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Steve Howe greeted a customer at his new comic shop last week, where Seidr’s Den opened in a former gas station on North Center Street in Casper.

“Feel free to take a look around,” Howe said on the shop’s third day open. “If you have any questions let me know.”

He and his staff give the customers their space to browse. But if they want, customers could find themselves deep in conversation about comics or games.

“This is the most rewarding business I’ve ever owned,” Howe said, “because this is also a dream that’s come to fruition after almost 30 years.”

Howe has wanted to own his own comic shop since he was 14. He opened Seidr’s Den last year in a smaller space shared with his other business, Norse Vapor, a few blocks south. Then he discovered demand during the Casper Comic Con in June, he said. So he expanded the shop into the 2,200 square foot space, which offered plenty of parking in a friendly location. He’s even making use of some of the former gas station’s coolers to stock cold beverages, he said. The shop’s grand opening is Sunday.

Since he was a kid, Howe has spent time in comic shops whenever he could. He’d talk with owners or managers about comic books and storylines, he said.

“I always wanted to be that guy behind the counter and be able to share that information with others,” he said. “And now I have it. And it is the single most rewarding thing I’ve done in my life that isn’t being a father.”

Building community

In the first hour of Casper’s first comic-con, the Seidr’s Den booth sales exceeded what Howe expected for the weekend, he said.

“Comic Con was the reason that we decided to move Seidr’s from inside of our other business to here, is they had almost six times more visitors than they expected and we did 300 percent more in sales than we expected to do,” he said.

It was a “wild awakening” about the demand for comics in Casper, he said. Most of the customers were locals who said they buy their comics in Denver but would shop in town first, he said.

“I didn’t realize how many people were true comic book fans here in town,” he said, “because comic books are always that subculture of kind of hidden geekiness where no one really talks about it. And so to find out that there were so many people in so many walks of life that were comic book fans that will purchase every week if you have what they want really got us excited and moving towards that.”

Seidr’s Den is the only new-issue comic store in town, and Howe plans to grow the back-issue stock to 10,000 by November, he said. But the store is about more than the shelves of comics, games and collectibles, he said.

“I mean, yes, money will come to the store,” Howe said. “But it is more important to build a community together and to have fun together than it is anything else.”

That’s why the shop will host a slew of events, including a regular comic swap day for people to trade their comics with others, new comic book day every Wednesday and a Halloween Comic Fest on Oct. 26 featuring free comic books and a costume contest for children and adults, he said. Weekly Monday Movie Madness features a free 5 p.m. movie in the shop followed by a Magic: The Gathering tournament. Anyone who correctly guesses the movie title based on a weekly clue posted in the shop’s Facebook page will receive store discounts, he said. The shop also will host game tournaments for Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Dungeons & Dragons and Warhammer.

“Plus, people can come in and they can meet other people to run their own campaigns, whether in store or privately, so that they are building that community,” Howe said. “They are getting what they’re looking for out of, you know, the geek culture.”

The staff, who Howe has decided to call “den keepers,” add their own expertise. Howe’s son and co-owner of the shop, Christian, takes care of the game side. He’s been an avid gamer since Howe introduced him to Magic many years ago and enjoys comics.

“We’re able to both have our parts of the store and touch each other’s worlds in terms of crossing over games to comics and vice versa,” Howe said. “And we’re able to build a dual-layered community which in larger cities is quite common to have.”

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The name of the shop comes from the Norse word for magic, Howe said.

“More specifically, it’s the Norse word for love magic,” he said. “And we do love Magic here, so it kind of fits.”

Store manager Zach Reiser has been a comic fan for the past decade and finally has a chance for his ultimate goal “to get paid to be a nerd,” he said. He’s happier than he’s ever been helping build the comic shop or game store he’s always wanted in town.

He stays current with comic news and releases, and he’ll talk any comic topic that anyone wants to discuss. He pointed out some prized issues displayed behind the counter, including the last Steve Ditko “Spider-Man” cover and the rare “Fantastic Four” No. 26, “The Avengers Take Over,” which was among the first Marvel crossovers and featured the first reference of Aunt Petunia, he said. Some others in stock include a story of Captain America giving up on being a superhero and an issue with the second appearance of Kraven the Hunter, who was responsible for the second-worst experience of Spider-Man’s life when he shot buried the super hero alive, he said.

Reiser discovered his love for comics as a teen in Casper, where there was no comic shop for most of that time, he said.

“We’re mainly just trying to build a community,” he said. “Just a bunch of people who have a passion for comics and people who lack a place to continue their passions — not just a place that sells comic books but a place that loves comic books, basically.”

Growing up with comics

Howe’s parents didn’t think much of comics and wouldn’t buy them. So he mowed lawns, babysat and washed cars to read them. Comics and the culture around them have been a major part of Howe’s life since his formative years, he said. The many hit comic hero movies show how far their influence has spread through pop culture, he said.

“And that’s everybody from my generation making those because of how important comics were to our childhoods during the ‘80s and ‘90s,” he said.

Popularity of comic books had declined for years, Howe said, until “Iron Man” and other comic-based films since have brought in new fans, Howe said. He estimates most comic fans under 30 started with the recent Marvel movies.

Robert Stover came into the shop last week and bought some “Deadpool” and “Spider-Man” issues after he spotted the new shop on Facebook. He liked the movies while growing up and recently started getting into the comics, he said. His daughter is learning to read, and he’s introducing her to comics.

“The Spider-Man I can read with her, so that’s cool,” Stover said.

Howe has been influenced personally by stories like “Uncanny X-Men,” with characters from different walks of life and countries that banded together against oppression, he said.

“Basically the story of X-Men started as an alternate reality vision of 1960s America, so stopping discrimination and stopping sexism,” he said, “and that truly influenced me in being a very accepting individual regardless of race, gender, identity, religion, any of that.”

Howe recalled a defining moment as a collector at about age 14 when he picked up the first “Foolkiller” issue, which sparked a lifelong love of the character and an interest in the non-super power and anti-hero side of comics. He sees his shop as a place where comic and game fans of all ages can stumble upon such discoveries, find things they’re hunting for and spend time around others with common interests, he said.

Parents can add money to kids’ accounts at the store so they can choose what they want on their own. Store staff will make sure they only receive age-appropriate products unless they have parent approval, Howe said. Children under 18 weren’t able to browse the previous comic selections inside the vapor shop without parental supervision.

Howe would always make his way to comic shops as the family moved around the country with his father’s military career, and he has even visited some overseas. Now he continues to share his love for comics.

“The stores that I love going into are the ones where the people who work there will interact with you versus just checking you out when you’re done,” he said. “So I really wanted to bring what I loved about comic stores I visit into Casper.”

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Star-Tribune reporter Elysia Conner covers arts, culture and the Casper community.

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