Song River: Jimmy, thank you for taking time to chat a bit with me today about the Comic Con industry, and your part in creating an organically charged enterprise. For those who may not be familiar with your background share with us a bit about your beginnings and how they’ve come together to create Amazing Comic Con.
Jimmy Jay: Song, I really appreciate being invited to talk about the AMAZING COMIC CON, and our events in LAS VEGAS, HOUSTON, ARIZONA and in 2015 Hawaii.
Here’s a bit of background- I have been a hardcore comic fan since the age of 12. My mom walked me up to the front doors of the 1986 San Diego Comic Con, gave me a $20 bill and told me to make it last. Well, it’s nearly 30 years since, and I’m still trying to make every bit of it as fun and exciting!
20 years ago, I started JayCompanyComics.com, along with my brother Bill and our mom. We grew our family retail business to the largest convention dealership of modern age comics in the North American comic con circuit. Along the way we have worked with a number of talented creators and publishers on exclusive covers and collectibles, and I even published a line of books under the ARCADE COMICS imprint. It was here that I worked with folks like Rob Liefeld, Mark Millar, and Robert Kirkman.
Basically, what we did was, we took all these various aspects of our multiple jobs in the comics industry, and 4 years ago we started our own “Brand” of Comic Conventions. This was the very origin of the Amazing Comic Con. Our first event was in Mesa, Arizona, and it was a huge success. The enthusiasm led us to move AMAZING ARIZONA COMIC CON to the Phoenix Convention Center, located in downtown Phoenix. Since that time, we have created annual events at the AMAZING LAS VEGAS COMIC CON in June, and will be launching the AMAZING HOUSTON COMIC CON later this year. Then in 2015 we have added AMAZING HAWAII COMIC CON, more to come on the details soon.
Along the way we’ve launched the very first Image Comic Expo in Northern California, and have been hired as show runners to other events.
Song: How tough is the comic con industry?
Jimmy: The Comic Convention industry is extremely tough, but on the other hand it is highly rewarding. Even though internet reports state at length that there is a massive increase in comic con culture and the proliferation of fan driven events, we decided that chasing trends was not what our brand was about. I see many events pop up that attempt to book nostalgia actors, wrestlers, bay watch models, and dub their events as a “comic con.”
So, instead of chasing trends, at Amazing Comic Conventions we wanted to return to the concept of a COMIC CON back to its roots. We want our events to be about the CREATORS. These are the architects of pop culture, and I think they should be the highlight of our events, not a footnote.
In addition, while I outlined some of the challenges of navigating through trends, it is extremely rewarding working with creators that you admire, and to ultimately share your love with 20,000-30,000 plus fans!
Song: The word ‘organic’ has been a word I’ve heard used to describe Amazing Comic Con. Is it a system that you’ve tried to build that fits together in a certain pattern or order?
Jimmy: It’s interesting that you use the word organic to describe the Amazing Comic Con events – we have a very simple philosophy to showcase-creators and comics first and foremost. This applies to our biggest headline talent, to the featured guests, and should also be an attraction for the indie, pro/am artists who populate the artist alley.
Amazing Comic Conventions START with the creators and the comics, our events are all encompassing – there is something for everyone here at our shows. For example, at last year’s AMAZING LAS VEGAS COMIC CON, our event launched in June, the same weekend as the “Man of Steel” movie was released in multiplex. Our top guest was world-famous artist Jim Lee, who was releasing the Superman Unchained #1 that same week. We try to create a synergy of pop culture – blending a major film release, with a super star creator, with the biggest comic of the year launching. We have utilized a similar approach when the Deadpool video game was released, promoting Deadpool creator Rob Liefeld. Of course this is our approach when we have promoted events with Robert Kirkman, the creator of Walking Dead comic book and executive producer of the hit AMC TV series, as well.
To this extent, everything begins with comics and those who make them, and of course it returns there too. This cycle is most certainly organic.
Photos taken by Song River [www.cowgirlzenphotography.smugmug.com]. All rights reserved.
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Song: How do you convey this way of working with others to your staff and as well to your fans?
Jimmy: Another goal of Amazing Comic Conventions is that our staff is highly accessible to the fans, vendors, and guests on the show floor. We are super hands on with our approach and quite literally roll up our sleeves. Whether this is from greeting each fan with a smile as they walk through the doors, or making sure we are available to solve any issues or questions that may arise.
I believe our fans, guests, and vendors see how much we truly love the spirit of the event. We make it a point for our entire staff and myself included, to be on the front lines and accessible the entire convention weekend. We are certainly all in this together, celebrating comics and pop culture!
