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Comic book creator, writer and editor Stan Lee poses with a family during his visit to Flying Comics & Other Cool Stuff in Concord, Calif., on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013. Lee, the creative force behind Marvel Comics since 1941, is the co-creator of such seminal characters as the Amazing Spiderman, the Incredible Hulk, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four and many more. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group)

Exploring animated images in a comic book is often a portal to activating one's imagination, inspiring a desire to read and the possibility that one can create such worlds themselves.

Three local venues are holding the creative space for that to take place, starting with the annual Free Comic Book Day on Saturday. It was the brainchild of Concord proprietor of Flying Colors Comics and Other Cool Stuff, and soon went viral, with 64 countries now taking part, including 2,100 participating stores, and more than 1.2 million people going away with a free book in their hands.

If you show your public library card on the day of the event, you can get two free comic books to take home.

Cartooning events at two branches of the Contra Costa County Library follow Free Comic Book Day, in Pleasant Hill and Lafayette, where youth can take part in a comic trivia throwdown and design their own superhero.

Concord illustrator Sam Filstrup will be demonstrating the craft at both library events.

"Graphic novels have tremendous power to capture the imagination of all readers through their blend of visual and literary arts, but they're especially potent for drawing reluctant readers into great stories, whether they are superhero epics, funnies, or even real stories from history," says Patrick Remer, youth services librarian at the Pleasant Hill branch.

Like many others, Orlando Guzman, a librarian at the Lafayette branch, reconnecting with the genre evokes feelings of nostalgia for his boyhood spent poring over comic books.

Joe Field, who came up with Free Comic Book Day, has been a devotee of Marvel comics since 1967 when at age 11 he fell out of tree. His childhood friend brought him such titles as "The Fantastic Four" and "Spiderman" while he convalesced in his Moraga home with a broken arm -- and he was transformed.

The two boys had already formed a cartoonist club and Field, who now dabbles in doodling and has a couple of ideas for comics "aching to get out," had attempted his own version of "Peanuts" at age 9.

"It doesn't matter whether you're 6 or 65, comics ignite the imagination at any age," he says of an art form of expression which dates back to cavemen crafting the first comic books on walls.

Field fondly recalls his Spanish class at Campolindo High School, reading bilingual comic books that his teacher Lola Danielli would pass out to students who had gotten their work done early.

While Danielli, who has taught at the Moraga campus for 50-plus years, doesn't consider comics as a teaching tool per se, she has seen students' interest in learning the meaning of certain words they encounter in a strip.

Field also notes how comic book readers are often more actively engaged in the text and visual depictions, as they are giving characters' voices and envisioning other plot twists that are intentionally omitted.

"It's theater of the mind," he says.

Flying Colors Free Comic Book Day features comic book writer and illustrator Jimmie Robinson, who grew up in West Oakland "in the golden years of 'Superman.'"

Robinson penned "Batman," "Wonder Woman," "My Little Pony" characters and his own "Five Weapons" animated protagonists on the cover of some blank pages that visitors can use to create their own comics at the Concord store.

"There is a diverse wealth of what constitutes a comic book," says the Point Richmond resident, noting it as a powerful means for youth to express their feelings by way of a superhero, and in an eye-catching way, addressing issues such as peer pressure, making new friends and honing one's observation skills.

all about comics
  • Free Comic Book Day on Saturday, May 3. Participating comic book shops give away comic books for free. In Central County, Flying Colors Comics and Other Cool Stuff, 2980 Treat Blvd. at Oak Grove Road, Concord. 925-825-5410; hours 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
  • Library events in Lafayette and Pleasant Hill.
    So You Missed Free Comic Book Day? 3:30-5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 8, in Arts & Science Discovery Center at Lafayette Library and Learning Center, 3491 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette. 925-385-2280. Kids in grades K-6 can come in costume and celebrate superheroes, comics and graphic novels. Free comics for ages 13 and younger, with prizes, contests, crafts, and second Lafayette Super Hero Trivia Throwdown. Register by 5 p.m. May 8.
    Comic Book Night 6:30-8 p.m. Tuesday, May 6, Pleasant Hill Library, 1750 Oak Park Blvd., Pleasant Hill. 925-646-6434. Kids ages 5-11 can come in costume to celebrate their favorite funnies or superheroes and make their own comics at family event.