If you’re a hardcore movie nerd, chances are you’ve heard of Mondo – the creative guys from the art side of the Alamo Drafthouse who create limited edition screen printed posters for classic and contemporary films (as well as other forms movie-art awesomeness). In the past few months, however, Mondo has started to become more of a household name outside of that core movie geek audience. With the opening of their gallery in Austin, Texas, and the release of several extremely high-profile poster projects like The Avengers, Back to the Future, Toy Story, and The Cabin in the Woods, Mondo has cornered the market on in-demand (but sometimes nearly impossible to get) movie artwork. On sale days (their posters all go on sale at random times and are announced via their Twitter account), their website often slows to a crawl with hungry movie fans refreshing rapidly in hopes of snagging the latest release. Most of the posters sell out within the first two minutes and those lucky enough to snag one earn instant bragging rights.
Complex.com recently had the chance to sit down with Mondo’s Creative Director, Justin Ishmael, to talk about what makes their posters so incredibly valuable, their website woes (and what they’re doing to fix them), and what the Mondo team has up its sleeve for the rest of this Summer movie season. Here’s a hint: It’s superhero-themed!
Written by Scott Neumyer (@scottneumyer)
Someone always ends up feeling cheated. Either the artist or the customer feels cheated.
Can you give us a little bit of history on how Mondo got started doing limited edition poster runs for major Hollywood studios?
We started in 2004-ish, roughly, doing it for this show (that actually ended up not happening) called Cinemania. In 2005, we did this thing called the Texas Monthly Rolling Roadshow Tour where we go around the country showing films in different places that they were filmed. Rob Jones, who is one of the three main creatives at Mondo with me, decided it would be cool and made contact with the Alamo Drafthouse (at the time he was just a fan). He said "How about we do kind of a gig poster for movies at all these different locations?" The Drafthouse said "Yeah, sure, that sounds cool." You know, he still does stuff for The White Stripes. He was doing a lot of other design work like album covers and tour posters, stuff like that. So he contacted a lot of guys in the music gig poster scene and got them to do re-interpretations of classic movie posters. From that it just kind of got bigger and bigger and bigger until we find ourselves doing stuff for The Avengers and Drive and stuff like that.
Yeah, it's been fun to watch you guys have this sort of meteoric rise, especially in the past few months, with titles like The Cabin in the Woods. It's gotten huge.
Oh, yeah. It's been really fun this last year.
You guys have done so many big releases now. You've done The Avengers and obviously that's huge. Are there one or two posters that really stand out for you guys as memorable milestones?
I think the series that got us a lot of attention and kind of got people to really take notice was Star Wars. That was a really big one for us. That happened in the second half of 2010 and it was probably the biggest "get" that we've gotten license-wise and attention-wise. And then The Wolfman was also a pretty large thing for us. Up to that point, we had done some stuff that was fun to do, but it wasn't really a big studio release. We had licenses to do The Warriors and we did something for Tarantino in 2009 for Inglourious Basterds, but I think the thing that really made us realize it was getting big was when the site totally crashed for the first time with The Wolfman poster. In late 2009, the site started getting slow because of the traffic, but that one really crushed it and we had to start doing the random release times. Back then, we were still announcing release dates and times and that's when we learned we had to make everything random.
Was the Star Wars series difficult because Lucas is so hands-on?
Yeah, definitely. It's hard to even find a contact over there. We basically got a press contact and got forwarded around until it finally made it to the right person. It was like a year or so trying to convince them to let us do it, and then we finally got it.
It's nice to see the studios coming to you guys now. Recently, though, there's been a bit of criticism on the Internet because of the website going down during sales and people not being able to get their orders through in time to get certain releases. What are you doing to help get those posters into the hands of the hardcore movie fans that want them?
We did another interview about this recently [for Movies.com] where we explained why we do this and that, but the limited nature of the releases is definitely a choice that we make and we have no intention of making unlimited runs and putting them in Wal-Mart and stuff like that. The thing that I don't think a lot of people know is that we are limited by the studios on how much we can do. Like with The Avengers, in our contract there were restrictions on how many posters we could print. A lot of times, it's not entirely up to us. I guess to try to get them into the hands of true fans and not people that want to sell them on eBay we limit to one poster per household, we check credit cards to make sure you're not using the same PayPal or credit card account. We do a lot of things to make sure that people aren't cheating the system. We check names. Any kind of scam or trick that you can think of we try to watch out for all that stuff.
Have you ever considered something like a subscription service for the fans that are so hardcore that they would buy every single release?
