Melbourne’s All Star Comics has the world’s attention having won the Spirit of Comics Retailer Award at the 26th annual Eisner Awards at San Diego Comic-Con. First opened by friends Mitch Davies and Troy Varker in February 2011, All Star Comics shares the award with Nebraska business Legend Comics & Coffee. However, news outlets have reported on the win by lavishing upon Mitch and Troy the honour of running the ‘world’s best comic shop’…
“It’s a pretty bizarre title,” Mitch laughs. “The feedback from customers has been wonderful though. We’ve been legitimately surprised at the amount of people that have been coming through the door saying ‘you’re those guys, the world’s best comic shop guys’.”
“We actually found out on Batman Day.” Troy adds. “We did a Batman birthday event and got a call from our friend who was at the Eisner’s. It was quite surreal. As for the ‘world’s best comic shop’ thing, we take it with a grain of salt.”
“Our regular customers are happy for us, which is great, because the shop belongs to them.” Mitch says. “It’s not about us, it’s about the comic reading community.
Focusing on the customers as readers has been a key element of the store’s success. With so many franchise bookstores having fallen over in recent years- even when selling as much coffee and merchandise as books- opening a comic shop in 2011 could have been viewed as madness.
“We weren’t particularly schooled in the ways of business,” Mitch explains. “But we had worked in another store for 11 years. We had an idea of what could work in a place of our own. Then there was a closure of a Melbourne shop and then the New 52 titles were kicking off. Timing was very fortunate for us. And we didn’t want to get bogged down in selling related merchandise, but have a general increase in graphic novels and trade paperbacks on offer. When we first started thinking about the layout, we wanted as much space on one wall for new issues. The biggest showcase we could muster.”
When the elevator doors open and a customer steps into All Star Comics the showcase wall is one of the defining features of the shop, with prime shelf space for Australian comics. In fact, the shop has become renowned for its selection of local stock.
“It was such a simple choice to showcase local stock in prominent spots,” Mitch explains. “There’s a genuine interest in locally produced books. That’s not to say that other stores aren’t stocking local books. It’s more the case that we’re in a position to showcase the books, host local launches, in-store signings and meet-and-greets.”
All Star Comics offers a range of platforms for readers to connect with books, including live podcast recordings with The Radioactive Lounge and the All Star Women’s Comic Book Club.
“Yeah, it is about the comic reading community,” Troy points out. “We were sick of the generalisation made about people that read comics. We’ve been doing this for long enough to know that the stereotypes aren’t actually true. I think we wanted to build that sense of community in the store, a hub for comic readers. We didn’t want to just run a shop. Anybody can do that.”
While All Star Comics continues to innovate the comic shop business model, the Spirit of Comics Retailer Award is not one that can be secured by a previous winner. Once won, it cannot be won again.
“It’s quite funny,” Troy reflects. “When we were first nominated last year, the criteria seemed to be a lot of what we were already doing; working with schools, libraries, Free Comic Book Day. The recognition of the work has been cool but it’s made us want to strive for bigger and better things.”
“There are so many ideas we haven’t gotten to yet,” Mitch agrees. “In no way can we take a break or ease off. What we did with the women’s reading group we’d like to do for other demographics like kids or artists. We’re always keen to support local product and the comic reading community. We’re not satisfied with just being called the world’s best comic shop. We still want to be a better store.” Mitch laughs at his admission.
“And winning the Eisner wont stop us.”
All Star Comics is located at 410 Lonsdale Street, Level 1, Melbourne.
Phone (03) 9642 0071