End of an Era: Funko Lays Off Mondo's Leadership
UPDATED: Toys and records unaffected as prints team gutted
By Richard Whittaker,
5:30PM, Fri. Mar. 24, 2023
A major upheaval at Mondo, the Austin-based collectibles firm. The Wrap has reported that parent company Funko has fired several of its key employees, including Creative Directors Rob Jones and Eric Garza, and Senior Creative Director Mitch Putnam, the mainstays of its print division.
This does leave Mondo's toy and record vinyl product lines in place, and sources close to the company say that the plan is for Mondo to continue producing prints. However, it's a major sea change in the near 20 years of print history that made Mondo a household name among collectors, and saw them become part of Funko's portfolio of subsidiaries when the larger company acquired the limited-run experts from the Alamo Drafthouse last year.
Sources close to the situation say that staff were informed of the layoffs midweek. The situation may reflect Funko's priorities when it came to Mondo, with greater emphasis on the scalable music and toy lines, rather than the more complicated world of limited-run prints, an expensive process that often involves lengthy negotiations for image and rights approvals. The change seems to have been a long time coming: for example, at last July's San Diego Comic Con, the Mondo booth signage described the company as "records toys posters & more."
The history of Mondo is almost as old as the Drafthouse itself, starting back in 2001 with the first posters for Drafthouse special screenings. The firm's official start date is in 2004 when Mondo Tees opened a small store in the lobby of the Alamo South Lamar, selling t-shirts with iron-on prints. However, what made it famous was the collectible print arm, established by artists Tim Doyle (who later left and founded Nakatomi Inc.) and Jones.
Mondo rapidly became the most recognizable name in limited run prints, attracting and building the reputation of dozens of artists, including Mike Mitchell, Becky Cloonan, Aaron Draplin, Francesco Francavilla, Olly Moss, Jock, Daniel Danger, and more.
opened Mondo Gallery. Its profile, as well as its ability to attract big IPS, was confirmed the following year with a show dedicated to Game of Thrones. This was followed by high-profile shows and partnerships with recognizable names like Disney, Nickelodeon, Tales From the Crypt, and Richard Linklater.
The following year, Mondo added its own convention, MondoCon, which ran through 2018. Then there was a vinyl imprint, Mondo Records, and its own toy division, creating figures and more for beloved shows and films like Masters of the Universe and The Iron Giant.
However, the pandemic proved to be a highly destructive blow to Mondo and, more importantly, its then-parent company, the Alamo Drafthouse. The cinema chain was losing cash, but Mondo, with its mail order business, helped keep the firm afloat. Proving the enduring appeal of the brand, Drafthouse founder Tim League auctioned off his own collection of Mondo prints to cover Drafthouse running costs.
However, Mondo did not emerge unscathed. The Drafthouse let the leases on both the gallery and Mondo's print works expire, and begun to restructure the company to focus on the core mission of running cinemas. First, in April 2020 it sold off its magazine and film news site, Birth.Movies.Death to Dallas-based Cinestate (it never printed another issue), and then last June Mondo was sold to Funko.
At the time, Putnam said he was looking forward to the new era, calling it "Mondo 2." The Mondo team was kept in place, and its headquarters was to stay in Austin (there were even some discussions about re-opening the gallery).
However, in March, Funko announced that it had seen a drop in sales and incurred a $47 million loss in Q4 of 2020 – much of that loss being attributed to having to rent storage space for unsold Funko Pops (the only division that saw a year-over-year increase in sales was its Loungefly subsidiary).
The larger question for Mondo now is what the change means for its relationships with artists who had long relationship with the old team. Artist and Mondo regular Daniel Danger tweeted that "Funko effectively decimating MONDO by firing the creative old guard of Rob Jones, Mitch Putnam, and Eric Garza among others is a fucking travesty and sheer idiocracy. End of an era, but im with them for whatever they want to do next, and I imagine every Mondo artist will follow."
Similarly, Olly Moss tweeted, "RIP to a real one. Thanks to Mondo for taking a chance on me more than a decade ago, and good luck to some of the best folk I've ever had the pleasure of working with."
This story was updated March 25 to incorporate new reporting.
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Mondo, Funko, Alamo Drafthouse