The ‘Magic’ house

Darlene “Dolly” Russell

Photo By Jason Cassidy

You’ll see them on warm evenings, sitting around a card table in a driveway of a suburban home just off Highway 99 on the corner of East Avenue and El Paso Way. It’s a group of mostly males, from junior high to college aged, and they’re not playing poker. It’s actually not entirely a suburban home they’re sitting in front of, either. It’s Fantasy Game World, a “comics, miniatures, paint and RPGs” shop attached to the back of Darlene “Dolly” Russell’s home, and these guys out front are playing RPGs, or role-playing games, such as Magic: The Gathering. Russell, a 41-year Chico resident, started the business in 1979 as Dolly’s Dungeon, a comic book store in the old Upstairs Mall at Third and Broadway. Her son Scott now runs the business: one small room overflowing with action figures, replica swords and boxes and boxes of role-playing cards. With Scott out sick, Russell talked to us about the curious little shop at the back of her house.

You started off with comics, right?

My kids collected comics, and you had to go to Sacramento to get them. So I basically started with comics, and then that’s when D&D first came out. And then comics died a horrible death, because kids don’t want to read $3 comics. They’d rather play a card game or Nintendo. So my son took over, and he has all the gaming. So, it’s basically all the role-playing and some board games, anime. We have quite a bit of anime DVDs and manga books.

What are the best-selling toys?

Manga’s really popular. Manga and McFarlane—he [Todd McFarlane] did the Spawn comics and makes Spawn toys and dragons. But we can’t compete with Toys R Us. Like, Star Wars figures, I pay $7.45 and they sell them for $7.95.

What’s the age range that comes in?

Anywhere from 10 to adults with kids. I’ve had kids grow up in my store, and now they’re older and they say, “Thank you for letting me read in the back corner and stay out of trouble.” I had one who walked in and turned and looked at me and said, “You won’t remember me. You caught me stealing and kicked me out.”

So, the store puts on role-playing events?

We used to do a lot of it. One was Yu-Gi-Oh!, and it’s [owned by] Upper Deck—they do football cards—and they really don’t know what they’re doing, so that’s dying. And, they were playing Pokémon. We try to have them get into Magic [The Gathering], because that game isn’t going to die. We have Magic tournaments twice a week, and Duel Masters and Hero Cliques, that’s real fun. That’s like Marvel superheroes against Marvel superheroes, and then they have DC versus Marvel.

What D&D character would you like to be, for real?

Oh, I don’t know. I was a Cleric Fighter.