Sure, it was a book signing. But the hugs and smiles also were unmistakable signs of bonds being formed and a community growing stronger.
The setting was a launch event and book signing for “Where We Live: A Benefit for the Survivors in Las Vegas” ($19.99, Image Comics), a comic anthology spearheaded by Las Vegas comic creators J.H. Williams III and Wendy Wright-Williams. The book explores the Oct. 1 Route 91 Harvest festival shooting, issues of gun violence and gun culture that surround it, and the ripple effects of the tragedy in Southern Nevada.
The book is comprised of essays, poems, fiction and fact-based stories, including reflections of people who were at the festival or whose lives became entangled with it. There’s a primer on the Second Amendment, a graphic that plots the incidence of gun violence in America in 2018, and even a piece about the marketing of AR-type weapons, the guns used in many recent mass killings.
And while the book unavoidably includes stories of loss and tragedy, there are pieces about hope and resilience, too.
Proceeds from the book’s sale will go to Route 91 Strong, a nonprofit organization that helps victims and their families. Last weekend’s signing at Alternate Reality Comics on Maryland Parkway was an occasion for readers to buy the book and meet more than a dozen local residents who contributed to it.
Comics fan Shawn Stricklin appreciated the chance to meet and buy the latest work of some of the industry’s A-listers. But he also bought the book as a way of supporting shooting victims and their families.
“I’m going to be really digging my teeth into this and spend some time reading it,” he said. “And yes, it’s signed, but I’m not keeping it as a collector’s edition. I’m keeping it for what it is.”
Trina Kurilla calls herself “a huge comics fan” and a regular Alternate Reality Comics customer. She was impressed by the number of creators who donated their talents to the effort.
“Over 165 artists are in the book,” she said, including Neil Gaiman, Gail Simone and Brian Michael Bendis and “all of these amazing creators (who) took time out of their day to support Vegas. And that’s just incredible, so why wouldn’t we also want to come out and support our own city?”
The signing also attracted a few comics newcomers. “I’ve never read a comic in my life,” said Jenny Gentleman, who had purchased several copies of the book days earlier on its official release date and returned to have them signed. “And, as I told all the artists, I didn’t realize how smart comic books are.”
She had read about half of the book by the signing and found it “profound. It’s deep. It’s thoughtful. It’s knowledge-based — there are a lot of facts in here. It’s a beautiful piece of work.”
“I’m a volunteer for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America,” she said. “Gun violence is a serious issue and there are things we can do about it. This (effort) is such a perfect example of action, and I just couldn’t wait to buy this book and hear all of the stories. It’s all different perspectives.”
Williams and Wright-Williams, who have been Las Vegas residents for more than two years, conceived the anthology and spent more than six months curating and editing it.
“We’ve gotten emails from people who were just really supportive of the project and people who have read the book,” Williams said. “And I know they have expressed that it touched them.”
“We’re really grateful,” Wright-Williams said. “I’ve been nervous as far as reactions. I think it’s good. I mean, I think it hit the notes that I wanted. But, then, to (see) the feedback, it’s overwhelming, honestly.”
Alternate Reality Comics owner Ralph Mathieu — who donated 20 percent of sales at his store during the event to Route 91 Strong — said the project and turnout at the signing “exceeded my expectations.”
The anthology offers “very powerful stories,” he said. “Knowing a lot of the creators that were involved, I knew that those stories would have (power). And, just by the nature of what happened, how could they not?”
Bonding in tragedy
Some of the most emotionally jarring pieces in “Where We Live” are the real-life stories of people who were either at the festival or found their lives irrevocably changed by Oct. 1.
Las Vegas artists/writers Larime and Sylv Taylor’s offering depicts the frightening time after the shooting when Sylv was unable to contact Larime, who was on the Strip. The anxiety was compounded by the rumors that ran rampant that night.
Their collaboration for the book is haunting and claustrophobic, conveying both the anxiety of separation from a loved one and the creepy absence of activity on the Strip. “There wasn’t anybody on the street. Just empty,” Larime said. “You never see the Strip empty.”
“Finding Savannah” is one of several eyewitness accounts in the anthology. It tells of the bond Sarah Angelo, an imaging technologist who does CT scans, formed with a young woman from Arizona who was shot in the abdomen.
The story features references to the film “Finding Dory,” which Savannah sometimes would watch from her hospital bed. Angelo and Savannah are depicted in a few panels as characters from the film.
Seeing her experience transformed into a comic book story was “really emotional,” said Angelo, who jokes that her comic self is “very cute, and I feel I have a lot to live up to when I look at her.”
Angelo and Savannah have stayed in touch since the woman left the hospital. “I was trying to help her, and she ended up helping me just as much as I think I helped her,” Angelo said.
Angelo, a Southern Nevada resident for about 23 years, appreciates that the anthology examines not just the shooting, but the sense of community pride that followed.
“I am so proud of this city,” she said. “I married here, I have two grown sons here, both battle born. This city is home. I’m proud of how the community is rising together.”
Readers who missed last weekend’s book signing at Alternate Reality Comics can catch several local “Where We Live” contributors at the Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con, which runs from June 29 to July 1 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Anthology co-creator J.H. Williams III said a panel discussion is scheduled to begin at noon on July 1, and a book signing will follow.amazingcomiccon.com/