Hear from the Artist and Creative Director behind the new Marvel x Mondo art show!
Popular art gallery and online store Mondo is set to unveil the “Mike Mitchell x Marvel x Mondo” comics-themed show featuring artist Mike Mitchell’s iconic portraits of Marvel’s huge stable of heroes and villains. The gallery is located at 4115 Guadalupe St. in Austin, TX and the show will run from April 25 through May 17. We recently spoke with Mike and Justin Ishmael—Creative Director/CCO for Mondo—about the show, their love for the Marvel brand and much more!
Marvel.com: Let’s say a fan has just come off the street and never heard of Mondo. Can you give a brief synopsis of what Mondo is for the fans that aren’t aware?
Justin Ishmael: We are like you. We are just like you, we like all the same things or similar. We make the sort of things that you like. We do posters, we’re doing soundtracks, [and] we’re doing gallery shows. I think this year we’ll branch out to other arenas but hopefully those are accepted like these other ones were. We try to do stuff for things that we like and we’re enthusiastic about. We try to make things that we feel represent those things or that we would buy ourselves.
Marvel.com: Can you tell fans about some of the Avengers art in the gallery?
Justin Ishmael: We have 60’s era Tony’s Iron Man suit. We have the Mark I, that one’s actually really cool in person. We have Captain America, we have Loki. Loki’s really awesome too. We have Scarlet Witch. We have Hulk. We have two Visions. We have a white Vision and then we have the normal green, red and yellow Vision. And then if you want to start getting real weird we have Beast and Wolverine and all those from the non-core group but yeah I think most of the Avengers are in there. Hawkeye, for sure is in there. There’s a ton of stuff.
Marvel.com: How did the two of you get involved together in the first place?
Justin Ishmael: Mike has been working with us for a few years on other poster stuff and we had offered him a show at the gallery a couple of years ago and like I said, he had his first one last year. It did super, super well. He moved to Austin, so he lives here now and we’re friends. He knew that we were coming up with the Marvel license and he kind of called his shot. “If this happens, would you let me do this?” And yeah, of course. I guess in a weird way, he asked to do it and we wanted him to do it so there were no “no’s” anywhere in the area for this.
Mike Mitchell: I’m friends with Olly Moss and he started working with them and eventually you just sort of work your way into it. I started working with Mitch Putnam, he’s part of Mondo, and it all sort of just came together. It all sort of worked out because, me and Mondo, we like a lot of the same things. You know the people at Mondo. It’s a nice fit. I like a lot of the stuff that Mondo does and they have licenses that I like to work with.
Marvel.com: Justin, what is your involvement with the project?
Justin Ishmael: I’m Creative Director/CCO for Mondo and I have been a huge Marvel [fan] since I was a little kid. We started doing posters for Marvel Studios, and obviously we loved the Marvel Studios, but we have love [for] Marvel comics just as much, if not more. [From] Jack Kirby to Stan Lee, all the creators—I’ve always been a huge fan. If I’m into football, I’m really into a team because I’m into the players on that team. We really wanted to try and champion these characters. There’s always Captain America, there’s always Spider-Man, and we love them, but wanting to do something with M.O.D.O.K. and wanting to do something with smaller characters that we like. My favorite characters [are] Howard the Duck and Man-Thing and stuff like that. We couldn’t do that with Marvel Studios so we worked with them for a long time to get the license and when we finally did, Mike had done this portrait show with them last year with a lot of movie stuff. And so he was like, “I would love to do Marvel stuff. As many portraits as I can do.” Just like us, we had all these plans.
I find the weirdest thing about having Mike do these is normally when you’re drawing a comic book, you kind of exaggerate. A lot of the times if you’re drawing Spider-Man swinging, you’re not really concerned about the stitching on the cowl and this and that. Because these are portraits, he had to get really intricate with all those things and just seeing how he thinks that Wolverine’s mask is sewn or how Green Goblin is actually wearing a mask and that’s where the Goblin face comes from and that he’s just sort of a real person underneath there and he shows how the mask attaches. I think that’s going to be really interesting to fans to where they can see a weird reality behind these, almost. The thing I’ve been really fascinated with was how did Daredevil sew his suit? Seeing how he figured that stuff out is really genius.
Marvel.com: Mike, take me through your creative process in making one piece. What do you do from start to finish?
Mike Mitchell: Sometimes I’ll do a little bit of research on the character in case I don’t know as much as I thought I knew, and then I’ll go collect a bunch of reference. The amount of work that I put into a piece, I could do that in a couple days but it’s a longer process. I stretch it out so I can take time to look at it and refine it and keep going back to it and stuff. One thing I really like to do, before I’m about to do Deadpool, I’ll read a bunch of Deadpool stuff; to help inspire me and motivate me but to also help define the attitude of it and how I want it to be perceived. It’s important to get that sort of stuff in there.
Marvel.com: You do some very interesting art pieces. Can you quantify or put it into words how your brain works when you’re coming up with these ideas?
Mike Mitchell: Not really. [Laughs] Sometimes an idea just pops into your head and you just have to put it on paper. I think in pop culture characters, the figures that I like to use, and sometimes the ideas just come together. It’s really hard to explain. Generally I try to make something feel kind of timeless or nostalgic. That’s what I like. I like that feeling. I just try to make something as cool, funny, or interesting as I can. I don’t think that’s the right way to say it.
Marvel.com: Is there anyone on the Avengers that you like doing more so than others and why?
