Ralph Mathieu has owned and operated Alternate Reality Comics since 1995, when he bought the existing Dungeon Comics, and it’s been one of Las Vegas’s premier comic destinations ever since. Mathieu is a soft spoken but enthusiastic character, with a surprisingly sharp wit and a deep passion for the medium that can be seen on his blog Ich Liebe Comics.
Stuck in Las Vegas on business for Free Comic Book Day meant not knowing what my options were but I lucked out when I wandered over to Alternate Reality and met Ralph, who made me feel right at home. Ralph agreed to contribute an interview to our FCBD coverage and took the time to talk about how his shop has grown with FCBD, how the event helps out small shops and new fans and what books had him the most excited.
Morgan Davis: So not only was this the 10th annual Free Comic Book Day but it was also the first for your store’s new location. Did you do anything to make it different from FCBDs you’ve done in the past?
Ralph Mathieu:I have a much bigger store (twice the size of my old store, which I’ve owned for 16 years), so that allowed me to have a couple of local artists (and an artist friend of mine visiting from Florida) sketching for people, more people cosplaying to great people, and just a lot more room so that bottlenecks of crowds of people didn’t happen as with previous years.
Davis: What would you say the ratio of new customers to returning ones was?
Mathieu: I’d say about 70% new faces to 30% returning customers.
Davis: When I was in, I noticed a lot of families. Does your store usually get entire families coming in to buy comics or do you think FCBD drives that?
Mathieu: I think that, as more and more people — after 10 years now of FCBD — know about this first Saturday of May event, they are making it a family activity. I am getting more families coming into my store as my customers are getting older and having little ones. So this is encouraging to me for the future readers of comic books.
Davis: You guys also had quite the spread, with local artists signing, girls in costume and even cupcakes! Did you plan that yourself in advance or did you get requests from people to take part?
Mathieu: We did do a lot of planning, as we have the increased space to have better events and the Vegas comic book store is really strong, which makes all of us want to turn things up. And I have had more and more people come up to me to be a part of my store’s FCBD celebrations.
Davis: I know stores have to buy the comics that get used for FCBD so I was surprised to see how many issues you were giving out (8). Do you essentially treat the event as advertising? And if so, how effective would you say it is in terms of people buying more books when they come in?
Mathieu: I do look at the day as an advertising opportunity to introduce my store and the wonder of comic books to newbies and returning fans. I passed out a 4×6 bounce-back coupon for people to use on their next visit and expect a good number of people to use that.
Davis: Would you say that FCBD has grown each year? If so, to what extent have you noticed?
Mathieu: I’d say that on the low end, FCBD has grown by at least 10% every year, but this year at my store, my increase in traffic was at least 20%. I couldn’t have been happier with the turnout and the way the event played out.
Davis: What books seemed to be the most popular or desired?
Mathieu: Green Lantern/Flashpoint and the DC Young Justice comic, the Marvel Spider-Man and Captain America/Thor comic, Sonic, Avatar/Star Wars, Simpsons and Dark Crystal.
Davis: Were there any FCBD books you were particularly excited for? Any series that debuted that you can’t wait to read more of?
Mathieu: I liked the Civil War Adventures, the Baltimore/Criminal Macabre, and Dark Crystal/Mouse Guardcomics especially, as well as the Locke and Key and Fantagraphics Mickey Mouse comic. I look forward to seeing and being able to sell these titles as well as Flashpoint, which DC provided a good teaser for in their FCBD comic this year.