the 1980s and ’90s to current trends like HeroClix and Pop! Vinyl — but Lamb said his biggest challenge now is picking the right titles to sell from thousands of options.”Of course I’m going to order a certain amount of ‘Batman’ and ‘Amazing Spiderman’ titles, but what about all the new first issues of the other companies?” Lamb said. “Comics are a lot like produce in that if a shop doesn’t sell a new title in the first month of publication, it’s probably not going to sell at all.”Decades later, Lamb said he “never would have thought the shop would still be around almost 40 years.”Whay has he stuck it out for so long?”Because I still love the old comics … must be the smell.”If you want to participate in Free Comic Book Day, you can locate your local participating comic book store at 
You can join the block party 
at The Comic Book Conspiracy
at 108 North St. in Asheboro.