It's a pretty universal scene. They're never overly big; often times, they're actually quite cramped. They all have that same smell of aging paper and imagination. Most Friday nights you'll find small troves tightly packed in, sharing experiences and friendships over ink-drawn stories or epic card battles.
It's your local corner comic book store and, this Saturday, most will be giving back to their communities during the 11th annual Free Comic Book Day. They hope to reward the regular customers they get, feed the budding attachments in the inexperienced or just give someone passing by a brighter day with a complimentary token.
Paul Salerno is Connecticut through-and-through. He grew up Greenwich, currently lives in Trumball and operates at 2538 Summer Ave. in Stamford. He'll be participating in the day, handing out free comics to the masses that come flowing through his shop.
Salerno said like any other small business that operates off of customers' disposable income, the last couple of years had been hard but, more recently, with the exploding popularity of television shows like The Walking Dead and Comic Book Men and movies like Batman, X-Men and The Avengers, he's seen stronger response in the shop.
"A lot of times the big names will hold a movie until this 1st Saturday," he said. "Like what Marvel is doing with the Avengers. It's breaking international records already, I imagine it will be pretty popular here as well."
The movie—helmed by director Joss Whedon, the genius behind shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly—took in $178.4 million during it's opening weekend overseas.
"It's coming back, like everyone else, I'd imagine," Salerno said. "I've been doing this since 1989 [the year of Michael Keaton's Batman], and hits like this come in waves. Things like comics are always the first to go. But I just kept plugging along and 2012 has turned out much better than even the last two or three years."
Salerno took to calling it the Re-birth of Comics, with all the hot movies and shows really taking off, successful video games expanding franchises and online comics giving everyone interested in the medium a channel for their voice, he said it's nice to see the scene on an uptick.
"The die-hards are my bread and butter," he said. "In the late 80's through the 90's, you saw guys trying to buy the comics as 'investments', looking to make a quick buck, which lead to a crash with supply outstripping demand. The die-hards are the ones that kept me going, the ones I could count on."
Salerno has to pay entirely out of pocket to participate in Free Comic Book Day, he said, and he has to purchase a certain amount of comics to give away for free from each supplier in order to be included on the website list of stores participating in the event. The investment costs him about $500—something he doesn't really mind.
"It brings in new faces and, more importantly, it brings in kids," Salerno said. "Kids just don't read anymore. This event draws in a ton of people and sure, we'll get the people who just come in this one day a year to get their free comic, but we'll also get those kids who aren't so interested in books and suddenly, they find something they can see themselves really getting into."
Salerno's shopped is filled with goodies other than comics. Figurines, sculptures, cards, action figures, table top games, collectibles. Pretty much anything a hobbyist into comics would need. But he said comics are still his biggest item.
"They make up 60-percent of my business," he said. "It's because the card market is down, which is the nice thing about the business. If cards go down, you'll see something like comics tick up."
As for the shop, which also hosts Friday night Magic, The Gathering tournaments every week for players in the area, Salerno said he's just looking forward to doing something awesome for comic lovers in the area.
"If I see 20-percent of the people that come through here Saturday, I'll be happy," Salerno said. "But it's the kids I really like to see. As they start getting older, earning their own money, I start seeing them more. I'm not just promoting my shop, I'm promoting the idea of comics."
Stop in at Saturday to grab your free comic. To see a list of the comics you could potentially score for free, click here.