Interview: MONDO’s Justin Ishmael

If you love movies and you love collectibles, than you know that the coolest movie collectible to own these days is a Mondo poster!!  Working in conjunction with the ultra hip indie/cult theater chain Alamo Drafthouse, Mondo releases high quality, artist designed, limited edition posters that sell out almost instantly and then get resold on eBay for over twice the price.  Mondo is single-handedly bringing art back to the movie poster!  I think they are so incredible that I personally own 4 of them.  What they do is amazing and I had the awesome pleasure of chatting with Mondo’s creative director Justin Ishmael at Comic Con.  We had a great time geeking out over movies and poster art, here’s the interview:

Screen Invasion: What is the origin of Mondo?

Justin Ishmael:  The origin was the Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League kind of happened upon a vintage t-shirt shop in Canada and thought it was cool.  They had a spot in the old ticket booth in the original Alamo, in Austen, Texas and bought a bunch of vinyl transfers like the iron on ones, 70’s style.  He had some topless skier that said “Ski Bunny,” you know something like that, and so he opened up a shop.  That happened for a while and Rob Jones, one of the guys that works with me at Mondo, had this idea to do posters like they do gig posters.  You know you go to a different city and Pearl Jam will have a different poster in every city, make it special.  And so he said, “oh well the Alamo does this rolling road trip tour where they go to different cities and show the movies there that were filmed there, like at Martha’s Vineyard they show Jaws.  In Kentucky they showed Goldfinger at Fort Knox.  He said, “Oh I think it would be cool if I got a bunch of my gig poster friends,” cause he does all the stuff for The White Stripes, “I’ll get all my friends to do this.”  So he did it and it was really cool.  It was really popular and people liked it and just throughout the years it has kind of built a reputation and a fan base.  Getting the reputation it’s easier for us to go to studios now and say, “Hey, we wanna do this project or this project,” and they go, “Yeah!  Great, that sounds fun!” So that’s in a nutshell what has happened with Mondo.  That’s why if you go to the site it’s like “Mondo Tees”, but there’s no t-shirts, basically.  Well, there’s a few, that’s why it was called Mondo Tees.  For a long time it was just this catch-all for everything Alamo wanted to sell.  You know, I came on and everyone decided we want to do away with iron-ons and stuff like that and focus on what we think would be really fun for people.  There’s enough people who do t-shirts, you know Ript or Red Bubble, all these companies.  So that’s what we decided we wanted to do.

SI: How do you decide what movies you want to do?

JI:  It’s just kind of our tastes.  It’s basically very selfish you know.  It’s like well I would really like to see this movie done, and so we do it in the hopes that there are other people who share our opinions, that want to also see that.  We’ve been lucky so far.

SI:  I think there definitely are people who agree.

JI:  Most of the time there are!

SI:  How do you get the artists involved?

JI:  Rob Jones is kind of a big deal in the music world as far as artists go, so he knows a lot of people, and Mitch Putnum is kind of our curator and he started a blog called “OMG Posters”.  I don’t know when it was, he was in college when he did it.  He was big in to collecting posters for bands and there wasn’t really a news site that listed release times or what artists were doing.  So he started doing this and the artists were like, “Oh wow!  Awesome!  Would you release this poster for me because I don’t have a website?”  So he was like, “Ok, I’ll start doing that!” So he developed friendships with a lot of these artists that we eventually started using when he came on for Mondo.  He’s also a very good kind of like a talent scout.  Like he found Martin Ansin on a blog and a lot of this stuff.  So yeah that’s kind of how we pick our artists.  It goes several ways.  Like we will have an idea for a movie and we’ll kind of look at it and say, “Oh, so-and-so’s style would be amazing for this” or sometimes artists contact us and say like, “I really wanna do this movie!”  And then if it looks good, like, go for it!  I think the main thing is basically everything Mondo does we want people to be excited and have fun with it.  Artists have to do stuff to make money, it’s work just like anyone else does.  Sometimes jobs aren’t fun, you know, sometimes they have to do stuff for a giant corporate thing or something.  I think ours are sort of like a vacation, like a paid vacation essentially.  Like, “I can do this movie poster for something I like and get paid for it!  I can build a fan base versus designing greeting cards!” or whatever they do, you know.  That’s something else, they like working with us.  I think it’s safe to say we’re friends with them, you know when we started we didn’t know these people, but now…  Today we had four artists in the booth and only one of them was releasing a poster.  They like to come and hang out because it’s fun just to go and talk.  You know, we’ll walk the convention floor and look at original art or buy comic books or buy hot toys or something like that.  We built this foundation of artists that we can keep going back to and they are receptive to it.  They like to work with us.  We are very fortunate in that regard.

SI:  Do you ever have artists fighting over a movie that they want to do?

JI:  Uhh, no, because it’s not like an open call.  There’s three of us that make a lot of the creative decisions and so not a lot leaks, not a lot of leaks going on because it’s just us.  So if something does leak we very much know it’s one of them that did it, you know.  It’s probably me.  I probably said something I wasn’t supposed to.  It’s always pretty mellow.  There’s never been any crazy diva stories or anything like that, it just kind of works out, which is great for us.  We’re super busy and we can’t have any weird hiccups going on, it’s not good for what we do.

