We’ve all had that friend in school who draws beautifully, and discovered their skills thanks to the inspiration of the manga or anime they love.
As someone who’s into art myself, I was in the art club in my secondary school, and many of the talented friends I met there were anime fans.
Unfortunately, they often ended up discouraged from practising anime-style if they were taking art as a subject or intended to pursue a future in the creative industry.
It all leads to a debate over what we consider “art” to be, in which illustration, animation and comics are usually seen to serve a separate purpose from conventional “art”.
But that doesn’t mean works that fall under those categories aren’t legitimate or creative.
On the contrary, anime artists develop creative ideas and directions from scratch, and require great mastery to execute them.
One group of artists in Singapore started out as anime hobbyists, persevered in their work, and now run a successful professional art studio of their own.
Just Fun And Freelancing For 6 Years
One of the earliest members, 33-year-old Ng Kian Chuan, shares with us about how Collateral Damage Studios was birthed from a doujin circle in 2007.
He’s better known as KC, and also goes by the artist moniker, ‘Komicer’.
The Japanese term doujin simply refers to a group of people who share the same interests.
Artists in the circle came together to practice their art, help each other improve, and participate in artist alleys together, while most of them held full-time day jobs.
In the same year as their inception, they released an original art book, Superscenic, and took part in their first convention, Kaleidoscope 2007.
As the doujin circle grew, they began to get noticed and received freelance work from all over the world.
“Back then, we had discussed among ourselves whether we wanted to form a professional body, but we felt that we weren’t ready.”
“So we continued to operate as a loose association of freelancers,” KC says.
The turning point came six years in, when they netted a huge client.
In 2013, Microsoft took notice of fan art that they had done for Internet Explorer, and approached them to turn it into a proper mascot.
In order to take up the project, Collateral Damage Studios had to be a registered company.
“At that point of time, I happened to be at a crossroads of my career,” KC shares.
“I had just completed a Diploma in Creative Entrepreneurship, so it felt like a right time for me to take the risk.”
He then took on the role of being a co-founder and the main architect in establishing the studio as a company, which he now manages.
Financially Sustainable Since Their First Invoice
When CDS went professional, some artists in the doujin circle were glad to support its new development by joining full time.
Among them were 33-year-old Low Zi Rong, also known as ‘WaHa’, and 27-year-old Tan Hui Tian, also known as ‘Space Penguin’.
Others who didn’t go on board with the studio full time continued to contribute on a personal level outside of their own jobs.
“All our artists and myself started out working with our studio on a freelance basis,” KC says.
“We only started paying our artists through a monthly payroll system after our first year, when we became more confident of our financial standing.”
However, he says the studio has been able to sustain itself without any external investment since the time they invoiced their first client.
They were originally based in a co-working space, *SCAPE HUBquarters, and went through one shift before settling into their current home.
They now occupy a unit at Pearl’s Hill Terrace, which they share with ARTBLOVK, a gallery opened by the founder of the doujin circle, Eddie Ching.
While KC declines to reveal how much the studio earns, he says the revenue is sustainable for its team of four full-timers, and the artists who continue to freelance with them.
Designing For The Biggest Anime Conventions
To get work, KC says, “We are relatively aggressive in seeking out new B2B opportunities and cultivating ties with new potential clients.”
“We look out for companies that can use our visuals for their marketing, branding, or customer experience design.”
He also says that their studio’s capabilities have spread by word-of-mouth within the anime industry.
Over the years, they have been able to work with Loot Crate, Anime Festival Asia, Ikeda Spa, Anime Coin, and Anime Expo.
Since 2016, Collateral Damage Studios has been providing the merchandising art for Anime Expo, the largest Japanese pop culture convention held in Los Angeles.
This October, as Anime Expo collaborates with the famous New York Comic Con, they were also engaged to create key visuals for the event.
With these notable clients in their portfolio, CDS’ work is often featured in the digital art magazine, ImagineFX.
They are especially known for designing mascots that lend their personalities and become well-recognised representing brands and events.
“While we are best known for our anime art, we are also not afraid to expand beyond that to full animation, western comic book covers, art tutorials, and even realistic medical illustrations.”
What Is Anime Art Worth In Singapore?
Despite their acclaim in the Japanese culture scene around the world, the studio has had a little less fanfare in Singapore.
KC tells us they sometimes face local clients who tend to demand more work for less pay.
“One of them enquired if we could complete an entire illustration book within an unsustainable budget,” he says. “Think less than a $1000 for an entire month of daily work.”
Usually, when we encounter such situations, we explain the importance of paying artists a fair wage for their quality of work, in the context of Singapore’s cost of living.
“Sometimes, it works; other times, it doesn’t.”
However, they have also seen support from the local community, like when Singapore-based company SOZO hired them to design Seika, the official mascot for Anime Festival Asia.
Clients like SOZO have recommended CDS to be interviewed by local publications, getting them featured in The New Paper and A List.
[These features in the media] signalled to us and our doujin community that Singapore is starting to recognise us as legitimate artists.
Their second edition of the art book, Superscenic 2, can also be found in the National Library of Singapore.
Mentoring Aspiring Anime Artists
Collateral Damage Studios’ artists may have started out drawing as a hobby, but now as seasoned professionals, they have all the experience to advise other artists with.
At Anime Expo 2018, CDS’ Art Director Low Zi Rong was featured as one of the special industry guests.
He and other artists at CDS were also invited to conduct portfolio reviews for the expo’s attendees.
“It turned out to be more popular than we expected and we were able to engage with many aspiring artists about their art and their future,” says KC.
The feedback we got was that many artists were interested in meeting us because our scrappy origins and anime art direction is the closest to what they want to do.
KC tells us that the studio has been tossing around ideas of exploring IP development projects with their art in the future, and perhaps releasing Superscenic 3.
Among all these plans, CDS also hopes to get more chances to inspire and mentor young artists in Singapore too.
Featured Image Credit: Collateral Damage Studios