Hidero Yamasuki considers himself a connoisseur of comic books and all things anime. So when the 22-year-old was seen leafing through the latest issue of the comic book “Impound” while sitting at DOCO, he was asked how it stacked up against the titans of the industry: Marvel and DC Comics.
“I think the quality of the book, from the art to the color to the story, is definitely cool. There’s definitely no difference between this and the mainstream books,” says Yamasuki, a midtown resident. “The fact that ‘Impound’ is based in Sacramento is even better. That’s valid. I’m a fan.”
Yamasuki had just purchased the comic book from Brent Trayce Sands, who came up with the character and opened Impound Comics store in 2021 to feature his growing series of comic books. That number has now reached five, with a sixth coming in May. The business is growing as fast as the superpowers of his characters—so much so that Sands opened Anti-Hero in Arden Fair mall this past July. Impound Comics sells only the series created by Sands, while his Arden Fair store is more of a traditional comic book store that sells books from the major publishers such as Marvel, DC and Image, plus toys, game cards and other merchandise.
Sands, 34, says he has a business agreement with DOCO operator CBRE, which takes a percentage of sales in lieu of a traditional leasing agreement. That’s allowed him to focus on expanding his comics universe rather than just growing the bottom line.
“That agreement is helping me grow the brand. When I started, I didn’t have that many books, but [CBRE] believed in the vision,” Sands says. “They were like, ‘We’re willing to take a risk on your company because we think you have something that could eventually become a Sacramento touristy thing.’ It makes sense in DOCO, and for the Sacramento Kings, to have a Sacramento superhero. It’s all about community. That’s where that idea came from.”
In April, Sands took another leap to expand the brand, hiring more employees to run the DOCO store so he could move to Hollywood and be closer to publishers, television and animation studios, and merchandising experts. “If this whole thing is going to become what I want it to be, then I had to make the move,” Sands says. “I need more people to see it, so I took the leap.”
His first comic book series, Impound, is based in Sacramento and centers around Anthony “Impound” Endsley, a tow-truck driver by day, an amateur mixed martial arts fighter by night trying to make it to the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Without spoiling too much of the origin story in Impound #1, Endsley is offered money to take a dive in an MMA fight but instead beats the local champion. That incurs the wrath of a Sacramento crime lord named Christ Jones, who exacts his revenge by attacking Impound’s family. The rest of the story line features Impound developing his powers to avenge what Jones and others have done to him. Sands has branched out with five additional comic book series, featuring characters with names such as Lady Monarch, Blasted and Decymus.
“Impound was pulled from Spawn (Image Comics) and ‘Mortal Kombat’ (video game and movie), and ‘Pulp Fiction’ was a big inspiration on this story, too,” Sands says. “He’s pretty much a melting pot of my favorite things. Impound is more like (Marvel’s violent vigilante) Punisher, more of an anti-hero, especially in the more recent books. He’s got a lot of rage, and if you’re in his way, you’re probably going to die. I don’t have too many ‘true blue’ heroes. Lady Monarch is true blue and Blasted is more on the true-blue end. Everyone else is either an anti-hero or true villain.”
The “Lady Monarch” series also takes place in Sacramento; the cover of the debut book features the titular superheroine sitting on Tower Bridge. The book’s logo is scripted in the font used by the defunct Sacramento Monarchs WNBA team, although the main character has nothing to do with basketball, Sands says.
Lady Monarch is the alter ego of Brooke Bolton, a social media influencer who discovers she is the reincarnated Egyptian goddess Ma’at. Superhero strong, she can fly and control cosmic energy. Brooke is the first name of Sands’ sister, and Bolton is an homage to Ruthie Bolton, the Sacramento Monarchs’ most famous player.
“I love dropping Easter eggs into my work,” Sands says. “True comic book fans eat that stuff up, and if Sacramento residents see something familiar in the books, then that’s even better.”
