WonderCon Through the Eyes of a Single Artist
Shing Yin Khor painting at her WonderCon booth.
Postcards are the steady seller for Shing Yin Khor. She brings so many of them to comic book conventions that she has lost track of the inventory. At $1.50 a pop, they are the low-priced impulse buy at her table. If you can't decide which one you want, you can pick up four for $5. A lot of people do that. They hand over a bill and continue roaming through the convention center.
Oftentimes, Khor can make up the cost of her convention booth solely on postcard sales. By the middle of Friday afternoon at WonderCon, still only a few hours into the Anaheim fan convention, Khor had sold 45 of those postcards. When you have been working booths on the convention circuit for a few years, there are things you can predict. The overall outcome, though, isn't always the same.
Khor is a Los Angeles-based artist, writer and independent publisher. Her artwork - which includes sculpture, painting and illustration - has appeared in galleries like Leanna Lin's Wonderland in Eagle Rock. She has made comics out of sculptures (Marlowe the Monster) and watercolors (Center for Otherworld Science). She's told monster stories, historical fiction and autobiographical tales. Her autobiographical comic What Would Yellow Ranger Do? gained some viral popularity after it ran on the Toast. She releases much of her work through her imprint Sawdust Press. She also publishes other writers and artists. A horror anthology, called Blood Root, is set for release this summer.
The postcards are only one small part of Khor's growing enterprise. This year, comics, laid out flat on the table, take up a substantial piece of real estate. She also has low-priced miniature figures, cast from her original pieces in resin. There are pins featuring her characters. There are also a few sketches and paintings. It's an eclectic mix of merchandise that all ties together as part of the Sawdust Press brand.
On the first day of WonderCon, Khor sits behind the table carefully painting a Rockbeast using paints normally meant for War Machine miniatures. "Essentially, it's a critter that lives inside a rock formation," she says. Usually, Khor sells her sculptures at her convention booths too. This time around, she has a few on display, but they aren't for sale. Khor has a gallery show in Oregon coming up in two weeks and is finishing the substantial collection of pieces that will appear in it. The Rockbeast is one of them. As she paints the figure, people stop to look and ask questions. Khor is trying to make a deadline while working WonderCon, but the act of painting has also become a performance attracting more potential customers.
In half a decade, Khor has brought her work to some big conventions. She has exhibited at Alternative Press Expo, Anime Expo and San Diego Comic-Con. She's also a regular at DesignerCon, held in Los Angeles late in the year, which is geared towards art and toy collectors. She has built up a solid customer base. "I'll have a lot of people come in on the entry level," she says. "They'll pick up a postcard or a print or a single book."
Eventually, those customers become fans and buy her higher-end art pieces. This, she surmises, is perhaps the reason why Marlowe the Monster, her earliest comic, doesn't sell as well as it once did. The people who stop by her booth already have it.
Khor does business in the Small Press section of WonderCon's exhibit hall. There isn't the sort of heavy foot traffic that you'll see elsewhere, but there is a steady flow of people looking for independent comics. Khor's work maintains a fierce indie spirit. "I know that the work I'm doing is not commercial," she says on Saturday afternoon. She's not opposed to the possibility of mainstream projects, but she also doesn't compromise her vision in an attempt to gain attention.
"I would love to write for Marvel at some point in time, but I don't think that writing comics the way Marvel does is necessarily what's going to get me that job," she says. Maintaining her own distinct voice is working for Khor. People like her stories and characters.
It cost $300 to score the WonderCon booth and, by Saturday morning, Khor made up that cost. Two issues of Center for Otherworld Science are selling well at $6 a piece, or both for $10. She had these comics printed on felt weave paper. They look as though they were individually painted with watercolors. As we chat, a man stopped by to buy both issues, plus two original sketches and a button.
By day, Khor is a paralegal who specializes in privacy law. "If I'm going to work for someone else, I would rather do it in a field that's not art," she says. She enjoys privacy law and likes her job. However, she would like to make art full-time, as long as it's her own work. To get to that level, she says she needs to build a larger audience. "I'm getting to a point where I could probably live on my art alone if I lived in Portland," she adds. "However, I do not live in Portland."
Khor sells more than comics at her WonderCon booth.
Khor spends her weekend commuting from Los Angeles to Anaheim, spending full days in the booth. "I get to see everything between here and the bathroom," she says. She doesn't feel like she's missing out that much though. "I have enough superhero t-shirts and merchandise," says Khor. "My main regret is not seeing my friends and fellow creators as much."
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The benefits of the booth, though, are evident. People who picked up a comic on Friday stop by to purchase another on Saturday. Khor temporarily sold out of the first issue of Center for Otherworld Science. Fortunately, she was able to replenish the stock Sunday morning. By the afternoon of the convention's final day, she also sold out of a 'zine version of her story What Would Yellow Ranger Do? Most of her sketches, which were selling for $25-50, were gone as well.
When Khor set up shop at her first convention, she sold six copies of her comics. At WonderCon 2014, she sold 78 over the course of three days. The comic book creator was struck by the success of Center for Otherworld Science. In a follow-up email exchange after the convention ended, Khor credits this to the "production value" of the comic printed on felt weave paper.
"I think that the market for print is diminishing, especially for cheap throwaway comics that are also accessible online," she writes. When it comes to "nice objects," though, the story is different. This is something that will affect Khor's work in the future, she notes. "My books are getting prettier, because it definitely looks like people are willing to pay more for a nicer book."
As for the postcards, Khor sold 206 of those. They moved steadily, as she expected, but the big winners this weekend were the comics.
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