As part of this accessibility, we integrate ourselves in the communities which we have our events. Our approach is not like the circus where we pitch a tent, do our high wire act, and then get on the road; but instead be visible and active all year around. We want to meet and hang out with locals at pre-convention get meet-ups; such as Drink & Draw bar nights, or during the shows with our Pint & Print After Parties, Bowling Nights, and more.
We also can be reached through social media on our twitter page @AmazingComicCon or on Facebook as well.
The bottom line is that we are far from a faceless organization – we are accessible, and want to address all feedback in a real-time matter, as real people. We want AMAZING COMIC CONVENTIONS to be about sharing and celebrating our passions and fandoms. I’m so very grateful to everyone who comes out and spends their weekends with us!
Song: There are numerous comic cons nationwide year around – some gauge their shows to a particular genre, while others contain so much that it would take a five-day Disney pass just to make it through half of the events. Where does Amazing fit in on size?
Jimmy: I think the AMAZING COMIC CONVENTIONS are sized accordingly. Our events in Las Vegas, Arizona, and Houston are very much like the early San Diego Comic Cons we attended as teenagers. We try to pack enough guests and fun activities to run the entire 3-day weekend. We had great success expanding our programming tracks, and the number of featured creators to ensure this. On the flip side, I think our events are intimate enough where you can have conversations with the talented folks who headline the marquee, and not feel like you are waiting in line after line at a cattle call.
For a fan you can spend time relaxing and enjoying our three-day events. Whether you’re hunting through sizable and diverse vendor halls, getting your books signed, discovering new talent in the artist alley, checking out some interactive panels, chatting with your favorite creators, or enjoying one of our after hours events…. I think you get the point!
Song: How do you market to each comic con location?
Jimmy: We try to bring our core values of Creators and Comics to launch our shows. We can assure this in Las Vegas, Houston, and Arizona. From there, the show may take certain turns depending on the individual communities and local flavors. We don’t believe in a cookie cutter one size fits all approach that other companies may employ. Each community express their fandoms uniquely.
To use an example – COSPLAY is huge in Phoenix, with its year around weather and rich history of conventions, so we gladly have increased events each year to mirror this at the Amazing Arizona Comic Con. We were unsure of the extent and level of cosplay going into our first year in Las Vegas, and were pleasantly surprised with the great craftsmanship at our opening show. This year we expanded activities such as Prop building and more for this location too, the demand is certainly there. At each location we gauge the responses on these workshops, and see if they are viable and transferable in the other markets.
Houston will be interesting because it is more of a blank slate, so we will see what the convention community.
Song: When Amazing Comic Con began, why was Arizona chosen first? Was the logical progression to Vegas from there, and then tell us your decision about Amazing Houston Comic Con over labor day weekend?
Jimmy: AMAZING ARIZONA COMIC CON was our first event. While we had a background into a number of areas in the comic industry with a strong Rolodex, we saw a need for a convention early part of the year – there was a dearth of such events on the calendar. The selection of Arizona was simple in that we retailed at local Phoenix shows from the very start of our company. One of the first conventions we traveled to was a CHAOS FAN FEST, which oddly enough was the first out-of-state convention of the late, great Michael Turner. We went to the various incarnations of Phoenix Con with the Cactus Cons in Mesa, and even booked their talent for several years. Arizona was just a natural progression.
As for planning the AMAZING LAS VEGAS COMIC CON – Our director of Operations – Holly Jensen lives in town, and urged us to consider the location. Las Vegas has one of the strongest cores of direct market stores, but the city lacked a full-fledged “comic con.” After reviewing a number of properties, we found the SOUTH POINT Hotel & Casino, which turned out to be perhaps the best fit of any convention that we have gone to – as a fan and as an exhibitor.
The hotel corridor to the main hall, has dozens of great dining options available from Steak & Shake, to a Vegas style buffet, with multiple gastronomic choices including: Italian, Mexican, Asian, and a New York deli and more. For locals, ample parking is free, and access to the South Point is easy. Again, this is an ideal location.
For AMAZING HOUSTON COMIC CON, we selected George R Brown Center, based on its central location in the heart of the downtown district. Houston is the 4th largest population center in the US, and while a number of other conventions take place in town, none feature comic books and the creators as their primary focus.
Thank you Jimmy for sharing some insight into Amazing Comic Con with us. Your goals of being a comic con that focuses on the “creators” certainly makes Amazing its own market. And that is the beauty in the diversity of comic cons – all varieties to fit all tastes, so that going to a comic con year around across the country can be a unique experience.
For further information visit:
Twitter: @Amazing Comic Con