Comic-Con may still be a hotbed of comic book and graphic novel revelry, but the tastes of the genre aficionado have shifted since the first days of the San Diego gathering in the 1970s.
Convention-goers want more, they want unique and they want exclusivity. And, increasingly, that means they want posters.
Vintage posters have always had buyers, but new, limited-edition posters have become some of the most coveted collectors' items on the convention floor at Comic-Con International. And not just because buyers can mount their acquisitions on a wall like some sort of glorious singing big mouth bass. Posters and prints have become an important part of genre expressionism.
If you're hosting a booth on the massive floor of San Diego Comic-Con, you're nothing if you're not peddling some sort of one-week-only variant print of one artist's interpretation of a Jack Kirby-styled take on "Bladerunner." Don't laugh; you know you already want to buy that print.
This year, Comic-Con booths are littered with convention-exclusive creations. Heavy Metal magazine re-created the famous Barry Geller and Kirby designs from the fake movie the government concocted for its "Argo" operation — which later became a real movie starring Ben Affleck. Gallery1988 is selling an inspiring amount of pop culture art, including "Mad Max: Fury Road"-inspired works by Anthony Petrie and Nan Lawson. Even Nickelodeon has a special "SpongeBob SquarePants" print called "Bubble Buddies."
But the genre poster-art king is Mondo.
Started in Austin during the early 2000s by Alamo Drafthouse chief executive and founder Tim League with Rob Jones, Mitch Putnam and Justin Ishmael, Mondo is a gallery that not only sells art but also commissions artists to create exclusive posters and prints with a specific Mondo aesthetic.
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At Comic-Con, the Mondo booth lords over many smaller art houses, and in 2015 the company has found so much success selling artwork that it has expanded to vinyl soundtracks, figures and even a collection of child-of-the-'80s-baiting Madballs pins.
But the meat at Mondo, for the fans, is the posters. This year, Mondo came out swinging with exclusive, limited-edition prints of "Ant-Man," "Godzilla" and "Aliens." You have to come early to get the good stuff because poster-heads will wait in line for as long as it takes.
There's a whole community of poster fanatics who will wait together in line for art debuts, which for some is part of the fun. Die-hard collector Germain Lussier — who has upward of 400 pieces of collected art, "if you count the little pieces" — explains: "It's a status thing because you're one of the only people who has it, and also because the art is a really fun way to relive your favorite movies and TV shows. It's not every day that I walk around and think about 'Pan's Labyrinth,' but when I wake up in the morning, I see my 'Pan's Labyrinth' print. It reminds me, 'Oh, my God, Guillermo del Toro is so good.' I'm looking at my wall, looking at 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' or 'The Wrestler' or 'White Men Can't Jump' or 'Forrest Gump' or 'Guardians for the Galaxy.' It brings me back to seeing the movie."
It also doesn't hurt that most of the Mondo creations appreciate in value over time. "I'd be lying if I didn't say I loved when my posters go up in price," Lussier says. "But I buy with my heart, and then if it becomes worth it, that's great."
Mondo has inspired such a fervor and following that its owners have created a convention all to themselves of poster-minded collectors called MondoCon. The next one takes place in October in Austin, Texas.
According to creative director Jones, it's Mondo's ability to see pop culture from a unique angle that has so many collectors taking notice. Almost overnight the Mondo style became a known (and in-demand) aesthetic.
As art movie posters started flooding galleries across the country, studios started to take notice and churn out their own limited-edition prints. Disney held its own gallery show titled "Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron Art Showcase" and Fox Searchlight sent out limited, city-specific "Birdman" prints.
So what makes a Mondo poster different from other movie posters? Jones uses the example of Mondo's yuletide poster for a screening of "A Christmas Story" to explain. "Out [of] 100 artists, 80 will probably do Ralphie in the bunny suit, and maybe another 10 will do the lady leg lamp, and maybe another nine would do Flick with his tongue stuck to the pole. Our poster was the Bumpus dogs. Here is the key. It's an unusual scene to depict to sum up that movie, but it's also a perfect scene to depict because it's showing you what a disaster that Christmas was. But not only the disaster of it, but how fondly you'd remember disasters especially after they revolve around family gatherings. Those are the stories that always seem to get brought up at the dinner table years down the line. That's why that movie is so enduring. Because we've all had that horrific Christmas that we keep talking about throughout the years."
The new marketplace for art prints has jump-started a lot of new artists' careers. Perhaps the most notable was when Mondo landed the licensing to "Star Wars." Artist Olly Moss' "Star Wars" set, says Lussier, "is probably the holy grail." It's hard to find, and if you do find it, you're going to pay plenty to acquire it.
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Jones first had the idea to start selling posters at a movie event called "Rolling Roadshow," where a select movie would be screened in its original filming location. When asked to make a special poster for the event, Jones became intrigued and, instead, created a whole "slew," he says, of individual, screen-print creations for each event. Needless to say, it went over fairly well. And here they are today attracting upward of 2,000 people to their own, private print convention.
For the Record, 2:45 p.m.: A previous version of this article referred to the movie event where Rob Jones first had the idea to start selling posters as "Growing Road Show." The event's name is "Rolling Roadshow."
Will the fad last? Lussier has his doubts, "I think it's already fading. I really do. I think the market is oversaturated."
However, it takes only a few cues and conversations about his previous times going to secret screenings in hopes of acquiring surprise posters to make the collector's heart tick.
Whether or not the poster market will burst by next year's Comic-Con International remains to be seen. In the meantime … that "Escape From New York" print does look pretty nice.
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