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When the doors open for Free Comic Book Day publishers and purveyors of tales of fantastic heroes and nefarious villains will court new readers who are making time for and spending money on comics printed on paper.

The annual event, being held Saturday, has grown in stature from a few stores to some 2,000 worldwide.

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Retailers say the turnout and scope of the event, which began in 2002, is giving them and the industry a chance to tout their success by giving away 4.6 million comic books featuring everything from Superman to the zombies of "The Walking Dead" to Gilbert Hernandez's "Marble Season."

Joe Field began the event held the first Saturday in May. He calls it an opportunity for first-time and long-time readers to experience the atmosphere of comic shops, be among like-minded fans and friends and share in the pop culture origins of heroes and villains that have become television and movie staples.

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