FROM COMIC BOOKS TO LUXURY COLLECTIBLES
Ang’s love affair with comic books started at a young age. “I used to read manga, English comics and Hong Kong comics,” he said. In 1995, Ang, who had dropped out of school, ran a small comic bookstore in Chinatown together with his older brother, Seng. On the side, they also picked up airbrush painting.
Two years later, a friend approached the brothers with an offer to take over a hobby store in Bras Basah. “But the rent was quite expensive. Seng then said that our mum had just given him S$1,000 for his polytechnic school fees. So we used the money to pay the rent,” Ang chuckled.
Eventually, their mother found out after a call from Seng’s school. “But she was very supportive. The worst was when my father found out!” Ang said with laugh. After sitting down for a talk, the brothers eventually convinced their father that they could see a viable career with the hobby store.
But reality told a different story. The brothers were plowing their trade in a niche industry and couldn’t rely on sales revenue to make ends meet. They offered airbrush painting classes and took on external landscape painting projects.
Customers had urged the brothers to venture into making their own licensed products, but it wasn’t until they returned from a painting job in VivoCity that Ang seriously considered it. “It was a very physical job. We had to put up our own scaffolding, we had to climb. I asked Seng, ‘what are we going to do one day if we can’t climb anymore?’ He said he would become a taxi driver,” Ang recalled.
Determined not to let their artistic experience go to waste, Ang began looking for licensors to work with. Their big break came in 2013 when Disney agreed to offer the company a one-year license to make Marvel figurines.
To be able to afford the hefty licensing fees, the brothers pulled together funds from family and friends and began making prototypes. To attract customers, they took up a small booth at Singapore Comic Con, held at Suntec City, selling each figurine at S$900.
“At that time, statues typically sell for S$400. So for a brand that no one has ever heard of to sell at S$900, people thought we were crazy. But I believed in the quality of our work,” said Ang.
The brothers ended up selling a total of 900 figurines and soon went into production. Later on, they were granted a license by Warner Brothers to create an original Batman Samurai line, reimagining the Dark Knight in feudal Japan. “The line was very successful when we launched it,” said Ang. “We proved to our licensors that we were capable of producing quality products of their intellectual properties.”