How Mondo Approaches Turning X-Men and More into High End Collectibles

Thứ sáu - 17/05/2024 22:05
At SDCC, we spoke to Mondo about choosing convention exclusives, turning memes into toys, doing cult horror collectibles, and more Batman and X-Men.

While there been some notable upheaval behind the scenes at Mondo in the past year, none of that was apparent when visiting their booth at the recent San Diego Comic-Con. Located inside the huge section of the floor occupied by their owners – Funko, who once more built an impressive mini-city of booths dubbed Funkoville – there was a constant line of fans to get into Mondo in order to purchase the poster, toy, and soundtrack exclusives available that week, with new releases based off of beloved franchises like X-Men, Godzilla, Masters of the Universe, Batman and more.

During the event, I spoke to Mondo’s Senior Creative Director Peter Santa-Maria, AKA @attackpeter, about a number of topics, including just how they choose their convention exclusives. We also spoke about Mondo’s ability to delve into toys, posters, and vinyl soundtracks for various properties (sometimes simultaneously), finding the right artists for specific projects and much more, including what turned out to be false reports that Mondo was going to stop making posters, after Funko, who purchased Mondo in 2022, did layoffs at the division earlier this year.

The upcoming M3GAN figure on display at Mondo's SDCC booth

Also on display at Mondo’s booth alongside the SDCC exclusives were early looks at several upcoming releases in their high end 1/6 scale figure line, including X-Men villain Omega Red, who will be available at New York Comic Con, Batman’s Phantasm, and many more. But our conversation began with a figure that had caught my eye for a much more recent property getting a Mondo figure soon, M3GAN

Fandom: Let me start with the M3GAN figure, since I was just telling you how excited I was by that one. Had you guys announced it prior to Comic-Con and I’d missed it?

Peter Santa-Maria: We had it at the licensing show in Vegas but it wasn’t meant to be revealed publicly. I think someone took a picture and it leaked, which is fine, but we hadn’t officially revealed it until now.

The Adventures of M3GAN and They Live's Nada

Fandom: You have M3GAN alongside the upcoming figure of Roddy Piper as Nada from They Live. You’re running the gamut of something very of the now and then a notable cult classic from decades in the past. Do you guys like getting to mix it up like that?

Peter Santa-Maria: Look, we’re big horror geeks. Universal has been amazing to give us a chance to work with all those licenses. So being able to do MEGAN is great and then we love John Carpenter, so getting to do Nada, MacCready from [The Thing]… I want to do so many characters from that era. There’s so many beautiful 1/6 [scale] figures out there for giant titles like Marvel and Star Wars, but man, I want the stuff that I wasn’t allowed to watch when I was a kid and I snuck in and watched it. That kind of stuff, I love it. That’s what we want to do.

Only one man can rock an outfit like this and that's Prince Adam

Fandom: I was looking at the Prince Adam Masters of the Universe figure and I was thinking, okay, intrinsically, he wears an incredibly goofy costume, and yet this is a very impressive version of Prince Adam.

Peter Santa-Maria: And that is so much of an 80s property. It just oozes 80s. We’ve been redesigning all the [Masters of the Universe] characters, thanks to Mattel, who lets us kind of do what we want to do with them, but we still want to honor those color palettes, those silhouettes, but just amp them up. So on first glance, you’ll go, ‘Oh, Prince Adam, I know that,’ right? But when you look closely, there’s all this ornamentation and detail work that kind of brings it up to today’s standards of figure [design]. So yeah, that’s the most fun. And then putting in Easter eggs from the show, putting in Easter eggs from the packaging, putting that all in there…. We’ve got these two masks that come with him in the box that are references to the mini-comics that used to be packed in with the figures. It’s us just being able to make what we think is an ultimate, final version of the character. If you never get a chance to get one again, you got the best one.

