There are many reasons to root for the success of Mondo, a boutique arm of the Alamo Drafthouse that does all those limited edition posters that film fans have gone gaga over. They're drawing attention to the beleaguered art of movie posters and movie-themed art, even filling their own gallery space in Austin, Texas during the last SXSW festival. They only offer a limited number and selection of their wildly popular posters at any particular time, and gaining quite a reputation among movie fans. However, the cult of Mondo leaves me cold. There aren't many of their posters that I find appealing, though I think the artwork has improved drastically over time. The exclusivity of the posters drives the demand for them, moreso than their actual quality. From a business standpoint, I salute what Mondo is doing, but as someone who loves movie posters and movie-related art, I don't buy the hype.
I've tried to write this post a couple of times, and previously wasted a lot of column inches nitpicking individual posters. However, that's the wrong approach. My issues with the Mondo posters go a bit deeper than than. However, I want to make it clear from the outset that there are a lot of Mondo pieces that I like and would love to hang on my wall. The recent "Avengers" set, for instance, is so much better than the lackluster marketing images used by the official promotional campaign. In many cases, even if a poster is not to my taste, it's nice to see something new and different for old favorites like "Conan the Barbarian" or "Akira." And I'll admit that one of the biggest issues I have with Mondo, the incredible overvaluing of their products, is really not their fault. It's due to the vocal Mondo fandom, which is quick to sing the praises of just about anything the company puts out, and has been willing to raise a fuss over some pretty mediocre pieces of fanart.
Yes, the Mondo movie posters are fanart, which is fine. Fanart can be great stuff. However, fanart comes with certain problems. Your usual run-of-the-mill movie posters are designed to promote a film. Fanart is more concerned with celebrating films. Why is this distinction important? The Mondo style tends to use film iconography we're already familiar with, playing on our nostalgia and our recognition. The artists avoid referencing or creating variations on existing promotional images. A recent E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial poster, for instance, depicts a tiny silhouette of ET in the woods with a big spaceship behind him, very different from the images of E.T.'s hand reaching out to touch Elliott's or the flying bicycle across the moon that we all know. The problem is that the Mondo images often don't stand on their own. They're not nearly as universal or evocative as the best promotional art. You need to have some level of knowledge about what's being depicted for many Mondo poster images to resonate the way they're supposed to. If I didn't know anything about "E.T.," the Mondo poster looks like it might be for a horror movie.
And I'm sorry to say that most of the time there's no comparison to the originals. A Mondo poster for Terry Gilliam's Brazil, one of my favorite films, was released recently. It's a perfectly nice poster, but compared to the art that was actually used to promote "Brazil" - the winged man escaping a file cabinet, or the guy with the exploding head - it couldn't help but fall short. Most of the Mondo posters are created for films that have great, iconic promotional images associated with them already, so they feel redundant. Other times, when Mondo remixes or reframes the iconography, the posters end up feeling too gimmicky. These "Star Wars" posters are a prime example. Sure, the images are cleverly constructed and work nicely as meta-commentary, but are they actually good representations of the films? Would they be the first thing you'd go to in order to promote or sell them?
Now, official movie posters have their own problems, and sometimes the fan-made ones leave them in the dust. I like the idea of Mondo and I admire their entrepreneurial spirit and commitment. I love the fact that their posters are mostly hand-drawn or painted, instead of the photomanipulated crap that too many studios settle for. I love that people get genuinely excited about their work. But every time a new Mondo poster comes out, I click on the link to the image, and find myself disappointed more often than not. Occasionally something will take my breath away, like this Dracula poster, but I haven't found Mondo's work nearly consistent enough to live up to the brand's reputation.
But, as I said, they have been improving. In a couple years, who knows?