Mondo Creative Director Justin Ishmael Talks Mondo Mystery Movie Series, What to Expect from Mondo in 2012, the Problem with GHOSTBUSTERS, and More

     January 4, 2012

Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse theater chain—owned by film-geekdom’s very own Willy Wonka, Tim League—has enjoyed an outstanding couple of years, with 2011 arguably being their most successful yet.  But for as good as 2011 was for the Drafthouse, it was even better for League’s Drafthouse offshoot, Mondo.  This year, Mondo hosted a number of popular events (the ongoing Mondo Mystery Movie series), ventured into music production (a soundtrack for William Lustig’s Maniac), and ended up having its prints cataloged by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, all while continuing to churn out the most gorgeously-designed movie posters on the open market.  With a new year in front of us, it seemed like a good time to sit down with Mondo’s creative director, Justin Ishmael, to discuss the year that just wrapped, what Mondo’s got planned for 2012, and to find out what Ishmael has to say to Mondo’s few—but vocal—critics.  Read on for the interview, after the jump.

captain-america-the-first-avenger-mondo-posterAs long as there are geeks, there will be collectibles.

For comic book geeks, the local comic store remains a one-stop mecca filled to the rafters with countless spandex-clad adventurers (or, if you shop the same side of the comic store I do, Mayor Mitchell Hundred, Word-of-God shouting Preachers, Marv, and a few other “gritty” antiheroes).  For video game geeks, “Collector’s Editions” have become a popular commodity (though some might say the sheer number of half-assed games getting “Collector’s Editions” is muddying the waters a bit).  And for film geeks, Hollywood memorabilia, movie posters, and buying films for one’s own collection are still just a visit to Best Buy (or, if you’re looking for something a bit more obscure, a visit to eBay) away.  Crappy economy or not, collecting endures.

Let’s back up a second, though, and give credit where credit’s due.

The truth is, no one’s collecting the kind of movie posters currently being produced in Hollywood.  Go to your local multiplex and take a look at some of the stuff they’ve got hanging in their lobby:  you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything you’d want plastered on your living room wall (though that Big Momma’s House 3:  The Housening print might look fabulous in the basement).  Where we once had greats like Tom Jung, Saul Bass, and Drew Struzan producing epic-scale, beautifully-rendered, sometimes flat-out bizarre artwork to promote Hollywood’s latest blockbusters, we now have Photoshop enthusiasts cranking out bland, uninspired designs that make unfinished garage walls look interesting (a lot of work’s being done in the “floating heads against a white backdrop” genre).

frankenstein-mondo-poster-drew-struzan-01Sure, you might run across the occasional print that’s worth a second look (the poster created for last year’s Meek’s Cutoff comes to mind), but–by and large– the art of movie poster design has been on a massive decline for many, many years.

And so, while poster-collecting has endured, it has also evolved.  If you’re still in the poster-collecting game, there’s a good chance that most of your efforts are centered around the work being produced by Mondo, the movie-poster-producing offshoot of Tim League’s Alamo Drafthouse.  2011 was a huge year for Mondo, whose popularity grew even as the company branched out of their comfort zone with a number of surprising new projects and events:  they released a soundtrack—on their very own label!—for William Lustig’s 80’s splatter-classic, Maniac;  they got Drew Struzan to join the Mondo family with a truly jaw-dropping poster based on Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein (see it over there on the right;  that’s the one hanging in my bedroom);  they announced that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would begin cataloging select Mondo posters.  In addition to all that—and perhaps most notoriously– Mondo also began the Mondo Mystery Movie series, an infrequent and entirely unpredictable series of screenings that led to no small amount of excitement, guesswork, and obsessive eBay auctioning.

In the process, Mondo may have single-handedly saved the art of movie poster design from utter irrelevance.  Working with a stable of truly talented artists (guys like Florian Bertmer, Ken Taylor, Aaron Horkey, Tom Whalen, Olly Moss, and fan-favorite Tyler Stout), Mondo consistently delivers kick-ass, compelling artwork based on some of your favorite films.  These are the kind of movie posters we used to see released by studios, and Mondo’s spectacular success in 2011 (both critically and financially) proves that there’s a huge number of film geeks out there who remain interested in that particular art form.

In short, Mondo has succeeded by scratching an itch many people forgot they’d ever had.

kill-bill-mondo-tyler-stout-poster-variant-rice-paper-01But as Mondo’s popularity has grown, so has their number of critics.  For every two die-hard Mondo fans, there seems to be at least one unhappy internet denizen with a complaint to lodge.  Some say Mondo’s print-runs are too small (an average run of prints runs in the several-hundred range;  their latest release, for Martin Ansin’s Dracula, had 350 “regular” prints, 100 “variants”, and 75 super-deluxe “wood-print” versions, all of which sold out in minutes), with numbers so low that they all but guarantee that 90% of potential print-buyers won’t get their hands on the latest poster.  Others grumble about the cost of each Mondo print, some of which—especially the ultra-rare editions Mondo releases—can go as high as several hundred dollars (for the record, the average Mondo print runs at about $45).

