By Nicole Collins, Contributing Writer
Most of us have an inner geek. There’s that one show, book or game that we love so much that we follow endlessly and collect a piece of merch or two, or 100.
For Kayla Leonard, that show was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. With some franchises, like Star Wars, Marvel, Batman and Disney, it’s not hard to find t-shirts, action figures or other sorts of merchandise. But not with Buffy, at least at the time Leonard was looking for it. So she decided to make her own line of memorabilia.
Leonard, who has always had an artistic side, started drawing the Buffy characters on coffee mugs and glass ornaments. That was 2012. At first, she just made stuff for herself and friends, she doubted anyone wanted to buy it. But her husband, Brandon, thought otherwise.
One day she came home from work to find that her husband had set up an Esty page for her to sell her items. From that point, her business, Season of the Geek, was born.
Fast forward to 2014, Leonard quits her marketing job at Fluor in Greenville to focus on her Esty business out of her home in Woodruff.
Though Season of the Geek isn’t a full-time gig, it was an opportunity for her to get out of a corporate job where she was working 70 hours a week. Shortly after leaving her job, she became pregnant with her son and now her geeky business allows her stay home with him.
Customized ornaments are Leonard’s biggest seller, especially from August until the end of the year. But when she was first starting out, she realized that she needed to explore other types of mediums to maintain interest the rest of the year.
“I tried my hand at painting on purses, doing character piggy banks, repainting action figures, geeky jewelry, and a few other things, just to see what worked and didn’t. Some of the items have stuck around (most haven’t, haha) but experimenting with new mediums and trying my hand at something else has always been a lot of fun,” says Leonard.
She can draw just about any character, even seemingly obscure one. “I’ve been doing this for so long that I at least have a brief knowledge of what something is. If you can Google it and show me a picture, I can do my best to recreate it.”
Hand-painted nutcrackers have become a creative and popular item for Leonard as she learned that people have nutcracker collections. Her nutcracker character requests are anywhere from Harley Quinn to Jack Skellington to Crash Bandicoot to Halo commanders.
One year, she had a more personal request. A mother of a marine reached out and asked Leonard to paint her son on a nutcracker.
While Leonard has tried to sell her creations at some of the local Woodruff events, she finds that “it’s easier to sell at conventions because people are coming there for geeky stuff.”
At least once a month, Leonard travels around the Southeast region to sell at comic conventions. She usually teams up with Richard Morgan, owner of Richard’s Comics & Collectibles on Laurens Road in Greenville.
Morgan recalls first meeting Leonard when she came into his shop looking for Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics. She then worked at the shop part time. Around 2014, Morgan asked Leonard if would like to start going to the conventions with him and together they could help each other with setting up, selling and packing up.
And they’re still selling at conventions together. Just last month, they set up shop at the Captain’s Comic Expo in Charleston.
“I really owe Richard a lot when it comes to my business. He’s always been an encouragement and has offered me opportunities to set up at conventions I probably wouldn’t have been able to do on my own,” says Leonard.
Morgan’s support goes beyond the convention floor. He says that a section of his shop displays Leonard’s creations and he has some of her art in his own collection.
“Kayla is extremely creative as she draws, writes and creates items to sell at the shows,” says Morgan. “She is extremely passionate about her art and perhaps a bit critical, like most good artists.”
As her business has progressed, one thing she held back from was applying to vend at some of the bigger cons. She was scared and worried that her stuff wasn’t good enough. But this year, Leonard decided to go for it. She applied for Orlando’s MegaCon in April. Attracting more than 100,000 people during its four-day run, this is the South East’s largest comics, sci-fi, horror, anime and gaming convention. At press time, she was still waiting to hear back.
For all the other artists out there, she encourages them to just go for it.
“Don’t make stuff just because it’s popular. I think people can tell if you make something you enjoy and that you love,” Leonard says. “Don’t compare yourself to other artists or shops. Everybody’s different; everybody has different products; everybody has their own spin on something. So just get out there and do you because you are the only one that can.”
Coming up, you can find Leonard at the S.C. Punk Flea Market at the Greenville Shrine Club on March 14 and 15. Two weekends later, March 28 – 29, check her out at the SC Comicon at the Greenville Convention Center. But cons aren’t just for work. She goes to Dragon Con, a convention in Atlanta held every Labor Day weekend, for vacation.
“One of the things that keeps me in this is because it’s cool to meet people who have the same interest and can relate to the things you love. You make all these new friends from other walks of life you would have never have come in contact with. And it’s because you both love this TV show or both went to this convention.”