An Ode to the Jam Piece

As a lifelong comic book fan, my passion for the hobby has gone through many iterations over the 30+ years of my fandom. From buying issues hot off the shelves on Wednesdays to having a pull list at a local LCS to collecting back issues to starting a podcast with a few of my buddies, there’s always been new ways to experience and enjoy the art form. In recent years, my passion for collecting has turned toward original art in all its forms. For those wondering, you can check out some of my art collection at Comic Art Fans. Those of you who know me well, know that I’ve become somewhat known for a particular form of art collecting – THE JAM PIECE.

What is a jam piece? A jam piece is an illustration featuring multiple artists who contribute to a completed image. The concept is named after the concept of a “jam session” in music where disparate musicians get together and create something new.

Are there different types of jam pieces? Absolutely! Jam pieces are by their nature one-of-a-kind pieces of art, and each one is unique. Some are designed to be one fully composed image. Others are segmented with borders and a collection of individual images around a particular theme. Others – like my own – are a hybrid of the two concepts.

An Example of a Single, Composed Image Jam (Chris Ryall’s Amazing 80s Jam)

An Example of a Segmented, Borderless Jam (Gerry McDade’s Avengers Jam)

An Example of a Composed, Sectioned Jam (My Brotherhood of Evil Mutants Jam)

Why do you love jam pieces? The main reason I got into jam pieces is because it allows my passion for art to be cultivated in new ways, particularly attending larger, more crowded comic conventions. In today’s convention market, many artists are fully booked for full-sized commissions within minutes of the show’s opening. It can be frustrating knowing that one of your favorite artists is attending a convention, only to find out you have no chance of getting art from him/her because they’re booked solid just moments after the convention doors opened. Jam pieces can solve that conundrum, particularly if each individual contribution is a relatively small drawing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had an artist say they’re booked solid, only to see the size of a jam piece segment and opt to go ahead and draw for me. Other reasons I love jam pieces are a) it allows me to express my own creativity, b) it’s a way to create thematic art that otherwise wouldn’t exist, and c) it’s a fantastic mechanism to meet and converse with creators. Nothing is better than sitting and chatting with a creator while they spend 15-20 minutes on a jam contribution.

How do you construct jam pieces? There’s no one set answer here. Many jam pieces are simply a piece of Bristol Board segmented off with a ruler. Some are professionally laid out framing sequences. Mine have evolved into a series of rectangular head sketches framed against a thematic background. Ultimately the creation of your jam comes down to your own desires. If you’re artistic, I would recommend making your own layouts either by drawing them or using Photoshop. If you’re not artistic, you can always commission a layout from an artist or simply use a geometric segmentation (e.g., a simple 8 panel grid).

Here is a quick snapshot of how I created an X-men jam in Photoshop:

  1. Size image to match dimensions of the Bristol Board I planned to print on
  2. Create a layer with the X-Men logo
  3. Add a layer with the jam rectangle segments
  4. Add a layer with the X-mansion background image (with opacity reduced to create the effect)
  5. Add a layer with the X logos
  6. Flatten the file and save
  7. Print image on oversized color printer

Where do you get your ideas? YOUR IMAGINATION! There are no limits to what you can choose. I get a kick out of seeing other collectors’ ideas. Most jam pieces revolve around superheroes but I’ve seen ideas ranging from Universal Studio Movie Monsters to characters from The Wire to U.S. Presidents to Brady Bunch characters.

How much do jam pieces cost? It depends. The good news is you can get an amazing jam piece for much less capital than you could published comic art. The bad news is the costs of a jam piece have steadily increased in recent years, along with other types of original art. Realistically the cost is going to be tied to how much the creator charges for larger drawings. There’s no exact science. I’ve had creators who charge $500 for a full-sized commission charge me $10 for a head sketch on a jam, while I’ve had others charge me $80 for a head sketch while their full size pieces are only $150. But generally artists will charge you some discount from what they would charge for a head sketch.

How long does it take to complete a jam piece? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it depends. My brother-in-arms David Price was able to finish an awesome Teen Titans jam piece at a single convention. Others have spent 10 years working on a single jam piece. Variables the play into the time of completion include: budget, preparation, number of shows attended, and particularity of artist.

Jam pieces are not for everyone, but they’re AWESOME. They require preparation, hustle and a willingness to build toward a completed piece of art. If you’re into immediate gratification, jam pieces are not for you. If you only buy art that you hope to someday sell for a profit, jam pieces are not for you. If you don’t like being a part of the creative process, jam pieces aren’t for you. BUT, if you want a unique, collaborative and memorable piece of art that will always remind you of your favorite conventions? Jam pieces are most definitely for you. Give them a try, just make sure not to get in my way if we’re both seeking art from the same artists! [Just kidding…sort of].

  • Branagin77

    Here’s an artist I think you should check out for a commission or jam peice if you don’t already know who he is. Really Crisp and clean with a unique look.

    Jessie Hamm:

  • HassanT

    Great article. Believe it or not, I have never done a jam piece because I probably go to 1 to 2 conventions a year and I am not sure if I have the patience work on one jam piece over 10 years.

  • Adam Boreham

    Nice article, I like the jam piece idea but I’m not keen on adding the big logos and typefaces as I feel they pull your eye away from the art. You might have inspired me to start a Star Wars one!

  • Coach Ryan

    Very interesting article, love the idea of many artist on one piece, going to have to try it out. Quick question, do you insure your art? If so, could you do a piece on that or maybe address it on the podcast. I have some comics insured and sports memorabilia, but not my art pieces. Thanks for the info, love the podcast.