Inside Comicave: the Dubai collectibles store where anime meets The Avengers

As Comic-Con turns 50, we visit the pop-culture superstore and find it’s about more than just ‘toys’

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It is not just the 50th anniversary of the Moon landings this weekend, but also when ­Comic-Con hits that half-a-century mark. Until Sunday, July 21, more than 100,000 comic book fans will descend on San Diego for the 50th edition of the world’s largest pop-culture celebration. You might not be able to head to the US for the occasion, but you can pop over to Comicave at Dubai Outlet Mall, which will have just received a shipment of exclusive merchandise in limited quantities that is being sold to participants throughout the event in California.

Look through the gallery above to see all the merchandise inside the store.

Comicave has been open in Dubai for the past five years and Ian Eleria, the company's senior operations manager, has been there since the start. He was the right choice for the job, as Eleria not only has a background in finance, but also a deep love of collectibles. "Ever since I was a kid, I've had a few collections intact with me," he tells The National. "I'm more into Marvel, and particularly have a penchant for Superman." As part of his stash, there's a prized poster of the original 1978 Superman movie that's signed by the cast – including Christopher Reeve and Gene Hackman – comic books that date back to the 1940s and even one by Superman's original creator. "I've also met Stan Lee," Eleria adds proudly.

'Collectibles are works of art'

The world of comic books, collectibles and merchandise influenced by pop culture is something Eleria understands well. He ­addresses some of the biggest misconceptions he comes across in his profession: “A lot of ­people think these are toys,” he laments. “Basically, toys are the ones kids can actually play with. Collectibles are works of art because they’re produced in limited quantities, and, as times goes along, some of them get damaged, so there are certain demands for them and prices go up.”

The shop you find at Dubai’s Outlet Mall is actually just a showroom for the company, which distributes these collectibles to toy stores and Virgin Megastores, for example, throughout the UAE. Comicave also boasts a well-stocked online shop and is looking to expand into other markets around the region and in India. “The culture and market is expanding,” Eleria explains. “We’re still a very young market, although a lot of locals are aware of anime because of streaming and dubbing. The movies also help in developing the market by driving the production of these collectibles.”

'The Avengers', 'One Piece' and 'Dragon Ball Z'

Marvel characters are, of course, big sellers for Comicave – most notably The Avengers. But so is anime-related merchandise, particularly those from One Piece, Naruto and Dragon Ball Z, to name a few. The shop stocks everything from mass-market merchandise to high-end ­collectibles, and a mix of newer lines and a few rarer, vintage items that come in "from time to time". If there are just a few pieces, then collectors will only find them in the showroom, but those with higher quantities will also be available online. "Our customers are across the GCC, so if they don't have a chance to pass by the store we want to make sure they can access them," Eleria explains.

Also part of the selection are comic books from Saudi Arabia and local artists in the UAE, as well as Marvel comics that have been translated into Arabic. On top of that, customers can also find well-known comic books with exclusive variant covers. “The story is the same, we just change the cover,” Eleria explains. He’s even seen customers buy these and later sell them online for a higher price.

As a buyer for both the company and himself, Eleria is perfectly positioned to offer other collectors advice on what to invest in right now. "I have a penchant for original art, original covers and pages, and artworks from comic-book artists that will increase in value in time," he says. "Right now, statues are also picking up as manufacturers are producing them in lesser quantities when compared to before. Sometimes there are just 400 to 500 worldwide and we have small quantities in store – even less than 10."

The night Thanos sold out

Most recently, Eleria remembers when a statue of Thanos, a villain from The Avengers franchise, went on sale for about $1,000 (Dh3,672) and sold out overnight. “People are still looking for it and the market value went up,” he says, adding that Comicave is one of the few stores in the world that actually had a few of them in stock.

Currently available for pre-order on Comicave’s online store is a limited-edition, hand-painted polystone statue of Bane holding Batman’s cape that is based on original concept art by famed Brazilian comic-book artist Ivan Reis, which costs Dh479. Also on presale is a Ghost Rider statue featuring a die-cast chain and base that can be connected to the Hobgoblin Statue. This one is priced at Dh799.

It’s a big business, but it’s also where Eleria, for one, feels right at home. “Whenever I get stressed I just walk through the floor [of the showroom],” he says with a laugh. “It’s relieving.”