San Diego’s Comic-Con International remains the biggest pop culture confab in the country, drawing thousands of people to the city’s convention center for four days and five nights of fan-favorite movies, TV, games, memorabilia and, yes, comic books every July. But this year a new, somewhat feistier comics event will set up shop directly across the street.
Indie-minded artists, storytellers and comics creators have banded together to form a pop-up space called “Tr!ckster” that will celebrate the spirit of DIY and creator-owned work. Spawned by Pixar story artists-independent cartoonists Scott Morse and Ted Mathot, “Tr!ckster” will feature a combination retail shop-art gallery-event space in the San Diego Wine and Culinary Center that will run for six days, from July 19-24, coinciding with the Con.
“We’re celebrating people who make, own and control their own work,” Morse said. “In a world of movies where it’s nothing but sequels and franchises and reinventing and rebooting ideas, it’s refreshing to see people create a new idea now and again, instead of rehashing Spider-Man or Sherlock Holmes or making a movie out of the Harry Potter books.”
Tr!ckster speaks to a growing dissatisfaction among many artists itching for more control over how and where they show their work at conventions. A grass-roots group of comics and graphic artists called Creator-Con, with a still-active Facebook page of more than 3,000 fans, has been discussing these issues for more than a year now. But Tr!ckster represents the first time a group of artists with such a degree of notoriety has formed a concrete event alternative, Morse says. It’s a lot of pressure, he says, but the reaction from artists and fans has been overwhelming.
“If you’d asked me three weeks ago I would have said I was concerned about getting people into Tr!ckster. Now I’m actually concerned about crowd control,” he said.
Tr!ckster will draw big-name and emerging comics creators who will participate to different degrees, among them: Mike Mignola (“Hellboy”), Dave Gibbons (“Watchmen“), Jim Mahfood (“Marijuana Man”), Mike Allred (“Madman”), Jill Thompson (“Scary Godmother”), painter Jason Shawn Alexander and illustrator Bernie Wrightson. “They’ll have artwork in the gallery or their books will be available or they’ll be speaking at a symposium or their band will be playing or they may just be there having a cocktail talking to fans,” Morse said. “Many of them will also be showing at booths at the Comic-Con too.”
Mahfood, who illustrated the upcoming graphic novel “Tank Girl,” says he’s attended Comic-Con since 1992, first as a fan and later as a professional. “The size of artists alley [at Comic-Con] has shrunk over the years and moved to literally one end of the building,” Mahfood says. “Logistically, we’re harder to find. The heart of the show now is the movie studios. Artists are off in the corner. Tr!ckster is a chance for us to shine on our own again. It’s a refreshing thing.”
The retail shop will feature rare items like handcrafted and limited edition books, original framed paintings, fine and pop-art inspired T-shirts and small run, limited-edition toys such as Mahfood’s new Beat Bee. Morse will debut a 32-page hardcover version of his new book, “A Glimpse of Crime and Terror,” which he created with writer Steve Niles (“30 Days of Night”). The star item for sale will be a limited edition coffee table book of original art by Tr!ckster participants, featuring blank pages in the back for new drawings.
There’s also a mash-up of free workshops, parties, signings and live music events planned. On Friday and Saturday nights, Allred’s band The Gear will perform; and Jim Demonakos’ “nerd rock” band Kirby Krackle will play on Saturday night. A signature, recurring event will be Tr!ckster’s “Pen n’ Drink,” a clubby, life drawing class of sorts featuring DJs, bottle service and costumed models posing for fledgling artists while professionals offer advice. Online animation hub Cartoon Brew will curate two short film festivals, one of student films, the other of cutting-edge animation shorts from around the world.
A key goal of Tr!ckster is to help artists navigate the explosion of digital, DIY publishing options available these days. So Tr!ckster will host eight more focused, intimate ticketed “symposia” for approximately 40-50 people each. The two-hour workshops will be practical and technique based, covering how to print a book or create a comics app, shipping options, digital distribution and promotion among other topics.
“Social networking and the Internet has really opened up a lot of peoples’ eyes to the fact that you can do this … it’s not rocket science to write and draw your own book and get it out to an audience. And by demystifying that as much as we can, we’re gonna end up promoting art in a way it hasn’t been,” Morse said.
Positioned as it is in the shadow of the convention center, the little upstart pop-up shop — with its seemingly anti-establishment message –- could be viewed as Comic-Con’s version of Slamdance, the Park City, Utah, alternative to January’s Sundance Film Festival. Early blog buzz even referred to Tr!ckster as being “anti-Comic-Con,” Morse said, but he bristles at the Slamdance comparison.
“We’re not a convention, we’re not anything that Comic-Con really is,” Morse said. “They’re a nonprofit, we’re for profit. We’re looking at Tr!ckster as a venue to promote our own work and really, as a way of reinvigorating inspiration.”
The event will depend on a rotating crew of 15 or so volunteers, friends and family to execute, and Morse expects some disorganization. “A lot of people are putting their hopes and dreams into this, which is great. But it’s not a huge event space and we’re gonna mess up,” he said.
There are big plans for Tr!ckster’s future, however. The “pipe dream” vision is for Tr!ckster to become self-sustaining and nomadic, traveling to cities in Europe and to large arts festivals throughout the U.S. like South by Southwest and Coachella. Morse hopes it will one day incorporate additional storytelling genres, like puppet shows and even dance.
“Anything that can possibly visually tell a story and capture an audience and take them someplace they normally wouldn’t go,” he said of the parameters. “And share these strange unique voices we have as artists. We hope it will become the traveling circus of creator-owned work.”
Symposia tickets are $35 per event; an all-access pass to all eight events, plus one piece of free art and a book, is $350.
For more info: http://www.trickstertrickster.com
– Deborah Vankin
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