Questions And Answers With Jimmy Jay

Jesse James sent e-mails to Jimmy Jay of Jay Company and the Amazing Arizona Comic Con.

Do you remember your first comic?

I’ve been a life long comic fan. At an early age, I would go to the market with Mom Jay, and if I was good, I got a special prize. More often than not, I walked out with a comic. My First Comic must have an issue of Spidey Super Stories featuring the Electric Company. Eventually I found a neighborhood store- which was rare back in the late 70s/early 80s- where I picked up back issues like HUMAN FLY. This guy may have LOOKED like Spider-Man, but he had an “edge” with his Evil Kinevil Knock Off stunts, short cape, and pimp stick too. Ahh Nostalgia!

How did you get involved in the comic book world?

As I said I was a comic fan from the get-go. I would ride my bike to a 7-11 or the comic shop and buy a bunch of stuff off the rack. At the age of 12 I begged my mom to take me to the San Diego Comic Con for an afternoon. That was in 1986, when it was held at the OLD Convention Center, and I’ve been to each and every one since.

As for Professionally, my brother and I were just finishing college, and decided to take a road trip to WonderCon in Oakland. Driving north, probably near Bakersfield we convinced each other that we could be “professional comic book dealers”. By the time we got home, we pitched our Mom to invest the massive sum of $300 in our business, and a partnership was formed. That was nearly 20 years ago.

JayCompany was formed at that time; perhaps the “.com” came a few years later. In that time we have grown to the largest new book dealership on the comic con circuit, and have branched out to promote our own brand of convention entertainment with the AMAZING COMIC CON brand. This is our third time out with Amazing Arizona Comic Con on January 25-26-27, and we organized the Image Comic Expo, which celebrated the 20th anniversary of the publisher.

How was the market at the time for your style of marketing?

I’m assuming that you are talking about the #Comicmarket conditions when we started the retail portion of the company. It was the mid 90s, after the crash, and it was horrible! Or at least that’s what industry vets would tell us. We were young and optimistic and had a “can’t lose” mentality. It perhaps was the best market conditions for two young guns to come into the convention scene that wanted to sit at the big boy table with publishers and creators.

In the 20 years we have been in business, it’s been interesting to chart the trends, but I try to keep JayCompanyComics.com ahead of the curve as much possible, I remain optimistic.

You are one of the founders of Exclusive Convention Variants by a non-publisher.  Was this a big risk at the time?

In 1997 and 98, I looked at the #Comicmarket conditions and it appeared that variant comics, and exclusives were still on the rise. I saw online companies such as American Entertainment have their own special covers, and I thought JayCompany should be on the same position on the convention circuit. With that in mind, we walked into every hot comic studio and approached every hot creator, with strong cash offers up front and an aggressive marketing plan. We were taking their product to the masses, put them in front of the most hardcore buyers and fans, and pushed the heck out of those brands. We saw the power in comic con circuit, and the distribution outlets with the internet growing and went full bore.

This was a win-win with the publisher and creators- JayCompanyComics.com gave significant cash influx, created hype among collectors while driving traffic to our booth and our online sales

Back to your question though, I never looked at expanding what a retailer could or couldn’t do as a risk. Again I think this was youth. I didn’t have a family or a mortgage, so I didn’t think twice about pushing all in and regularly doubling down on projects that I believed in.

Many in the business feel that the variant world is going to bust in the near future.  Your thoughts on this?

The “variant bubble” is something that we have heard for two decades, and just as many specialty covers are still be released today by most major publishers, many independents, and various vendors too. I know Entertainment Weekly and Time magazine does variant covers too!

I think it’s more accurate to substitute the term bubble, with the cycle of variants, as desired collectibles. The market ebbs and flows on these alternate covers. I think in today’s #Comicmarket, variants with the most chances for successfully holding value or moving up are ones tied to KEY issues, and have the most commercial artwork. Other factors that can influence are the rarity and method of distribution, and where it comes from. The #Comicmarket reacts according. As for the future of this niche specialty, it’s hard to argue with the commercial pop appeal of some of those great J Scott Campbell exclusive covers coming through the pipeline, that’s for sure.

You continue to increase your presence at SDCC, is this something that you think of through out the year?

