In 2011, I attended my first ever San Diego Comic-Con. I was not the only newcomer that year, though. A few months prior to departing a friend of mine, an SDCC vet, mentioned that there would be a concurrent, almost ‘mini-con’ for creator-owned works dubbed “Tr!ckster”. I was excited about the prospect (to be frank I was excited about everything I heard surrounding my first ever trip to the Con to end all Cons)but it quickly fell out of my mind. I was definitely more focused on the bigger, flashier aspects of SDCC: the announcements from the “big 2”, their panels, their writers, and their immense presence on the floor. It was the grand spectacle that I was venturing to San Diego for, not some intimate gathering.
When I finally arrived in San Diego, that view honestly didn’t change much. My friends and I hit up the place hosting Tr!ckster, conveniently located across the way from the convention center. We perused the art and the other offerings set up around the bar. Francesco Francavilla, Scott Morse, Mike Mignola, and Bernie Wrightson all had various things on display and for sale. I admit I was enticed and intrigued by everything I saw, still I (naively) saved my money for the superheroes that were waiting across the street.
In the months that followed the convention I found myself more and more disconnected from mainstream superhero stories. A number of factors led to this feeling of disenfranchisement but I won’t get into that here. I was still reading the hell out of my Batman, Swamp Thing, and Captain America comics but I found myself more drawn to the creator-owned side of things. At SDCC 2011, I had picked up a couple works by independent publisher Top Shelf. Most notable of these was Essex County by the wonderful Jeff Lemire. I was bowled over by how genuine and intimate the story was and read it over and over. Needless to say I was hooked and needed more. I found myself browsing the internet, combing through websites like Multiversity Comics and Comic Book Resources looking for more titles, creators, anything that was more along the lines of beautiful Essex County. I raided my local libraries, talked to my friends at my local comic shop to see what was coming out and what they would recommend.
By Spring 2012, I was all over new titles by Image, Vertigo, Dark Horse, Boom, and others. My creator-owned conversion was almost complete. Also by that time, San Diego Comic Con tickets had been purchased and plans of which artists and writers I was going to seek out were being formulated. I was ecstatic to hear that Tr!ckster would be returning albeit in a different , less convenient location, still, my anticipation was hard to contain.
Finally, SDCC 2012 arrived and following a busy and productive Preview Night, my friends and I decided to seek out Tr!ckster’s new locale to rest our feet and sample the wares and down a few choice brews. While it did take us a minute to actually find the establishment hosting the mini-con, it was well worth the walk. The layout of the local bar that was hosting Tr!ckster, while smaller, offered a variety of spaces for us to relax in or explore. The venue had four rooms downstairs: a seating section with booths that was converted into the gallery/wares browsing quarter, the main serving bar and dining area, a wide open room that hosted modeling and classes, and an adjoining bar and dining area connected to the open room. Upstairs there lay an open patio area, complete with bar. After that night, it quickly became a spot I found myself wandering around and unwinding in regularly during the weekend.
Aside from the casual atmosphere that offers a respite from the hustle and bustle of Comic-Con International, the removal of the wall between creator and fan is the crowning achievement of Tr!ckster. The first night there Scott Morse greeted us as we walked in. He was seated in one of the reserved booths working on some small watercolors he had for sale. He was very cordial and calm. Later that week, while taking a break from the convention floor I headed to Tr!ckster to rest and see who was there and/or what was going on.( I also had my mind on some pretty rad looking comics I had spotted earlier and wanted to snatch those up asap!) After grabbing my comics I wandered into the adjoin room to listen to Michael Golden give a talk on how to be a successful writer. I was maybe one of six people in the room and the experience was great. It is a rarity to find such a thing happening on the con floor. What happened next was an even richer experience as Jill Thompson and Francesco Francavilla showed up to discuss and work on some art. I was sitting next to Jill Thompson and across from Francesco Francavilla as they both worked, jested, discussed, advised my fellow attendees on the ins and outs of technique, approaches, and the comic business itself. It was an irreplaceable and totally engrossing, unique experience.
In 1970, the original SDCC, initially named the Golden State Comic Con, was held as a celebration of the sequential arts. Suffice it to say, that has changed drastically in the past few years. Comic-Con International now plays host to a multitude of interests that span the whole of pop culture and nerd-dom. It’s easy for comics, their creators, and fans to get swept aside and over looked. Tr!ckster, however, maintains that founding focus and sees it through to its logical conclusion: to not only celebrate but to teach, fully explore, and then expand the scope of the art that is graphic story-telling. The genius of Tr!ckster rests in its simple, unassuming atmosphere and presentation. It allows the work to speak for itself. Its laid back environment, excellent beer/dining options, and focus on the creators and their craft are the perfect antidotes for the weary con wanderer who needs a break from the media blitz intensity of SDCC and all that it entails.