Yeah, but it's hard to do a subscription service because we don't know how many posters we're doing at the beginning of the year. You'll find this with artists, as well, that do subscription services someone always ends up feeling cheated. Either the artist or the customer feels cheated. The artist could get really super hot and get a ton of poster jobs. If he estimates he's doing twenty posters a year and he ends up doing forty posters a year, he just kind of screwed himself because he's losing money on those posters. On the opposite end, if he says he's going to do twenty posters and it's not so hot of a year and he ends up doing ten, then the customer feels cheated because they only got ten posters when they were promised twenty. So it's a lot more complicated than it sounds really. We've definitely thought about it before but we just figured that it's more fair to everyone if we do it the way we do it now. If we knew our schedule, maybe, but things pop up all the time that we weren't planning.
What do you think it is about these posters, aside from just the limited availability, that's making them so popular and so in demand?
I think a big part of it is the artists. I really do think that it's almost like a sports scenario where you're rooting for your team and you'll follow your team around and really watch them. I think it's the same way with Tyler Stout or Olly Moss or Martin Ansin, or any of our artists. You have a favorite artist and you have a favorite movie and then when they finally hook up and make that perfect combination, people get really excited about that. Also, I think that illustrated posters are rarer now. It's no big shock to hear that studios don't really do those anymore. And I think those were always popular with people like Drew Struzan doing stuff and Bob Peak and Saul Bass. There's a lot of love for that look that needs to go somewhere and I think that we're just in that position for people to like that.
We've already done The Avengers, and we're doing at least one other kind of superhero-themed movie this summer.
Tell me a little bit about the roadshows you guys have been doing, where fans can actually buy the posters in person, and some of the upcoming roadshows you're working on.
Roadshows are with the Alamo Drafthouse and those are kind of like on-location things. We also do a lot of screenings at the actual Alamo Drafthouse theater. For instance, right now we're doing a series with Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation where we picked eight movies out of his catalog of stuff that he's participated in restoring and we're showing those at the Alamo. We did posters for each of them. We're doing a screening of The Iron Giant later this month at the theater. We're doing a screening of Toy Story at this place that's just like Pizza Planet. It's got arcade games and a go-kart track and stuff like that. It's the closest thing in Austin to Pizza Planet. So we're going to do a big show there and peole are going to come out and eat pizza, stuff like that. And then we have the Mystery Movie, which we're hoping to have one in maybe early July. That's going to be the tenth one too, so we're going to try to make it really big and fun.
That's fantastic. It's nice to see that people are able to get the posters in person, at least for a little while, if they can't get them on the website.
Yeah, we have the gallery now as well and there's stuff available at the gallery that's not available online. We did a horror convention recently called Texas Frightmare and that leftover stuff is available at the gallery right now so you could walk in, no line no nothing, and buy those posters now. Then we'll drop them online later for everyone else to get.
As far as the artists, have they all been easy to work with? How do they feel about being a part of the Mondo phenomenon?
Yeah, I would say they've all been great. We haven't had any horror stories, you know? From the biggest guy down, we've always had a good time working with all these guys. We've been really lucky that there hasn't been any huge drama with artists. We try to take care of everybody as much as we can and, from a lot of people, we're getting their best work so we feel very fortunate.
It really seems to bring their names more into the mainstream rather than just circulating around the art world, they get this mainstream name recognition.
We're very lucky to have people support us and take interest in it. That always helps too, when artists are doing these posters, to get acknowledged and thanked for their work.
Is there anybody on your wish list of artists that you guys would love to work with?
Yeah, the big ones were Moebius and Frank Frazetta, but those are not a possibility anymore. I'm really into a few comic book dudes right now. Mike Mignola is always someone that we've wanted to talk to. And then there's this guy who's working on Daredevil right now - his name's Paolo Rivera - he's a great artist and I'm a huge fan of his. He did a bunch of Amazing Spider-Man covers that were kind of like paintings but they were flat colored - most of his Daredevil stuff is super flat colors - and it seems like it would translate really well to screen-printed posters. So that's the guy we'd really love to work with. There's another dude named Dan McPharlin who did The Sword’s album artwork. He does mostly fantasy sci-fi stuff. He looks like a guy that would do 70's analog covers or something and they're really, really cool. Those are some of the guys we're looking at that we're fans of that we would really like to work with.
Now that the studios are calling you guys instead of the other way around, do you have anything that you can maybe tease a little bit about what might be coming poster wise?
[Long Pause] Well, I mean, I guess I should say that the summer movie season is here. If you look at the kind of nerd-slate that people are really excited about, we've already done The Avengers so we're doing at least one other kind of superhero-themed movie this summer. Fingers crossed, more than one, but at least one.
Thanks very much for your time, Justin. I'm a huge fan of the releases. Even if I can't always get them, I'll keep trying.
My pleasure, man. Thank you. I really appreciate it.