Comic books are no longer guilty pleasures: This Saturday, May 2, marks the thirteenth annual Free Comic Book Day, an event now celebrated worldwide. The unofficial holiday is a great time to get acquainted with the region’s finest comic-book shops — and to pick up free reading material. Fifty-one different titles, from those featuring kid-friendly Spongebob and Gronk to Steampunk Goldilocks, Jurassic Strike Force 5 and old favorites the Avengers and the Phantom, will be available at participating stores on May 2. (Individual shops have different policies on how many comics you can take — but no, you may not snatch up handfuls and run out the door.)
Sure, it’s a gimmick to bring in customers and entice a new generation of readers – but that’s a good thing, because the art form is broader and deeper than you might think. The explosion of independent comics in the 1980s, and the dark, bold and uncompromising work of creators such as Art Spiegelman, Alan Moore, the Hernandez brothers, Lynda Barry, Frank Miller and Grant Morrison has legitimized a previously disdained art form. Those brightly-colored, dime-priced indulgences that were once stuffed under the bed are now sealed in protective plastic and cost hundreds of dollars. And today's sequential narrative art is not just about those superheroes that dominate our pop culture like a modern-day Greek pantheon: Manga, romance, horror, sci-fi, humor, slice-of-life, non-fiction and literary adaptations cram the overflowing shelves of every one of these outlets.
The Denver area has an abundance of stores run by true believers, who are doing their best to keep things vital, promote new talent and expand a subculture whose wellspring is the imagination. Here are twelve great places to celebrate Free Comic Book Day (presented in alphabetical order):
1) 5280 Comics + Games
9116 West Bowles Avenue, Littleton
San’s your man at 5280, an up-and-coming store that’s tough to find (turn right at the 9300 BLOCK sign on eastbound Bowles and go downhill, around and behind the Slimgenics store). Although this is the newest store in town, it’s well-stocked and very tastefully curated — and definitely worth the search.
2) All in a Dream Comics
2901 East Colfax Avenue
It's not an official Free Comic Book Day participant, but All in a Dream is nonetheless a vital stop for the cognoscenti — although perhaps not for the faint of heart. It carries a vast and reasonably priced inventory, and features a lot of extreme, cutting-edge work that's for mature eyes only. Fair warning: Service and hours can be idiosyncratic, too.
3) Colorado Coins Cards & Comics
6695 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada
This venerable business has been in same location for 27 years, and also features sports memorabilia, numismatics and other collectibles in addition to games, cards, gaming equipment and gaming information.
4) Hero Headquarters
8757 Sheridan Boulevard, Westminster
What distinguishes Hero Headquarters are the collectibles. This store has everything, including all the Star Trek and Star Wars stuff and D.C. and Marvel and Predator and Godzilla.... When you’re done drooling, remember to check the comics, too.
5) I Want More Comics
1020 West 104th Avenue, Northglenn
This shop is in another tough location, at the back of a shopping center. (The places with the most magic are so often at the margins, aren't they?) This store has a work-in-progress feel, but there are plenty of good books through which to paw.
6) Kilgore Books and Comics
624 East 13th Avenue
Carved out of what was once part of Wax Trax, Kilgore makes the most of its cramped confines. The shop not only has comics but fiction, literature, poetry, philosophy and ‘zines. Most important, it cultivates the freshest graphic talent and carries exciting new stuff you can’t find anywhere else. This is the perfect place for the comics explorer. Although it's not an official Free Comic Book Day participant, it's definitely worth a stop.
7-10) Mile High Comics
760 South Colorado Boulevard
98 Wadsworth Boulevard, #118, Lakewood
4600 Jason Street
1360 West Littleton Boulevard, Littleton
Chuck Rozanski started Mile High Comics in 1975, when he was nineteen, and it’s is still the big player in town. Highlights at the quartet of stores include the convivial expertise of Len Moulton at the Littleton location, and the mind-numbing vastness of the 45,000 square-foot layout on Jason Street, reputedly the largest comic book-store in the world. (Hey, it can easily fit a life-size mockup of a TIE fighter.)
11) Mutiny Information Café
2 South Broadway
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Not strictly a comics store, Mutiny Information Cafe is a hangout for the hip and literate that boasts books, music, a café, a small stage and a relaxed and welcoming ambience. The comics section is small but healthy, and there are plenty of places to perch and browse.
12) Time Warp Comics & Cards
3105 28th Street, Boulder
Wayne Winsett has been the head honcho at Time Warp since its inception in 1984. He knows Neil Gaiman — and more important, Neil Gaiman knows him. Time Warp has gobs of Silver and Bronze Age classics, all the new work, a kid-friendly display up front, and edgier stuff neatly segregated in the back of the store. This place is a haven, a gallery, a community resource, a site for endless debate about graphic storytelling. Winsett rigorously selects his knowledgeable and committed staffers, who collectively serve as a vast hive-mind/organic databank that covers the subject completely. He stages lots of in-store events and appearances, too, and he encourages young talent. Time Warp epitomizes what a comics store can be.