If someone ever asked me if there was one thing about the Indie Comics Scene which I felt they should know, I would give them a name. That name would be Steve Niles.
Steve is an unintentional nexus for all things Indie. A fervent believer in doing it yourself and selfless promoter of any soul he sees taking up that mantle and believing in it even the slightest sliver that he does. Without this selfless promotion, not only would I not be a contributing and promoting member of our wonderful upcoming Womanthology, but I also never would have been allowed to experience the sincere pleasure and wonder that was Tr!ckster 2011, and that would have been unforgivable.
From the moment I heard about Tr!ckster I knew that I just had to be involved. To me not only was this project special, it was also something necessary. Something historic even, and all of my indie writer’s instincts proclaimed inwardly that I just had to document it.
Knowing that my time would be tight as the event ran parallel to SDCC , I had originally chosen to only cover Steve (Niles) and Mike’s (Mignola) events. It is important that you understand that Tr!ckster was a small event, and more than aware that SDCC was the main course and that they were simply an alternative for anyone looking for one. An independent option, as it were. Not at all a deterrent to SDCC as many cowardly whisperers in the dark have suggested.
No, they were small. Casual even, and that was the point.
I arrived on Thursday, July 21st for the opening of their 2nd Symposium “The Jump From Page to Screen” featuring Mike Mignola, Doug Tennapel, Chris Ryall, B. Clay Moore. I was late, but it was no matter. The atmosphere was warm and inviting as we stood around chatting. Tr!ckster head and host, the very talented Scott Morse even brought me an ale along with Mike and the others which was as frosty and chill as a fairy tale.
It was perfect, the sort of scene all of us creators dream about when we’re just starting out. It was like coming home, and I thought man, I could get used to it here.
We waited for Chris as long as we could, but we understood that SDCC had to come first and so things kicked off without him, and I was smitten by all of it.
I don’t know if you know this about Mike Mignola, but he is utterly hilarious, and just charmingly and naturally so. I had gotten to see this from time to time, particularly during the Lance Henriksen signing with Steve, Bill (Sienkiewicz), and of course Joesph Maddrey. However, this was an entirely new side of the great Mike Mignola to me, the side of him he must show his wife, and closest friends.
This was the side of Mike Mignola that sat there drinking a beer and just shooting the shit with all of us. No censorship, no sugar coating it, this was the real Mike Mignola and if you wanted to understand what you gave up and earned when it came to licensing your characters, he wanted you to know it. All of it, and I loved every second of it.
He wasn’t alone either, Doug Tennapel knew first hand all of the truths Mignola unloaded on us that night, he’d lived through them with Earthworm Jim just the same as Mike had lived through them with Hellboy. B. Clay Moore had of course taken this journey as well with Hawaiian Dick.
We began by learning about the sacrifices and rewards one makes when optioning their characters to film adaptation. About the innocently annoying questions from fans constantly asking when is another “such-and-such” movie finally coming out, often not realizing that once you sign that paper, only the studio themselves can answer such questions and good luck getting them to pick up that call.
It’s not just films and and animation rights that are typically lost to the creator when the characters are cast on the silver screen, it’s toys, merchandise, and even, rarely, and horribly, the characters themselves.
In short, these days it may seem to you that everybody is getting into comics to try and strike that get rich quick deal, that contract with the devil that gets your comic in lights and you all the cash you can spend. This idea, is a lie.
Sure, the creators in this room are well off enough, but it’s not just a big shiny check. Joss Whedon, creator of my childhood heroine, now has to sit by helpless and watch as they take said heroine and whore her out to the entire world just to make a few bucks because the stats say vampires and remakes are in right now. So trust me young creators, after learning what I learned in that room from the mouths of men much older and wiser in such matters than I, if Hollywood greed is your major motivation prepare for the foul taste of disappointment. Followed by that of many a case of ramen noodles after your filet mignon has dried up.
It’s not just that though, the gentlemen would go on to inform us, but publishers and fans aren’t stupid. They can smell it, that greedy cinematic desperation and the studios can smell it too. Mignola laughed with us all at how amazed he and his wife had been at anyone wanting to option The Amazing Screw-On Head. In a way he had even created it as a sort of act of rebellion, a desire to make toys with changeable heads all the while figuring that no one would ever seriously be interested in it, but he was wrong!
Basically, Hollywood looks for the utterly unique, and then they will then adapt it down until it has lost pretty much everything that made it unique to begin with we all laughed.
Chris Ryall finally did make it in and was greeted cheerfully by all and brought a drink while our conversation moved from that desperation to the fact that honestly, a lot of creators just didn’t have any clue what was in store for them. It’s at this point that we moved onto to Kickstarter, not as a way to kickstart your project, but as a sobering wake up call to anyone silly enough to assume this is an industry that you get into for the money.
