Jon Gruau

Employee Nick Vitaly and long-time customer Mcneil Melvin discuss the famous horror manga “Spiral”.

Comic Envy owner Allison Jenkins enthusiastically prepares for her annual Free Comic Book Day in May, when throngs of cosplayers gather to celebrate comics and manga in all their forms.

“It’s really important that Free Comic Book Day also broadens the horizons of comics, putting other writers in the spotlight instead of the famous Marvel and DC ones,” Jenkins said. “It’s fun because people in the community who know what’s going on will go to all the stores in order and enjoy a little bit of the action.”

In business since 2008, Comic Envy operates from its downtown Asheville location to sell comic books and cultivate a love of all things nerdy. The smell of fresh paper and ink wafts through the air as avid fans browse the shelves, looking for the next story to capture their interest.

“I’ve been coming here since I moved to town, so about 12 years now,” said longtime Comic Envy visitor Mcneil Melvin. “It’s always been my favorite spot.”

A regular attendee of recent Free Comic Book Days, Mcneil commented on his excitement for the upcoming event in May.

“It’s a good springboard. You walk in and get a few free comics, but while you’re here you check out other things that you’ve probably never seen before and people you might not have met before,” Mcneil said. . “It opens your horizons for all sorts of things.”

The popularity of Western comics and Japanese manga has exploded in recent years, leading to many freelance writers finding their works on the shelves. Not everyone is on board with modern comics and manga, with some critics, like parents, objecting to the content of said media.

Despite an increase in lawsuits by parents of young children against the content of comics and manga, Jenkins said she believes in the importance of intellectual freedom.

“We’re not for banning books, and we actually order all the books that are threatened with banning,” Jenkins said. “We are trying to support libraries and schools, which are under more fire than retailers like us.”

Free Comic Book Day prides itself on being an event not only for customers, but also for staff. Jenkins and employees like Nick Vitaly, often cosplay during the event to the delight of visitors.

“It was excellent. I came dressed as Venom from Spider-Man, and it was a lot of fun,” Vitaly said, mentioning last year’s Free Comic Book Day. “The kids were thrilled too. ”

Jenkins and Vitaly expressed their love for young people’s interest in comic books, hoping that this year’s Free Comic Book Day would help attract more fans.

“I love what he does for young people in the region. It really brings them in, gives them a place of bright colors and smiling faces. A place to share those stories with their friends,” Vitaly said.

Comic Envy hasn’t allowed COVID to interrupt their annual comic book celebration, opting to take a more hands-on approach with the event in the past.

“During the first year of COVID, we handed out comic books on the sidewalk. We wanted friends and family to be safe and entertained,” Jenkins said.

Vitaly explained the importance of comics to young people, mentioning Comic Envy’s efforts to reach young fans.

“It’s very important for kids to be able to read things at the age where those lessons are critical to their growth and their support system, to how they see themselves,” Jenkins said. “A lot more indie books, even Marvel and DC, are getting into these issues that older generations didn’t have to deal with.”

Comic Envy maintains a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere with employees who are happy to chat with customers out of passion for their craft.

“We’re a first-to-read store, and what comes first is getting people to read these stories,” Vitaly said.

Returning the first Saturday in May, Downtown Asheville’s Comic Envy plans to make this year’s Free Comic Book Day the best it can be. With a total of five free comics per person, visitors are sure to find something new and exciting to read.

“Wherever you are, if you love comic books, go to a local store because Free Comic Book Day is happening everywhere, not just in Asheville,” Jenkins said.