We’ve always been big on our entrances at Riley Grae. At our old, underground location, a four-colour rainbow trail led you down to our front door. We painted it partly because we wanted people to be held spellbound by its cuteness, but we were also just worried folks wouldn’t know how to find us. We had to part ways with our rainbow brick road when we moved to our current location at 701 Corydon, but that wasn’t the end of our need for grand entrances.
The hallway that houses our books and stickers is mysterious territory for some people shopping in our store - and we totally get it. A lot of us don’t want to venture into places we know little or nothing about. But with the addition of our new space, Fantasy Clubhouse, we wanted an entrance that encouraged people to explore (or uncover) their adventurous spirit. A “More This Way!” sign now hangs above our hallway’s pink, neon-lit doorway, and our path of colourful stars acts as little stepping stones that lead you to a mossy, brick landscape. If you make it this far, you’ll find yourself somewhere between a basement and a moss-grown lagoon.
When we collaborated with Austin Boulton (the owner of Fantasy Club Books) to create Fantasy ~ Clubhouse ~, we wanted to combine Riley Grae’s love for oddities and blind boxes with Austin’s love for comics, zines, trading cards, and collectibles. The entrance to our Clubhouse also features a capsule machine filled with small squishies; a pink gallery wall; a mini junk house inspired by Toutoune Gallery and Shop, owned by Ginette Lapalme in Toronto; a glittery, mystery sticker machine; and an island of cushiony astroturf beneath your feet.
We like to think we are taking you on a little journey :)
Dynamite Diva: One-Eyed Wild Ride is a 206-page collection of each comic that features Dynamite Diva, a character created by 22-year-old Vancouver-based artist, Jasper Jubenvill. Jubenvill is one of Austin’s favourite comic book artists at the moment, and only one of many artists they carry in the Clubhouse.
Austin: It’s like a sci-fi, horror, detective noir - a bunch of genres mixed into one with different pop cultures… It’s very detailed and the stories are laid out well… He’s my favourite (and the best) comic book artist in Canada right now… It’s like a Ninja Turtles, Sopranos, biker chick, David Lynch type of vibe - it’s awesome.
Sitting on the shelf just below Dynamite Diva are three types of vintage Batman trading cards, nudie playing cards, and artist trading cards by Moon Patrol.
Moon Patrol trading cards, illustrated by Bay Area artist Matt Cunningham, feature digital collages of hypothetical, Steven Chorney-esque, sci-fi movie posters with hypothetical synopses on the back.
Austin: Only 250 of these boxes were made. They’re very limited and they’re not going to make any more of them. It’s super rare and cool. The artist makes digital art by using vintage sci-fi, horror, and fantasy books and one card in each pack has a hypothetical movie poster.
They said they hope bringing different zines, comics, cards, and graphic novels from around the globe into the Clubhouse will inspire their customers to make their own art.
Austin: There are more comics than just Marvel and DC stuff - it’s a whole art form that isn’t explored enough in Winnipeg and that’s why I want to explore it more. I also want to find more stuff from outside of Winnipeg and bring it here.
Lauren, co-owner of Riley Grae (and the other half of Fantasy Clubhouse), said for as long as she’s known Austin, they’ve wanted to have their own comic book store. The first time she thought about giving Austin a space at Riley Grae to sell their comics and zines, was when a room had opened up in the basement of the shop.
Lauren: They were going by “Basement Lagoon" at the time and I thought it would be perfect, but they didn't have enough money for rent and they were already working a million jobs, so it just didn’t happen. When this room opened up, we kind of just both knew it was a possibility - we didn’t even have to say it. It was a bit of a risk because having a comic store is a little niche so we didn’t know how well it would work out, but we decided to give it a go. The way we made it work was that we share the room: part of it is a comic store and part of it is blind boxes and collectibles.
She said the joint shop has been working out great so far. Since bringing in dozens of different blind boxes, Lauren’s favourite so far (besides Sonny Angels) have been the Finding Unicorn x AAMY series. She said she likes the “Picnic with Butterfly” series the best.
On the Picnic with Butterfly series, from Finding Unicorn’s website:
Each character in the Picnic with Butterfly series is doing a different picnic activity - like reading books, blowing bubbles, or napping on giant sandwiches. These are some of Lauren’s favourite things to do.
Lauren notes that this series is made with PVC and ABS, which gives the figures a smooth and glossy appearance. She said she thinks the material is ~special~.
Lauren: Some of them are matte and some of them are glossy, and some of them are matte and glossy at the same time. They’re all the perfect amount of pastels and they have beautiful translucent wings. They’re one of the most beautiful figurines I’ve ever seen. They’re one of the only blind boxes we carry where I'd be tempted to have the whole collection - the whole set of 12 PLUS the two secrets because it’s so sweet and so my style.
When asked why she thinks people are fascinated by blind boxes, Lauren said it’s because of the “excitement, adrenaline, joy and anticipation of getting to open one.”
Lauren: I think you have to be a person who doesn’t mind owning a lot of objects. You can’t really be a minimalist and like blind boxes…There are some brands and styles that are a bit more action figure-y, but the ones you get here are all very, very cute... I think I have a blind box addiction.
She said you can't lose because you get something cute each time. But because we want everyone to be happy, Lauren notes that in the event you open a blind box and you’re not in love with the style, the Clubhouse offers a trading service.
The way trading works: If you open a blind box and you’re not happy with the figure you got, you can trade your figure for one in our display cases. Simple as that!
But REMEMBER: The figure you trade for must be from the SAME series and it must be purchased from Riley Grae/Fantasy Clubhouse. Collectors cards are also encouraged.
While the Clubhouse regularly stocks up on dozens of different blind box brands, Lauren’s loyalty will always lie with the brand Dreams Inc., who introduced North America to everyone’s favourite naked angel babies called Sonny Angels. Lauren’s been collecting Sonny Angels since 2019, but her interest in blind boxes started at age 14 when she first opened a TOKIDOKI Unicorno blind bag on a trip in Toronto. In Lauren’s mind, TOKIDOKIs are one of the OG blind boxes.
Sonny Angels have been around since 2005, but Lauren blames their recent popularity on the Internet. In fact, they’ve gained so much popularity this past year that Dreams experienced a worldwide shortage, making it difficult for stores like Riley Grae to keep a consistent stock. As of October 2023, #sonnyangel has accumulated up to 432.2M views on TikTok.
Lauren: I honestly think TikTok is to thank/blame. I say “thank” because the more people that get to enjoy them - the better. But I say “blame” because they are so in-demand and it is so hard to get your hands on them. I think people like them so much because he’s so sweet and silly. He’s a good size to display. He’s simple - he’s precious. He’s just precious.
From the Sonny Angel website:
Sonny Angels (created by Japanese toy designer Toru Soeya) were originally created with the intention of comforting working women in their mid-20s. The theory that these dolls “heal” stressed, hardworking young people has been tested many times at Riley Grae, and we think it’s true.
Sonny Angel’s tagline, “He may bring you happiness,” is too modest, we think - he absolutely DOES bring us happiness. Even as a staff member, watching people open their Sonnys makes us feel so warm and happy - like we are just a big family that loves mystery, excitement and whimsical cherubs.
We know some of the twists and turns in our shop can be a lot for some people, but we want you to know there is a whole other corner of our little world that we’d love to share with you. People not making it all the way to the end of our hallway reminds me of that photo of the person mining and giving up one hack away from a pile of diamonds. There are gems waiting 4 u on the other side </3 so don't give up! Make your way down our star-lined hallway and you will be met with the most special place.