It was sobering, Mignola mentioned, when some young creator would try and fund their own project. Sobering, and good. A perfect way to find out what you’re just going to learn in a pitch anyway. That you’re not ready, and that you need more experience before society will want to spend money on your product. Ryall mentioned Womanthology at this point, earning a cheerful exchange from myself on behalf of us lovely ladies, and the fact that after watching our Cinderella story people had begun believing this could happen to anyone.
To assume such things is to assume Renae just opened a kickstarter for us and then we got lucky. That is not true. Not only did Renae have her brillant unlockable rewards that were commended publicly by Chris and Mike that day, but she and I also worked very hard on arranging specific methods of social networking in ways that had worked for myself in the past and ways that she had researched for our future. I also took the time to connect our project to all the best women I knew in our industry because not only was it good business, but they were my friends and I wanted them involved.
On that note so sorry again for all of you lovely ladies who could not make it into the book after things closed up, and so glad to stand beside those of you that could.
No, it wasn’t just some random lucky break that Neil Gaiman heard about us, either. We worked hard to promote, and believed in our cause and so Sean Francis caught wind of it and let Neil know. This is how business, faith, and good people work. Not kickstarter. Kickstarter is just an instrument, not magic.
We wanted to do some good for our industry and we had a plan. No. Nothing in this life comes for free, and as Mignola pointed out, and we can confirm, neither is Kickstarter.
Things wound down after that, and before we left Scott gave us all a copy of his story Noble Boy in the form of a beautifully arted hardcover, each page solid and printed like a children’s book for as he declared Tr!ckster was like a hardcover book, and he wanted us to keep the memories with us just as safe and forever.
Later that night I swung by to cover the events of the evening, as well as say hi to Steve as his Symposium had been moved and I was unable to attend.
Steve’s symposium was on “Building a Short Story: Crime And Terror: Live” and featured him and our fantastic leader/host Mr. Scott Morse. It sounds amazing, and as all of the events that unfolded that week at Tr!ckster 2011 were caught on film I can’t wait to watch it for myself someday.
After hanging out with Steve for a bit I got in line for what promised to be an amazing event as Tom Morello was going to play live for us all. Anticipation built as we all stood in line, pink bunnies stamped on our hand like the world’s most smashing nightclub, and then we were inside.
Scott sat down and chatted with Tom about his up and coming Dark Horse Comics‘ title Orchid. I know what you’re thinking, but don’t call it just another rock star comic, because that’s not the way Dark Horse does things.
No, once upon a time the fantastic man and amazing creator Jim Krueger introduced another rock star, one Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance to the fine members of Dark Horse and he sat down and pitched just like all of us. After years of finally trying, Jim had helped Gerard find his home. Then after even more years of being with them, this Eisner Award winning comic book writer helped a friend of his own give his pitch, and Tom was welcomed to the family.
Orchid, essentially the tale of “the Spartacus of prostitutes” in dystopian society, will be scored one track per issue by Morello himself. It’s not hard to see why Tom is now a member of the Dark Horse family and I cannot wait to start this new adventure with his leading lady.
Morello’s set was amazing, each song better than last as we sang and danced on and on for far more tracks than originally planned. All the while Orchid’s vestige watched over us proudly, a beacon to all things indie and artistic in beauty. It was perfect.
My next event was as amazing as it was beautiful. During my time at SDCC there were really only a set number of places you could find me, one of them was at one of my two favorite booths, the booth housing Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon, Rafael Albuquerque, Gustavo Duarte, Jill Thompson, and Becky Cloonan. Becky and the twins I had followed online and was pleased to meet in person, Jill, Rafael, and Gustavo were as kind as they were talented and if they’re all together next year I highly recommend stopping by their epic booth of win. Needless to say, the moment I knew I’d be free to make it, I just has to cover Jill and Fabio’s Symposium.
“The Art Workshop” featuring Jill Thompson, Jim Mahfood, Fabio Moon, Francesco Francavilla, and Tommy Lee Edwards, kicked off at 3:30pm that Friday the 22nd, and it was beautiful.
I had known of the others by reputation, and seeing them live they did not disappoint. I don’t think I can properly explain what it’s like seeing Jim Mahfood work, but here’s some photographic examples for you.
Francavilla was likened to a wise old sage in my mind, for that was the whole beautiful point of this particular Tr!ckster Symposium. A bunch of brilliant artists just sitting around making art, hosted by Scott’s perfect questions while all of us got to sneak in right next to them, pull up a chair, and learn from the best.
I think for me that was the best part about Tr!ckster. I know that many people wonder how I’ve managed to come so far in just a couple of years, and later on people will look back at my life and think how lucky I had it.
Believe me when I say, luck has nothing to do with comics.
Hard work, skill, dedication, and faith is how you make comics, and every speaker at Tr!ckster understands that.
They understand this because they lived it. These are not your high school art teachers sent to inspire you, these are not your college professors who lived in a time long gone and now attempt to carelesly pass off useless industry half-truths for a profit. No, these are seasoned professionals of award winning respect and skill, and for just the cost of one ticket you could pull up a chair and ask them what sort of brushes they liked to use.
