The Poster Posting: An Interview With Mondo Creative Director Justin Ishmael

Poster and t-shirt house Mondo is in the business of reminding that movie posters remain an art form. For every half dozen cheapie ’shopped “floating head” poster inflicted upon the multiplex set, Mondo has work by artists like Jock, Olly Moss, or Daniel Danger.

They feel elaborately designed, these art pieces honoring classic and modern films (and occasionally TV). Without having to work towards the lowest common denominator, star-centric image, the artists commissioned are able to strike the perfect balance between honoring the most familiar elements of the source material (consider the period appropriate font used in Francesco Francavilla’s Creature From the Black Lagoon poster below) while still being able to create something playful that extends the spirit of the original work (of course the poster for Adventure Time should be a yearbook photo).

And have you seen these things? They have a texture to them that the usual glossy one-sheet doesn’t. Part of that is the process: according to Mondo Creative Director Justin Ishmael, because of the printing method Mondo uses to create its limited run of posters, each one is unique (albeit in the most barely perceptible ways).

But I’ll let Ishmael himself talk about the company—its roots and some of the dream projects on the horizon for the Austin-based company.

MTV Geek: Could you give our readers a little background on Mondo?

Justin Ishmael: We started doing posters about five years ago for Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. It started out small and we did stuff for the Rolling Roadshow Tour and event-specific stuff for the Alamo, and it kind of just grew from there.

I would say about three years ago, I came on and started doing stuff—it was more studio-based. Universal would call us and [want something] for The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus and stuff like that. And then we were able to acquire higher-profile licenses like Star Wars, and Universal Monsters, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

From there, it kind of propelled us into a new place with fans where Star Wars especially gave us a lot more attention. A lot of fans kind of flocked to it and stuck around.

Geek: And could you tell us about this week’s The Dark Knight Rises promotion? [Ed. note: this interview was conducted on Wednesday, in the middle of the sale, which has since concluded.]

Ishmael: Today we’re offering a 24-hour sale. And by the way, this is not a change [in how Mondo sells posters], this is just a change for today where everyone can buy one but that’s not going to be a regular thing. We have no plans to do that in the future, this is kind of a thank you to fans for sticking with us for so long and this is kind of a special event with the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy ending.

Geek: How does your team look at limiting the runs on a specific poster?

Ishmael: It just depends on the artist, what they would like to do with it, [and it] depends on the title. A lot of times we have stipulations in our contract that say we can only do so many. There are many reasons why we do what we do with the posters.

A big one is—and it’s something people don’t know about—it’s very difficult to do gigantic, high numbers with the way we print things. If it was like a lithograph of something that was being used for a theatrical one-sheet, we could print thousands and millions of those very easily. But ours is a very precise process, and there’s lots of room for errors. Each one is unique, each poster we do is like a one-off where there are going to be a lot of variances. If you really took two posters and looked at them really closely, there would be differences—the metallics, where the little flecks of metal are in the ink. Each one is a special piece, so when you’re doing gigantic runs of those, it takes the printer a long time and for what we’re trying to do, it’s not possible.

We mainly work with one guy in screen printing, his name is Steven [and he’s] in Seattle, and it wouldn’t be possible for him to keep up with what we’re doing.

It isn’t the main reason, but it’s something we’re very picky about: the quality control.

Like today, it’s a professional exception, because we’re probably going to get a bunch of these orders before this 24-hour window is up. And it’s probably going to take a very long time to ship these out, at least a month, whereas it’s usually like, I would say a week turnaround.

Geek: Were there any particular challenges with The Dark Knight Rises poster, you know either in terms of agreeing on the design or coming up with a vision that Warner Brothers and maybe even Christopher Nolan could get behind?

Ishmael: No, no, Warner Brothers was really happy with it, Olly was really happy with it, we’re really happy with it. I know Christopher Nolan kind of has to give his nod to things, so I assume he saw it, we’ve never talked to him before.

We’re thrilled with the response to it, and very happy with the turnout at Comic-Con where the variant sold out. And we did a bunch of press at Comic-Con. It’s great: I’m very happy for everybody’s enthusiasm for it.

Geek: How did you guys manage Comic-Con and what I imagine was huge fan response for the 15 or so posters you were selling?

Ishmael: Well on Wednesday, we got our first taste of it. There was a giant mob around the table and security guards were saying “Go this way,” and another guard said “Go that way,” and it’s really confusion with the Comic-Con staff.

By the second round of posters, we really had it under control. Wednesday night, we [hired] security guards that were working exclusively for us and could control the line. So they kind of put the hammer down on people trying to do weird stuff. So it was definitely under control.

It was very, very busy and I think we sold out of everything but maybe two posters. So that was great. I think we had something like 15,000 posters at Comic-Con and we sold out of all but a couple of hundred but we were very happy with that.

Geek: What do you think is the secret to the best Mondo posters? What attracts people to your artists’ work?

Ishmael: I think it’s the style. And I think people respond to our artists who’ve built up a fanbase around them. And I think it’s a lot of artists [combined] with subject. If you liked The Dark Knight and you like Olly, then you’re very excited about hearing that he’s doing a poster or that two of your favorite things are in one poster.

I think it’s the graphic style and the illustrated style versus the normal thing you see in theaters with photographs being used and manipulated in computer programs. I think it’s a lot of things, but I think it’s mostly the attention to detail that each artist gives in their own style.

Geek: What was your favorite from the batch of Con posters?

Ishmael: I was a really big fan of one of the Game of Thrones posters that we did by a Russian artist by the name of Vania Zouravliov. He did 13 Assassins for us recently, he did Dracula for us a couple of years ago, and he did The Devil’s Backbone.

His style is so his own, and it’s pen and ink: he doesn’t use a computer or anything, he just does everything by hand. And it’s very classical. I’ve said this about his Dracula poster but you could attribute this to any of his work: you could put it in a museum and it would stand up to a lot of things there. It’s just such a beautiful body of work and every time I look at it, I see something different. So I was very, very happy to have him in that series.

Geek: Finally, do you have a dream project you’d like to see Mondo tackle?

Ishmael: Oh yeah, I would love to do something with Toho, like Godzilla. We have lots of ideas about what to do with that. I’m hoping that there’s renewed interest in giant, Japanese monsters with Pacific Rim coming out and eventually with the new Godzilla movie. I heard during Comic-Con that both of those essentially stole the show, which is very exciting, being a fan of the genre.

The Dark Knight Rises poster went on to sell over 9,000 prints this week. If you’d like to keep up with Mondo and their poster announcements, you can [should!] follow them on Twitter at @MondoNews.