By Young Jeohn
Anime NYC wasn't all about merch and swag. On the creative side of things, there were many talented people there ranging from voice actors to independent artists; some who were very well known, and others who were flown in straight from Japan - all of them titans of their respective industries. There were quite many up-and-comers as well with strong followings on social media and elsewhere.
A lot of this has been made possible via the Internet. With this tool, artists and other creatives are able to have direct contact with anyone who can view their work, anywhere in the world. This wasn't possible before, and the threshold to "break in" was near impossible without some link to someone in the industry. If you think about it, one of the few ways to make it in this business was to work for a large publication that had a distribution deal or a network (the equivalent of Marvel comics or Shonen Jump).
But the tides seem to be shifting. In the three days I've attended, I've observed original content creators being mobbed at their booths non-stop. In fact, one artist was so busy that the only break they had was one forced on them by nature - and the bathroom call is the one thing nobody can refuse. But having said that, getting to this level requires huge investments in time, money and continuous improvements in skill (not to mention ceaseless amounts of marketing) that can only be achieved over time.
These creatives gathered in Artists Alley, a more intimate space that didn't feel like the huge warehouse of the main Expo floor. It was a great idea with one small flaw - while the space was homey, it played a double-edged sword when the crowd got bigger. The bumper-to-bumper traffic made it hard to move around, and at the same time, made it difficult to stay at any booth for too long due to the waves of people pushing you away. If I had one note for improvement, it would be this: make for bigger aisles next time. Definitely.
To show you the variety of creatives in this area, I walked every aisle and interviewed various artists for their stories. We'll expand on them in future articles, but for now, follow us as we show you what it felt like inside Artists Alley:
Prop checks were rampant. Entering Artists Alley from the Expo Floor or the main stage (and vice versa) required a prop check. This was not well conceived, as every time you went from one area to the other, you were required to open up your bags each time. This was something that needed to be addressed.
Rest area! Entry into Artists Alley offered some relief, as tables and chairs were set up for the weary. The art lay just beyond...
My first stop near the main entrance brought me to James and Kiki. Like a moth to a flame, my colleague, Melissa, suddenly scurried toward their table when she saw an illustration of a Kpop band member of BTS...
James (left) has the blackest of black hair and draws fantasy and sci-fi related genres. He's the creator of a graphic novel called Critical Mass, a post-apocalyptic punk-rock story and is constantly requested to illustrate video game characters like the Quarian from Mass Effect 2.
Kiki (right) rides the K-wave and loves drawing her favorite K-pop boy band, BTS. Her art life started with Sailor Moon many years ago, but the past 7 months have been a BTS obsession - you can see it reflected in the emotions of her drawings.
Deep inside the first few aisles, I caught sight of an eye-catching animated trailer/teaser and an accompanying poster board of a style that mixed western comics and manga.
Stephane's (left) Tephlon Funk is about a girl's life turned upside-down; a series based in the 5 boroughs of New York City. He created and produced this comic from scratch with his current team of 5, traveling all the way to Japan to make an animated teaser. He's making it happen, even collaborating with Fat Jon (of Samurai Champloo) for the music.
A few rows down, I see a gem hiding in plain sight. It's a shame to see people pass by without investigating because he's one of those titans of industry I was talking about at the beginning of this article (though to be fair, I almost missed him too.)
Tatsuyuki "Mikey" Maeda is a pro manga artist of 10 years (LINK: Mikey interview) and has assisted on titles such as One-Punch Man, Shaman King, Boruto, Magical Girl Apocalypse, and many more. Through his translator, I discovered that he came because of his passion to teach manga drawing skills to any artist who wants to learn.
He made a special print booklet for this event (translated into English) called the Secrets of Manga, Basics of Tools and the Trade. But don't worry if you missed out - he's planning to make a digital version available on Amazon Kindle. In the meantime, you could always check out his YouTube channel (link below).
On the opposite side of the spectrum sits YuuMei, a digital artist (LINK: Yuumei interview) and the creator of the wildly popular web comic Fisheye Placebo and Knite. Through her art, she does her best to raise public awareness on environmental issues (especially on pollution) and net neutrality. I've been following her work for a very long time, and it took me completely by surprise when I saw her name on the booth.
It might tickle you to know that she's also the creator of a popular set of headsets/speakers - the Axent Wear "Cat Ears" sold at Brookstone. Though if imitation is a form of flattery, her headphones are being imitated by quite a number of bootleggers who must think highly of her creation.
Vel is 17. Did you get that? She's 17 years old and the creator of a web comic called Countdown to Countdown. She's also collaborated on the comic Lochbank Cryptid Society for which she is the line artist and character designer. In addition to all the fan art posters, buttons and stickers, she's also created a fanzine called Flying Home, based on Legendary Defender, a Voltron reboot on Netflix. Inquiries on this incredulous feat revealed she's been a doodler since childhood, but had started drawing with professional intentions in the past three to four years.
After finishing up in Artists Alley, you could always grab a bite to eat at the convention center cafeteria, but you'd have to settle for chicken fingers or a burger with fries. What Anime NYC organized for us was variety - four food trucks stood parked outside just to break things up a bit, consisting of Phil's Steaks, El Toro Rojo, Big D's and Korilla.
I hope you enjoyed this walk-through and got a feel for Artists Alley at Anime NYC. Next time, we will take a closer look at some panels to see what those are about.