It all comes down to this:  the perception that Mondo might be too exclusive for its own good.

I spent a lot of time thinking—and writing—about Mondo in 2011, so I was thrilled to sit down with the company’s creative director, Justin Ishmael, right at the beginning of 2012.  I wanted to find out what he thought about the year that just wrapped, what he predicts for the company’s future, and what he has to say in response to Mondo’s critics (hint:  his response is virtually identical to the one I’d provide).   Most importantly, though, I was curious to see if I’d be able to weasel any exclusive information out of him regarding forthcoming Mondo releases (a fanboy’s gotta try).  You can find out how all that went in the videos below, but here’s a few highlights for those of you that can’t be bothered to watch the clips:

  • Justin Ishmael and RonaldIshmael says that Mondo wants a Ghostbusters print just as much as you do, but that because of some limitations attached to the license for that film (read:  they wouldn’t be able to use the Ghostbusters’ faces on the poster), they had to opt out of doing one:  “We wanted a big, crazy, Tyler Stout Ghostbusters print”.
  • Drew Struzan remains hard at work on that Dark Tower print Ishmael initially mentioned during the Mondo Mystery Movie screening of The Mist, and says that—“in a perfect world” and pending Stephen King’s approval—they’ll have the print ready for Comic-Con 2012, where (also “in a perfect world”) they’d have Struzan show up to sign copies (that sound you just heard was a million Dark Tower fans’ heads asploding).
  • Ishmael understands why some would claim that Mondo-collecting feels a bit non-inclusive, but points out that—like anything else worth collecting—it’s all part of the process:  sometimes you get what you want, sometimes you don’t.  He also points out that many other collectibles (particularly “Japanese toys”) are far harder to find (not to mention  more expensive) than Mondo’s stuff.
  • The Mondo Mystery Movie series will continue, and—once they figure out the particulars—Ishmael would like to do a Mondo Mystery Movie Tour, something that would include major cities all over the country:  “People have been so cool flying to us, we feel like we should come to them.”

Anyway, let’s get to it.  First up, here’s Ishmael talking about the Mondo Mystery Movie series—what they learned from 2011’s shows, what they want to do with 2012’s shows—and what he thought of Mondo’s output last year in general:

Secondly, Ishmael answers some questions that you (OK, well, maybe not you, per se, but someone like you) submitted prior to the interview, in addition to offering updates on some of Mondo’s most-requested prints (read:  here’s the part where he talks about that Ghostbusters print people have been asking for for years).

Next up: Ishmael addresses what I refer to as “Mondo-knockoffs” (Ishmael disagrees), the company’s critics, and the perception that Mondo has an “exclusivity” problem.

…and here’s Ishmael talking about Mondo’s creative process:  from “Hey, I like this movie!” to “Here’s your print, thanks for shopping with Mondo”.

Here’s a round of “What if…?”, Mondo-style.  What if a studio wants a print and Mondo doesn’t like the movie?  What if Ishmael had one week left to do whatever he wanted with the Mondo brand?  And so on.  Here’s that video:

And, finally, here’s Ishmael talking about what he’d like to do with Mondo in 2012, along with some other stuff.  This one’s actually a two-parter, but it wraps up the interview (and the final video ends with information Dark Tower enthusiasts are going to wanna pay attention to):

And Video Seven:

Before we wrap up, let’s take a moment to acknowledge Ishmael’s willingness to sit down and answer these questions (many of which we’re sure he’s suffered through before):  thanks for donating the time and patience, Cap’n.  Much appreciated, as is the continued assistance from the Alamo Drafthouse and the unreasonably awesome people at Fons PR.

It’s exciting to hear about all the projects Mondo’s got on the horizon (that Dark Tower print is of particular interest to this guy, what with my dual raging-boner for all things Mondo- and Dark Tower-related);  if the company accomplishes even half of what Ishmael describes above, 2012’s gonna be a helluva year for Mondo fans (the only problem I see in all this is one that’s probably specific to me:  I’ve completely run out of wall-space in my home;  if you’re curious, you can see a video tour of my place—which is wall-to-wall artwork, a good deal of it from Mondo—at the page the YouTube videos above originated from).   As always, you can stay tuned for future Alamo Drafthouse or Mondo-related reports in the months ahead.  Next stop:  SXSW.


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