Comics Cosmos held weekly Type 2 tournaments each Sunday. There were a regular cast of characters that came to these events, most of whom I mentioned yesterday. The store itself was run by Crystal and Randy, and unfortunately they did not do a good job of maintaining the business. From what I understood, the shop had originally been Crystal’s father’s shop, but Randy and Crystal had taken it over for him in the not-so-distant past. Comics Cosmos dealt primarily in comic books (surprise!), but had branched out into Magic and other games (such as Warhammer and board games) since Randy and Crystal were in charge. The shop was your typically maintained comic book store – that is to say, it was not well lit, the merchandise was sort of laid out haphazardly, and the prices were not market value – they were either too high (in which case the goods just sat there for years) or too low (in which case they were bought almost immediately by a customer, at very little profit to the shop). It was no wonder that the shop went out of business after only a couple of years, though it was bought by another comic book shop owner in the New Orleans area who maintains the shop to this day.
Please don’t get me wrong – Randy and Crystal were two of the nicest people you could ever meet. The expression “he would give you the shirt off his back” definitely applied to Randy, but it was taken to an unhealthy maxim – as a businessman, he never really mastered the art of having to turn a profit versus trying to make everybody happy. I started creating my Draft Box right around the time of the Comics Cosmos tournaments, and Randy had several dozen boxes of bulk commons and uncommons. He agreed to sell me the cards I wanted at ten cents each, and I went through the boxes for a good three to four hours. I had a giant checklist with thousands of Magic cards I lacked, and I was constantly going back and forth crossing cards off the checklist as I found them in the boxes.
In the end, I must have pulled out close to fifteen hundred cards. When I went to pay Randy, he told me “just give me $25 for the cards and they are yours.” “Are you sure?” I asked, incredulous. “Yeah, they’re just commons and uncommons.” As a customer that was great, but even then I knew that this was just plain bad business – we had already agreed on a price, I was willing to pay that price, and Randy had knocked that price from $150 to $25 for absolutely no reason. He literally cheated himself out of $125 that he had in hand!
As I mentioned yesterday, the card prices in the shop were pretty high, but this is not the sole reason people avoided buying cards from Cosmics Cosmos. No, people avoided buying cards because Randy would invariably hold 50% off sales once a month, and they were run like clockwork. Because of this regular price drop, people would literally not buy anything for three weekends out of the month, and then splurge on now-underpriced cards on the fourth week. This also did not do much to help the financial viability of the shop.
The tournaments at Comics Cosmos came to an end once Randy and Crystal were forced to sell the shop. It was also the end of organized competitive play in New Orleans, as there were no other stores equipped to run weekly tournaments, and there were no people willing to start a new set of events. Some time later Magic would return in the form of FNM to BSI Comics, but for years there was a complete void filled only by the visits of Texas organizer Tim Weissman for Prereleases and PTQs.
I went out to the Esplanade Mall in Kenner (the largest mall in the New Orleans area) to do some Christmas shopping with Anthony and Chris later in the year. We stopped in Kay Bee toys to see if there were any gifts to buy our friends – Big Jeff in particular was a huge fan of anime, and anime-influenced figures were starting to hit the market. As we passed by the front counter, someone called out to us.
“Hey guys!” All three of us turned. One of the clerks behind the counter waved us to come over to him. “Wow, I haven’t seen you all in a while. What’s going on?” I know that I didn’t recognize this person at first – he was slightly ragged and seemed to be pretty fatigued. I looked down to his nametag. Recognition – the tag belonged to Randy, former owner of Comics Cosmos.
“Wow, hey Randy, what are you doing here?” “You know, I’m just picking up some extra hours during the Christmas season – keeping busy.” “Oh, okay – how’s Crystal doing?” “She’s fine, she’s doing all right.” The manager came over. “Randy, I need you to keep moving stock into the back.” “Oh, okay. Well guys, it was nice seeing you. Have a Merry Christmas,” he eked out, loading a heavy cardboard box onto his shoulder. As he trudged towards the back room, I had to leave the store. Randy’s dream had always been to own a comic book store – and the sight of seeing him as a stock boy in Kay Bee toys during the most degrading time of the season was really too much for me to bear. He had achieved his goal in life – and had fallen so far because of his nature to please.
