Leave it to Israelis to make a success of American-style comic books and snatch the “Oscar of Comics" award in San Diego.
Yuval Sharon and Danny Amital have worked their way from a tiny Tel Aviv comics book store to a downtown shop and a branch in Ra'anana, overcoming skeptics who thought that the Hebrew-speaking culture that accepts McDonalds would reject the style of American comics.
They proved themselves right by winning the 2011 Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award, considered the “Oscar of comics.”
The Spirit Award is given to a store that has "done an outstanding job of supporting the comics art medium in the community and within the industry at large." This was only the third time since 1993, when the award went annual, that the honor was bestowed on a store outside North America.
"One of the best things about the Spirit awards is that they check how much you contribute to your community. American stores are five or six times the size of our stores and have a bigger community of comics fans," says Sharon, who had been nominated in 2009 and 2010. "We've proven that you don't need to be in the US with a big store to win. We're the tiny store who could."
Sharon and Amital called their shop “Comics N' Vegetables” when they opened it up 10 years ago.
Sharon, who now is 37, says the “Conan the Barbarian #199” hooked him on comics. "A lot of people read comic books now. There's more exposure, it's more mainstream now," he adds. "People aren't embarrassed to say they are comic fans."
Things were different 25 years ago, when Sharon had to work all summer to be able to pay for a subscription to Marvel comics from the United States. He now counts some 8,000 comics in his collection.
After discovering he was not only native Israeli comic freak, Sharon joined forces with Amital and they expanded their business.
They also helped establish the Israeli Museum of Caricature and Comics in Holon, one of only 12 such museums in the world. Most recently, Sharon co-curated with comic-book artist Dorit Maya-Gur an exhibition titled "Heroes" featuring the work of Joe, Adam and Andy Kubert at the museum in Holon.
"For the first time, big American artists came and they were in my store for a signing," says Sharon enthusiastically. "An American comic artist doing an exhibit in Israel! I couldn't believe this was happening."
In 2010, Comics N'Vegetables founded Comics for Everyone, an association of Israeli comics creators who volunteer with disadvantaged children. Sharon's wife, illustrator Elite Avni Sharon, organizes the activities for the group, aimed at offering a better social environment through the comics medium.