Comic Curators

How one small business is taking art beyond the Arts District

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A new art gallery has opened its doors in Las Vegas, complete with a celebration featuring spoken word by Harry Fagel and live music from Rushmore Beekeepers. If you missed it, don’t worry: Your downtown hipster rep is still intact. But your geek cred might need some work, because this new space isn’t downtown—it’s inside Alternate Reality Comics, one of Las Vegas’ oldest comic book stores, located on the periphery of the University District.

“This side of town doesn’t have representation like downtown,” says Alternate Reality owner Ralph Mathieu.

Called Artist Spotlight, the exhibit space was carved out of dressing rooms left behind from the clothing store that used to occupy Alternate Reality’s retail pad (the shop relocated there last year after 16 years at its original home). The first show—hanging through the end of September—features local artists Gilbert Hernandez and Keri Schroeder. Hernandez is the award-winning co-creator of the legendary comic series Love & Rockets, from which pages of his original art are showing. Schroeder, a UNLV graduate and former art director for Insert Coin(s) Videolounge & Gamebar, is showing new pen-and-ink work highlighting her intensely detailed illustrative style.

Alternate Reality staffer Michelle Irish oversees the operations of the mini-gallery. She herself is a gifted collage artist, whose work has been seen in numerous group shows at local venues such as Sin City Gallery, Blackbird Studios and Insert Coin(s). She credits Paul Tompkins, the shop’s “Sunday guy,” with the concept for the in-store gallery, but because of her artistic leanings, she happily “got handed the project.”

Irish, who is also studying phlebotomy at Pima Medical Institute in an effort to “fund my excessive art hobby,” has brought a more artistic presence to the shop overall. She handcrafted the signage for the gallery, layered furniture with decoupage and is adding a generally more funky and (let’s be honest, much needed) feminine presence in the traditionally “boys’ club” atmosphere of comic book stores.

A new show will go up the last Friday of each month in the Artist Spotlight, strategically designed to avoid competing with First Friday. The next featured artist is J.H. Williams III, a popular comic illustrator who is also co-writing DC’s new Batwoman series, coinciding with his signing at Alternate Reality at 4-7 p.m. Oct. 1.

In November, the gallery will feature artwork from Melissa Wilkinson’s students at the neighboring Dean Peterson Elementary School. Both Irish and Mathieu stress how important this kind of community involvement is, something evident in Alternate Reality’s continuous support of many local charitable organizations. Reflecting the state of education today, however, Irish admits she had difficulty finding a school with which to partner for the gallery.

Mathieu says he has been approached by, and is actively seeking out, potential artists to feature in the gallery. For him, the Artist Spotlight is “an extension of my goal to show people the different types of stories comics tell.”

“My other hope,” Mathieu says, “is that people come in for this part of it and then see what’s happening with comics today.”

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