Funko Buys Mondo

Collectible leviathan acquires Austin's boutique art shop

An Austin art institution is going big-time – or corporate, depending who you ask. This morning, the Alamo Drafthouse has announced that it has sold its Mondo collectibles arm to pop culture giant Funko.

The sale, for an undisclosed sum, has been in the works for several months. In that time, Alamo founder/executive chairman and Mondo cofounder Tim League said in a statement, "We searched exhaustively to find a perfect partner who saw what was unique and special about Mondo and was in a position to meaningfully invest in Mondo, nurture the team, and further its reach and vision. Funko is exactly that unicorn."

In a press release, Funko CEO Andrew Perlmutter called Mondo "the perfect complement to Funko’s current portfolio of brands," adding that the sale represents "an exciting opportunity to couple Mondo’s already stellar product assortment and aesthetic with Funko’s massive property library. ... By leveraging our international distribution and licensing network, we feel well positioned to expedite the growth of the Mondo brand.”

Commenting via Twitter on the acquisition, Mondo cofounder and creative director Mitch Putnam tried to put fears about the unique brand being diluted to rest: Calling the next step "Mondo 2," he wrote, "We went into this process incredibly concerned with keeping Mondo authentic and familiar, and we left the process 100% comfortable with our new partners."

League went on to confirm that the current staff, who have been absolutely pivotal in forming the relationships with artists and licensees upon which Mondo's reputation was built, will remain with the company. He added, "I wish everyone on the Mondo team the absolute best and look forward to everything ahead, save the notable exception of the loss of my employee discount."

A history of Mondo: Dirty Harry (2010) by Olly Moss, Cinemania (2004) by Rob Jones, Inside Out 7" sleeve (2016) by Phantom City Creative, Lemora (2003) by Lester Smolenski, Office Space (2009) by Todd Slater, Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) by Olly Moss, The Curse of Frankenstein (2018) by Francesco Francavilla (Images Courtesy of Mondo)
The news represents the seeming completion of an ongoing process within the Drafthouse to concentrate on running cinemas, a process that really began in 2020 with the sale of Birth.Movies.Death., its magazine brand. Drafthouse Films, the dedicated art house distribution wing, was briefly revived in 2021 for the U.S. release of India's Oscar selection, Jallikattu, but has not put out any more films since then.

However, the Mondo sale comes as more of a surprise as it has been a core part of the Drafthouse identity since the chain's earliest days. Officially launched in 2004 as Mondo Tees, it was little more than the t-shirt booth at the original Alamo location on Colorado. The earliest prints were promotional posters for Alamo events, but over time it expanded into licensed prints for properties as diverse as Game of Thrones, indie horror The Blackcoat's Daughter, and Terrence Mallick's The Tree of Life. In 2012 it opened the Mondo Gallery, allowing it to host high-profile themed shows. Under the management of co-founder and Senior Creative Director Rob Jones, it connected artists like Francesco Francavilla, Jock, Ken Taylor, and Austin's Becky Cloonan with properties spreading from Marvel's Avengers to Robert Eggers' The Witch, with the name Mondo alone enough to make any print instantly collectible.

Over the last two decades, Mondo has become a nationally recognized brand, leading the collectible prints revolution of artists doing small-run posters for major licensed properties. It's also diversified into pins, tiki mugs, sculptures, jigsaw puzzles, and high-end collectible toys, as well as music through its Mondo Records and Death Waltz Records labels.

During the pandemic, the gallery was forced to close permanently, but Mondo's online presence was a vital part of the survival of the Drafthouse – indeed, at the point at which the chain went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, Mondo was the only division turning a profit. Its prints are so collectible that League sold off his private collection of Mondo posters to help covering operating expenses.

Here's Mondo's statement in full:

By now you may have heard that Mondo has a new parent company: Funko. Let’s talk about it.

For 20 years, we have poured our heart and souls into this weird little thing that Rob Jones and Tim League started in a closet in the corner of an Alamo Drafthouse lobby... then out of a closet underneath the seats of a Drafthouse auditorium (seriously). Eventually, we opened our own gallery space, and even started our own convention.

We have always loved following our passions and doing things our own way, and we’ll be forever thankful to the Alamo Drafthouse for supporting those passions and helping us grow into what we are today. But we needed a bigger boat... and that’s where Funko comes in. They understand what Mondo is today and are eager to help us become the company we want to be.

From the outside, Mondo might seem like it is changing... but on the inside much is staying the same. We remain the same team, and our goals remain unchanged. We are still the same bunch of weirdos who share an undying obsession with popular (and maybe less popular) culture, and a craving to make cool stuff with the best artists in the world.

We are still the same company that started in the theater lobby... only now with even more resources to support our vision. We can’t wait to show you what’s next.

Collector response on social media has been mixed, to say the least. Many longtime Mondophiles see Funko as the enemy, often with a particular hatred for its ubiquitous Pop figures, with their oversized heads and simplified lines. For them, the company's mass-production of merch, funneling all IP through the Funko model, is the exact opposite of what Mondo should be. However, there has also been some support for the move: Mondo's super-limited runs have been part of what made it attractive to collectors, but also lead to disappointment when items sell out in seconds, only to appear minutes later at vastly inflated prices on the secondary market. It's unclear whether the Funko acquisition will change that model, or what it will means for Mondo's presence in Drafthouse locations. At the same time, there have been growing criticisms of delayed releases and delivery, as the brand's reputation and massively increased product line placed stress on the boutique operation. Comparisons have been made to Funko's 2017 acquisition of California-based accessories company Loungefly, which has retained its reputation for higher-end products while becoming more broadly available.

Longtime Mondo artist Daniel Danger summed up the potential pros and cons when he Tweeted, "Ill admit i guffaw'd loudly when i heard. But if it eventually helps with production time, pressing times, licenses, artist payments, the ability to do big events, overall reach, and all my old friends are still there making sure we're taken care of, then whatever."

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