Mike Mitchell: I like doing all of them. I really like the classic Hawkeye look. I really like the new Hawkeye comic even though he doesn’t have his vintage look but I really like that and I think probably the Silver Age Iron Man. I really love that Iron Man suit. And also, the Mach I is fun to do as well. I don’t know, it’s really hard. Somebody asked me today what my favorite portrait was and it’s not like I have a favorite or obsess over my own work or anything. I like some of the stuff that I do and it’s just really hard to choose. I really like how they came out. I chose all the characters and I love all of those. There’s more that I couldn’t get to so it’s hard for me to pick.
Marvel.com: Are there any obscure ones that you like to do?
Mike Mitchell: M.O.D.O.K. for sure. White Vision, when Vision was white for a brief period in the 90’s. Oh man, it’s hard to think about in my head. I really enjoyed doing Bishop and I did Cable as well. They’re not super obscure but they’re not A-list. I’d have to see them in front of me. I would say Mysterio is my favorite obscure one. I just love that design and it’s always stuck with me since I was a kid.
Marvel.com: Since you mentioned the Hawkeye book do you keep up with other comics now too and if so does that help with the creative process for doing this?
Mike Mitchell: Oh yeah, definitely. I read comics when I was a kid and you know how life goes, you’re not always able to keep up with everything. I’ve been reading a lot of comics, especially in the past year or so. I got Marvel Unlimited which, I’m not trying to plug it, but it’s awesome. There’s just so much stuff. I didn’t know who Red Hulk was. I wasn’t up on that and I started reading THUNDERBOLTS and oh man, this character’s awesome! I wasn’t planning on doing a Red Hulk and then I ended up doing a Red Hulk. I’ve been trying to catch up on the newer stuff because there’s a lot of really cool, you know, Flash Thompson Venom, all that stuff, which is one I didn’t get to.
Marvel.com: I read a quote from you in the press release that said you were a fan of the comics, games, action figures, all that stuff. Do all those things go into a bowl and make what you do?
Mike Mitchell: Yeah, for sure. It’s definitely what inspires me. It’s not so much just about the comics and the stories and the stuff like that. It’s the iconography of the characters and the way they look, the way I remember them, just playing around with that. I love all this stuff from the 90’s like the X-Men cartoon and the Spider-Man cartoon; all the figures. Especially, I didn’t mention it in the press release, but the old trading cards and stuff, Marvel Masterpieces. When I was a kid, that’s when I started drawing too. I used to copy comics and I loved just trying to draw Jim Lee’s stuff terribly or whatever. It all really stems from that.
Marvel.com: Fans really seem to love all your posters. Why do you think that is?
Justin Ishmael: I guess if you’re just talking in generalities, I think Mondo in general has a very specific idea of what we like and then people can trust us on that. You can tell that there’s an idea behind it and that there’s an actual enthusiasm and passion about it instead of what’s just trending right now, and not just “Oh cool, comics are really hip. I bet we can make a lot of money on that.” It’s like, if there were no movies and you were kinda looked at weird when you buy them, we would still be doing this. I think this is kinda for those people. It’s for fans in the most general sense of the term. You could never have seen a comic book but know who Spider-Man is.
People can come in, never having seen a comic book, know who he is, see that and appreciate it for what it is. It’s a good illustration, it’s an artist’s interpretation. It’s like I was saying, I like Jack Kirby. I like Frank Miller. I like their style. And I think with Mike especially, he has so many different styles, that his portraits people seem to gravitate towards a lot and specifically his “Just Like Us.” I think they’re so funny. One of them that we did for Marvel was the Sandman [being] very, very, happy building a sandcastle out of himself. It’s stuff like that. I think that too, if you can look at the things that make these characters these characters and then kind of flip that. Venom is this hulking monster and has this long tongue and is very intimidating. The “Just Like Us” that he did is him standing there with a smile on his face and a sucker, with his tongue wrapped a million times around the sucker. He’s very happy. I think those, again, there’s room for the serious fan and the lighter stuff, the “Just Like Us” that the kids can get into. I think that Mike has a good way of hitting every demo in a way.
Marvel.com: I know you’re a big Marvel fan, what got you into Marvel in the first place?
Justin Ishmael: I remember when I was younger my grandpa always brought me—I so love going to comic book stores, specifically non-chain old ones in small towns because they still kind of package your comics in the brown paper bags and so every week, which I can imagine it was only every Wednesday or Thursday when the comics came out, my grandpa would come to my house with a bag full of comics. I never read a series until probably like Jim Lee’s X-MEN but it was always random stuff so I’d get a little bit of X-MEN VS. DRACULA or I’d get PUNISHER or this or that. I remember he got me, at the time I thought it was real, it was a reprint of UNCANNY X-MEN #1. And thinking that it was real, because Wizard was there, “X-Men has gone up from $1500 to $2000,” and I was like, “What?! $2000, this is crazy!” and then having to learn. I think that was my first knowledge of just how comic book stuff worked. There was more than one copy of things, I was super super young.
Mike Mitchell: Growing up, my dad owned a baseball card shop from when I was a kid. Probably around 1990, I was seven or eight years old and he had a little corner for comics. It wasn’t like a huge comic store or anything, it was just a little corner with a few Marvel and DC comics and that’s where it began. They also had the trading cards and shortly after that the cartoons came out and action figures and all that stuff. It was kind of like an avalanche of stuff when I was kid. It always stuck with me. I’ve tried to follow it as much as I could ever since.
Marvel.com: Finally, how can fans pick up prints of these?
Justin Ishmael: The show opens April 25 and that’s obviously in Austin at our gallery and then we’ll announcing after, if there’s any leftover, they’ll be going online at www.mondotees.com but the best way to find out any information about us is Twitter.com/MondoNews. We kind of give you all the updates on, “Hey, this is going on sale tomorrow,” or “Hey, we’re sold out of these, there’s none left,” or whatever the case may be.