‘This Is a Five-Figure Show’: Meet the Artists Selling Their Wares at New York Comic Con
Meet some of the artists selling their work at the mecca for all things pop culture.
There was a buzz in the air as the crowds descended on New York’s Javits Center on Thursday, many in eye-catching outfits, eager to seen and be seen, to buy new works by their favorite artists—and maybe even spot a celebrity or two. But the Armory Show, which kicks off the city’s fall season, was last month.
This was the opening of New York Comic Con, a hugely popular annual event showcasing a distinctly different segment of the art and culture world, where cosplay trumps designer fashion.
There’s a distinct lack of blue-chip art galleries, replaced with vendors promoting everything from Tamagotchi (I guess the once-beloved late-1990s electronic toy is attempting a comeback) to the sequel to Nickelodeon’s Good Burger (1997) that I’m pretty sure no one—except maybe Kel Mitchell—asked for. So, it’s easy to forget that art is actually at the heart of Comic Con.
If it wasn’t for the artists who painstakingly draw each and every panel of the adventures of Spider-Man and other famed characters, there would be no Marvel Cinematic Universe, no action figures, and no convention circuit. But though the artists may get overshadowed by the likes of Eli Manning wandering the aisles in a faux-muscled Giants superhero suit, they are still there—and thriving.
“This is a five-figure show. Only San Diego Comic Con is on this scale,” Justin Orr, an Oakland-based artist selling prints of his original drawings and poster art from $15 to $80, said. When other artists on the convention circuit might be quick to churn out new work based on the latest trends in fandom, he prides himself on offering a more eclectic selection: “hip hop stuff and weird movies and kung fu.”
A former professional animator, illustrator, and concept artist who cut his teeth working for Nickelodeon and MTV after getting an art school degree, Orr decided to try his luck as a convention artist some 17 years ago. (His style draws heavy on vintage poster design, but also such diverse references as J.C. Leyendecker, Will Eisner, and The Ren and Stimpy Show.)
“It worked out so well, I didn’t have to go back to studio art,” he said. “It’s the best job I ever had. I do shows a couple of weekends nine months a year where I get to talk to people about art, and then I take three months to work on new art and take a vacation.”
Other artists use cons to supplement full-time careers related to illustrator. Astoria-based animator Jodie Rae Charity has been in the industry some 25 years, and currently works at ABC Disney.
“I only started doing conventions the last five years or so. I had a lot of art and I didn’t know what to do with it—this was an easy way to get it to the fans,” she said.
Traditionally trained in oil paint and pastels, Charity transitioned to working digitally about 15 years ago. “It took about 10 years to get as good as I was on canvas,” she added. Now, she focuses on making Star Wars fan art priced at $8 to $50 a print—and has even a couple of official works she’s made for Lucas Film.
An affordable price point is common at Comic Con, where artists are typically selling their work themselves. Yes, there are six figure works for sales, but those are rare editions of highly sought after comic books.
And you can even get hand-painted originals—not digital prints—for just $20. Business partners Brendan Shaw and Peter Vasquez of Fat Guy Inc. are both are offering tiny canvases featuring cartoon character from Pokémon, Rugrats, Spongebob, and other popular properties.
The two met close to 20 years ago when Shaw was bartending, and have been selling work at comic cons since 2011. “My full time gig is selling car parts for a dealership,” Shaw said, adding that buys his tiny canvases by the thousand online, and made 500 for this year’s event—double what he brought in 2022, when he nearly sold out.
While the convention circuit remains a part time gig for some, it can also lead to career breakthroughs. Sarah Myer got her first booth in Artist’s Alley back in 2003, when she was still in high school, but it’s only in the last year that she got a job illustrating for IDW’s new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book series.
The artist, who also just published an autobiographical graphic novel, Monstrous, credits her years of making TMNT fan art with landing her the gig.
“I think they were looking for someone who really knows and cares about the characters,” she said.
At the con, Myer was selling signed copies of the new comics for $10, plus prints of her original artwork for $10. “I’ll probably make enough to cover my costs and maybe $500 more, but it’s a good opportunity to talk to people about what I have coming out and meet more industry people,” she said, pointing to other nearby artists who have given her valuable advice over the years. “I often end up connecting with my neighbors.”
Nicole Sands, who draws under the handle Soupnido, meanwhile, was optimistic about her financial prospects showing at Comic Con for the first time. The 25-year-old self-taught artist, who hails from Panama, currently lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and was making her first trip to New York City after a year on the convention circuit.
“It’s been really good. I would never have expected to make that much money, but the best conventions are $10,000 for a weekend,” she said, noting that her best-selling print (priced at $25) features a trio of adorable turtle ducks from Avatar: The Last Airbender.
“I would describe my style as very vibrant and cutesy,” Sands, who creates her designs using a digital tablet, added. “I never really draw the main characters. I draw the side stuff you would only recognize if you watched the show.”
While the aisles were full of references to countless comics, books, television shows, and other cultural phenomena, some artists also presented their own original characters and creations.
JaCo Tartaruga, a self-taught artist who only took up the brush in 2015, was offering superhero and other fan art works at $30 each, plus original designs of a personified Puerto Rico, where he grew up, for $40. Working in watercolor and pen, he prints his designs on linen paper to highlight their fine art qualities.
“I try to make a balance between comic art and fine art,” he said. “I go to lots of shows, but this is the biggest highlight. I connect with the most people here.”
New York Comic Con is on view at the Javits Center, 655 West 34th Street, New York, October 12–15, 2022.
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