Illustration by Bela Messex.

At a time when superheroes are more visible online, on television and in movie theaters, what has happened to the comic book? For some, the comic book never died and is still a thriving source of entertainment. Held this past Saturday, the 10th Annual International Free Comic Book Day was a celebration of the comic book for those readers.

Comic book retailers also used this day to give a few summer previews. This year’s list of titles included the beginning of a new “Spider-Man” epic, a “Green Lantern” special edition, and a book featuring “Captain America” and “Thor.” Many shops in Santa Cruz had sales for their customers. Participating stores included Atlantis Fantasyworld on Cedar Street, Comicopolis on Front Street and hundreds of retailers across the nation and internationally.

In 10 years, Free Comic Book Day has grown from a local event — starting in 2001 at a comic book store in Concord, Calif. called Flying Colors — to an international one.

“It’s one of the busiest days of the year,” said Neil Farris, owner of Hijinx Comics in San José.

Joe Ferrara, owner of Atlantis Fantasyworld, said he hoped people would recognize the entertainment value of comics. Atlantis Fantasyworld reaches out to kids at local elementary schools through a summer readership program, and has booked comic creators like Elisabetta Dami, author of the newly popular young adult comic “Geronimo Stilton,” to speak at events.

“People’s perception of comic books is that they are collectibles,” Ferrara said. “Free Comic Book Day is a great way to celebrate the fun you can have in a comic book.”

On the UC Santa Cruz campus, comic books have a well-represented readership. UCSC’s art department features a comic book drawing class and there is a comic book club at Kresge College.

“I’ve been reading comic books since I was a kid,” said Ben Cody, UCSC second-year and member of the Kresge Comic Book Club. “I wasn’t so into them in high school, but when I got to college, I found this really dedicated group of readers, and I returned to comic books.”

Cody, who was carrying a stack of comics from Atlantis Fantasyworld on his way to Comicopolis, said he supports Free Comic Book Day. Many people form very personal connections to their favorite books, he said, and the comic readership at UCSC is large.

Despite the poor economic climate of the last few years, comic sales have been booming at shops in the Bay Area. For Ryan Higgs, owner of Comics Conspiracy in Salinas, the comic business is lucrative.

“Sales at the store have been pretty steady these past few years, despite the difficult economic climate,” Higgs said. “While I have seen a decrease in sales of monthly comics, the collected versions [trade paperbacks and graphic novels] have really boomed in the past half-decade, as well as sales of toys, statues and other items.”

For Ferrara, Free Comic Book Day is good advertising. It is targeted outreach that doesn’t get lost in the noise of a regular advertisement, he said, and it creates goodwill between the community and the store.

“Who’s got a grand to spend on advertisements this year?” Ferrara said. “This is a better way to get out to the audience.”

With thousands of people coming out to support Free Comic Book Day in Santa Cruz area shops, the event was pronounced a success by many of the owners, whose shops stayed busy until close.

“We gave away 4,000 comic books, and had over 500 people in the shop,” Ferrara said. “It was the most successful Free Comic Book Day yet.”