Holy accolades Batman!
After two straight years as a bridesmaid, ACME Comics & Collectibles recently captured the 2004 Will Eisner "Spirit of Comics" Retailer Award. Named for Eisner, creator of the comic book, "The Spirit," it's widely considered the industry's comic book store of the year award.
ACME Comics, owned by Kevin and Fran McGarry, had been a runner-up for the honor the last two years. In 2002, the local store missed the top prize by just 7 points, on a scale out of a possible 600.
In each competition, the small independent store has been up against the likes of Superman and the Incredible Hulk, mostly larger chains in major metro areas. The three other 2004 finalists hailed from San Francisco, Las Vegas and Washington state.
Though they entered this year's competition with high hopes, the McGarrys believed they had come up short again, following a conversation with the head judge, Joe Ferrara of Atlantis Fantasyworld. Apparently looking to throw them off base, Ferrara told the couple the video of their store entered was good, but they should try to take different shots next year.
"We were just heartbroken for the rest of the day," Fran McGarry recalled. "So, when they announced our names (at a ceremony that evening) we were in total shock."
They accepted the award at the Comic-Con convention in San Diego, which attracted more than 100,000 comic fans.
After the show, the McGarrys talked to all the judges, who told them the competition wasn't even close.
"They were looking for a store that had both mainstream comics and a great selection of alternative comics for the public to choose from," Fran said. "They told us when they saw our video that it was light a light came on and music started playing. They all looked at each other and said that this was the store they all wanted to shop in."
ACME Comics, 1622 Pierce St., carries comic books and graphic novels from 79 different publishers, from industry giants Marvel and DC Comics to small independents. The wide selection is unusual in the industry, with many stores offering only the major publishers and others specializing in independents, Kevin McGarry said.
For the two previous Eisner competitions, the McGarrys said they erred by failing to highlight their vast selection in their official video. They didn't make the same mistake in this year's video, where they ticked off more than 50 publishers in a matter of minutes.
In addition to the material carried by the store, judging for the competition forced on the knowledge and quality of the store's image and its community involvement.
"Not only do they want someone who knows the comic books, but they also want someone with retailing experience," said Kevin McGarry, who previously worked at his family's Williams TV & Appliances. Fran McGarry also worked for several years at a comics business in Nebraska before the couple opened ACME Comics & Collectibles in 1995.
Also impressing the judges was the level of community support. U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, Sioux City Mayor Dave Ferris and the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce all wrote letters of support or congratulations. Also writing a letter was House Speaker Christopher Rants of Sioux City, a longtime customer of the store.
"Joe Ferrara was telling everyone at the award ceremony about all of the letters. He said that we were going to get a ticker-tape parade when we got home," Fran McGarry quipped.
For the McGarrys, one of the biggest thrills was getting congratulated by Eisner himself. "He said we should be very proud of our store," Fran McGarry said. "The one thing that we have over mass market bookstores is a love of the stories that we sell and the expert staff to help customers."
ACME Comics, 1622 Pierce St., celebrates its 10th anniversary next year. The McGarrys recently announced they plan to open a second store, at Southern Hills Mall in October. The mall store, which will be near the Cafe Court and the theater entrance, will be a seasonal location, operating through December.