Devin Meadows says there’s a reason big chains haven’t sprung up to specialize in comic books and games.
“It’s really hard if the owner isn’t present in the store quite a bit,” said Meadows, owner of Wizards Asylum on South 31st Street. “The mom-and-pop feel is actually the right format.”
That’s what brought Meadows to Wichita and Wizards Asylum. Its former owner, Jimmy Jarman, had tired of traveling from Tulsa, where he lives, to check on things.
Meadows, who knew Jarman in Tulsa, offered to buy the store. He took over in November 2014, capping what he calls a “very strange career path.”
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A Texas native, Meadows said he earned a master’s degree from the California Institute of Arts and then worked as a set designer in Hollywood. Although most of his work was for TV commercials, he did some music video and movie work.
“If I was naming names, I could say Pink Floyd, Prince, Sting,” Meadows said. “Those are artists I worked with.
“In movies, I did additional photography on ‘Alien 3.’ ”
A marriage took him to Tulsa, where he eventually found there weren’t enough jobs in movies and theater to pay the bills. So he became a blackjack dealer for the Hard Rock Casino there.
A longtime gaming fan, he met Jarman while frequenting his Wizards Asylum store in Tulsa.
Meadows said Wizards Asylum’s history in Wichita goes back about 25 years, during most of which it was called Agents of Comics. Jarman bought and renamed it about six years ago.
Meadows, after moving to Wichita, took a job at the Kansas Casino as a “safety net” before deciding to go all in on the store.
“It just got to the point where I hated going to the casino,” he said. “I wanted to be here.”
He has used his background in design to make several changes, starting with moving the checkout counter, which had sat in the rear of the store “kind of looming, looking down at you. It was sort of subtly psychologically wrong.”
He knocked down a wall to expand the cramped gaming area and freshened the paint job.
“The set designer in me has made the store feel more friendly,” he said. “It’s not any bigger, the space is just used better.”
Meadows said he also has trained his small staff to “give great customer service to people who aren’t necessarily in the geek world. That philosophy is sort of behind all the changes that we’ve made.”
Gaming stores “often can feel like a clubhouse, uninviting to the general public. They’re set up for people who are ‘in on it.’ This place is now set up as a more traditional retail environment.”
Meadows even stationed the sales display for a very traditional game – chess – near the entrance.
“Everybody likes chess,” he said. “Chess makes you smart.”
Even so, the majority of customers are gamers and comic book fans. There’s a whole counter devoted to trading cards used in a game called “Magic: The Gathering,” which Meadows said are his biggest sellers.
The store caters to gamers by hosting daily gaming events and local and regional tournaments.
The store also offers free demonstrations of hundreds of games from Meadows’ personal collection, including a game of “Trump” he recently bought for 50 cents.
His first game – a 1969 version of Risk – has been transformed by a graphic artist into the “world’s biggest Risk table” and sits in the store.
Meadows admits he was lacking comics expertise when he bought the store but has been trying to learn. The store has bins of new comics as well as some valuable collectibles, like a 1956 Batman comic, behind glass.
He recently sent a comic with the first appearance of Deadpool – hero of the hit movie – to be appraised.
“When I bought the store, I didn’t who was Marvel and who was DC, but I’ve certainly learned,” he said.