Editor’s Note: It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan and collector of Mondo’s posters. Josh Berwanger recently interviewed Justin Ishmael of Mondo Tees, who happens to be a big collector himself, and gives us the inside story on how all the magic started. -Brian
Mondotees.com puts out the coolest one of a kind posters for the Alamo Drafthouse theatre. Here is my interview from the man with the plan, Justin Ishmael, the brains behind it all.
First can you start out by telling me about yourself and how you started Mondotees.com and became involved with the Alamo Drafthouse?
How I came to move to Austin and start working at Mondo is pretty cool, actually. Collecting really got me here…let me explain. Before I moved to Austin, I lived in Kansas City. I was incredibly bored and was selling furniture at this place called Nebraska Furniture Mart. It was the worst. So, to take my mind off of it, I would watch movies…a lot. Then, about the time KILL BILL came out, I read an interview with the RZA on how he went to Tarantino’s house to watch MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE. RZA goes in expecting to watch it on DVD or something and QT goes, “Check it out. I’ve got a 35mm print.” For some reason, that was like the coolest shit in the world to me. A synapse connected in my brain or whatever and things were never the same. Something about film is so incredible…it’s tangible and forever. DVDs are cool I guess, but film is the best. It feels alive when you’re watching it on the screen. Anyways, I started looking at this 35mm forum everyday and got super into it. The first movie I ever bought was ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO for like $100. When I started collecting, I didn’t even have a projector. It was completely backwards. We were so ghetto. We didn’t have a rewind table or anything…we’d splice stuff with regular Office Max tape and razor blades. If there are any film collectors reading this, they’re cringing. I got better and know a lot about projection now because of it, but I digress.
I started posting film wanted ads on craigslist in every state and one day, got a call from a dude in Arkansas. He said he had a warehouse full of them and quoted us this ridiculously cheap price for them. They even drove them up to us. The day they came was like a religious experience. (I’ve attached a pic of the storage locker we put them in. That was only like half. That’s not me, btw. One of my pals.) So, I was broke at the time and so were two of my good friends and I told them that if they chipped in, I could sell them off and we would split profits. So, that’s what we did on our off time. The first movie we ever sold was a real cherry print of BLOODSUCKING FREAKS. Color was great on it. We made a huge sale to a, now friend, in New Zealand and he told me to ship them to the Alamo in Austin. I freaked! I told him that I had always wanted to go and he said, “Knock some money off the price and I’ll hook you up.” He got me into Butt-Numb-A-Thon for years and the Best of QT Fest. I booked a hotel and flew down to QT Fest and the first night I hung out with Tim League, the founder of the Alamo, and we hit it off. He told me to check out of the hotel and stay at his place and the rest is kind of history. I quit my furniture job and moved down and slowly worked my way up from like painting walls and doing maintenance stuff to what I’m doing now. I would’ve never known that digging through basements of grocery stores for prints would’ve got me where I am now. It’s insane.
What are your Top 5 horrors movies?
Oh wow….so many. Off the top of my head, they’d have to be DEADLY SPAWN, TOURIST TRAP, THE THING (Carpenter), VICE SQUAD and BASKET CASE
What are your top 5 horror movies people may not have heard of?
TALES FROM THE QUADEAD ZONE, GOD TOLD ME TO, MARK OF THE VAMPIRE, EQUNIOX, THOU SHALT NOT KILL…..EXCEPT
I heard you are a big VHS collector is this true? How many are in your collections and what are some of the weirder movies you have?
Yeah. Of my friends, I’m probably the biggest light weight, but I do love VHS. I’ve even got a VHS tattoo that was featured on a bunch of shittiest tattoo blogs. Whatever. I like it. Ummmm….weird movies. I have about seven copies of ROLLING VENGEANCE. If you can find a copy, watch it. It’s so insane. Seriously, google ROLLING VENGEANCE, look at the cover and tell me you don’t want to watch it. Giant monster truck with a drill bit sticking out of the front. Some off the top of my head, THE WEIRDO, ENDLESS DESCENT, TERRORVISION, the MY PET MONSTER movie, MADBALLS cartoons, etc. It’s a little bit of everything. They put so much stuff out on VHS that will never see DVD. What is really cool is that, weirdly enough, stuff like GALAXY OF TERROR and FORBIDDEN WORLD are hitting blu ray. How did that happen?! Nuts.
What are some other things you collect?
I collect lots of toys. I had a ton when I was little, so I’m rebuying everything. Got the Turtles Pizza shooter? Ya know, the one with the pizzas that everyone shot at their cats when they were little. So, yeah…lots of toys, books, shoes, and comics. So psyched. I just got a Fantastic Four #1. I’m going to buy #1-100 of the original FF run, go to a hotel, rent a room, turn my phone off, not check email and read all of them in a row. That is going to be my next vacation.
