Imagine a typical high school life drawing class — except in a bar. Bikini clad models wielding spears pose on animal-skin throw rugs, while earnest artists scratch away in their sketch pads. There’s a DJ, of course; he’s spinning John Denver’s “Country Roads” mixed with techno music. Should anyone get bored, there are stacks of comic books, graphic novels, T-shirts and varied artworks on a nearby table.
This was the scene at the Tr!ckster lounge, down the street from the San Diego Convention Center during Comic-Con International. Now in its second year, the indie-minded pop-up gallery, retail store and event space dedicated to DIY and creator owned art, has ingratiated itself into the fabric of the Con. It’s become an off-campus, clubhouse of sorts for both industry insiders and fans to rest their weary feet, attend storytelling workshops, browse slightly more offbeat works or commingle over cocktails.
“This is where all the cool kids go,” says Eisner Award-winning Darwyn Cooke, who wrote and drew this summer’s “Watchmen” prequel, “Minutemen.“ “[Comic-Con] is too big now. The convention forgot what it’s about – comics and the creators.”
“People want that personal connection between the artists and the fans,” says Tr!ckster co-founder Anita Coulter. “That gets lost in the sirens and noise of the big convention.”
Coulter — who co-founded Tr!ckster with Pixar story artists/independent cartoonists Scott Morse and Ted Mathot – says there’s been a slight uptick in foottraffic at this year’s gatherng (A.K.A., “Tr!ck2ter”), with several thousand visitors streaming through Wine Steals/Proper Event Complex a day. The retail gallery is also nearly double in size.
Tr!ckster’s growing popularity speaks to a frustration among artists that Comic-Con has become more about toys, games and big movie roll outs than comic books. It also reflects a groundswell of interest, among both creators and consumers, in more independent and self-produced work.
Digital, DIY publishing options and crowd-sourced funding platforms such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo have made it possible for artists to be more self-sufficient, steering every aspect of creation and distribution. So the industry is seeing an explosion of more personal and experimental storytelling outside the superhero genre.
It’s a trend that’s especially inspiring to emerging talent, such as 22-year-old Tara Helfer. The recent Carnegie Mellon grad traveled to San Diego from Pittsburgh, but didn’t get into the convention because it was sold out. So Helfer spent her afternoons at Tr!ckster — which she says turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“It’s not as Hollywood here, there’s less commercial stuff; it’s just people doing what they love,” Helfer says.
Helfer, who hopes to break into animation one day, unexpectedly scored face time at Tr!ckster with some of her favorite creators, like Pixar’s Morse.
“You don’t have to wait in line to meet artists — it’s kind of mind-blowing,” she adds. “I sat down to draw, and within five minutes I was sitting between Jim Mahfood [“Tank Girl”] and Armand Baltazar [“Sinbad,” “The Prince of Egypt”]. This is the treasure of Comic-Con.”
– Deborah Vankin
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