Fandom: One of the alternate heads is what people refer to as ‘Meme Prince Adam,” which actually originates from a moment in the 1980s cartoon. It feels like a fun and unusual thing that you’re part of this cycle where you can do this version of something that has become a meme decades later, all after it was a part of an animated series based on a toy.

Peter Santa-Maria: It just speaks to the strength of that brand. It has tendrils that go all over the place. When we released our 1/6 Wolverine, a few years ago, we released him in a box that was him in bed holding the frame of Jean and Scott – the sad Wolverine meme. And it popped off and it went viral on the internet. So yeah, we’re fans like everybody else. We see the memes. Internally, we go ‘Dude, we’ve got to do a [portrait] that reflects the meme,’ just for fun. Everybody is so happy when they see stuff like that because you can tell, at that point, that we are just like everybody else… Big fans and nerds on the internet!

Prince Adam, loving life

Fandom: What’s your selection process for what will be a Comic-Con exclusive? You have a lot of popular properties and there are the characters that might be a little more specific and niche, so is there a back and forth about what makes sense for a Comic-Con exclusive?

Peter Santa-Maria: Yeah, we try to go with things that are like deep cuts, that really reward hardcore fans. Or an extreme item that, if you’re paying attention at Comic Con, you’re gonna be ‘Oh, that’s…!’ For example, Prince Adam, not that he’s a deep cut, but it might be a figure that someone who’s just collecting on the top level might not go for, so we picked something like that. And then, like I said, we try to load the packaging and the accessories up with those references to the show.

Behold the wings of the Man-Bat!

Then you’ve got Man-Bat from Batman: The Animated Series. He was the first villain of the series in episode one – and he’s got an almost three foot wingspan! So that is a figure I think only the hardest of hardcore people are gonna put in their collection, so we want to have him here in all his glory. It pays tribute to the show, tribute to the comics…. It’s something like that that will just please the hardest of hardcore fans. So we try to do things like that, but at the end of the day, we want to get to all of it. We’re just trying to have fun and since Comic-Con is a celebration, those are pieces that I think people will go ‘Oh my god…’

Fandom: Yeah, I notice here you have Prince Adam and you also have Logan, so you’re really diving into the alter egos that people just looking for the primary hero version might not get.

Peter Santa-Maria: Right, exactly. Since we did Wolverine as our first X-Men figure from the line, Logan, making him an exclusive, is again rewarding people who are paying close attention to what we’re doing. They’re watching Comic-Con closely. And you’re only going to get Logan if you’re a real fan of X-Men and the show. It’s one of those pieces, where if you’re a real big fan, you’re like, ‘I gotta have that in all its Canadian glory.”

Prince Adam and Logan, just two normal dudes living normal lives

Fandom: You’ve got a new Omega Red X-Men figure, who is not the very first villain many would think of for X-Men, but is very visually striking and has such a distinct look. Is that a case where you’re scanning through the characters and stop and see someone who really stands out and you just know he should be a part of the line?

Peter Santa-Maria: I just remember when I was a kid, it was X-Men #4… I remember waiting in line for those comics. And when Omega Red popped out, I remember all of us… We must have been in elementary school, if not middle school, and we all were like, ‘Oh my God, who is this!?’ It was a name that stood out. ‘Omega Red!’ We haven’t even gotten to Cyclops or Rogue [with Mondo’s X-Men: The Animated Series figures], but we’re like ‘Omega Red has got to come out!’ So we put Omega Red out and it’s been huge. To me, it’s the best execution of that cel shaded style and the big presence of the 12 inch figure.

Funnily enough, Jim Lee came to the booth this week and we were able to show it to him, because he was the original creator of the design, and he flipped for it. It’s such a rewarding thing to put out a character that rewards the fans who are really into that line, that roster, and then have Jim Lee, the creator, see it.

Mondo's Peter Santa-Maria shows off the upcoming Omega Red figure alongside an Omega Red cosplayer at San Diego Comic-Con

Fandom: On the poster front, you’ve got multiple Cowboy Bebop posters out this year. Was that the plan going in?