I hope Randy and Crystal have found happier times, all these years later.
Comics Cosmos may have been the site of my repeated defeats at the hands of Vinny “The Pimp” Falcone, but it was also where I finally got the monkey off my back. The path to victory started not with a game of Magic, but with a collection of toys. When I grew up, I definitely had a favorite action figure – the M.U.S.C.L.E. figures. “Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere” – that’s what they called these little pink, yellow, orange, blue (two shades), green (two shades), purple and red action figures. They were small one-piece plastic figurines that came in packs of four to twenty figures, randomly inserted (sound familiar? This later became the basis for Pokemon – gotta catch em all!).
When I was growing up in elementary school and middle school, I used to stage month-long epic battles between warring factions of M.U.S.C.L.E. figures. Some, like the Rock Men, were benevolent guardians of MUSCLEland. Others, like the figures fashioned after tools or animals (the Ani-Men) were out to subvert all of MUSCLEdom for their own purposes. I gave each of the M.U.S.C.L.E. figures their own names, team affiliations and super powers (no doubt most of which were inspired by my ravenous appetite for all things Marvel Comics at the time), and had them wage class warfare upon one another. Alliances were forged and broken. People died and were resurrected. As is the fate of all childhood memories (both good and bad), I eventually outgrew my imagination with these toys and moved on to other things. Not necessarily better – just different.
Years later, I would rediscover M.U.S.C.L.E. figures on E-bay and try to get my mom to dig up the toys I had from my childhood. It wouldn’t be until 2003 (when my mom sold our old home and moved from Long Island to California) that my original collection was discovered among the myriad of boxes that filled our unfinished basement, but in the meanwhile I was determined to start collecting these guys – not to play with, but to get one of each figure, in each of their variant colors. I started buying lots off of E-bay, visiting local garage sales, and by asking friends if they had collections. As it happened, only one Magic player had a collection of M.U.S.C.L.E. figures. That person was none other than my unbeatable arch-nemesis, the Pimp himself.
Okay, the rivalry truthfully wasn’t as nefarious as I make it sound – after all, I’d already gone into the enemy camp with the Outback excursion, and so a quick trip to Vinny’s house to buy his M.U.S.C.L.E. figures wasn’t the same as going behind enemy lines during wartime. Vinny kept his plastic guys in a Tupperware container, which contained other knick-knacks, one of which ended up being thrown in along with the four-for-a-dollar objects of my desire.
I didn’t even know his proper name was “Mr. Rush” until I did research for this article. All I knew was that he was a 2-inch high triangle with a funny hat, tiny legs, and vestigial arms. I immediately coveted Mr. Nice. Mr. Nice was given to me by Vinny, who had made me pay for every last M.U.S.C.L.E. that I bought that fateful day. Mr. Nice was now my talisman against Vinny. Mr. Nice would lead me to the promised land.
The very next week, I brought Mr. Nice out to the table as my mascot for every match. Curious things began to happen – whenever Mr. Nice would be in plain sight, someone in the match would get horribly mana screwed. Matches would end in 2-0 drubbings (both for and against) with the losing side forced to mulligan no-land hand after no-land hand. Mr. Nice was the harbinger of the mulligan, the scourge of mana sources, and one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Eric Lewandowski (my best friend and teammate) decided that we should come up with a theme song for Mr. Nice.
If you’re going to sing this, do it like a really bad lounge singer.
“Doin’ the nice dance
Doin’ it all over
He’s doin’ that nice dance
Repeat to infinity, as smarmily as possible. Mr. Nice, we decided, was a male prostitute who was forced to walk funny every day because he kept man(a) screwing everyone. Sophomoric? You bet! But Mr. Nice also became my secret weapon at Comics Cosmos. I would bring him out when the odds looked bad, when I was the underdog in a match. If I couldn’t win through pure skill, I would try to win through sheer luck. One fateful week, not long after my acquisition of Mr. Nice, luck, skill and planning converged at just the right moment… and soon it was Vinny’s turn to do the nice dance.
“Doin’ that nice dance
Ben can be reached at [email protected]