Creating During Covid: Kevin Tong Talks Convention Woes and Home Set-Ups

Creating During Covid: Kevin Tong Talks Convention Woes and Home Set-Ups
Kevin Tong's Utility Belt piece for Mondo. (Image: All Images, Kevin Tong)

The novel coronavirus pandemic’s effects have already been felt far and wide, in what the covid-19 pandemic has done to them, their art, and the industry.

We’re planning to speak with several artists over the next few weeks who primarily work in the pop culture art world. First up is Kevin Tong, a poster artist and illustrator who resides in Austin, Texas. He’s best known for the work he’s done with Mondo (posters like Mulholland Drive, The Iron Giant, and Ran) but he also does gig posters, game posters, book covers, pretty much everything. His art can found up and down this post, and you can see more of it (and buy it) at his website. Our interview, conducted over email, is below.

Tong's poster for Netflix's The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. (Image: Kevin Tong)Tong’s poster for Netflix’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. (Image: Kevin Tong)

Germain Lussier, Gizmodo: How has the pandemic impacted your industry?

Kevin Tong: Like with many people, the pandemic has affected different people in different ways, from not at all to completely. Many artists already work at home or have home setups, so I don’t imagine it was as difficult for artists to make that transition as it might have been for people in other industries. A lot of my friends are freelancers, so most of them are still working on their projects, but I’ve heard from some that the workload has dwindled or stopped completely.

The area where artists are hit hard as the ones who depend on live events like San Diego Comic-Con or Lightbox that got cancelled. There are many artists who work all year preparing for those events, making new work, refining their setups, and hoping to meet new clients. I know a handful of really awesome people that count on the sales from those types of events to generate most of their income.

Gig poster artists are definitely affected since the “gigs” have been cancelled. Some print shops had to close down in cities with lockdowns, affecting the artists that count on their finely honed profession to make our art look good. Hopefully, all those artists can make up for those in-person sales with online sales.

Tong's Mondo poster for Jurassic Park. (Image: Kevin Tong)Tong’s Mondo poster for Jurassic Park. (Image: Kevin Tong)

io9: Has it changed your approach to your art at all?

Tong: I’m incredibly fortunate that not much has changed for me personally. For well over a decade, I’ve been working all day every day at home and I keep myself pretty busy, so I don’t go out too much and my interaction with other people is more quality over quantity. Effectively, as a self-employed illustrator, I’ve been in quarantine for much of my adult life, cue the emo music.

Initially, my clients needed time to adjust to working from home or dealing with layoffs. There were staff changes, more lag time between art approvals… disapprovals… mostly disapprovals… haha, but now things have settled and it’s all working like a well-oiled machine again.

Due to events being cancelled, I have taken on more client work than usual. Normally, I try to set aside more time to do art prints and work on my booths for the events, but I’m not complaining. I’m very lucky to have what I have right now.

io9: With so much serious news in the world, I know my job feels a little superfluous. As an artist, how do you feel about what your job means now?

Tong: People are getting sick, people are dying, the globe is heating up, the rich are getting richer, democracy is in danger, violence in the streets, misinformation, the systems that should protect and provide for us aren’t even close to doing their jobs… it honestly does feel ridiculous to be making art right now. Would and should anyone care about a little doodle I did and posted on Instagram?

When things get really bad though, that’s when we need the things that make the world diverse and beautiful the most. I’m not saying art is going to save the world, but when we see such destructive things, seeing something being created, whether it be music, a painting, a poem, or picture show, can have a healing effect. Or at the very least, grant us a momentary reprieve before diving once more, into the breach of this madness.

Tong's Mondo poster for The Iron Giant. (Image: Kevin Tong)Tong’s Mondo poster for The Iron Giant. (Image: Kevin Tong)

io9: How has pop culture helped you in this time and have you seen it help others, maybe through your art?

Tong: Whenever I work, I’m constantly streaming a show, watching a movie, listening to music or podcasts, or audiobooks. Pop culture has gotten more aware and representative. Right now it feels a bit forced at times, but I appreciate the effort, I believe there are some creators who are genuine and sincere about wanting to create change, and it makes me feel like things will gradually go in the right direction.

io9: Have you found any challenges getting materials you need due to the situation?

Tong: No, I work mostly digitally.

io9: Are fans buying more, less, the same? Why?

Tong: Lately, I’ve been doing more client work, so I haven’t been releasing as many prints. I do sell about the same from my online store as before the pandemic and I see my colleagues releasing art with respectable sales.

As far as posters and prints go, there is a strong, tight-knit, and enthusiastic community of both artists and their fans/collectors. The artists that do the kind of work that I also do are very approachable and they often do live events, like conventions and art galleries, meeting with their established fans and making new ones. Eventually, those fans simply become friends. The relationship is many of us enjoy is personal.

When the live events started dropping like flies, I know for a fact that the community rallied around the artists who were affected and bought their prints online and/or reposted their work on social media with more regularity to amplify the signal. It’s such a beautiful thing to see and be a part of.

Tong's Mondo poster for Gravity. (Image: Kevin Tong)Tong’s Mondo poster for Gravity. (Image: Kevin Tong)

io9: When the dust settles on the pandemic, how do you see all this changing your art, your industry, etc.?

Tong: Truthfully, I have no idea. Will we ever be able to do events where hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world cram into one building? What about art shows? Will there be a cure, readily available testing, or vaccine? What if another wave happens, the virus mutates or there’s another virus waiting to rear its ugly head? Even if covid-19 is overwhelmingly suppressed, the conditions that created it still exist, not just in other countries, but also in the US.

I, like most of the world, only have questions and am waiting patiently for experts to use science to present objective facts. In the meantime, I wish people of influence who don’t have facts would stop pretending as they do.

Thanks to Kevin Tong for taking the time to talk with us. Don’t forget to check out his website here. And check back soon for our next Creating During Covid.