With the massive popularity of superhero-related entertainment by Marvel Studios, Netflix and so on, the world of comic books and their corresponding characters are now as ‘mainstream’ as they can get.
More often than not, the regular person on the street would be able to rattle off at least a handful of these characters without batting an eyelid.
In the same grain, collection of figures and ‘toys’ of these characters are popping up in even more bedrooms, office tables, and shopping malls, especially with the advent of brands like Funko Pop – a cute take on figures in pop culture.
The annual Singapore Toy, Game & Comic Convention, which brings together vendors, both international and local, selling artwork, figures, and miscellaneous items spawned from the pages of comic books attracts massive crowds each year – myself included.
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But as mainstream as these characters are, being a creator that takes on the painstaking process of designing, producing, and eventually marketing your work isn’t as common.
One of these local creators is Mighty Jaxx, whose unique figures have found fans not just at home, but in over 50 countries and counting.
Best known for their XXRAY figures, which features some familiar characters in all their guts and glory, they also count collaborations with big names like DC Comics, Cartoon Network, and MTV as part of their very impressive portfolio.
But I was curious about the journey, so I got in touch with founder Jackson Aw to find out more.
From Collector To Creator
The origins of Mighty Jaxx is simple – Jackson Aw’s love for designer art toys, one that started while he was a polytechnic student. It was only after graduation that he became a self-professed “full-fledged addict”.
Then, however, he had an even bigger passion – photography, and that spurred him on to start a vintage film camera brand. While the business “had a good run”, his entrepreneurial journey came to a halt after he decided to sell the business to a local company.
But with the closing of one door, another one opens, and this time, inspiration struck at the least expected of times – when Aw was clearing his desk on the last day of his camera business.
“I was taken aback by the amount of art toys I have amassed over the years and a random thought came into my head. I wondered to myself, ‘How are these art toys produced? Is there a machine that magically churns them out in some sort of quick fashion?'”
One to not let his curiosity go unanswered, he made a decision to travel to Shenzhen, China on the very night of his question to “uncover the truth” behind the production of his favourite toys.
“What I saw really blew my mind…there were rows and rows of workers lined up at different stations, each dedicated to a particular process such as printing, painting, and assembling. I was simply amazed at the amount of effort that went into each toy.”
But the trip was more than just an eye-opening experience, it was one that inspired Aw to create original figures that he could call his own.
“It left such a great impression on me that I was motivated to approach and work with artists that I’ve long admired to develop original content and products.”
And in 2012, Mighty Jaxx was established within the four walls of his bedroom.
But why ‘Mighty Jaxx’?
“I knew I wanted the brand name to suggest empowerment so “Mighty Jaxx” is essentially a combination of the word “Mighty” and my name. The additional ‘X’ behind was suggested by a friend who told me that it’ll give the brand ‘a little more flavour’ in a dark, twisted sort of way.”
“We also thought that it’d be pretty funny that people had to refer to us as ‘Mighty’ whether they liked us or not, haha!”
On Teething Problems
A one-man show at the start, Aw had to handle every single aspect of the business by himself.
He counts himself lucky, though, that he had the help of his family, relatives, then-girlfriend (now fiancée) Ella, friends, and the toy community in Singapore backing him up.
“I remember spending many late nights together packing orders and borrowing storage space from my uncle when we didn’t have enough. Ella continued to help out while pursuing her degree in 2013 and a good friend, Gilbert, came to join the company as well. While they are now pursuing their own dreams, I will forever be grateful to them.”
Starting a business in Singapore, or anywhere, also requires a good deal of capital, and this was something that Aw struggled with.
“I didn’t have enough funds despite the small sum of money I’ve gotten from my previous camera venture. Also, I was pretty young and impetuous then. Often when there was some extra cash, I would succumb to temptations and splurge on things that didn’t matter. However, I don’t regret it as that prepared me for what was to come.”
The search for a space to work from also presented another set of problems.
