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HANFORD — With “Avengers: Infinity War” earning over $250 million at the box office over the weekend to clinch the biggest opening weekend ever, comic book fandom is at a fever pitch.

And there’s no better place to celebrate comics than your local comic book shop, especially on Free Comic Book Day.

The might-as-well-be-a-federal-holiday event started as the brainchild of columnist Joe Field and then-Image Comics publisher Jim Valentino as a way to raise awareness of the comic books that the emerging genre of blockbuster comic book films were based on.

The first Free Comic Book Day took place in May 2002 to coincide with the Sam Raimi classic “Spider-Man.”

This year’s event coincides with the record-breaking “Infinity War,” the culmination of almost 20 Marvel Studios films.

“'Black Panther’ is a prime example. Black Panther was a sort of obscure character, not like a Spider-Man or a Superman or Batman by any means. But when the movie came out, his comic sales at least tripled or sold four times as much as we would normally sell,” said Jason Weihert, owner of downtown Hanford’s DJ’s Collectible Shoppe.

The Free Comic Book Day event at DJ’s begins at 10 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. Saturday, with an after-party at the Hanford Fox, where the crown jewel of the “Star Wars” franchise, “The Empire Strikes Back,” is scheduled to be screened.

More than 50 different titles from Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and other independent publishers will be available for free during Free Comic Book Day, while supplies last.

Those titles span super-popular superhero titles like, “The Avengers” and a top-secret DC Comics book to quirky old-school favorites like “Tank Girl” and “The Tick” to kids’ fare like, “Pokemon,” “Invader Zim” and “Adventure Time.”

DJ’s will also have around 10,000 back issues available for $1 each.

“People might be here for several hours just going through all the dollar boxes,” Weihert said.

The shop will also be set up with booths for local artists who will be selling their own work.

And while movies like "Black Panther" can turn movie fans into comic fans, with decades of continuity, hundreds of titles and several publishing houses, finding a starting point can be tricky for newbies.

“That’s probably the biggest deterrent. People will say, ‘well this is issue 22, do you have one through 22?’ And nope. They come out once a month, so that goes back almost two years and that’s hard to keep in stock,” Weihert said. “Of course, that’s why the trade paperbacks are great, because they’ll put entire collections together in one book and that can catch you up on the monthly issues.”  

In June, Marvel is relaunching a number of their books with fresh creative teams and all-new story arcs. Several titles will be reset to issue No.1, which is a great place for casual fans to start or for fans who  have been out of the loop to step back into the comic world, Weihert said.

DJ’s plans to turn Free Comic Book Day into a full weekend, thanks to its proximity to a nerd holiday of a different sort — Friday is May the fourth. As in “May the fourth be with you.”

And if that reference is lost on you, you may be a scruffy-looking nerf herder. Or just not much of a "Star Wars" fan.

After the sale on Saturday, DJ’s will be hosting a private party at the Fox, where “The Empire Strikes Back” will be screened at 7 p.m. Tickets are available for $5 at the shop.

Hardcore fans can rest assured, it will be the original theatrical version and not the re-released version that mastermind George Lucas may or may not have ruined, depending on what fan you ask.

From 6-9 p.m. Friday night, actor and musician Stephen Costantino will appear at the shop for photos and to sign autographs.

Costantino appeared in “Return of the Jedi,” the third film of the “Star Wars” series as a Gamorrean guard, one of Jabba the Hutt’s henchmen.

For $15, Constantino will sign his CDs, comics and toys with his character’s likeness.

“I’m a ‘Star Wars’ person so, even if it’s an obscure character, it’s still amazing. It’s super awesome to have a character come around,” he said.

Weihert met Costantino through the 501st Legion, a world-wide “Star Wars” cosplaying group that regularly participates in pop-culture events and charitable functions, of which Weihert is a member.

Costumed members of the 501st Legion will be on-hand at DJ’s on Free Comic Book Day, as well as at the screening of “The Empire Strikes Back” at the Fox Theatre night.  They will also be hosting “The Return of the Blood Drive,” a “Star Wars”-themed blood drive scheduled for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Central California Blood Center, 4343 W. Herndon Ave., Fresno.

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