Blasted is his newest superhero and was born and raised in Stockton. Blasted’s main superpower is called melanokinesis. He can manipulate the ink from his tattoos to turn the images on his body into weapons. The debut book comes out May 6.
“Blasted is based on Acat of Mayan mythology,” Sands says. “I once saw a guy on Instagram with a tiger tattoo, and he did a Photoshop effect where he pulled the tiger off. I
thought that was cool. No comic book character is 100 percent original. Marvel and DC have characters that manipulate tattoos, too, but none of them are heroes; they’re all villains and had nothing to do with the Mayans, and they didn’t hit.”
In Mayan mythology, Acat was the god of tattooing. The belief was that if a Mayan had a tattoo of a god, then he would be given some of that god’s power. Blasted has crossed swords inked on his back. When he needs them, he reaches for them, and the swords appear in his hands ready for slicing and dicing bad guys.
Sands says pre-orders of Blasted’s debut comic book have exceeded pre-orders of all his other series combined. “He’s been a force taking us to a next level,” Sands says. “[The number of] my TikTok followers—186,000 as of early March—has basically doubled since we announced the launch was coming.”
Sands’ experience as a concert and club promoter has served him well in creating social media buzz around his comic book business. The money he made from royalties and managing Sacramento-based R&B singer MarMar Oso seeded Impound Comics’ startup. About a year ago, Sands was able to concentrate full time on Impound Comics.
Sands graduated from Sacramento State with a degree in film and has written, directed and produced a seven-minute animated video of the first Impound comic book. A second Impound video just dropped, and more videos, and a video game, are in the works, he says.
Representation is important to him, he says, and it’s why his first two characters Impound and Lady Monarch—are Black. The fact that they’re both based in Sacramento was important, too, he says.
“Where else was I going to make them from?” Sands asks. “Since I was born and raised here, that just made sense. In the beginning, I wanted a hero that looks like me, but they’re not all [Black], though. Seraph is from the Philippines. Decymus and Alyna are aliens. Blasted is Mexican. In the books, Impound’s lead Sacramento Police detective, Carol Moseley, is Indian American, and Cautious is Irish. We have diversity in our universe because Sacramento is so diverse. Adding representation is important.”
Sands is responsible for the stories and the dialogue. He farms the illustrations out to five illustrators around the world. His main artist is Philippines-based Vash A. Sands says he and Vash have never actually spoken. Instead, they trade ideas, rough drafts and final products over the internet.
“We communicate over the WhatsApp app,” Sands says. “I’ve never spoken to him, and we’ve been working together for two-and-a-half years. I don’t know if he even speaks English or if he’s ever been to the United States.”
Sands handles the bulk of his social media efforts from the Impound Comics shop in DOCO, producing between two and four TikTok videos every day, along with other content. He doesn’t sit at a computer and bang away on scripts. He already has the three-year original story arc fleshed out for Impound and writes dialogue after Vash comes up with the art panels. Then the final product is shipped to a Michigan-based printer specializing in comic books and sent back for distribution to Sands’ ever-growing customer mailing list and to stock Sands’ two stores. Each comic book takes between three and six months to go from concept to first drafts to final proofs and off to the printers. Sands’ goal is to bring out one book every month from each of his six series.
“Six books is enough to grow, but I have more ideas,” Sands says. “A short-term goal is always more books. But we also just got our first toy deal with a small company (Zig Studio 3D based in Omaha, Nebraska) that’s just starting out, too. But we’re both at a stage where we need each other. They’ll be producing toys for Impound and Blasted.”
Through Sands’ imagination, hard work and marketing prowess, the Impound Comics universe is growing and has already achieved legitimacy thanks to Anthony “Impound” Endsley and his friends and foes.
“My goal when people saw my books is that they’d become like true comic book fans and would feel like they were missing out, like they’d look at it and say, ‘Oh my God, am I behind on something new?’” Sands says. “I didn’t want people to tell we’re clearly an (independent). I think I accomplished that goal.”
And, in the parlance of his young fan and customer, Yamasuki, that’s valid.