AFJ'S DAY WITH SCULPTOR EXTRAORDINAIRE JEAN ST. JEAN!
By Jarrett Kruse
The online directions said it was close to 70 miles but I did not believe them. How could sculptor extraordinaire be in the same state but be that far away? Still, the directions were perfect and when I got there, their was an immediate sense that this is a guy that has seen and done it all in toys. His hands have been in the muck and mire on both the front and back end of the industry. However, after almost three hours of me lobbing questions at him, I got the impression that Jean St. Jean would not have it any other way.
Jean's slicked back but long dark hair reminded me of a heavy metal loving Gordon Gekko from Wall Street. The Bat-Symbol t-shirt was weathered and looked like it could have been the same tee he wore back in '89 at the premiere of the first Burton film. I mean that as a good thing. This is a guy that does things the way he likes them on his own terms. He has earned the right to be as busy or as leisurely as he desires. He gets up when he wants to get up and starts work when he sees fit. He knocks off when he feels he has contributed enough art for the day and in most cases, the action figure world is a better place knowing that JSJ is out there sculpting until he cannot move his hands anymore. He literally is a one man cottage industry of insane talent, dedication & creativity.
After reviewing the wildly successfully CREATUREPLICA line (ORDER HERE), I had to take it upon myself and get inside the walls of the Jean St. Jean compound to see just what makes this guy tick. It seems that every Junkie, no matter where they are in their respective collecting careers, has a Jean St. Jean piece somewhere in their collection. As I entered the studio with lots of natural light, or maybe that's just how I remember it, I saw countless figures that I owned. However, what I did not know was that Jean St. Jean was the sculptor responsible for a sizable chunk of my collection.
As we sat down in a room between two other rooms that acted as the equivalent of a waiting room at a "toy hospital," I put down my phone, pressed record and asked if it was okay to record this conversation. Jean had no problem with me taping the next 2 & 1/2 hours of banter that covered pretty much everything from the benefits of crowd-funding to the costs of bringing a brand new figure to market. Hell, we even entered some odd terrain like cat psychiatry! All in all, it was a wicked inside look at an industry veteran that has literally seen and done it all. Aside from figure sculpting, Jean also is a skilled carpenter and also used to be a full-time musician. So clearly, his hands are his instruments that need a little extra insurance. If I were him, I would walk around wearing oven mitts all day for the sake of safety as to not damage any of his works in progress.
Jean was candid about the whole "scalper" issue and the complaints on AFJ when someone cannot get a hold of a certain figure. "What I do is that I pre-order and I don't spend months chasing down Black Panther. I'm up all night," was his justification for being able to get the figures he wants or the ones that Junkies covet. The takeaway, you can always get the hard to find figures if you are smart about it and put in the time. I liked that JSJ really cut through the BS and was candid about the state of the current market and where the industry is heading. When we spoke about crowdfunding, he was very open in telling me how it all works and that unless you have a real hit on your hands, the profit margins are razor thin. I took note when Jean said, "I kind of prefer the 7-inch range 'Adult Collector' figure so you can save some money on the safety tests that are required for kids toys." When he explained the esophageal test that kids toys have to go through, I was ready to upchuck my coffee from hours earlier. Note to self: if you make a toy, make it for "Adult Collector's."
One thing is for certain, Jean St. Jean is a very busy man. He has works in progress on top of other works in progress. And the great thing is that he is in a position to pick and choose exactly what he wants to do. You would never guess that this industry vet is 51 years old; maybe when he does sleep, it is upside down, I don't know. He just does not strike you as a guy in his 50's. Instead, you get the impression that this is a guy whose best work could very well be ahead of him not behind.
He was candid and helpful when I spoke about the AFJ subscription box and monthly buy, sell, trade service we are going to be offering. His candor reiterated to me that I was indeed onto something with AFJ, but now I was at the tough part of making the big leap onto the next step. The ideas he laid out for me were invaluable and when I got home, I furiously transcribed the recorded session into written notes which I then typed.
Writing about Jean St. Jean would be a much easier task than I guessed it would be. The sculptor's poker face and minor chuckle made me think I had broken through. However the reality is that Jean is the definitive artist and one whose talent cannot be judged from figure to figure. It is looking at all of his art in a gestalt style overlook when you see the big picture. You have to see the entire oeuvre to see all of Jean St. Jean and fortunately for Junkies, we got to actually sit in the workshop and be a part of what seems like one, never ending day for the famous sculptor. I got the impression that Jean is one of those old school artists born in the wrong century. An artist that could have brought spooky children's stories to life via his sculpts had their been no TV or movies to compare. Still, that whole "suffering for your art" thing seems to be pretty exact when you see Jean's showroom and realize the scope of his work and its importance to modern day action figures.