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A Sci-Fi Store Is Suing, And Presenting The Facts In An Action-Packed Comic Book

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Third Planet Sci-Fi and Fantasy Superstore has sold comic books, toys and collectibles in Houston for over 40 years. Its blocky building is instantly recognizable thanks to its brilliant blue paint job.

MICHAEL CHARLES: It's literally an icon in Houston.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Michael Charles. He works for Bad Cog Studios, a Houston company that creates comic books. And he's a longtime customer of Third Planet.

CHARLES: Everybody knows where it is. It's like, when Toys R Us was real big here, if you couldn't find a certain action figure at Toys R Us, the manager will tell you, hey, go over to Third Planet on Southwest Freeway near Kirby. His store is just amazing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Recently, the store has become famous not for what it sells but for a dispute with its much taller neighbor, the Crowne Plaza River Oaks Hotel. Some of its guests have allegedly thrown various objects from the 18th floor directly at Third Planet's roof below.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TJ JOHNSON: They'll get up on the balconies, and they - you know, it's like a target. They try to hit a spot.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's T.J. Johnson, the owner of Third Planet, speaking with Houston's ABC13. Johnson says, this has been going on for years, normally with smaller objects, like silverware, plates and mugs. But things took a turn two years ago with fire extinguishers - 14 of them raining down.

CRIS FELDMAN: You know, it (laughter) did some damage, as you can imagine. Heavy fire extinguishers from 18 floors up can have quite an impact on a one-story building.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Cris Feldman, also a longtime customer of Third Planet. He's an attorney, too, now representing the store in a lawsuit against the Crowne Plaza River Oaks Hotel.

FELDMAN: The roof needs to be replaced. It's been repeatedly pelted by smaller things. But the fire extinguishers in March of 2019 took it to another level.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Third Planet is seeking at least $250,000 from the hotel. NPR reached out to Crowne Plaza for comment on the allegations and the lawsuit. But it did not respond to our request. Now, the reason we are telling you about all this in the first place is because of the unique way the facts of the case are being presented. "Third Planet V. Crowne Plaza Hotel" has been drawn, inked and printed in brilliant color as a comic book. It's attorney Cris Feldman's idea.

FELDMAN: I simply called Mr. Johnson and said, can you put me in touch with some illustrators?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Could he? He could. That's how Bad Cog Studios got involved.

Michael Brooks is one of Bad Cog's illustrators.

MICHAEL BROOKS: With us knowing T.J., the owner of Third Planet, and going over there and knowing the history over there and pretty much knowing what happened between him and the establishment next door kind of made it easy for us to illustrate what was going on because we were familiar with what's going on with it in the first place.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Bad Cog team produced a 13-page comic book detailing the many times objects were allegedly thrown from the hotel onto Third Planet's roof - ceramic mugs - smash, silverware - bam, fire extinguishers - boom - plus panels showing flames from fires caused by lit cigarette butts. It's all there, now part of the lawsuit's official record. Bad Cog's Michael Brooks says, the job of making this particular comic was pretty similar to others, with one big exception.

BROOKS: When we're actually working on a comic, you can do whatever you want and pretty much say whatever you want. But, you know, doing this with the lawyers and everything, you know, you have legal terms. And you can't say this. You can't draw this.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You got to stick with the facts of the case - no invading spaceships, no brooding superhero, no monologuing evildoer, no capes. And for attorney Cris Feldman, this comic book has brought levity to what some may see as a dull and serious profession.

FELDMAN: I never thought I would use my law degree for that. But, hey, it's fun. And it gets across a very serious point to the defendant in this case.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "Third Planet V. Crowne Plaza" is now its own standing publication. And anyone who wants a copy will soon be able to buy one.

(SOUNDBITE OF MINKE SONG, "GOLD ANGEL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.