John Dolmayan is something of an investment guru within the music industry. He doesn’t have a finance background, and he thinks stocks are a lousy buy. But the System of a Down drummer knows comic books—specifically, how to get rich wheeling and dealing superhero stories to fans and collectors. Dolmayan encouraged Heidi Woan, the wife of Linkin Park turntablist Joe Hahn, to buy her husband a $10,000 issue of The Incredible Hulk No. 1 that’s currently worth more than $40,000, and he obtained an extremely rare 1938 Action Comics No. 1 for Jack White’s collection.
“I have literally made Jack White millions of dollars,” Dolmayan says. “As long as [investors] listen to my advice, they’ll continue to do well.”
Dolmayan’s 25 years of industry expertise is on display as he leads a tour of Torpedo Comics, the shop he owns and operates on Lindell Road near Blue Diamond Road in the southwest Valley. There’s still a “new-car smell” throughout the store, although that might actually be the smell of money coming from the private salon where customers, accompanied by an escort, can view Torpedo’s inventory of high-end and hard-to-find books, of which the most expensive (currently) is a $62,000 issue of The Amazing Spider-Man No. 9 that features the first appearance of the villain Electro.
“There’s plenty of real estate, and [with] stocks you have no guarantee. But with comics, they only made as many as they made in that month,” he says, holding a $1,200 copy of The Fantastic Four No. 52, a July 1966 issue famous for another first appearance: Wakandan ruler and future solo movie star Black Panther.
“There will never be more of these made,” he says. “If you want the original, you’ve got to find one that survived to this day.”
“We would go to cities and have nothing to do, so I’d pull out the Yellow Pages and find local comic shops. I would find two or three shops and buy books, and I’d come back to L.A. and sell them for a profit.
Dolmayan, 43, has been hunting rare comics since the early 1990s, when he first started dealing his collection at small Los Angeles-area baseball card and comic book conventions. It was often a fruitless effort, requiring the young musician to haul boxes of back issues and display racks in and out of his 1988 Chevy Beretta while pocketing very little money.
“My third or fourth [convention] cost me $30 to do. I made $10 and got a $200 speeding ticket,” he recalls. “It was a bad day.”
Despite his early travails, Dolmayan was making contacts, getting an education in the industry and growing an enviable collection of highly sought-after Silver Age books, including the first issue of Uncanny X-Men and The Amazing Spider-Man No. 50, famous for its “Spider-Man No More!” storyline.
“I was building a life. I was never a kid who was gonna go to college,” he admits. “I spent all my hours of learning behind a drum set. I got fired from every single job I ever had, except for drumming.”
By 25, Dolmayan was making $60,000 a year selling comics.
“At that point, I had to take a pay cut to join System of a Down,” he says.
When he signed on as drummer in 1997, the band was still in its infancy and had yet to release its eponymous debut album. The first year of touring with System, “we didn’t make dick,” Dolmayan jokes, but he was able to fall back on his collecting knowledge to make ends meet.
“We would go to cities and have nothing to do, so I’d pull out the Yellow Pages and find local comic shops,” he recalls. “I would find two or three shops and buy books, and I’d come back to L.A. and sell them for a profit. I would do this for years. Whenever the band was off, I would go back to selling comics.”
In 2003, Dolmayan settled in Las Vegas, and his back-of-the-Beretta business had morphed into an online outlet that stayed liquid through even the worst of the city’s down years. Lamenting that many modern comic shops have become “glorified gaming stores,” he sees an opening for a place where casual collectors and those with deep pockets can immerse themselves in the “characters, culture and mythology of comic books.”
Dolmayan is also planning Torpedo’s next phase, an expansion of the 6,000 square feet of warehouse space in which his store is located. With 60,000 modern and vintage issues currently in stock, he wants to build Las Vegas’ largest inventory—as many as 270,000 issues—in the coming year.
“I don’t want 18 locations, I want the best location,” he says. “The first time I walked into a store, everything came to life. It was like this fantasy world that I walked into. I want to replicate that.”
Torpedo Comics, torpedocomics.com.
Grand Opening: December 3, with a special signing appearance by artist and G.O.A.T. Jim Lee.
Where to Go: 8775 S. Lindell Rd., Suite 150 (just north of Blue Diamond Road).
Services: In addition to buying and selling books, you can get your collection appraised by one of the store’s two Overstreet Advisors.
What’s in Stock: 60,000 modern and vintage issues, plus graphic novels, high-end statues and collectibles.
Bring Your Wallet: An issue of The Amazing Spider-Man No. 9, featuring the first appearance of villain Electro, can be yours for $62,000.
Look But Don’t Touch: A $60,000 bronze statue of Yoda, one of only 30 in existence.
What’s in a Name: “We wanted something that was iconic, [and] being phallic never hurts; [it’s] something that’s easily remembered,” owner John Dolmayan says.