The walls are only partially decorated, meaning there’s but $2 million worth of hand-drawn Transformers, damsels in chains and overly vascular swordsmen peering down from above.
John Dolmayan grins as he grasps some artwork yet to be hung: a large, lurid portrait of a chiseled barbarian, each biceps thick as a python attempting to digest a bowling ball, surrounded by a trio of women in bikinis cavorting with tigers, one of whom guards a bowl of blood with fangs bared.
“This was the first comic book I ever bought,” says Dolmayan, holding a framed drawing of the original cover art from an issue of “The Savage Sword of Conan.” “You could understand why a 12-year-old boy would be interested in this. It’s got it all.”
The same could be said of the room in which the comic-book impresario/System of a Down drummer currently stands — at least for those who can identify various “Star Wars” battlecraft by name.
Speaking of which, a massive, quarter-scale At-At, that giant, walking, troop transporter thingy first seen in “The Empire Strikes Back,” lies on its side in the center of the floor, ready to be erected mere feet from where Superman’s pad will be re-created.
“Over here, we’re doing a Fortress of Solitude,” Dolmayan says. “But what we’re going to do is suspend high-end comic books in the icy lair.”
A major player in comics
It’s a Friday afternoon, and Dolmayan’s guiding a tour of Torpedo Comics two weeks before it opens its doors, housed in what used to be a Verizon store in a shopping center near Rainbow Avenue and Warm Springs Road.
Dolmayan might be best known as the drummer for one of the biggest heavy metal bands around, but in the comic-book world, he’s a go-to guy for some of the priciest and hard-to-find comics.
He once brokered a purchase of a rare 1938 “Action Comics” No. 1 — the first comic to feature Superman — for rocker Jack White, and while he doesn’t disclose what White paid, a near-mint copy of the book sold in 2014 for over $3 million.
Dolmayan also helped Heidi Woan, wife of Linkin Park DJ Joe Hahn, score a copy of “The Incredible Hulk” No. 1 for $10,000. It’s now worth four times that.
Dolmayan has been doing this since he was a teenager.
“I started selling in the early ’90s, because at 18 years old, it’s tough to go to your parents and say, ‘Can I have some money for comic books?’ ” he explains. “Initially, I started off by losing a lot of money trying to sell books at conventions and stuff like that until I figured out how to do it. By the time System got signed (in the late ’90s), I was making $55,000-$60,000 a year. I took a huge pay cut to join System.”
Dolmayan has used his success with System, who’ve sold over 40 million records worldwide and will soon embark on a headlining tour of European festivals, to help finance and build his comics empire.
Though the Torpedo store is new, Dolmayan’s business ties to Vegas date back nearly a decade, when he purchased a northside warehouse to launch Torpedo as an online retailer in 2008. Problem was, the economy tanked around that time, with Dolymayan estimating that he lost nearly a million dollars in a year before shutting things down.
“It took me a long time to get back on my feet,” he says. “I lost almost everything I owned at that time. You have a little bit of fear once you’ve already risked something big and failed. It took me awhile to get over that.”
Dolmayan eased back into the business, buying another warehouse for his collectibles, this time in the southwest valley, eventually opening a storefront there nine months ago.
‘A feeling of awe’
The success of that venture has led Dolmayan to increase the stakes dramatically, investing $150,000 to open his first full-fledged store, which he envisions becoming one of the biggest, most elaborate of its kind in the country, constantly adding to its stock.
“We do a lot of buying,” he says, his dark ponytail matching the shade of his black T-shirt. “We just spent 90 grand on Tuesday on a collection that had a cover-less ‘Superman’ No. 1. Believe it or not, that’s worth $15,000-$20,000. If it had a cover, it’d probably be in the $70,000 range.”
Books that pricey will go into a special room designed like a 1940s bank vault, complete with vaulted door and tin ceilings, where patrons must be escorted in.
To enter, one of two qualifications must be met: “You have to have a lot of money,” Dolmayan explains, “or be a kid.”
The kid in Dolymayan is on display this afternoon. Though Torpedo is still under construction prior to its opening weekend, when DC Comics Co-Publisher Jim Lee and acclaimed artists Art Adams and J. Scott Campbell will stop by for in-store signings, Dolmayan’s already imagining knocking out the ceiling to suspend a Starship Enterprise from the rafters or maybe a life-size Hulk.
That’s why he’s opening the place: to be the fantasy of those who love fantasy.
“I want people to have the same feeling that I felt the first time I walked into a comic-book store. It was just a feeling of awe,” he says. “I want to create that for comic-book people. They walk in, and they’re like, ‘Wow.’ ”
Contact Jason Bracelin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.