Absolutely- San Diego Comic Con is the Superbowl of Comic Industry. It is the biggest platform, the biggest showcase. We take great pride in that JayCompanyComics.com has the biggest booths, and most locations on the show floor of any modern comic retailer. At comic cons, trends, consumer habits, and tastes begin and end, so we feel it is important for JayCompanyComics.com to be at the forefront of #Comicmarket, on the top stage at San Diego.

Jay Company has had the opportunity to over the last year to partner up with Image Expo and Las Vegas Expo.  Is this something your company is continuing to strive to do in the Con scene?

JayCompanyComics.com looks at every opportunity to grow our brand. Both of these situations presented unique circumstances to do just that. With the Image Comic Expo, we had a relationship with Robert Kirkman who was featured prominently at the first two AMAZING ARIZONA COMIC CONS. I’ve known Robert for a number of years and have had a good working relationship. He was intrigued when I pitched him the idea of a 20th Anniversary Celebration for Image Comics while creating a comic con experience. JayCompany booked the Oakland Convention Center, and did the ground work, and I thought it would make sense to invite Image Comics to be a part of the process. With a few conference calls, and a meal with Eric Stephenson at Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles, the deal was done. The JayCompany staff put a ton of work into the Image Comic Expo, and I thought it was extremely successful Fan Fest.

The Las Vegas Comic Expo was completely different set of circumstances, as I had zero ownership stakes in the event. I was a hired consultant; albeit a consultant that was extremely hands on in delivering a fun event for the fans, while successful for the creators and vendors there. I had known the promoter Charles Lee for a number of years, as he is regular face on the Comic Con Circuit. Dr. Lee is a big art collector and patron of the Artist Alley, and he, along with his brothers, were planning an expo that focused on such commissions and a charity art auction. Approximately 8 weeks before his event, there was still considerable amount of work to do in transforming the fragments they assembled into a true comic con, so he turned to me to run the event, and I obliged. Like all things, my staff and I threw ourselves into the event, working around the clock and made sure the Las Vegas Comic Expo “worked”. I am proud of what we were able to accomplish with the small resources and time limitations. Prior to this show in the fall, and by many accounts, Las Vegas seemed to be a town that a convention could not flourish, and perhaps that myth would be still going today, but our staff was able to deliver a reputable comic con.

Your Amazing Arizona Con hits its 3rd year.  Thoughts on it growth, as far as fan base and market awareness on the west coast?

“Comic Con Culture” has grown tremendously in the past decade. There are a number of regional events, on every weekend of the Calendar. Perhaps the tremendous media push on the San Diego Comic Con has sparked interest, perhaps it’s the mainstream acceptance of the properties, but there is no denying the fact that more people are coming out to celebrate these pop culture events.

In the two decades with JayCompany, I have witnessed the present trend where many shows are in fact less comic book, relying on more pop nostalgia.

Our goal with AMAZING COMIC CON was to bring the focus back on the creators, the comic books, the art and the medium. I would hope that the vendors and artists on the convention circuit will recognize this, and the fans would too. I don’t want Amazing Comic Con to be a clone of Celebrity Creation Con; I want to return the Comic Con name back to more of its Origin. Unlike other upstarts, we have taken the experiences and relationships we have built over the years with JayCompany.com, and parlayed them into our Amazing Comic Cons.

In 24 months, Amazing Comic Conventions will have thrown 4 full fledged Comic Cons, and ran the complete operations at a fifth event. In a relatively short period of time we have transitioned JayCompany.com from being just retailers into full-blown promoters. We try to be visible and accessible at every turn. I think our industry needs more of this.

With news of Wizard World and Emerald City being a focus this week. Do you feel that there might be to many Conventions?

I don’t think you can make a blanket statement with regards to the perfect number of conventions. In JayCompany’s years of traveling extensively around the country to all the national and many of the regional comic conventions, I think every geographic area has their own appetite for comics. Some areas are extremely sophisticated and knowledgeable with the comic book entertainment they consume, while others are more casual in their approach to a broader pop culture umbrella. While I think certain regions can support more than a single convention, the dates on the calendar when the events are bunched together perhaps play a much more important factor when deciding if a region has had its fill.

With our Amazing Comic Convention brand, we hope to keep our focus clearly to the comics and the creators. We’ll do our best for our events to appeal to a fervent collector base, while creating activities that appeal to families too. When choosing to go to a convention, ultimately you choose what flavor and approach appeals to your sensibilities over all else.