When did you first get into collecting?
I probably got into it in pre-school. Santa Claus brought me a Masters of the Universe Orko one day in class and then for my pre-school graduation present I got the Michael Keaton Batman from the ’89 movie with the retractable utility belt, the Joker that shot the acid water out of his lapel, Penguin with the firing umbrella and a Batmobile. Superheroes were always big for me. My grandpa would also bring a brown bag of random comics over to my house every week. I’m obsessed with comic stores, too. Whenever I go to a new city, I try to go to as many as I can. I love collecting stuff. Oh…35mm film prints, too. I have prints of stuff like ALLIGATOR, WHITE LINE FEVER, DEADLY SPAWN, a mint print of DIE HARD, GATES OF HELL, EQUINOX…a ton of stuff.
What have been some of your favorite Mondo posters?
I was really wild about all of the Universal Monsters stuff we did. That’s like my favorite stuff. I love those characters and the movies. Gremlins by Rhys Cooper, The Thing by T. Stout, Evil Dead by Olly Moss…all great stuff. I’ll be framing my Horkey/ Vania Dracula poster. Not a lot of people know this, but Aaron did a run of 25 variants where he hand drew a bat into the poster. He didn’t do an online sale or anything and I got one. I’ll probably get it when a friend comes to visit for SXSW. The Del Toro series is so cool, too. It’s fun emailing with Guillermo. I want to go visit The Bleak House. If you have the CRONOS bluray that Criterion put out, check out the special features. He does a tour of it. He has so much stuff in his collection that he bought a second house to put it in. I want my house to be like that. Gotta set goals!
Who are some of the cool people you have met since working with Alamo?
Oh wow. I’m not a big celebrity guy. Like, I don’t care that much. I’ve never gotten star struck before. I’m good pals with Michael Stephenson from TROLL 2. He’s like the best guy. Him and his wife Lindsay. They let me stay at their house when I go out to LA. They have the coolest dog, too. I like Jon Gries a lot. I got to hang out with Guillermo at Comic Con. It was fun to nerd out with him. We got to talking about how insane opening scene of THE HIDDEN is…oh! Add that to the movies you should watch that people probably haven’t heard of. It’s AMAZING!
Do you get first dibs on every poster, and do you always try and keep one for yourself?
Yeah. Part of my deal is that I get one of every poster we do. There are three of us that run things…Mitch Putnam (Omgposters.com) and Rob Jones (animalrummy.com). These dudes are really good friends of mine and we talk like EVERY DAY multiple times a day. It’s not uncommon to be up until 5am arguing about if it’s worth signing a DUNE license or something like that. So yeah…we all get copies of stuff.
Where do you keep them all?
Haha. Right now, as I write this, they’re all in mylar bags in a room of my house. I’ve been trolling craigslist for a flat file for some time now and people keep beating me to it.
The Star Wars line has been absolutely amazing! Do you have to get someone from LucasFilms to “o.k.” every print and do you have to send a certain number of those prints to the man himself, or does George Lucas not have any idea this is even happening?
Thanks for the Star Wars love. We definitely had to get everything approved through Lucasfilm and they definitely knew about it. It was all licensed. Lucas is a HUGE, HUGE art collector, so yeah….he get’s several copies of each. When you walk into his screening room on the ranch, he has all of the original Drew Struzan STAR WARS paintings hanging.
I love how your prints go on sale “at a random time,” I think it gives everyone the same equal chance to get a print, but it seems some people would disagree. Would you like to take the time right here to talk to the consumer on why this is a cool thing you guys do?
I wouldn’t say it’s cool, per se. We’re not trying to be punk rock or cool by doing it that way. It’s more a matter of, if we announce a time, it’ll crash the site. When we released Ansin’s WOLFMAN about a year ago, we got DESTROYED. It was a massacre. The site had a gigantic meltdown. Since then, we’ve only announced specific times a few times, but we won’t do that anymore. I really wish we could be like, “10am on Friday. Come and get ’em!” but it would be armageddon.
Can you give us any hints or clues to what might be in store for the future on Mondotees.com?
Ummmmm….look for us to work with new artists this year and try bigger things. We’re always trying to one up the last project. I love this job….seriously. It’s fun figuring stuff out. When I started, I had no idea how licensing worked and just kind of asked a lot of questions and figured it out. I guess all I can say is that if you were into the stuff we did last year, you’ll be very excited to hear that 2011 will be bigger.