Peter Santa-Maria: We partnered up with Crunchyroll and we actually have an exhibit at the San Diego Comic-Con Museum showcasing a ton of Cowboy Bebop prints and designs that we’ve partnered up with some of our favorite artists to produce. We’re bringing a selection of them to the booth and every day, we’ve dropped a new Cowboy Bebop print. So it’s like a celebration of Cowboy Bebop as a whole with Crunchyroll. And, I mean, who doesn’t love Cowboy Bebop? Every artist that we talked about doing it was like, ‘Yes, sign me up.’ It’s just awesome for the fans having a chance to see all these different representations of it.

Two of Mondo's Cowboy Bebop posters

Fandom: There are artists you regularly work with, but of course you can’t know who is a fan of every single thing. So do you just kind of try and keep in mind previous conversations or sometimes is it simply reaching out and saying “Hey, are you into Cowboy Bebop?”

Peter Santa-Maria: The thing about Mondo is we pride ourselves on those relationships. I talk to our artists regularly. And sometimes, just as a casual friend, I’ll say, ‘How you doing? What’s going on?’ So you do get to know who’s into what. I was an artist at Mondo starting in 2020 and I’m the Godzilla guy. I love Godzilla and kaiju and monsters, so anything like that, I want to do it, and they know it. But there are certain guys that I know, some certain artists that I know, that they love anime, or they just love big, bold, dynamic compositions. And so we approach them and say, ‘Hey, what do you think? Are you in the mood? Are you hyped on this?’ And if they’re hyped, then we do it.

Fandom: You guys had some big changes happen recently behind the scenes, and some initial reports said there were not going to be posters from Mondo at all anymore, though that clearly does not seem to be the case.

Peter Santa-Maria: Yeah, greatly exaggerated! I’m just so excited because we’re already planning the end of next year. We’re still working with a lot of our legacy artists but my most favorite silver lining of everything that’s gone on is that we have a brand new roster of artists. Some of them are here kicking ass. I’m not going to reveal any of them yet, but some of them are ones who I stood in line to get commissions from, years ago, and I’m getting to hire them to work on dream projects.

I’m so excited for people to see those projects and see that Mondo posters is strong. It’s a platform. It’s a way to introduce people to new artists that they’re about to be obsessed with. It’s a way to give artists the chance to work on a license that they may not otherwise be able to. If you just believe in and celebrate art and pop culture like we do, Mondo posters is the best way to crystallize that.

Mondo's poster recreation of the cover to Spider-Man 2099 #1

Fandom: You also have your prints of classic comic book art. When you saw Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and they showed the cover of Spider-Man 2099 #1 in the movie, you must have thought, “Hey, we have a poster of that coming out!”

Peter Santa-Maria: 100%! And shout out to one of our in-house guys, Justin Goers. He was the one who said “We’ve got to do 2099. We have the art there ready to go. Let’s put it on the forefront for Comic-Con.” And we’re all like, “You know what, that makes total sense.” We did a red foil so it resembles the original comic, so it was a perfect serendipitous moment.

Mondo's poster recreations of Barry Windsor-Smith's Weapon X comic book art

Fandom: I love the Barry Windsor-Smith Wolverine Weapon X art. That’s a specific story from a specific era, but Wolverine is an eternally popular character, so I feel like people might see that and begin asking “Wait, what’s that from?” if they don’t know that story yet.

Peter Santa-Maria: Right. We’ve got different entry points for these characters and these stories. Whether it’s the movies, the cartoons, the comics, toys, people come at it from different angles. And poster collecting, it’s the same thing. You might just appreciate it as art, but you’re like, “I need to know the rest of this!”

Fandom: On the vinyl side, the great Michael Giacchino is very well represented here.

Peter Santa-Maria: We love his work. And now, as a director, to me the most exciting Marvel property that came out in recent times was Werewolf by Night. Having the soundtrack here is just perfect.

