Ralph Mathieu at Alternate Reality Comics. Photo by Jordan Tran.
Living in the Alternate
By Jordan Tran
WHAT is a man to do when he loves comics so much? The answer is simple: buy your own comic store, share the experience and keep on loving them.
Ralph Mathieu, 52, has been reading comics since 1975 and he has always wanted to do something within the comic industry.
“When I was younger I wanted to maybe write and draw, but I found I didn’t have the chops for that,” he said.
But that did not stop Mathieu from getting involved. In 1995, his friend worked in a store called Dungeon Comics and the second owner was selling the place for health reasons.
Mathieu jumped at the golden opportunity to be the new owner and has been for 19 years, eventually changing the name to Alternate Reality Comics.
“I always hated the name Dungeon Comics because it brought to mind role-playing games, which I have never been into, and a dark, dingy place,” he said.
The name was inspired by the popular alternate reality concept in fantasy and science fiction. And, to suggest the alternate side of comics.
For Mathieu, owning a comic book store is one of the best things to happen to him.
“It really is the dream,” he says. “I get up every morning and I love doing this and so few people are able to do something as their occupation, something they love. I realize I am very fortunate.”
Mathieu’s passions includes helping people out when they are trying to find something new and interesting to read and talking comics in general. He also enjoys being close to the university crowd from the adjacent University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
“In my store I represent, besides just the superhero comics, alternative comics,” Mathieu said. “I’ve always wanted to show that comics can tell any kind of story.”
Since Mathieu moved Alternate Reality Comics from its old location on Tropicana and Maryland Parkway to Flamingo and Maryland Parkway, he has been able to use the bigger space to great effect.
“In my new space, it allows me to have a little section in my store where I have monthly local artist spotlights,” he said. The space also allows him to have easier signings and the ability to host charity events.
The store is so important to Mathieu that he prefers having just one location where he can be there and help out.
“I like being in the store, I don’t like having too many variables going on,” Mathieu said. “I just like the interaction with people and one store is enough for me.”
UNLV student and comics enthusiast Allen Schmidt notices Mathieu’s hard work whenever he comes to the store.
“Not only does he own a successful small comic book store, but he’s interactive within the community,” Schmidt said. “To him, it’s not just about the business, it’s about establishing connections with his customers and making them feel important.”
Chris Prieto, a fellow UNLV student and comics fan, was also pleased with how Mathieu interacts with his customers.
“He really cares about what he does and cares about his customers,” Prieto said. “He takes a genuine interest and tries to help them as best as he can which then creates a comfortable and overall friendly atmosphere at his shop.”
Alternate Reality Comics is a huge part of Mathieu’s life as it was where he met his future wife. They met in the store and have been married since 1997.
“I proposed to her in the letter page of Vertigo’s Preacher [Issue 26].” Mathieu says. “Garth [Ennis], the writer, this is largely before the internet back in 1997, we got to visit with him at a couple of San Diego conventions. And he did a cross-country tour of the U.S. in September of 1996 so I wrote him this letter in November of 1996.”
He continues, “He answers his own letter page, usually the editor did that, but because it was a creator-owned book, he liked the interaction with his fans. I wrote him this letter and said, ‘Can I propose to Kate in the letter page?’ and he calls me two weeks later from Ireland, ‘Oh sure!’”
“Back then it would take four or five months from the time you wrote a letter from the time it got published,” he finishes, “So I didn’t tell any of my friends or anybody because I didn’t want it to leak out. And then [Preacher] number 26 came out April of 1997. She picks it up, flips through it, her eyes don’t lock on the letter page, but I knew she would read it. She takes them home, half-hour later she comes back, ‘Of course I will!’ and here we are.”
What’s next for Mathieu and Alternate Reality Comics? Besides the 20th anniversary of the store next year, he hopes to stay the course and keep doing what he loves.
“I live and breathe comics and I love introducing new books to people and sharing the love of comics,” Mathieu said. “As long as comics are around, I’ll be here to sell them.”
Alternate Reality Comics can be found at 4110 S. Maryland Parkway #8. Mathieu’s wife Katherine’s web zine can be found at www.sequentialtart.com/.
Jordan Tran is a Journalism major at UNLV, enrolled this semester in Mary Hausch’s Advanced Reporting Class in the Hank Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies. He is an aspiring journalist with interests in film, comics and electronic media. He knows a little bit about a variety of things and enjoys watching bad movies and playing board games with his friends.