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Poster Perfect

How Mondo is revolutionizing film art-vertising

By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 8, 2011

Justin Ishmael (l) and Rob Jones (r) of Mondo
Justin Ishmael (l) and Rob Jones (r) of Mondo
Photo by John Anderson

Recall, if you will, the movie posters that informed your youth. Chances are they decorated your bedroom wall, were clipped out of old issues of Forrest Ackerman's Famous Monsters of Filmland, or were hand-drawn works of art by the likes of living one-sheet legend Drew Struzan (Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark). That sort of collectible, pop-culture-shifting genius.

Now go take a gander at the cookie-cutter studio one-sheets currently crowding the multiplex walls. Jeez. What happened, Hollywood? I've seen more imaginative imagery on the side of a Wheaties box.

Enter Mondo (www.mondotees.com), the Alamo Drafthouse co-production that's single-handedly changing the way people are thinking about film art-vertising. And not just in Austin, either. In the two years since Mondo creative director Justin Ishmael was brought on board alongside longtime local gig-poster maven Rob "Sideburns" Jones and Mitch Putnam, Mondo has morphed from its humble T-shirts 'n' swag, 409 Colorado St. origins into the single most influential entity in film-related artworks going. Their commissioned posters, intricately, lovingly designed by a handful of four-color geniuses from across the globe – among them the great Olly Moss, Tyler Stout, Aaron Horkey, and, yes, Drew Struzan – run the gamut from the sublime (Shepard Fairey's recent Obama-ized riff on John Carpenter's They Live) to the combatively utilitarian (their "poster" for Gareth Edwards' Monsters was printed on roadside signage-grade aluminum and then, effectively, blown up). In between are genuine works of gorgeous, breathtaking beauty, including but hardly limited to Tom Whalen's retro, Disney-authorized print for "Steamboat Willie" and Ken Taylor's disturbingly crimson take on William Lustig's bloodthirsty Maniac (two personal favorites). This ain't no disco; this is a revolution.

"With modern movie posters," says Ishmael, "there's one that will be really great that will come out and then everyone will copy that for a couple of years. Like The Social Network. Thor did that, too, which made no sense. I was in L.A., and there was a Mechanic poster with an orange and black gun. It was funny because it was right after we did the Olly Moss series for [this summer's] Rolling Roadshow with the orange and black designs. And then The American came out, and that was cream and black and orange. Total Olly Moss rip-off. I can only imagine that they saw it because this year's was on iTunes and last year's got a crazy amount of coverage. In fact, most of the time when studios contacts us, they say, 'We want to do the Olly Moss thing.'"

All rip-offs aside (and there's a lot of 'em), it's a measure of how popular Mondo has become, and how significant that their strictly limited-edition posters sell out within minutes of being announced on their website. Scan eBay, and you'll find miles of out-of-print Mondos selling for hundreds of dollars within days of their release. And this is all being done seat-of-the-pants, so to speak, which makes the whole production that much more impressive.

"When I came in in February of 2009," explains inveterate collector Ishmael, "I'd never done anything with studio licensing or film posters. I was doing venue-rental stuff for the Alamo. So this was total learning from the ground floor. Early on we did The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and then turned around and did The Wolfman for Universal, so those were two really big studio films where I learned, very quickly, how things worked when you're dealing with a big film studio."

And how do things work when the studios are involved?

"The bigger the studio, the easier it is, actually. They're usually [like], 'Just do what you want, and we'll make it work.' The smaller studios tend to be really, really nervous about someone coming after them legally.

"Ultimately, we're free to do exactly what we want to do because there's only three of us. We make all the decisions, whereas studios have to go through a billion people, and they end up with the lowest common denominator poster."

Which, at the end of the day, is what allows Mondo to explore not only film poster art but also tangential projects like their recent, exceptionally awesome foray into videotape distribution with Eighties smashathon Sledgehammer. (Yeah, VHS. Got a problem with that, 21st century digital boy?) It's art for art's sake with an exploitation twist, taking back the movie poster from the studio committees and gussying it up with mind-blowing levels of cool. The movie poster is dead. Long live the movie poster.


At press time, the ink was still drying on a monster-sized announcement regarding Mondo's partnership with ... Well, you're just going to have to keep an eye on our blog at austinchronicle.com/pip.

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