A bevy of Michael Giacchino scores were available at Mondo's booth at San Diego Comic-Con

Fandom: You’ve  released a lot of his soundtracks, so with recent stuff like Werewolf and The Batman to highlight, did it just make sense to do this big spotlight with a bunch of selections here at Comic-Con, including several of his Pixar scores?

Peter Santa-Maria: We have a great relationship with him. [Former Mondo employees] Mo [Shafeek] and Spence [Hickman] worked with him for some time and we have his original album here, his original music [Travelogue Volume 1], and we’ve got his soundtracks here. We love working with him. He’s a great person. He’s a great artist and so we’re just happy to have as much as we can have of his stuff here.

Fandom: You’re releasing these terrific film and TV scores, but for Mondo, the album art, of course, is so integral too. So when you know you’re doing a soundtrack, at what point do you get the cover artists on board?

Peter Santa-Maria: I will say, for vinyl records, and for all we do, we kind of think of things holistically. When we see a license that we have, or something that we’re excited to work on, we start thinking “Oh, this person with this piece” or “If we do this, we should design the packaging to look this way” and that kind of thing. So it really is a holistic approach. It never happens the same way twice, I would say. And sometimes, when we have an artist whose style is in the top of mind, we go, “What can we put them on where they would just really pop?” It can happen many different ways but it all goes back to having that relationship with the designers, with the artists, and knowing what they’re excited about too.

It speaks to Mondo as a brand. The secret sauce is that we really just do what we are excited about. All of our creative directors are entrusted and empowered to curate. And so if I’m working on a project, it might be a different priority set than if one of our other directors is working on a project. But we always try to keep it personal, keep it human, and let people know that we’re just doing what we think is awesome. And since we know that we’re all connected by this love of pop culture, the chances are you’ll also think it’s awesome. But we do want that to be the case. We don’t want it to be anonymous, we don’t want it to be ambiguously separated from the people curating, and so we always try to put the names of everybody involved and let people know “This is so and so’s baby.”

The Mondo Werewolf by Night poster by Francesco Francavilla, which he modified from his soundtrack album cover art

Fandom: And sometimes the art from some of the vinyls will also be made into posters…

Peter Santa-Maria: Yeah, and vice versa. And even with the packaging for our toys… Sometimes, we’re working on a poster and we go, “This is so good and we just happen to have a figure on the way. Let’s just use it.” Maybe we have the artist add to it to go around the box or record [art]. Francesco Francavilla did the Werewolf by Night cover art, but we also had the poster for it. And when it’s that good, you can use it and have him do a few extra things to fill in the template, because the records are obviously a different format than the poster. But yeah, it’s again, platforming the artist, putting them at the forefront, celebrating them deeply and exploring everything that you can with their portfolio and their and their excitement to work on it. That’s what’s exciting. Because over time, you’re always gonna have very realistic figures coming out from every company. You’re gonna have every license addressed from every company. The one thing that I think is still an actual exclusive is a human relationship. And when you build that, with the creators, you get something unique and special. I think that’s what people really love about it.

Fandom: Here’s my one request. Can you guys eventually make posters of all the covers from the Nightmare on Elm Street Box of Souls soundtrack collection from a few years back? Because I got the three you did but I still want the rest!

Peter Santa-Maria: Ahh, I’d love to do that! Believe me, if you think something should get made, we’re probably on the same page and trying to get it done at the same time.   

Fandom: There are certain franchises that are naturally musically inclined, like Bill and Ted, where you’ve done both posters and soundtracks for the series. Do you look for those opportunities where you can be part of a larger ecosystem for a brand?

Peter Santa-Maria: Every time we can do that is the best and we try to do it with all three pillars. Like we have our Toho vinyl soundtracks, we have our Godzilla posters, and then the figures. So going forward, that’s something that I’m really trying to push for is getting a whole capsule together. Because I’m a collector of all three and I imagine other people as well. So when you have the opportunity to do that, it’s the best.

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