Ever fantasize about donning Superman's cape and flying off to fight injustice – OK, bad guys – anywhere in the world? Ever think about placing Superwoman's tiara atop your head and going off to save humanity from all manner of bloodthirsty villains? How about scaling buildings like Spiderman? Saving the world for democracy like Captain America? Or doing the same for the inter-galactic world, like Luke Skywalker?
Well, in a nondescript strip mall in the South Florida town of Lauderhill, there's a place where you'll be surrounded by these super-heroes, and a whole bunch of their friends. And where super-villains and astronauts and aliens and monsters and Hulks and Six-Million Dollar Men and assorted world-savers pop out everywhere you look.
Tate's Comics is a fantasy itself – one man's fantasy.
Tate Otatti started this amazing collection – which now numbers between 500,000 and a million items – in 1993. While still in his mid-teens, he had bought stock in Marvel, the legendary home of super-hero comics that's now in the Disney stable. He sold the stock at a nice profit, and used the money to open up an 800 square-foot storefront in which to house and to sell some of the items he had collected. But he had to get someone to run the place until three in the afternoon – because he was still in high school.
Now, 20 years – and several expansions – later, he's gota 6,800 square-foot space that's equivalent to two stories high, with fantasy artwork and huge figures and Industrial Age wheels and machines going straight up to the ceiling.
Hundreds of people pass through here every day. Many of them spend hours wandering these aisles. And many leave clutching a long-lost piece of their childhood.
This may well be one of the largest collections of fantasy and retro paraphernalia, "lowbrow" art (as opposed to "fine art"), and pop culture in the world, ranging from two-inch figurines to 17-foot-wide winged monsters suspended from the ceiling.
Here, you'll get up-close-and-personal with a towering "Predator." There's a GI Joe section. A Marvel classic comics section, and a DC Comics section. A Supergirl section. A scary fairy-tale section with books nothing like the ones your parents used to read to you at bedtime! And plenty for your own kids, as well, including Transformers, Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, and characters from movies such as Monsters, Inc.
While most of the items are popularly-priced, there are some legitimate collectibles, as well. For example, you can pick up the first-edition Walking Dead comic book for $800-$900. You'll find the life-sized alien from – what else? – Alien, which you can take home for a few thousand dollars. There are sketchpads signed by well-known fantasy or comics artists. And there's a vintage Star Wars' figurine of CP30 that's worth about a $1,000 – and it's only 3 inches high.
Are you old enough to remember Godzilla? We're not talking about the latter-day American cinematic copycats, but the vintage Japanese movies of the post-war years, where the audio tracks never seemed to be in synch with the video. If so, you'll love the monster section at Tate's. Here, you can buy classic monster-movie posters, figures of your favorite scaly villains, and just about every vintage monster movie ever made, including Tokyo-wreckers such as Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, Megalon, and the Sea Monster. Plus, just about every "Godzilla vs." movie (the Sea Monster, Megalon, Rodan, etc.) ever made.
"It all started when I was 14,' Tate Otatti says. "I had a box of old comics that I wanted to sell. So my Dad took me to a comics store. But they offered me practically nothing for them. However, they did have a lot of great stuff. So instead of selling, we ended up buying."
When he opened the store back in 1993 – partially to get all of his stuff out of his parents' living room – he never envisioned this.
"I have the greatest job in the world," he says, "My childhood hobby has become my life's work."
He travels often to sci-fi and fantasy expositions, always prowling for the new, the off-beat, the scary, the classic, the funky, and the kooky. In fact, in the front of the store is a colorful candy display – and every item in it is from Japan, as the Japanese writing on the wrappers attests. And he gets shipments of 80 new comic-book titles every week.
"My passion," says Tate Otatti, "is to find new stories, new sci-fi heroes or villains, cool fantasy fiction, or great old stories like those from 'The Twilight Zone.' And to share them with everyone"
If you go…
4566 North University Drive; Lauderhill, FL 33351
This story originally appeared at the Visit Florida website, www.visitflorida.com.