During his time in university, KC became involved in the comics and animation society, and illustration became a hobby. In 2013 after receiving an offer he could not refuse he left his day job and founded an internationally recognised illustration studio.
What’s your story?
Since I was a teenager, I have been passionate about anime and manga. While I majored in Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore due to my interest in understanding the region, I became deeply involved in the NUS Comics and Animation Society. I even rose to become its chairperson in second year, and through my related activities in the pop culture fan community, I joined the circle of an informal team of artists. Our mutual love for illustration and animation kept us going, and somehow even though I am not an artist myself, I was appointed the role of de facto manager.
In 2013, a representative of Microsoft Singapore approached us to develop a mascot we made into creative materials for a full-fledged marketing campaign. To do so, though, we had to register ourselves as a Singapore company. So I did just that; I left my day job, turned the hobbyist illustration circle into a professionalised team, and never looked back.
What excites you most about your industry?
My role within the studio, other than the general management, has been to source out for new opportunities for our team. Part of the perks of the job has been to reach out and network with brands we want to work with. Even now, after years of doing this, I still get a thrill whenever I connect with well-known brands and get my team drawing art that will reach an international audience. The moment when the art is unveiled, and I can say, “Yes, we drew that.” is something that I live for.
What’s your connection to Asia?
As a Southeast Asian Studies major and a Singaporean, I believe that it is important to understand the region that we are in and our shared history. It’s odd to me that Singaporeans are more likely to be aware of what is going on in the USA compared to our own region, even though our Southeast Asian neighbours and their residents are a source of both strong competition and amazing opportunities for us.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, of course! It’s widely said, but still true that Singapore’s advanced infrastructure and safe environment makes us a good city for both Singapore companies and international startups to conduct business. It also helps that as “Asia Lite”, Singapore attracts international MNCs to set up their headquarters here. This gives us opportunities to connect with corporates with an interest in art and illustration.
Our city might be small but we have a wealth of undiscovered, unmarketed creative local illustrators in Singapore. Given CDS’ mission, home is where we source and draw our talents from!
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
A fellow manager from another studio, who had once burned out by working 24//7, taught me that even though the illustration industry can be really demanding, it is important to take a break regularly and indulge in something else. Even today, this is something that I insist on for the rest of my studio team too. Weekends are weekends and unless there is some emergency, my illustrators should be resting or doing their own passion projects.
Who inspires you?
I continued to be inspired by the works that our regional competitors such as Gunship Revolution, Caravan Studio, and LiK Studios do. Their wide-ranging portfolios are chock-full of excellent visuals; Caravan Studio, under Chris Lie, even has a publishing wing called re: ON Comics! They are studios I look up to and will constantly strive to catch up with.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Recently, Disney published a Gravity Falls comic titled Lost Legends. Do you know that one of the contributing comic artists for that book is a Singaporean illustrator? Priscilla Tang did the pencil sketches for one of the short comic stories and the manga sequence. After fanboying over the fact that she got to work with the amazing Alex Hirsch, I also learned that she was one of the original artists who had contributed to the Mugen comic publication, which was an experiment back by Chuangyi and the Media Development Authority of Singapore in the early 2000s. There are truly Singaporean talents in places where you least expect them to be.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Back when our first big project, Inori Aizawa, went viral, we were reluctant to capitalize on our newfounded fame to create more merchandise and cater towards the sudden growth of fans. On hindsight, we missed a golden opportunity that would have allowed us to grow our start-up capital so much more. If I can do it again, I would have made a more aggressive move to monetize the IP (with the blessing of Microsoft Singapore, of course!)
How do you unwind?
Even though I’m involved in the illustration industry, I do still enjoy watching anime and reading manga. The escape from reality they provide through art and story allows me to recapture that ambition that I had in stepping into this industry.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Tokyo. Anime has been a large influence in my life, so what better place to visit than the heart of anime itself? I return to the city once in a while to catch up with my Japanese friends and also to indulge in my hobby as a fan. As a heritage geek, I enjoy soaking in the historic atmosphere of Tokyo’s wealth of old temples and buildings.
Everyone in business should read this book:
Made to Stick by Dan Heath. My director, back in my internship days with Competition Commission of Singapore, made me read this tome on marketing. Even today, I continue to teach its lessons to the Singapore artists whom I work with.
Shameless plug for your business:
Collateral Damage Studios is an internationally recognised illustration studio which has worked with companies and individuals globally, by tapping upon the best of Singapore’s visual art talents to deliver incredible visuals for our clients’ needs. You may have seen our work on buses or hung from lamp post banners as advertising materials before!
This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews
Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.