Even if you’re only a casual action figure collector, chances are you’ve heard of Jean St. Jean – and you’ve almost certainly seen (and probably own) his work. His career has spanned many companies and toy lines, among them Diamond Select’s Stargate, Battlestar Galactica, The Munsters and Universal Monsters, and Marvel Select toy lines; Mezco’s mega-scale Thundercats figures; and DC Collectible’s World of Warcraft. He’s also an all-around cool guy. –PG
Jean St. Jean
Real Name: Jean St. Jean
Specialty: Sculptor / Musician
Base of Operations: Northern New Jersey
History: Jean St. Jean is a musician turned sculptor, who began his career in a small upstate NY toy sculpting studio doing mostly preschool toys and dolls. Five years later he joined McFarlane where he spent almost 7 years helping them develop their hyper realistic style, the last 4 years as Sculpting Supervisor. In 2004, he left McFarlane to start his own company, Jean St. Jean Studios offering sculpting, painting and prototyping services working on such licenses as Diamonds Select’s Stargate SG-1, SG Atlantis and Battlestar Galactica lines, Mezco’s Cinema of Fear, DC Direct’s World of Warcraft and Ame-Comi and Amoktime’s Killer Klowns and Day of the Dead lines. His current projects have been the Lion-o and Mumm-Ra for Mezco’s Mega scale Thundercats line, the Munsters 7” Select line and various Universal monsters for DST including the Metaluna Mutant and Phantom of the Opera as well as contributions to the Marvel Select figure series. He has sculpted more than 30 mini-busts for DC Direct including Heroes of the DCU, Blackest Night and various movie properties.
Poe Ghostal: The new Marvel Select Venom looks fantastic. What was the process for sculpting this figure? What was your inspiration for the sculpt, and how do you approach Marvel Select sculpting in general? For example, do you tend to skew toward the work of a particular artist, or do you try to create a blend of elements, or come up with your own design?
Jean St. Jean: As with all of my DST projects they usually evolve out of extended conversations with Chuck Terceira (DSTChuck on his Art Asylum blog). In the case of Venom, he’s been requested for so long we wanted to do something special and get slightly outside of the usual MS formula and create a Venom with multiple custom options rather than one version with a base. As with all of the Select projects I’ve done, I picked up a bunch of the collected story lines and graphic novels and re- familiarized my self with his history to find what I thought were the coolest incarnations of the Eddie Brock Venom. First of I wanted a totally badass terrifying Venom with tons of teeth and a nasty tongue and a transforming Eddie Brock. So the “Lethal Protector “ storyline inspired me for those two heads and a huge pair of nasty claws. Then there’s been a lot of requests for the crazy multi-armed multi-headed version from the “Madness” story line, and I came up with a pretty interesting way to create that Venom. Last but not least I wanted to do an old school Todd McFarlane Venom with a big grin! The trick was all these permutations had to work on the same body; all the heads are interchangeable and there are multiple hand options.
In terms of Marvel Select in general I try to find the best elements of the character, such as the Marvel Select comic version Hawkeye (Disney exclusive DST Avengers), Nightcrawler, or Anti-Venom. Diamond expects me to bring my interpretation and vibe to the Marvel line, so I essentially get to do exactly what think should be done with the sculpt and paint work. They are the one company that actually utilizes me as an art director/ project manager and sculptor, so I particularly value my years of collaboration with them.
PG: There seems to be a divergence going on between low-cost, low-detail action figures for kids and high-cost, highly detailed and often highly articulated action figures for collectors. Do you think 6″ lines like Marvel Legends, Movie Masters, and DC Universe can survive, or are more collector-oriented lines like Marvel Select and DC Collectibles the future of the hobby?
JSJ: The trend I see is toward low-production-run, collector-driven lines offered at a premium price. Since the wage and material increases in China factories of the last few years, even the mass market toys have gotten somewhat pricey to produce and, as a result, collect. Poor distribution by major toy companies has also forced the collector, especially the “completist” to resort to filling in the gaps in lines at the comic store, which is a good 10%-15% higher in price for mass market figures. At that point the collector has the choice in some cases of buying, say, a specialty market figure with a deluxe base and articulation for almost the same price as a mass market product that by all rights they should be able to pick up for $10 cheaper at a TRU. Having said all this from a business perspective, I am a collector, so I do understand all the pissing and moaning about prices and lame character selection. At the same time, the collector has to understand that without profits, business grinds to a halt. I get that folks feel with subscription lines and higher prices people feel as if they’re being held hostage, but unless a line is a profitable venture, it makes absolutely no sense.
The modern trend is to completely ignore the lower-priced items and just go balls-out for the super-deluxe $150 1/6th scale offerings out there. You can’t minimize the effect that mentality has had on the industry and the life or death of lines as well.
The bottom line in my opinion is for mass retailers to strike a balance between interesting character offerings and better distribution so that collectors can actually FIND all the figures. The forgotten element is large retailers like TRU and Walmart are competing with online specialty stores, and those massive brick-and-mortar conglomerates are the guys you need behind you to push a wave of figures. Specialty subscription lines are great, but it’s impossible to keep everyone happy. Ultimately I think mass market lines and specialty lines can co-exist, but they will always be subject to the whims of the collector at large and the overall state of the economy just like any other entertainment-based business.
PG: You have the honor of being one of the few pop culture sculptors to have worked directly, in person, with H.R. Giger. How was that experience?
JSJ: Giger was very nice and still very focused on his work and direction. I worked at his house while I sat in one of the Harkonnen chairs, surrounded by all his most famous paintings. I was in the process of working and reworking the Li II sculpture we produced at McFarlane based on his painting, and everything we showed him wasn’t clicking with his expectations. The solution was to send me to Switzerland and work under his direction for a few days until he was happy with it. He also took me to his recently completed museum, which houses most of his work and movie prop pieces as well. It was an incredible experience. I had very little sleep and first thing he gave me a tour of his overgrown sculpture garden via a Silver Spoons-esque mini-train. It was mental.
PG: With success of small lines from the Four Horsemen, Spy Monkey Creations, and so on, do you think JSJ Studios might move into the “self produced” market with some original content?
JSJ: I have a few different projects underway, spanning statues, action figures and even a pre-school line, but the catch as with any original idea is production costs. Producing the minimum numbers a factory requires to do business at a reasonable price and then moving that product once it’s in hand is the real trick.
PG: What sort of toys/collectibles is catching your interest these days? Do you collect anything yourself?
JSJ: I got into this business because I’m a collector really. I started with a few customs and then realized I could just do the figures from scratch. My real blessing was to find a studio apprenticeship where I learned all the foundational aspects of sculpting and prototyping. But my collecting passion is specifically Batman. The Adam West show came on TV when I was about three years old and I was hooked from then on. I try to limit it to action figures and small statues. And I also collect quite a bit of anime pvc and gashapon figures, although those are all starting to look the same to me at this point.
I pick up interesting monster and hero figures of almost any description if they look cool. I really like the new Captain Action stuff, as he was one of my first action figures as a kid. And the re-issue of all the old Aurora model kits by Polar light, Revell and others. I’m basically going back to find all the old stuff I had as a kid. Also the Square Enix super-articulated figures are beautiful.