In your wildest dreams did you ever think you would have both Jim Lee and Stan Lee as the same con with your name behind the brand?  

We are incredibly blessed to be working with Jim Lee and Stan Lee at the 2013 Amazing Arizona Comic Con.

For the casual or hardcore fan, chances are if you bought a comic book in the last 25 years it was drawn by Jim Lee. Whether it was record breaking X-Men #1, the Launch of Image Comics, Batman HUSH, Superman, or the DC52…

And you can magnify that same universal awareness with Stan Lee- whether you purchased comics from the spinner racks, watched Spider-Man Cartoons in the 70s, bought Hulk Hands for your nephew, or stood in line at the Cineplex at one of these big summer Marvel Blockbuster movies like the Avengers, you have interacted with one of the pillars of this year’s Amazing Arizona Comic Con…

We have been extremely fortunate to work with the very top A-List of Comics, with Robert Kirkman and the Cast of Walking Dead headlining shows, to Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, and the rest of the The Image Founders, Greg Capullo, Jeph Loeb, BK Vaughn, John Layman, Nick Spencer, and we can go down the list. In a short period of time, our all time heroes and current favorites have come to our shows over the last 24 months. It floors me as a fan, and it pushes us further to keep topping everything we have done before.

How tough is it to expand duties to others on something you have grown from ground up?

With JayCompany and the Conventions in general I try to be as accessible as possible. I choose to be the on the front line, working with the vendors, answering questions, coming up with solutions doing the hard work. I never wanted to be the type of promoter that hides in an office all convention, more concerned with box office returns than the people coming to our event. I want to be the one that personally thanks the guests for coming out to the shows, but more importantly I want to shake as many hands of attendees that choose to spend their weekend with us.

It’s definitely a balancing act to have others share the work load, and I think with the delegation of duties our operations will run smoother and more efficiently. That will always be a priority of ours.

How do you separate the convention duties and obligations versus your everyday business growth of Jay Company as a comic book business?

Balancing JayCompany work with convention planning is hard work. It’s the equivalent of working two full time jobs in the same industry. While there’s some natural overlap working with JayCompany and Convention Planning, make no bones about it, it’s a ton of hours, and can be a grind shifting gears. I absolutely love comics, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Your thoughts on the comic book business as whole in 2013?
I think I can fill columns just talking on this topic, and if you follow me on twitter @JimmySJay and #ComicMarket, you know I passionately ramble, but I will try to keep it brief here-

I love the comic industry because it is constantly changing and evolving. I think people consume comic book storytelling in a number of different ways now- whether it’s visiting comic stores on a Wednesday, ordering graphic novels from Amazon, or downloading stories online. The bottom line is that more and more people are interacting with the stories, characters, and properties. No matter what way you consume and collect your entertainment, my belief is that a few times a year, many fans may even want to meet their favorite creators, and hang out with them for a weekend. That’s why comic conventions are so important for our industry. They are literally the first line between fans and creators…

And if you are one of these fans, hopefully you will be seeing us at one of these weekend conventions!

What’s your thoughts on the rising retail cost of a new issue?  Are comic fans being forced into digital?

New comics can certainly be expensive. I know some people gasped at the price of Amazing Spider-Man #700, but then there were 3 other customers muscling their way to buy it anyways. The #Comicmarket is certainly different though when I rode my huffy to the 7-11 spinner rack and could buy a significant chunk of the monthly line of Marvel. It’s hard for people to try new titles, so I think most of the time, it’s easy to fall back to old favorites.

Digital might be an option to try out new titles, that aren’t in the current rotation. For instance, I was bummed when I sold out my last copy of the Brian Wood Star Wars #1 without keeping a copy to read myself. Easy fix though, was going digital with it, and now I will certainly be keeping up with the print version. This isn’t too different than the hoards that have flooded in with The Walking Dead or even the newbies picking up AVX #0 for free.

Digital is great for fostering readers, but I think there is a culture of collectibility with comics.

Any goals you can share with us for this up coming 2013 con season?

The goals of JayCompanyComics.com and ultimately Amazing Comic Conventions is really simple- just get our brand stronger and more efficient. Whether that is making your life easy by having a really well run retail experience at a convention you go to, or if you choose to spend your comic con with Amazing Comic Conventions.