Hamilton's Big B Comics has a not-so-secret mission — helping students gain literacy superpower, one free comic book at a time.

From now until March break, Hamilton students can bring their official report cards to Big B's flagship location on Upper James Street and they can pick up a free comic book from the store's back catalogue for every subject in which they receive an A grade.

'How many little boys want to pick up Pride and Prejudice? But put it in a comic book, it's completely different.' - Nicole Cartwright, assistant manager of Big B Comics

Dubbed as Free Comics For As with a catchphrase: “Literacy is the superpower that helps kids succeed,” the program is open to students from junior kindergarten to grade 12.

Comic books are not all about burst balloons with “KA-BANG!” in bold comic sans. With engaging graphics and rich storylines, they can be a great literacy source, said Nicole Cartwright, assistant manager of Big B.

“For so many kids, especially young boys who don't enjoy reading, comics are a great way to learn how to love reading,” she said. “Once you get that love of reading, education comes a lot easier.”

For example, the Resistance trilogy by Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis, which follows the lives of the Tessier siblings as they fight for freedom in German-occupied France during WWII, can be a powerful history lesson, Cartwright said.

“There is so much history hidden in that comic that kids don't realize what they are learning,” Cartwright said.

“A lot of kids think they don't like to read. They are just given the wrong material.”

Manga club in almost every school

Many classics, such as Jane Austen's work, are also available in comic forms.

“How many little boys want to pick up Pride and Prejudice? But put it in a comic book, it's completely different,” Cartwright said.

Schools are noticing the popularity of comic books too. Big B staff have been getting questions from librarians who want to broaden their library collections with graphic novels and manga, Cartwright added.

"Pretty much every high school in Hamilton has a manga club now," she said.

The Free Comics for As program, which has been running for several years, has been so popular that the store has expanded it to include free comics for students that have shown an improvement in their grades when they receive their final report cards in June.

And for the kids who have made a heroic effort but still shy of As?

"We'll find some reason to give them a free comic book," Cartwright said.