Yes, the reason why I’ve made it so far in such little time is because I studied this wonderful industry which I had longed to become a part of so desperately back home in Colorado. Clearly I learned a lot in these studies, and these few days spent at Tr!ckster I learned even more. You have no clue what a wonderful feeling that was for such an art and prose nerd like myself, to learn firsthand from these amazing creators and souls.
It was fantastic, and not just industry stuff too! Personal stuff, artsy stuff, and it was all there for the absorbing.
As I had come to see Fabio and Jill so I spent most of my time that afternoon huddled in close to them as they taught us all what they had learned in their time as artists.
I listened knowingly as Fabio explained that if you wanted to be an artist, be prepared to sacrifice your social life. Art takes time, and skill. It’s not something that you can just wander into and bust out like a greasy term paper after a night of binge drinking. (My Americanized analogy of course, not Fabio’s.)
No, art is something you have to take seriously. As such, if you want to be an artist, being an artist simply has to come first.
Jill was amazing, answering all sorts of questions about her fabulous techniques.
I wish you all could have seen my delighted smile as Fabio explained in perfect simplicity the way to become an even better artist. Look at your heroes, he had advised, whoever inspires you. Then look to whoever inspires them, that was how you became an even better artist than before.
Such a beautiful and simple concept, and it’s a cycle that can inspire you forever, because we never stop growing. Utterly perfect, and if that wasn’t enough to make me grin brilliantly, Fabio had to go and pull out his own brother Gabriel’s work as an example of art that inspired him.
As for Jill, well she taught us all about her traveling art book. Not a simple sketch book, no, Jill travels with a book and then sits down at cafes, outdoors, wherever the inspiration finds her and just paints her surroundings. It was so perfectly and beautiful a concept that I was nearly taken aback at it and just sat there thinking the fact that an artist still exists with the level of old world passion in our digital age is a testament to art itself.
Later on I popped back by the booth to chat with everyone and after congratulating the twins on their Eisner I mentioned all of these thoughts to Jill, as well as how much I loved that she actually had an actual “travel brush” to take with her on her journeys.
Jill then told me some beautiful and fun tales including the time she was stopped at air port security for her traveling art kit. I laughed with her, feeling so very bad for the perfectly packed bag that had been ravaged on account of art. It’s just like me and my Hyaena friends say, there is no art without sacrifice. Be it as Fabio advises your social life, or your beautifully neat packing job. The bastards.
However, to me, the truly best part of Tr!ckster’s Art Workshop was how many people in attendance were simply inspired to stop right there and create something. That my dear friends and readers, is what an event like this is truly all about.
The next event I came to cover was “A Tribute To The Films Of Akira Kurosawa A Benefit For Japan Relief, presented by The Criterion Collection and Tr!ckster in association with TOHO CO., LTD”.
After the auction it was time to watch a great man and his family warm up for the next evening’s events as Mike Allred and The GEAR rocked our worlds with lights and sound. I had my friend, the fantastically kind, inspirational, and talented Bill Sienkiewicz introduce us beforehand and so my night was made.
Saturday marked my last day to cover Tr!ckster and alas I was unable to even get free until “The Tr!ckster Gallery Celebration”. Beautiful art from all of Tr!ckster’s contributors was on display and Scott, Steve, and all of my friends were in the best mood I have ever seen.
Even my dear Cousin Matt found himself still infected with the art bug and had not put down his pad for one instant of his spare time since that Art Workshop the day prior.
As the night turned from the art of art to the art of music, I found myself thinking this is right, this is exactly how I want to end this adventure.
The Fuglees opened up fearlessly and the room was full of cheers, the gallery still hanging all around us and and being enjoyed.
Then nerd senstation Kirby Krackle took over and drove the geeks and dolls wild.
Then came once again the family Allred as Mike and The GEAR set up and rocked even harder than the night before as their family and loved ones supported them and we all danced.
Seriously, there was an insane amount of dancing. Even I threw my hat aside and joined in.
There’s this line from The Secretary somewhere along the lines of her always being closed so tight, and wondering if she ever opens up. The answer is yes, we all do, but only in the right place. Only with the right company.
At the end of the day, I suppose that’s what Tr!ckster really is, the right company. The right place. That place where all of us no matter how big or how small can let our hair down and dance the night away. That place where Eisner winners can pop by and crash just because it’s fun, and just because they want to.
It’s that place where you can come and learn, come and be yourself, and come and walk away with all the memories you’ve made. That place that you know you will keep with you always, just like those precious hardcover books.
At the end of the day Tr!ckster reminds us that we’re all the same, every last one of us, and that is the beautiful full truth of our industry. It’s an industry of people, art, passion, and discipline. It is an industry of sacrifice and rewards, but most of all it’s an industry of dreams. So thank you Tr!ckster. Thank you for keeping all of our most heartfelt dreams alive. May they never fade. – N