Must-visit comic book stores to channel your inner nerd
These shops have all been named the best of the best by Comic-Con International.
There's nothing like entering a book store and seeing rows and rows of comics lining the walls. The anticipation of tracking down whatever it is you're in search of, or discovering something you didn't even know you were looking for, is one of the life's great pleasures. But with the onset of the digital age, many shops have shuttered, and much of the industry has gone online. The good news is there's still some brick-and-mortar stores standing, and as you'll see below, they're no slouches.
Each year Comic-Con International, an entertainment and comic convention held in San Diego, names the retailer who wins the Will Eisner Award. Named after the pioneering illustrator, the award is considered the comic book equivalent to the Best Film prize at the Oscars, and recognizes the retailer who has "done an outstanding job of supporting the comics medium both in the industry at large and in their local community." We've compiled a list of six recent award-winning, can't-miss comic book stores.
Packrat Comics, Hilliard, Ohio
This year's winner, Packrat Comics, certainly qualifies as a comic book store in continuous dialogue with its community. “We realized that being a good retailer and being a good citizen in the community required us to reach beyond our doors,” co-owner Teresa Colegrove said after winning the Will Eisner Award earlier this year. Indeed, they take great pride in that fact, holding a variety of events throughout the year that aim to spread their mission of perpetuating comic book culture.
But it's equally important to cultivate a top-notch customer experience, and they've earned a reputation for great service and a wide selection of new and old comics, graphic novels, T-shirts and action figures.
Comics N Vegetables, Tel Aviv, Israel
Yuval Sharon and Danny Amitai originally started their store as an online-only enterprise, but after a few years realized the customer base in Israel was big enough to open a shop at the center of Tel Aviv. Today it's known more than anything for being big on customer service. "My motto is to never say 'No,'" Sharon told From The Grapevine during a recent visit to the store.
No matter which comic book a customer is seeking, the store is always determined to help them find it. Sharon and Amitai can happily track down even the most obscure title. This customer-first approach has proven successful: Just a few years after opening the Tel Aviv shop they opened a second shop in a nearby town.
All Star Comics, Melbourne, Australia
Troy Varker and Mitchell Davies realized a dream of theirs when they opened All Star Comics together. Now that the dream is a reality, so is the shop's success. Brisk sales have allowed them to bring on three full-time employees – no small feat for a comic book retailer.
All Star Comics has also made a concerted effort to offer its services to those beyond Melbourne, posting a shipping list online each week. Perhaps most impressive has been their dogged determination to combat the male-dominated comic book culture, by launching a women’s comic book club.
Challengers Comics + Conversation, Chicago, Illinois
With a combined 42 years of comic book retail experience, owners Patrick Brower and W. Dal Bush certainly know what they're doing. The two industry veterans have built upon their experience to create something of a comic book-selling machine, with a vast, well-stocked store replete with a large, knowledgeable staff complemented by an engaging online presence. Indeed, comic book fans can go to their site and discuss the newest releases or listen to one of the more than 200 podcasts that Brower and Bush have recorded together since 2013. Brower even writes a commentary each week on the store's new releases and posts it on the store's website.
The Dragon, Guelph, Ontario, Canada
Of the 29 Will Eisner Award winners to come before 2012, not a single one was fully owned and operated by a woman. The Dragon changed all that when it won.
The owner in question, Jennifer Haines, has quite the operation going. With roughly 10,000 titles available, customers are able to browse among sections dedicated to Manga, self-published comics, romance and non-fiction. Haines also makes a point to engage with the community, offering workshops and free consultations to local schools on how to incorporate graphic novels into their curriculums.
Vault of Midnight; Ann Arbor, Michigan
Vault of Midnight offers a diverse selection of comic book paraphernalia, including these comic book pins. (Photo: Steven Depolo/Flickr)
Vault of Midnight had the honor of being the first Will Eisner Award winner of the new decade, and it's hard to argue with the decision. The store sells a wide variety of comic books – old, new, rare, common, expensive and inexpensive – graphic novels, board games, vinyl toy figures and whole lot of other stuff. They've also been able to weather downturns that put lesser establishments out of business, with co-owner Curtis Sullivan having stated the store has "never had a down year” during its nearly two decades in business.
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