2019’s Free Comic Book Day on May 4 marked the return of comic book shops to downtown Savannah with the opening of Neighborhood Comics and Odin and Sons. It was a chance to fill the void left when Savannah Comics closed its location at Liberty and Bull streets in early 2014. Now everyone from art students, die-hard fans, and curious newcomers could get their favorite comics and explore new titles in person.
Of course, there were doubters that Savannah could support two new comic book shops. Those doubts seemed to be laid to rest as both stores planned their one-year anniversary celebrations earlier this year.
Lee Heidel, the owner of Neighborhood Comics, said everything was lining up for a great party. “We had started putting everything together for an anniversary weekend, and then it spilled over into a week. And we ended up having really interesting comic book creators that were booked to come into town, podcasters, and music artists. We had a really interesting, fun four days put together.”
Odin and Sons even expanded in mid-March with a store completely dedicated to board games, clothes, and other collectibles called Nerdheim. But as they watched the cases of COVID-19 spread across the United States, Neighborhood Comics and Odin and Sons realized they needed to adjust quickly.
“I’ve owned cafes, I’ve had gift shops, and running a comic shop is the hardest business,” said co-owner of Odin and Sons, Logan McDonald. “After a few weeks, your product is obsolete.”
By late March, it was apparent the comic shops would have to temporarily close like so many other stores in Chatham County. Initially, the comic shops were offering curbside pickup and shipping. “We were even offering local delivery,” said McDonald. “At the same time, we had our regulars who were concerned.”
Neighborhood Comics saw a similar trend. “The initial outpouring of support from our regulars was huge,” said Heidel. Many of their customers were ordering big-ticket items, finishing off collections, and starting new ones in a bid to keep their favorite shops in business.
“We had always talked about getting the website up and doing shipping,” said Thomas Fox, another co-owner of Odin and Sons. “Essentially, it just lit a fire.”
Nerdheim.com launched in April. Fox said, so far, it’s mostly been locals using it. “We had regulars who said, ‘This is bad. I’m going to buy a bunch of stuff I’ve had my eye on.’ “It really helped us out.”
Heidel saw an unexpected growth in clientele through Neighborhood Comics’ website. “Our shop really thrives on a weekly customer interaction basis. We get to know our customers well,” he said. “We know what books they like. We make recommendations based on that. We know they’re families. It really has become an extended family for the store.” But the orders from the website were coming in from all over the U.S.
After asking a few of the people ordering, he found out why: “Even though they had never set foot in the shop, they felt like they knew our clerks from social media posts and felt like they had a connection to the store.”
McDonald agreed that social media is an essential part of the comic shop business even without a pandemic.
As of now, business is cautiously returning to normal. Marvel is releasing two free comics in July that had been planned for this year’s Free Comic Book Day: “X-Men” on July 15 and “Spider-Man” on the July 22.
While Free Comic Book Day as most people know it has been postponed, McDonald hopes these two free comic days will give other comic publishers and distributors an idea of what to expect.
“Free Comic Book Day is the biggest event on the national comic store calendar,” said Heidel. “[The free comics] are really meant to bring new readers into comic stores, as well as get experienced readers excited.”
“It won’t be anything like regular free comic book day,” said Fox. “I’m glad Marvel is doing something, and I’m sure Image and DC will follow suit.”
Both Neighborhood Comics and Odin and Sons are planning to make those days special with giveaways and deals.
“At the very least, I’m happy some people will get some free stuff, especially if they lost their job, and they haven’t had as much money,” Fox said.
In spite of the pandemic, there’s a new hope in downtown Savannah’s comic shops.
“We’re going through a pandemic still strong,” McDonald said. “I think that shows how strong this community has grown.”