CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – The comic book industry, like so many others around the world, has felt the impact of the coronavirus. The Pandemic has made this last year difficult for every aspect of the industry, including comic book shop owners, event coordinators, and even the creators themselves.
Comic books have maintained their popularity for decades by offering fans a fun escape from their everyday lives with fantastic tales of heroes taking on their villains and overcoming any adversity thrown at them. But last year, that adversity made its way into real life in the form of the global coronavirus outbreak.
“2020 was definitely an interesting year,” says Mike Campbell, owner of the Charleston comic shop ‘Captain’s Comics and Toys. He says his store survived the mandatory shutdown of non-essential businesses by working around the need for a physical storefront.
“We went mobile, we went delivery, we did a lot of online stuff through Facebook and Instagram, but the idea was to still stay connected with our fans,” Campbell continued, and he said that fan connectivity proved successful with customers adapting to the changes the comic shop had to make in order to maintain health and safety guidelines.
Just when Mike Campbell and his employees adjusted to the COVID-19 restrictions, they ran into another issue, one they shared with other comic shops around the globe, “All the major publishers stopped printing new books. We did not get books for March, April, May, or June. In July and August we got about half of the product that we normally would, but overall for 2020 we got about 25% less new material than we normally would,” said Campbell describing that additional hurdle.
“We call it in the industry ‘pencils down'” said Gregbo Watson, a South Carolina comic book artist and creator who lives in Easley. Watson has worked with companies such as Marvel, DC, and CineScope. Watson said, once the pandemic hit, the industry came to a screeching halt, and the wheels of creation grinded to a stop.
“A pencils down order went out across all the major publishers and everything so basically all the penciling, inking, coloring jobs, they dried up,” continued Watson. He said many people in the comic book industry thought their time in the comic-making world was over. Watson said, “No comics were going out and it was really kind of scary there in the beginning to be honest with you.”
While the situation seemed hopeless, some artists including Watson himself found an alternate way to put their artistic talents to use. “During that time I was really worried, but then all of a sudden people from all over the world started picking up commissions so I was able to stay here in my studio, safe,” described Watson, and he continued by saying the work he did which began out of necessity turned into a new found passion, “I really like dealing directly with the fans. That’s always a lot of fun because that’s kind of like immediate gratification for me as an artist.”
While Gregbo Watson’s engagement with the fans has grown since the start of the pandemic, there is one aspect to the comic book community he misses most of all, “All the cons, all the comic cons they got closed down over the past year, missed seeing all of my colleagues and friends from the comic con circuit,” and lucky for Watson, and all comic book fans across the Lowcountry, the wait for the return of comic cons is over.
“The 13th annual Captain’s Comic Expo is Charleston’s biggest comic book event,” said Mike Campbell who is also the event coordinator for Charleston’s annual comic con, ‘Captain’s Comic Expo’. While this year will be the first for the Expo in a COVID-19 world since the mandatory shut-downs in response to the coronavirus outbreak went into effect after last year’s con, Campbell says they are well prepared to hold this year’s con, well within the parameters set by COVID-19 safety guidelines.
“One of the big things with hosting any event this year is making sure that you are doing it safely,” said Campbell, adding that wearing a mask will be mandatory upon entering the event space, on top of offering temperature checks at the door, and being mindful of capacity. “We’re actually at a lower capacity than the city and state requires so we want to make sure we’re being extra cautious on overflowing with any event with people,” described Campbell.
With strict COVID-19 safety protocols in place, Captain’s Comic Expo is ready to kick-off, representing the healing of the close knit community of all those with a love for comic books across the Lowcountry. The comic con begins Saturday, February 20th and goes until Sunday, February 21st.