Yuval Sharon and Danny Amitai – the guys behind Comics N’ Vegetables – have won the ‘Oscar of the comics world.’
By Sarah Carnvek
Yuval Sharon had a dream to spread the comics culture throughout Israel. With his business partner, Danny Amitai, he opened a small Tel Aviv shop, Comics N’ Vegetables, selling comic books, graphic novels and related paraphernalia. That was in 2001. The Israeli world of comics was still in its infancy and many people were skeptical that in a Hebrew-speaking culture, an English-language tradition would succeed.
Danny Amitai and Yuval Sharon, owners of CNV (Photo: Courtesy of Comics N’Vegetables)
Fast forward to 2011. At the last Will Eisner Awards in San Diego (the Oscars of the comics world), Sharon and Amitai were chosen as the 2011 winners of the Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award. "I was stoked. I didn’t believe it," says Sharon. "It took me about an hour to really understand that I won. It was one of the best feelings in the world that people from my community said we’ve done a good job."
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."
The Eisner Awards are part of Comic-Con International, a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to creating awareness of and appreciation for comics and related popular art forms.
Sharon meets Conan the Barbarian
Sharon, 37, says he was always attracted to comics. He pinpoints “Conan the Barbarian #199” as the comic book that got him hooked. These days, it is much easier to acquire comic books in Israel. "A lot of people read comic books now. There’s more exposure, it’s more mainstream now," says Sharon, who cites Hellboy as his favorite character today. "People aren’t embarrassed to say they are comic fans."
But back in the 1980s, Sharon had to all but wield super powers to get his hands on other comics. There is no Saturday morning comics culture in Israel like in North America. "I had a subscription to Marvel and worked all summer to pay for it," he says. "But it was amazing; every week I got a comic from the US. It was pure heaven. I read it five times in a span of two days."
Sharon – who counts some 8,000 comics in his collection – realized that he was not the only Israeli with a penchant for comics. In 2001, he and Amitai launched an online retail comics site. In 2005, they believed the fan base was big enough to open a physical store, and rented a tiny shop in central Tel Aviv. By the next year they moved Comics N’ Vegetables to a slightly bigger place downtown. And then in 2009, they opened a second branch in Ra’anana.
They also did behind-the-scenes work at the International Animation, Comics & Caricature Festival in Tel Aviv, which celebrated its 11th year, and 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.
Sharon says that anyone interested in comics in Israel reads the original – usually English-language – texts. But that’s not to say Israel doesn’t have its own burgeoning comic scene. "There are a lot of Israeli comic writers, and very good ones," says Sharon, a father of one. Maya-Gur is one of them. She’s the creator of the first Israeli comic-book superhero, Falafelman.
A few other names to keep in mind: Rutu Modan, a widely published illustrator and comic/graphic novel artist; Gilad Seliktar, an illustrator and comic artist whose work has appeared in Israeli daily newspapers, magazines and television; cartoonist Uri Fink, creator of the series "Zbeng!"; twins Asaf and Tomer Hanuka, acclaimed artists who collaborated on the comics series "BIPOLAR"; and Israeli-American artist Michael Netzer, who has worked on Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Legion of Superheroes and others.
Says Sharon: "Most of the Israeli comic writers are for Israelis, but I believe it’s going to change. I think people abroad will hear more about Israeli writers."