By ASA HESS-MATSUMOTO / Towns Correspondent
Batman grits his teeth through the pain, throwing a vicious right hook with an arm dislocated from its socket. Elsewhere, a spell is cast, returning life to the dead while simultaneously bringing an empire to ruin. All around, heroes, villains, and monsters await their beckoning. A typical Wednesday for Danny Radovic.
As the owner of Outer Planes Comic Games shop, Radovic, 40, knows his caped crusaders just as well as his customers, greeting a number of familiar faces as they walk in. Parents come with kids to pick up their favorite new releases, such as “Adventure Time” or “My Little Pony,” teens and students play pick-up games of “Magic: The Gathering,” and adults pull up chairs to play a couple rounds of their favorite board games.
“I have a lot of loyal customers,” Radovic said. “They want to go find the atmosphere, the place where they can go play, and they can find that here.”
Yet the big Australian-born shop owner wasn’t always an avid fan of fiction and fantasy – a good graphic novel was hard to come by for Radovic until he came stateside. It wasn’t until after picking up his A.A. from the Santa Rosa Junior College and becoming the general manager of Clark’s Trading Comics in Santa Rosa that his passion took off. When Clark’s eventually went under, Radovic bought the store’s inventory of comics along with the floor space for Outer Planes’ opening in 2005.
Outer Planes is a large shop, with half the 5100 square feet of floor space devoted to Radovic’s inventory of over 300,000 colorfully covered comic books, an additional 1,000 added every week to keep up with demand. While the latest prints can fetch between $2-$4 each and vintage issues – carefully enshrined behind glass – even more, Radovic sells the majority of his back issues for just $1 each.
An assortment of games ($40-$60) with dice, cards, and some fielding recognizable figures from hit shows like “Doctor Who” and “The Walking Dead,” also line the walls. Packs of “Magic: The Gathering” cards from the latest set sell quickly for $3.99, but competitive players keep an eye for specific ones on display, paying anywhere from $0.10 to hundreds of dollars for a single card.
However, what has the most people peering into the shop’s 7th street windows – and draws the most customers to the store – are the players themselves. On any given day, it’s not uncommon to see them set up on the shop’s many tables, competing or cooperating towards victory. Wednesdays, Fridays, and tournaments see the largest crowds, with the last “Magic: The Gathering” tournament bringing in over 350 people Radovic said.
“You see a lot of game and comic stores that are small, and that’s fine,” Radovic said. “But I feel that creating that atmosphere is a community service – giving people things to do – and we provide that. In the long run you have happier customers because of that. That’s a really big part of my business model.”
Wandering around the store, archiving back issues of comics and tending to customers, is Alexandra Lopes, 21. A longtime fan of comics and games, she has had an attachment to the shop since its opening eight years ago first as a customer, now as an employee. Lopes identifies the shop as a “safe place” for a wide variety of personalities, including those who she considers to be “late bloomers.”
“This is a place where they can be themselves,” Lopes said. “This is an area where people can get together who love the same things without any sort of bias against anything else or anything going on in the world. It’s a little pocket of time that people can hide away in.”
Aron Nopanen, having just wrapped up a game of “Skulls Roses” with friends, says he enjoys the space made available at Outer Planes.
“These games are fun, and this place is great for them,” Nopanen said. “It’s hard to find a place with this capacity and the willingness to tolerate you otherwise.”
When tables start to fill up, invitations to join in the pick-up games are commonplace. Those without a wary eye of the clock run the danger of burning through quarters at parking meters and seeing day turn to night.
Radovic, Outer Plane’s owner, is just as much engaged as his customers in the comics and games. With his shop open 362 days of the year, he hasn’t taken a vacation once since his doors have opened, preferring instead the delight expressed by his customers upon new releases.
“The doors are just being blasted wide open now for comics and games with these big movies,” Radovic said alongside a wall with original pencil sketches of the Incredible Hulk, Radovic’s favorite hero. “Comics are mainstream – gaming is mainstream. I do my best to make the stuff accessible to everybody.”