Winning an Eisner Award is the highest honour in the international comics business. There is no greater accolade, and Lonsdale Street’s All Star Comics (also nominated in 2013) has jointly won the Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award. In two decades it’s only the second time an Australian shop has won.
All Star Comics, on the first floor of a repurposed office space, is a comic and graphic novel emporium by two veteran retailers, Troy Varker and Mitchell Davies.
Varker and Davies opened All Star in February 2011 after previously working together at another long-standing comics retailer in Melbourne. “We always wanted the store to be a space that was welcoming to anybody, not just comic fans,” says Davies. All Star’s point of difference is making effort where other comics stores don’t. “It was a bit of a no-brainer to get local artists’ books in and pay for them up front, rather than sale-and-return or consignment,” Varker says. “That was different and the creators appreciate it. It’s up to us to spotlight [local releases] and bring people’s attention to them.”
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After years of daydreaming the finer points Varker and Davies advertised All Star strategically, handing out flyers at events and conventions, and getting involved with comics podcasts. “We were the first store in Melbourne to embrace social media in any way, and people really responded to that,” Davies says. All Star posts its shipping list online each week and special orders and pull lists can be managed through facebook.
The efforts have paid off; the volume of air-freighted shipments of books and periodicals has grown to almost a shipping pallet per week. All Star currently employs three full-time staff members and two casual workers. “It’s nice for them to have left jobs that they didn't particularly enjoy to come here and really enjoy what they’re doing,” Varker says. “That’s very satisfying.”
Varker explains the big difference between specialty comics and traditional book retailing is the level of interaction between staff and customers. “Because of the serial aspect of comics, people enjoy discussing what is happening each week or month. The biggest part of being a good retailer is engaging the customer. If you don’t like talking to people, don’t work in retail.”
Davies points to the core attraction for visiting a physical store. “Our customers are looking for a place to engage with their hobby – they already feel part of a community, and we are giving a space to that.”
Recognising that the comics retail space is often male-dominated, All Star has made efforts to combat the tendency to exclude women readers, manifesting in the All Star Women’s comic book club. “It was an idea we had early on but couldn’t execute until we had a woman on staff,” says Varker. “Cazz [Jennings] naturally wanted to talk about comics with other women in a social setting. It was great giving her a project straight away, and we’ve had overwhelming support from both women and men.”
Regarding the Eisner win, Varker attributes it to their mission statement. “We want to do all the things that online can’t offer – community, engaging customers, letting people look through books and make recommendations, and that’s probably why it’s going well.”
All Star Comics Melbourne
Level 1, 410 Lonsdale Street
(03) 9642 0071
Wed to Fri 10am–7pm
Sat & Sun 11am–5pm