NY Anime Festival 2010: Artist Alley – Making it Big!


For better or worse, the New York Anime Festival certainly shook things up this year by merging with the New York Comic Con. Thankfully, my usual haunt – the Artists Alley – was also on the winning end of this merger, taking advantage of the Jacob Javits Center’s layout to get as many of the 90,000+ attendees to take a look and perhaps buy some art from the many booths. I saw a lot of familiar faces, but more and more I’m beginning to see them making the transition from amateur artist to full-time professionals, making me wonder just how they made the jump.

“It’s a lot of work,” said  Sarah Moulder of Stuido Kitsu. “You have to look at it like a full-time job and put in the extra hours to do it.” Moulder started simply, making odds and ends such as Kingdom Hearts dangles. Now she peddles a wide variety of anime-inspired hoodies, costume pieces and more. Sharing a booth with Moulder are Carolann Voltarel and Carrie Wink of Athena’s Wink who also claim crafting as a full-time job – and not an easy one.

“The both of us sit [at home] 8 hours, Monday through Friday, sewing hats most weeks,” said Voltarel. “And half of our weekends we’re selling at conventions.” When asked if they could be considered a success story of the Artists Alley, Wink responded, “We’re still working on the success part.”

Sarah Moulder, Carolann Voltarel and Carrie Wink

Dedication isn’t the only hurtle these artists face. Since most of their creations are inspired by licensed material, legal ones arise even though most artists here are too small to be noticed by large companies. In 2004, when Wink was just starting out as a solo crafter, she had to stop selling Fruits Basket hats at AnimeNEXT after a Funimation vendor complained. Though Wink received some small vindication when people started complaining that Funimation’s hats were not as good as hers.

Of course, there’s more than one way to infringe on a copyright, and one method I just had to get the lowdown on was yaoi doujinshi. Ivory M., a preschool teacher who started selling her art in 2003, is half of Sin Comix. Her first Artists Alley booth was in AnimeNEXT where she had but 5 pieces of art to sell. Looking over her table, I can see she now has exponantially more including, among other things, male video game and anime characters sharing ahem- intimate moments together.

“To stand out, I have to do something that’s going to bring people over,” said Ivory. “So I try to add a comedy aspect to [my art]. Now yaoi is really popular, and I enjoy watchin it myself, so we try to have a homo-erotic spin because it brings over the ladies.” Guys, too, she claims, are fond of yaoi, but she says that for them it’s mostly for laughs.

A stage near the alley provided some lively entertainment throughout the con.

Asked about how her erotic art might conflict with her teaching job, Ivory said, “When I work in my preschool, they know I’m an artist. They just don’t know what I do…really.” While teaching is her “nine-to-five”, Ivory stresses that art is her true livelihood and passion. She even plans to create an adult comic web site in the future.

While some dreams involve creating a web site or knitting hundreds of hats, freelance photographer Ejen Chuang’s dream involved travelling 17,000 miles to photograph 1,651 cosplayers in 6 different cons over 5 months while getting sick 3 times. But all that wasn’t even work to Chuang who exclaims, “I had fun doing this project!”

The fruit of his labor is “Cosplay in America”, a thick photo book released this year depicting American cosplayers, from the amateur to the elite, along with snippets of over 60 interviews. Each page is full of character and really expresses the interests and unique style of the American cosplayer.

“If you go to Amazon[.com] and you type in ‘cosplay’, it’s all Japanese,” says a miffed Chuang. “So I’m like, ‘I live in America; I go to American cons; Where are the American cosplays?’” That’s when Chuang took his camera to A-Kon and started taking cosplay pcitures. He planned on doing it for just two hours. It ended up being his entire weekend activity. Then, after some prodding by friends, he decided this might be worth making into a book. Chuang and his camera soon took off for Anime Expo, Otakon, Anime Weekend Atlanta, A-Fest and Fanime. Three credit cards and one bank loan later, he had his book. Despite the steep cost of his venture, you won’t see an ounce of regret or worry in Chuan’s eyes. More than anything, he just hopes to make enough to break even and possibly fund his next anime tour.

Ejen Chuang proudly shows off his book.

While Chuang exclaims how much fun he had making the book, this kind of adventure is clearly not something anyone could do. Being a freelancer gave him the necessary flexibility few can find. “If you had a nine-to-five job, I think it would be a lot harder to just take off for 6 months to go and do this; and to take a whole year off to sell the book.”

Time and obligations tend to get in the way of many aspiring artists. Such is the case with Hans Tseng, one of my favorite artists and manga writers that I patronize at each con I visit. Last year he released only a half-volume of his manga “Directions of Destiny” and he still wasn’t able to complete the second half this year due to college. Though Tseng did pledge to devote more time to the comic after he graduates with his art degree from Cal State Fullerton this year. In the meantime, he’s trying to work the manga into his studies by submitting art from it for class assignments.

The Alley was a constant bustle of people who came for art and those who got pulled in on their way to panels.

But the manga isn’t the only good thing to come out of Tseng’s alley booth; it was his booth at Anime Expo just four months ago that got him discovered for an interesting new job.

“I’ve been working with a Nintendo DS game studio recently,” said Tseng. “I’m kind of their art director.” The studio is called Intrinsic Games and Tseng is currently working on two titles: A real-time strategy game called Ameobattle and a puzzle game called Thin Ice Rescue.

Clearly, the Artists Alley is a great place to set up shop to set your artistic dreams in motion. But what kind of advice can the artists share for anyone so inspired by this article that they want to rent a booth at their next con?

“If they actually want to have a booth, just make sure they’re organized and have professionally presentable artwork,” said David A. White, who was selling his newest art book, “Mecha Zone 2”. “That would be the key to me.”

“Looking at what everyone else is doing is good to gauge the market itself.” suggested Sara Moulder. ”You want to try to do something different from everyone else – to have your own little niche so someone can actually recognize you from convention to convention.”

“All of this stuff here is fan art,” said Ivory, gesturing to her displayed work. “We want to do our own stuff also, but sometimes we have to start out with the stuff people know and love in order to move into the stuff that they may not know.”

But the final word goes to Chuan, whose advice will never fail anyone in any endeavor they choose, “Just do something you love!”

Athena’s Wink: www.etsy.com/shop/athenaswink David White: www.mechazone.com Ejen Chuang: www.cosplayinamerica.com Hans Tseng:
www.slimemansion.com Studio Kitsu: www.invader-gir.deviantart.com Sin Comix: www.sincomix.com Author’s Homepage: www.interrobangfreelance.com

More NY Anime Festival and Comic Con 2010 posts:

NY Anime Festival & Comic Con 2010: Tweets
NY Anime Festival & Comic Con 2010: General Impressions
NY Anime Festival & Comic Con 2010: Anime and Manga Industry
NY Anime Festival & Comic Con 2010: Exhibitors Hall
NY Anime Festival & Comic Con 2010: Premieres
NY Anime Festival & Comic Con 2010: Panels
NY Anime Festival & Comic Con 2010: Minori Chihara


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