Santa Monica comic book shop hosts free comic book day

There is still one group of people for whom community goes beyond reddit discussions and blog comments and other forms of social media. A group of people who, in a world that pushes further towards the digitization of everything, value the physical copy of their medium that connects them to their past.

Last Saturday was free comic book day across the nation and local collectors gathered at Hi De Ho comic book shop in Santa Monica to gain new chapters of some their favorite comics for free.

Since 2002, comic book shops have been giving away special editions of popular comics on the first Saturday in May.

For Hi De Ho part owner Saleen Aaron, free comic book day is one of his favorite days on the calendar.

On this particular day, he quickly rings up customers who's totals are zero dollars and zero cents for books sold to him by major distributors as a loss-lead.

Never once does anything near a frown even cross his face.

For Aaron, the staying power of the comic book comes from the ability to transport the reader, for a short period of time, beyond themselves.

"It's the art and the fantasy of escaping away and watching people do things that normal people can't do," said Aaron. Even as other forms of print media are hanging on by a thread that is thinner than their profit margin, comic books, as an industry, has grown.

According to ComicChron, the research center for the sale and collecting of comic books, industry revenues grew at an average of 8.25 percent over three years and 9.04 percent in 2013.

For people like Brian Grady, who works as a program assistant at the Nicholl Fellowship at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science and a self described "fanboy," the physical copy of a comic book is an integral part of the experience of reading comics.

"Owning art and holding it, it was drawn, it was conceived from someone's inner creativity and reproduced, it's a beautiful thing," said Grady. "It has to continue. If that doesn't continue then what is there."

The communal spirit of these unlikely Luddites shined through on this spring Saturday. Even as free comic book day drew hundreds of people to his store, Aaron recognized familiar faces, treating regular customers like old friends.

Outside the store, a 45 minute discussion broke out between four strangers which included Grady and a young man named Kyrian Perry who's homemade Wolverine shirt fooled many into thinking that it was the latest design from the Marvel franchise.

Mere minutes before, the group, did not know each other from Cain yet there they were coming to an agreement that "Spiderman 3" was the worst movie of the "Ultimate Spiderman" trilogy. There seemed to be a connection that reached across generations in Hi De Ho on Saturday. A father played and read with his young children in the front corner of the store.

Middle school students and adults of all ages argued the merits of the Amazing Spiderman universe vs the Ultimate Spiderman universe.

For Perry, who brought along his father, there is a sense of nostalgia in, what the industry calls, the floppy copy of comics.

"Generations and generations have been going through it the same way," said Perry. "It's cool to be able to experience it the way our grandparents used to when they were kids."