Living a Fantasy

The large white boxes are piled all the way up to the ceiling 30 feet above, a towering mountain range of suspended adolescence hidden within the industrial armpit of North Las Vegas.

It’s a Xanadu of fantasia, aisle after aisle of dreams and nightmares, heroes and villains, Super Friends, vampire slayers, ogres and Orcs.

More than 15 million comic books and action figures fill the place, which looks like it was decorated by a millionaire 13-year-old: In the master office, an impossibly shiny, life-size replica of the Silver Surfer hovers next to an ornate wooden throne that looks like something a J.R.R. Tolkien character might rule from.

Dozens of brightly colored, framed fantasy paintings and comic book art lines the halls — there’s a shackled Conan the Barbarian breaking free from his chains to rescue a barely clad damsel in distress — some of which are valued as high as $100,000.

The front room looks kind of like Steve Carell’s apartment in the “40 Year Old Virgin”: Wall-mounted glass cases display an army of action figures in their original packaging as they keep watch over “Batman” jigsaw puzzles, Mysterio lunchboxes and John Belushi samurai dolls that spill from an assortment of boxes strewn on the floor.

It’s all packed into a nondescript warehouse notable only for a sleek and menacing Ford GT parked out front, a streamlined, blue and white beast that carries a starting price of $150,000 and looks like it belongs to a rock star.

And it does.

John Dolmayan is best known as the drummer for multiplatinum rockers System of a Down, but he’s currently embarking on a parallel career as a comic book maven.

Last week, Dolmayan launched the Web site for his Torpedo Comics, a massive online comics and toy retailer that already has become one of the largest ventures of its kind.

“When it comes to comics, because there’s so many to collect and I’m such a tweak, I have to have to everything,” the stern looking but affable 34-year-old says as he tours the warehouse on a recent Friday afternoon. “That’s the way I am. It’s difficult for a person like me to collect comics. But I did it.”

Power tools drone in the background as Dolmayan speaks, as the mammoth space still is under construction. Two-dozen workers bustle about the place, sorting comics into piles, filing them away alphabetically and then inputting them into the Torpedo database.

The fledgling company started three years ago in a 2,500-square-foot warehouse in Los Angeles.

Now, it occupies a 30,000-square-foot building.

“We’ve already outgrown it,” Dolmayan says, his thick shoulders shrouded in a white T-shirt. “I’m thinking that in about a year to a year and a half, we’ll need a 100,000-square-foot building.”

An X-Men lifer, Dolmayan’s been a comics die-hard since he was 11 years old.

“I like the heroic element of comic books,” he says. “We live in a superficial world, and to think, even in fantasy, of people who give up everything in their lives to help other people, that means something to me. It appeals to me. It’s encouraging.”

Dolmayan first started selling comics as a teen to sustain his own purchases.

“I had a pretty big comic book habit per week, and my allowance wasn’t covering it,” he says. “Eventually, I started selling comics when I was 18 years old, just to be able to buy new comics. Then I realized I had a certain knack for it and I really enjoyed setting up at conventions. That’s pretty much what I did for a living until System got signed.”

The fruits of Dolmayan’s success in System are evident at Torpedo: One wall in the warehouse offices is covered with dozens of gold and platinum records commemorating the band’s massive worldwide sales of nearly 15 million albums.

With System currently on hiatus as the band members explore other projects for the time being (Dolmayan is currently playing with System guitarist Daron Malakian in the new band Scars of Broadway), Dolmayan is focusing much of his energy on Torpedo.

“I’ve pretty much invested my life savings into it,” he says. “But that’s the person I am. If I lose everything, at least I did something that could be tremendous, that could leave a real impact in the comic community and maybe even outside of that. I’d rather do that than buy an apartment building and just collect rent or something. I look at music the same way. Who the hell ever expected System of a Down to be popular?”

System has long been defined by its eccentric, idiosyncratic take on modern metal, and Dolmayan wants to innovate in the comic realm as well.

“The long-term plan is to be much more interactive,” he says. “When you’re a fan of the comics, you’ll be able to go on the site and see interviews with artists, you’ll be able to put your own art and stories you write up on our Web site. I want to not only sell books, but to promote comics in general. I want to push forward the art form.”

The tour ends back at Dolmayan’s office, which workers still are decorating.

“George, you gotta be careful with those paintings, brother,” he tells an employee struggling to mount a medieval looking portrait on the wall. “They’re very expensive.”

Despite his infatuation with the fantastical, Dolmayan’s a pretty grounded, practical dude. He moved to Vegas five years ago mainly for financial reasons.

“There’s no state income tax,” he says of relocating here from Los Angeles. “Is there a better reason?”

But while he’s a business-minded guy, Torpedo clearly goes beyond being a money-making enterprise for Dolmayan.

You see it in the way his dark features light up when he talks comics, and the man becomes as animated as some of the characters who line his walls.

“I’ve been very fortunate in that whatever I’ve done in life that I really enjoy, it’s become lucrative,” he says. “I’m in arguably one of the biggest rock bands on the planet, and I just did it because I love to play drums and that’s where it led me.

“I love comics,” he adds. “And this is where it’s led me.”

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@ or (702) 383-0476.

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