We had the good fortune of connecting with Jay Choi and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jay, what role has risk played in your life or career?
It’s funny because I can’t really recommend my actions to any one who wants to move to LA for their careers and dreams. Five years ago, I was working in New York at a toy store, book store, and some administrative offices. I was lucky enough to have sold a pitch with Nick Jr. and thought “Hey, maybe my time here is done and I should move over.” I suddenly moved across the country with $4000 in my pocket and no real plan. There was nothing concrete about my animation pitch ever being greenlit and I didn’t have a full-time job or any substantial security or savings. I just moved on a whim. My east-coast friends who eventually moved over would tell me, “I don’t know how you were able to just do that.” I moved into the spare room of a kind elderly Korean woman’s home where I saw the Cartoon Network building right outside my window. “This is it,” I thought. “Time for a new journey.”
Then my deal fell through. No future for that idea. I ended up working at another branch of the toy store, while picking up temporary odd jobs. Waffle stands. PA gigs. Sitting in a hotel room from 9PM to 9AM to assist a group of talented up-and-coming rappers. A part of me felt like I was back in New York again, except it’s sunnier and people walk a lot slower.
What really helped me though were the people I met out here. My friends who helped me so much. Whether they threw my name in for jobs or just hung out to watch anime with me – my friends are the biggest plus of my risk in dropping everything and moving. On my third day in LA, I was invited to an old college friend’s dog’s birthday party where I mistook a stranger’s graphic t-shirt for a “Goodnight Punpun” reference. My dumb anime/manga obsessed brain spiraled my path to cross with so many great and close friends. Risk isn’t just cross-country moving decisions. It’s also reaching out to strangers while letting them into your life.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Writers come in many forms: novelists, playwrights, copywriters, narrative designers, news writers, and so many more. But I’m in a strange boat of having experiences in writing screenplays and graphic novels! I’ve sold a couple of animation pitches and a live-action feature script. I’ve ghost-written for a web series, worked on commercials, and consulted on various projects. While I studied writing live-action screenplays, I guess I dipped my toes into the animation world thanks to my first deal. I always get told by other writer friends and colleagues that I must choose a focus – and in my heart of hearts, I do love seeing animated stories.
The thing I’m most proud of at the moment is my graphic novel, Bounty Light! From high-school fan-fiction (of a series I will never disclose), the story and characters evolved into a fully finished product – something I feel my high school self would lose his mind over. There’s something wild about seeing your manga-inspired PDF grow over the years and become a physically printed book. Like you can smack someone with it, it’s crazy!
Bounty Light is set in a world where “Identity is Power” – who you are and how much you believe in yourself causes your superpowers to manifest. And the best way to show that off is to compete in a world-wide laser tag competition where the prize is getting your wildest wishes granted. We follow a young woman who is still figuring herself out and a man who seems very confident in knowing who he is and their rag-tag team as they make their way up to the top.
That’s kind of what me and my writing is about. I love ensemble casts and pseudo-families. I love reading stories about growth, struggle, and reflection. Even though my stories are always masked with some wacky fantasy situation, I hope people can still see the human elements I love at their cores.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
It’s all about the food. And the best food – to me – is going to be in Koreatown, along with Alhambra. You want tons of good meat? Go to Feng Mao for some barbecue skewers you cook yourself! You want one of the best Hainan Chicken and Rice around? Go hit up Savoy Kitchen! Their Smoked Duck Pizza also rips! You want a sugary drink called the Strawberry Milk Candy Smoothie? Check out the employee special at Half and Half Tea Express PD next to the Trader Joe’s! My favorite Korean dish ever is Seolleongtang (Oxtail Bone Soup) and boy, Hanbat in Koreatown is just heavenly. You know an eatery is going to rule when there are only two items on the menu.
(And then go to Eaton Canyon Falls the next day for a chill hike with a waterfall to burn all that extra weight)
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My cat Munji, of course! Her toe beans are different colors!
But if I had to choose humans… there are too many of them to thank. Ashley Tahilan is a talented artist in animation, but also one of the first people I’ve met in LA. She’s been an incredible supporter and a wonderful friend. My comic editors and friends Jason Merrin and Rachel Liu are a powerful creative duo, who I will be eternally grateful to. They took the time out of their busy schedules to help make my dream project a reality. Jeanine Sybico is a patient and beautiful soul who illustrated my book and I can’t wait for our next collaboration.
And if I could thank some specific pieces of media… the manga “Haikyu!!” and “Blue Period”. The passion and love written into both respective series’ characters were infectious and motivated me to do my best. It’s not just about volleyball or painting – their drive to work for their dreams while struggling and growing from their own weaknesses is something anyone can and should relate to! Oh, and the game Persona 5… can you believe I played this game for more than 600+ hours instead of writing?