The San Francisco Bay Area will welcome a new addition to its vibrant comics community this week when the creator-driven collective Tr!ckster opens its first brick-and-mortar location in Berkeley. Best known for lauded pop-up shows and symposia that ran concurrently with San Diego Comic Con in 2011 and 2012, Tr!ckster will now have a “home base,” as proprietor and Tr!ckster co-founder Anita Coulter puts it. From here, the organization—founded by Coulter, Scott Morse, and Ted Mathot—will host gallery shows, symposia, classes, signings, and more, in addition to planning future pop-up shows and their own festivals.
Those events begin on October 13 with a signing featuring Steve Niles (Criminal Macabre, 30 Days of Night), followed by an official Grand Opening party and Halloween-themed art show on October 26 and 27. Given its extensive connections to comics creators, of whom there are dozens upon dozens in the Bay Area, Tr!ckster is aiming for the site to become a vibrant, inclusive gathering place for creators, fans, and neophytes.
Tr!ckster’s initial pop-up show in San Diego during the 2011 Comic Con was partly a reaction by Coulter, Morse, and Mathot to the sea of SDCC media noise that tended to drown out the voices of independent creators.
“Over the years, [we] sort of felt like Comic Con is its own separate animal—not what we wanted it to be,” Coulter told us in a recent phone conversation. “So, you can sit and rail against the wind, or you can try to make a change on your own. Taking nothing from the awesomeness that is Comic Con—the pop culture smorgasbord that it is. But when you’re really into eclectic, interesting comics that say something and speak to you—that challenge and inspire you—you might get lost in all of that noise.”
So the trio found a location, put up the funding themselves, and started contacting their friends and colleagues. A series of symposia were scheduled that combined discussion and practicum-based sessions. Participants included some of the biggest names in comics: Mike Mignola, Steve Niles, Jill Thompson, Mike Allred, Jim Mahfood, Fabio Moon, Francesco Francavilla, and Tommy Lee Edwards.
The first Tr!ckster pop-up show received broad, unqualified praise from creators and fans as a place that fostered a low-key exchange of ideas and encouraged all manner of creative endeavor.
Says Coulter, it was Mathot in particular who wanted to create an inclusive, welcoming atmosphere. “Ted goes to Angoulême every year, the comic and graphic arts festival in France,” she says. “He loved the vibe there. You might see a legend sitting at a table with a beer and drawing, and you could walk over and sit down and draw with him, and he would not be like, ‘Who are you?’”
By the time they had repeated their initial success in San Diego during the 2012 Comic Con, the Tr!ckster crew determined that they would need a physical space in which they could not only meet and plan future events, but where they could host additional creator-driven “happenings” on a year-round basis.
“For the longest time, we were just running things out of our own individual houses,” Coulter says. “We’d get together for meetings and talk real fast. But this year [Scott and Ted] got really busy with their day jobs, so I sort of took over this year’s pop-up. And we thought it would be great to have a permanent location.”
Pop-up events at venues across the country will continue to be a part of Tr!ckster mission, but the Berkeley site will become an East Bay hub for independent creators and their fans. A gallery space will host rotating exhibitions of original artwork (at least some of which will for sale), a store will carry creator-owned books and other products, as well as space for life-drawing classes, symposia, and other special events.
Beyond the Berkeley store, Tr!ckster is already making moves to produce events in other areas—including Paris, where Coulter is in the early stages of planning a gallery show. For the moment, however, her focus remains on the new storefront, which she hopes will epitomize what Tr!ckster is about.
“[We] wanted to make a place where you get a group of amazing people in a room and shake them up and see what comes out,” she says. “To inspire each other, to further their craft, to better themselves. To create a sense of community and belonging that you might lose in the noise of larger shows.”