Comic book scene creating community of creators, fans

Read any good comic books lately? Compared to just a few years ago — and certainly compared to a decade or so ago — odds are that the answer is yes.

That’s because, while nobody but comic shop owners and hard-core comics fans were watching, Southern Nevada has become a pretty good place for lovers of the formerly derided but increasingly respected art form.

Today, comic book fans can sate their monthly words-and-pictures fix at comic shops across the valley. If they’re lucky, their everyday paths might cross with one of several nationally known comic writers, artists and creators who happen to live here. And, every fall, they can wallow in all things comic-like at the Vegas Valley Comic Book Festival, which has seen hefty attendance increases every year since its creation just more than three years ago.

Ralph Mathieu has been surveying the changes in the valley’s comic book landscape firsthand since opening his store, Alternate Reality Comics, about 16 years ago. Last fall, Alternate Reality Comics — Las Vegas’ oldest comic book store and a veteran focal point of the city’s comic book scene — moved from its longtime location by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas into larger digs at the corner of Maryland Parkway and Flamingo Road.

Today, compared to a decade ago, "I think there are more good stores in town and in different parts of town," Mathieu says, putting a good shop within distance of just about everyone.

And, compared to the average comic book shop of a decade or so ago, the valley’s comic shops nowadays are "well-designed and well-run for the most part," says Southern Nevada writer/comics creator/comics fan Pj Perez, whose graphic novel, "The Utopian," recently was released in paperback.

Mathieu notes, too, a different attitude today — less mercenary, more cooperative — among the valley’s comic retailers. Five or 10 years ago, he says, "there was a lot of short-term thinking going on."

Derrick Taylor bought Comic Oasis, 3121 N. Rainbow Blvd., about six years ago. And when he did, "my goal was to have it like Los Angeles, where I grew up," he says. "There was a bunch of comic book stores that got along for the most part, with each other."

That, Taylor adds, wasn’t necessarily true here five years ago. Back then, he found, dealers would, for instance, routinely try to undercut each other’s prices or try to undermine competitors’ special events.

"My thing is, I wanted to make a community," Taylor says, and that means "you have to have people cooperating."

Today, Taylor says, the valley’s comics retailers are more apt to work together when they can with the mutual goal, and toward the mutual benefit, of serving existing comics fans and trying to create new ones.

Southern Nevada also has become home to some high-profile names in the comics industry. Perez counts among the Las Vegas Valley’s creator community such artists and writers as Jae Lee, whose credits include Marvel’s adaptation of Stephen King’s "The Dark Tower" series, and Deryl Skelton, whose resume includes working on major titles for both DC and Marvel.

Last fall, Las Vegas even got its own homegrown comic with "Tales From the Boneyard," an anthology edited by Perez and featuring Vegascentric stories by more than a half-dozen local creators. Proceeds from the book benefit the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District and are earmarked for the Vegas Valley Comic Book Festival.

That annual festival was created three years ago as a comics-focused spinoff of the annual Vegas Valley Book Festival. Suzanne Scott, performing arts center coordinator at the Clark County Library and a comic book festival organizer, says the event drew about 900 people its first year and drew its all-time-high attendance, of 1,700, last fall.

Perez credits the festival for helping to create a sort of social infrastructure for the local comic book community that hadn’t existed — at least in any strong way — before.

"I think the thing the festival has done is, it’s brought together people who otherwise had no contact, because, until now, the comic book community here hasn’t really been a community," he says.

While there previously were, for instance, "communities of fans based around their favorite stores, there hasn’t been that much of a community for the creators themselves," Perez says.

Until the festival, "I didn’t realize how many of us are out there, from all levels," Perez says. "You’re talking guys who have been in the industry 40 years and guys just getting started, like me. So the festival definitely brought together that element and opened up avenues."

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280.

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