This article was originally published on February 15, 2017 at ComicBook.Com.
The foundation of ComicBook.Com is comics. While we love to cover all aspects of pop and geek culture, our roots lie in the comics community and the plethora of characters and stories that have sprung from it. If you speak with anyone in the comics community about what has made the medium successful in North America, you’ll quickly discover one answer that stands far above the rest: local comics stores. They are the bedrock of comics in the United States and Canada, supporting fans, communities, and conventions with open doors and a dedicated staff.
This year on ComicBook.Com we are highlighting this important aspect of comics and culture by taking a look at one local comic store each week. These are stores that embody what it means to support culture and community. We hope you can visit some of them throughout 2017.
Comics is not an industry filled with overnight success stories. Almost every big name in the business, from creators to stores, is built on a long history that finally led to a break. That doesn’t mean there are no exceptions though. Sometimes a talent or idea is to great to go unrecognized for long. That’s the case with All Star Comics in Melbourne, Australia. After only 6 years in business the store has already been recognized with an Eisner Award and international attention for their great work. While All Star Comics could be seen as a quick success, that shouldn’t undermine the loads of hard work they’ve done and continue to do.
When co-owners Troy and Mitch set out to open their store in 2011 they recognized that simply having comics to sell would not be enough. There is a massive cost to obtaining comics in Australia since most have to be shipped from the United States. That means bigger prices for customers and more incentives to go digital. “You need to be able to offer your customers an experience they can’t get online” says Mitch. In Australia there’s nothing you can provide customers that they can’t get cheaper from a website with the click of a button after all.
Mitch says, “We had to make All Star a place people wanted to visit.” The co-owners shared experience in comics retail made it clear there was a thriving scene of comics readers and collectors in the city of Melbourne, but there were also several other shops already. All Star Comics would have to be exceptional in order to succeed. The key to success was something much bigger than comics. “Our hope was to become hub for that activity, helping to build and grow the reach of that community of both new and old fans alike” says Mitch.
The difference at All Star Comics is clear when you walk in the door. It is a store designed to welcome and provide customers a space to explore and spread out. Rather than filling it with as much merchandise as possible, All Star Comics is selective with how it fills areas of the store and prioritizes customer experience. Mitch says “Our customers comfort while shopping with us has always been paramount and giving them the space to feel like they won’t knock something over is very important.” Rather than rushing in to find a book and feeling the urge to leave, All Star customers are invited to hang out and enjoy their surroundings.
That invitation doesn’t begin at the door either. All Star Comics also makes sure to stay involved with its community, both the people of Melbourne who already read comics and those who still need to discover them. Part of that can be found in an active social media presence. Customers can easily stay in the know even when they’re not in the store. There’s also a regular schedule of events to provide unique experiences and opportunities that the Melbourne comics community can’t find elsewhere. It’s not a competition, All Star Comics is purely interested in offering new opportunities and experiences to their customers.
Perhaps the best example of All Star Comics’ community building comes not from the owners, but one of their staff, Cazz, and two customers, Soph and Naja. Together they created and organized the All Star Women’s Comic Book Club (ASWCBC). It quickly became one of the biggest comic book clubs for women in the world and has inspired an array of similar clubs throughout Australia. Mitch says the ASWCBC was formed with the goal of “inviting women readers to spaces they would feel comfortable in sharing their love for comics with other female fans.” It was so successful that it led to a 2-day event called the Women in Comics Festival, meant to showcase creators, teach aspiring artists about the craft, and highlight a rare international creator visit with Hope Larson. The staff at All Star Comics were incredibly proud to host the event and continue hosting the ASWCBC.
That club along with the open, friendly environment of All Star Comics has already led to a shift in the customer base over only 6 years. Mitch says that the number of women reading comics from the store has grown considerably, and the pattern shows no signs of changing. He has noticed other changes as well, like an increase in trade readers as opposed to those who like monthly pamphlets. “The market seems to be in a state of flux” Mitch says. All Star Comics is paying close attention to their customers to ensure that all of their needs are met.
All of that hard work and attention to customers paid off for All Star Comics in a big way when just after 4 years they won the Eisner Spirit of Retail Award. It’s the highest commendation for comic book stores and celebrates shops who do an outstanding job of supporting comics at large and in their communities. Looking at the accomplishments of All Star, it’s no surprise they won it.
Troy, Mitch, and their staff aren’t resting on their laurels though. Each day offers new challenges and the changes in the comics market mean they have new customers and new ideas to share. The heart of their idea remains the same though. Mitch and Troy believe that comics stores are built on the communities in which they exist and with readers who love comics or still waiting to discover their love. “They already exist and are looking for places to foster them, just reach out and make yourself known to these groups and invite them to your space” Mitch says.
Name: All Star Comics
Address: 53 Queen Street
Melbourne, VIC 3000 Australia
Phone: 61 3 8614 3700
Website: All Star Comics
Facebook: All Star Comics