SI:  Can you talk a little bit about the state of modern movie posters and do you think that what Mondo does is going to change how studios start doing things?

JI:  Yeah, you know, it’s like anything corporate.  Sometimes they do something good and sometimes they do something bad.  I think just if you go to Comic Con, right, things are getting better.  I mean look at the Django Unchained stuff driving around.  It’s an orange and black minimalist poster like what Ollie Moss has done forever, you know.  They didn’t ask him to do it, but they had somebody else replicate what he did.  Clearly they’re watching.  I don’t think it’s ever going to go back to the 80’s or the 70’s where there’s lots of illustrated-style Drew Struzan stuff, but you can’t not acknowledge that that type of stuff is still relevant.  People really like that image and people are like, “Whoa!  That poster is really cool!”  So yeah, I think it’s not what it used to be at all, but that just maybe roasts into glasses, you know, you’re like, “Oh man, the Goonies poster or The Adventures in Babysitting poster was amazing why can’t they do stuff like that anymore?!?” But probably when that poster came out people were like, “Bah, this poster sucks!”  You know, you look back on it and say, “Oh, that wasn’t too bad.”  So I don’t know, I think it’s definitely getting better.  You know, the Photoshop head thing is always going to be around, it’s been around in some capacity for a long time.  Even if you draw the giant Burt Lancaster and the giant this guy, you know, that type of stuff, so yeah I think it’s definitely getting better.

SI:  What about the future of branching in to other cities like L.A. and San Fransisco?

JI:  Yeah, I mean, I love both.  I love L.A. and San Fransisco.  I think it’s going be a good ways off before we open up a gallery, but The Alamo is moving to San Fransisco, Alamo is moving to New York, Alamo is moving to L.A., two in New York actually.  That is such an easy thing to go to those theaters and do shows.  We’ve been doing stuff at The New Beverly for a couple years now.  Yeah, I definitely want to go to New York this year.  I would love to do something in New York.  I’ve been to New York in my life like a total of 12 hours.  I haven’t even flown in to New York ever, so I want to go back for nothing else then to hang out.  There’s so many great movies that were shot in New York and are based around New York.  I want to go there and do something with that.  We’re definitely going to start traveling around and bringing the show to different places, but I don’t think it’s ever going to be like, “Here’s the Mondo store in, you know, Boston, and here’s the Mondo store in Milwaukee.” It’s never going to be like that.

SI:  Do you have any posters that are your personal favorites?

JI:  Yeah, I really like the Vania Zouravliov, Aaron HorkeyDracula.  We did that like January of last year.  It’s just a woman’s face and she’s kind of like wearing a very flowery hat and there’s a bat sitting right here.  And its cool because a lot of the payment for a lot of the artists is that we give them copies of the poster and Aaron Horkey is a guy that’s probably, I would put him up against anybody in the world as far as drawn by hand illustration.  He doesn’t use the computer at all.  Like zero.  Like he’ll draw it all.  He’ll do all the steps by hand and then for online stuff he’ll send it to someone that knows how to use a computer and they will scan it for him and he will make sure the colors are right, you know, telling the guy, “move the mouse this way,” that type of thing.  But he hand drew a bat in to the poster and stuff like that.  So that is what makes it more one of my favorites.  I also like, we did a poster for a movie called Maniac, like an 80’s kind of like scumbag New York movie.  It’s really slimy and dirty.  Bill Lustig directed it.  That was a really fun one because it was just a poster of this actor named Joe Spinell, he was in The Godfather and he was the mobster in Rocky and stuff like that.  He’s this really great character actor with this pot marked face and he’s just so interesting to look at and he was the star of Maniac.  I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the Maniac poster but the story goes they were like. “Hey Joe, you’re the star of this movie,” and he was so excited like, “oh man, I’ll finally be on the poster!”  And it was like such a slap in the face because he got the poster and the poster was from the neck down of just this guy in a jean jacket holding a head with a knife and blood all over it.  And so we though, you know, he’s not around anymore, but we thought that was kind of like, you know, finally we had the power to actually put him on a poster.  Maybe somewhere he was like, “oh yeah, that’s really cool!” finally on something like that.  That’s also one of my favorites because I like that movie so much and I like that character and it’s just him.  It’s just that guy.  So yeah, those are two of my favorites.

To stay on top of the latest Mondo news and poster releases follow Justin on Twitter @MondoNews.  Check out our other interviews from Comic Con, peep our Comic Con photo galleries, and for the latest news and reviews follow @RealBrianRudlof and @ScreenInvasion on Twitter.

Previous post

Sons of Anarchy, "Sovereign" Season 5 Premiere Episode Hits Hard

Next post

Oscar Watching: All About The Weinstein Company

The Author

Brian Rudloff

Brian Rudloff

Brian loves two things: movies and vacations. He has a B.S. in Cinema/Television Production and an M.S. in Recreation and Tourism Management. While he certainly anticipates the latest releases, he is more often found dancing on flying sarapes through the ether of yesteryear and wistfully prancing on clouds of nostalgia. He does not understand kids these days or the entertainment they consume.