“I applied for a rental subsidy at the Aliwal Arts Centre but was rejected. I then took the rejection letter online, questioning how ‘artsy’ applicants had to be.”
But in this situation was where he found individuals that “reinforced [his] faith in the universe”.
Another toy collector reached out to him after reading his post online, and offered him a space to work from – “To this day, Beng (the collector) continues to support us and I’m really heartened.”
Rent-wise, Aw credits his friends Daniel Yu and company 3D Matters in helping to share the load.
“If you need help, be sure to put it out there and you will be answered. At the same time, you should always help others to the best you can.”
“Collaboration With Artists Is A Huge Part Of Our DNA”
Citing collaboration as a “huge part of [their] DNA”, their first release, the Hell Lotus, was conceptualised right after Aw’s fateful trip to Shenzhen.
Created by prominent local artist, Clogtwo, Aw reveals that he was the “first person [he] called” after returning from the trip, having known him from a previous project.
“I told him about my idea to bring his 2D work into a 3D form and without hesitation, he agreed. The Hell Lotus was well-received and that helped us to continue with the development of new projects.”
“He is an awesome person to work with and has since become a close and trusted friend.”
For their collaboration with renowned American artist Alex Pardee, Aw says that it was the Mighty Jaxx team that approached him first – “Truth be told, I’ve always been a huge fan of his works and he’s such a great guy and an absolute joy to work with!”
“As for DC Comics, we pitched a unique dissection art concept to them known as XXRAY which was conceptualised by New York artist, Jason Freeny. They loved the idea so much and we now collaborate on a global scale.”
Over 4 years, and 200 figures later, Aw still counts their collaboration with President’s Design Award winners and local design powerhouse, PHUNK as one of their most memorable.
“I am proud to say I’ve been a fanboy since school and they are my heroes in the field of design. I clearly remember my first meeting with them. I was unable to articulate my thoughts as well as I would like to because I was simply too excited.”
The project was called the Love Bomb, and Aw admits that it was very tricky to produce in terms of the technicalities involved, that saw them “messing up more than once along the way”.
“However, it turned out well eventually and even when things didn’t go according to plan, they were incredibly kind and understanding throughout. I’m pretty sure we can do a better job now.”
As for the timeline taken from ideation to creation, Aw states that the lead time is as unique as the projects are themselves.
“There are a lot of design considerations, especially in the manufacturing stage, where we will have to access the feasibility of the product. Our team has produced figures as quick as 3 months and as long as 2 years.”
Mighty Jaxx Online And Off
In comparison to more commercial brands, Mighty Jaxx’s figures are also produced in lower quantities, and have limited run times.
Due to this rather unique position they’re occupying, they place more emphasis on direct sales to collectors as compared to distribution to stockists.
“That said, we do have new series of toys that are designed for the general consumer in mind. These figures go through the more conventional distribution network.”
But finding a right partner for distribution is something Aw still feels is “extremely difficult”, having experienced a fair share of disappointments.
“The best bet is to create a unique product that attracts distributors to you, or if you have industry friends that could help ‘tie the knot’, that’ll be helpful too.”
They have since sold thousands of figures in over 50 countries.
The Future Of Mighty Jaxx
For Aw, the future of Mighty Jaxx simply sees them creating even more original content, developing more merchandise, and representing artists on a global level.
“Our original intellectual property creations have started to take centre stage and we will move towards ownership and licensing content. In the near future, we will roll out a digital platform that takes the brand into the tech arena. It’s going to be a very exciting year ahead and much work needs to be done.”
While the number of toy collectors have increased in the recent years, the industry still remains shrouded in mystery, and Aw has this to say, “It’s a niche market in the creative industry but unbeknown to many, there is actually a very strong community worldwide that shows appreciation for original content.”
And for aspiring entrepreneurs, “Always remember that money is but a by-product of success and that success is achieved through a relentless pursuit of your vision. That’s where you’ll want to be.”