I got to know of this event through an advert on Facebook. As I try and build and create my own character’s universe, my constant searches online and through social media helped get the ad on my newsfeed. This is the 2nd event for the Toy Art Culture Expo in Seoul and the first of its kind in the country. I had to go. On the public holiday on 3 May, I made my way to COEX.
The expo was being held in Hall B1 in COEX, Seoul. It’s easily accessible on line 2 on Samseong Station. There’s huge mall and many other exhibitions to experience. It’s def worth a visit, even if you aren’t attending any expos in particular.
What is the Toy Art Culture Festival?
The Art Toy Culture Festival in Seoul is an exhibition to help promote and further develop the world of illustration, art and design within Korea. It’s also a great place to launch your character designs, work and skill and meet with various players in the industry. There were booths from bigger companies and well-known brands in Korea, and many had the artists at the booth and offer an illustration, photo opportunity and autograph with fans.
There were artists from Japan and China displaying their work too. Besides creatives, there were also important representatives in the industry such as merchandisers, suppliers, manufacturers and sculptors who actually make the toy models. This was a great opportunity to network and meet the people who form part of an important supply chain in the creation of brand.
Creating an actual toy for your character is truly the next level to growing the brand itself. Besides t-shirts and other printed products, a toy tends to bring it to “life”. They don’t come cheap, and from my talks with reps, the manufacturers usually only make them in bulk, especially plushies. You have to consider the time and effort it takes to cut, design and stitch each one and to make sure it actually looks like your character.
The other design is the toy model or action figure. These are really expensive. There are few sculptors and model design businesses in Seoul too. Prices vary according to design and detail. Figurines usually go hand in hand with gaming and comic book characters, and they can go one to become priceless collectors’ items, depending on your character’s success.
I spoke with a toy designer and sculptor from Hong Kong, as he was able to deliver his goods anywhere in the world. This included delivery to South Africa. He made more than just figurines but also lamps and life-size statuettes. Logistics with suppliers will be another key component in the creation of products. Goods from Hong Kong to most countries always offer a lower price, as Hong Kong has a tax-free port. This in turn can affect your pricing.
Characters, characters, characters
Of course, the industry of toys cannot exist with actual characters for them. Since the 1980s, cartoons and their characters have served a great way for selling toys and related merchandise. Thanks to huge companies such as Disney and Sanrio, a market was created to build a new world of expression while totally capitalising on it too!
Since then character design has grown exponentially. There were loads of characters on display at this fair. Most of them were independent local designers who are trying to build up a lucrative market for their work. All stalls had merchandise on sale and art works on display showing their illustrations and cartoons. There is some serious competition out there! Bon Bon is but a tadpole in a pond of millions!
Here’s some tips I made for the promotion of your character at a convention:
- I noticed that is pivotal to have some merchandise on hand for sale. One of the cool things about Korea is that if you buy something you usually get a little something for free. I think this adds a nice touch to the experience. Busy booths also had a variety of merchandise on offer from cheap pens, folders, mouse pads to more expensive stuff. Creating stuff for all budgets is also a great way to gain interest…and some sales.
- The booths with the most buzz had a good theme and consistent colour palette. Having a booth at a convention and event like this is your chance to get yourself noticed. A well-decorated booth with all you wares and being an interactive host is really important.
- I noticed booths that actually put up the story and background of their characters had the best and lasting impression on me. It’s nice to know who and what the story was about and to give some info on the character profiles too. It made me more interested. Expos and conventions can be tiring after an hour and sometimes customers can be too irritated or tired to bother asking about what’s happening with the character.
- A well decorated booth can also offer cool photo opportunities. Even if they don’t buy anything, people can walk away with a cool pic to share on social media. It’s also a good idea to put up your social media accounts in your space. Phone pics aren’t as easily lost as business cards. Some designers also offered freebies on site if you followed their social media accounts and showed them your support online on your phone.
And the winner was…..
Besides talking, asking and finding out a bunch of stuff from everyone, I also gave myself the chance to enjoy the actual event. I got to meet other illustrators and know more fun crazy characters. There were many, but my favourites were Mr. DoNothing and Woongjang the Cactus!
Woongjang is Korean for a curled-up cactus, and this character is about a cactus who is full of ambition and dreams but is too lazy to put in effort to actually do anything about it. So, he is usually found up in a curled position, with arms around his knees daydreaming about life. His position really intrigued me and I loved the concept. All in his own world, but overwhelmed by the mountain to climb to reach his dreams. Excellent.
Mr. DoNothing’s cartoons were great. Working life in Korea is rigorous and hard, so getting the chance to do nothing is a treasure and most welcome to those who know what I mean.
On a last note
I’m just starting to define my character, her universe and what it’s all about. It’s also growing along the way. What I can say about meeting other character designers at the expo, was that your character is an extension of yourself. They represent a part of your inner consciousness through a more creative and sometimes crazy perspective through your art. This is what makes them unique and interesting. This is what makes people want to know more. Building a brand around a character takes hard work, money and lots of drive. It also takes bravery as you put a part of yourself out there in a 3-walled booth to be judged by the world.
Time for me to start conceptualising and getting in contact with those emails I collected!