Animated by his art
By Jenny Hirschkorn
"We went there because he had agreed to sign 40 prints we had acquired from a German publisher," recalls Singler, "and there in his office were models of iconic creatures from films like Clash of the Titans. Man, what a trip."
Such is Singler's passion for the art of animation, that his voice still trembles with the memory. So it is hardly surprising that he was always going to find a way to turn his life-long obsession into a way to make a living. "My sister always laughs and says, trust you to spend years reading comics and watching cartoons and then get away with turning it into a business."
His career started out at the Disney Store in London's Regent Street, where he found that he really liked the marriage of entertainment and retail. By that time, the animation cells that his parents had given him as presents throughout his teenage years had formed the basis for a considerable personal collection and he had taught himself a great deal about animation art.
But in the 12 years since The Animation Art Gallery was established (on a shoe-string budget of around £30,000 of the founders' own funds), Singler has learned that building a business can be a bumpy ride. The company started out with three partners, and Singler is the last man standing. So what did he find so difficult about working with other people?
"I was 23 back then, and was prepared to go with the flow. But I soon found that we weren't changing in what was a very fast changing environment. There was no investment in infrastructure or systems and the things you need to grow a business. For the first few years it was fine to rely mainly on walk-ins but since then things have changed radically."
Singler wasn't prepared to ignore what was going on around him - both in technology and in his own market, where the supply base has changed significantly - and wanted to be ahead of the game. He is worried about sounding like the disgruntled partner, but believes he was younger, had more energy and could handle more of the pain.
"I very much cared about he business - some might say I was too emotionally attached to it - and I felt there were lots of things I wanted to do, but nobody was prepared to spend any money or effort. Ultimately, I felt it was all down to me."
In the end, the partners found their differences irreconcilable and Singler bought them out four years ago.
Since he has been on his own he has had the freedom to realise many of the visions he was nurturing. "I wanted to publish our own artwork under licence and to grow the whole internet side of the business."
Most important of all, with supplies coming increasingly from licencees rather than direct from studios, was his determination to be able to offer something different to other dealers. "I didn't want to be just another dealer selling the same products as everybody else and competing on price alone."
With that in mind, he has secured licensing agreements for some 15 different art programmes, including Hello Kitty and the Mister Men. This opens up wholesale as well as retail markets. He also organises exhibitions and special events where fans can meet series' creators, artists and directors.
As the emphasis has moved away from traditional bricks-and-mortar retail, Singler recently decided to relocate away from the gallery's expensive Oxford Circus shop to The Movieum, the new movie museum in County Hall, Waterloo. "It's great fun here and a really nice fit with what we're doing," he says.
This has led to a new income stream - classes in animation. "We have an artist in residence and hold daily classes, Saturday morning sessions and 10-week master classes. The feedback has been amazing and we see that as a significant growth area." July 11, 2008