Welcome to With Great Chutzpah Comes Great Responsibility, your every other week dose of Jews and comics.
I miss Jerusalem so much. I miss the Kotel; I miss the Shuk; I miss the noise; I miss the smells; I miss Friday dinners; I miss the connection I felt to everything; I miss Galia; I miss Chana; I miss Naama, I miss Eli; I miss all my friends. That said, I do not miss never having new comics. That’s because, in Israel’s capital, there is not a single comic shop. In fact, there are hardly any comics at all. You can find a few scattered overpriced comics in bookstores. And by a few, I mean a few, actually about two comics… in all of Jerusalem. That is why I am so excited to spotlight the Israeli comic shop, Comics N’ Vegetables!
Founded in 2001 by Yuval Sharon and Danny Amitai, Comics N’ Vegetables began as an internet subscription service. Yuval and Danny were a pair of average fanboys who recognized how comic-deprived Israel was and decided to do something about it. After attaining success with the subscription service, they opened a brick and mortar store in Tel Aviv in 2005. One year later, they moved to their current location- 40 King George St, right by Dizengoff Center (a huge Tel Avivian fancy mall). This was such a success that the geek heroes opened their second shop in Ra’nanna in 2009. But it doesn’t end there: these dudes hope to help spread geekdom throughout the country with more stores and more comic awesomeness!
These cats are so cool- after three consecutive nominations, they won the 2011 Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award , which is given to a store that has “done an outstanding job of supporting the comic art medium in the community and within the industry at large”.
Their shop has it all, baby- action figures, trade paperbacks, back issues, shirts and hundreds of new releases. Their most popular titles come from Marvel, DC and Image, but they also carry a great selection of local Israeli titles, including the popular Falafelman by Dorit Maya-Gur (a graduate of the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art).
In their quest to spread comic goodness throughout the land, they created Comics For Everyone. The non-profit organization teams with local comic creators to visit disadvantaged children and teach them how to draw.
But wait a second, what the heck does “N’ Vegatables” mean? N’ Vegetables is an Israeli slang term which they add to the end of a subject to say you can add almost anything else to it, essentially “Etc.”
I recently had the chance to interview co-owner Danny Amitai about the shop and comic culture in Israel. Here we go, baby.
What have been your greatest struggles in bringing comics to the Israeli market?
This is easy- people thought that comics are for kids. That they are funny and stupid. We basically had to show them how wrong they are. We introduced Alan Moore, Garth Ennis, Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis, etc. to them and little by little people started to look at comics differently and saw it has a medium that got a lot to offer for everybody.
What advice would you give to others trying to start their own comic shop in a place that you wouldn’t expect one to be?
Check the place before you open a store. Open a stand for a few weeks and see how it goes. Open a Facebook page and try to get people to know you before opening the store. You can even go out and give away free comics and see the crowd reaction.
What do comics add to Israeli society?
Not much. It is still too small around here to make a difference.
When I lived in Jerusalem, I felt there wasn’t an active geek culture. Now, granted I have found Tel Aviv enjoys doing the opposite of everything Jerusalem likes, what is the geek culture like in Tel Aviv?
Basically, It is great. Hundreds came to the FCBD event we had at the store. Every day, all day, people are coming to the store to talk about comics and just hang around people who like comics. In the recent geek convention, more than a thousand geeks arrived, most of them wore costumes; atmosphere was really special and fun.
What is your clientele like? What are the demographics? Male vs female? Age?
75% males, ages 17-32, from all over Israel.
Has digital comics influenced your sales?
Yes, it helped a little. People see and read something on the iPad and come to buy it at the store.
How have movies impacted your sales?
Helped a lot! It all started with Spider-Man 1 (2002); people really enjoyed the movie and wanted to see where and what Spider-Man is. So they came to our store and picked a Spider-Man comics. Some of them became regulars. A very good example is Guardians of the Galaxy: Nobody around here really knew or cared who those Guardians are, but after the movie we are selling Guardians books more than Batman- it is crazy.
What makes the Israeli comic community unique?
Nothing really (sorry).
Why did it take so long to get a comic shop in Israel?
I think it is because of the internet. Opening an account at Diamond Comics took us an hour, and it is very easy to place an order. We opened a web site and posted reviews and articles to help people decide what to buy and where to begin. And… the movies combined with FCBD really helped!
Be honest, Marvel or DC?
IMAGE!!!!! (and then DC.)
There are many graphic novelists who have written about Israel, especially the conflict. What comic would you recommend to someone who wants to learn about Israel?
This is a very hard question because each novelist had his [or her] own opinion on the conflict and you can see it in the novel. But I think that Jerusalem Chronicles by Guy Delisle and How to Understand Israel in 60 Days by Sarah Glidden gives a good point of view.
Be sure to check out Comics N’ Vegatables website here.
And since I know you want to see Falafel Man, here ya go…
P.S. Did I mention Joe Kubert and Adam Kubert did a signing at the store? (Nope, I didn’t.) How cool is that?