by Chris Jalufka, EvilTender.com
In July of each year a legion of film and comic book fans descends on Downtown San Diego for Comic-Con International. Creators from all over the globe attend to share their new books, films, or toys — whatever that thing is that they do. The big names like Marvel, DC, Fox, Sony and others are there as well with their latest entry into the pop culture zeitgeist.
For illustrator and designer Jay Shaw the convention has a new angle to it. Since being named creative director at Mondo (poster boutique arm of the Alamo Drafthouse) he is in town to take meetings. There are clients to meet, posters to discuss. Business to tend to. Recently Shaw has gone from freelance designer to in-house creative and as a favorite of mine, I tracked him down among the frenzy of Comic Con and took him out for his second lunch in a row to discuss his work and where he is at in the world of Mondo and film posters.
Jay Shaw: There you go. You’re not going to get anything out of this chat anyway.
Chris Jalufka: No, it’ll be fine.
No, it’ll work out.
You know how awful I am about staying on track in an interview? Are you kidding? Emails are fine, but if I’m actually going to have a conversation, no, that’s just going sideways. Good luck.
It’s all the same thing though, because it’s all about you.
It never stays that way.
You don’t think so?
There’s no subject worse to me than me. I can’t stand it.
You can’t stand the work or you can’t stand talking about it?
I hate talking about it. I hate thinking about it. It’s like when a claustrophobic person gets in an elevator, that’s the feeling. It’s the worst, man.
How long have you been the Mondo in-house guy?
Is it different from what you were doing before?
Yeah, it’s totally different because before I was doing posters.
You would also do layout though, right? I think I first noticed it with the Kilian Eng “Oblivion” vinyl and in the credits it said, “Layout by Jay Shaw.”
Yeah, I was doing tons of stuff besides the poster work, but once I became the in-house guy, then it was like “All right, let’s figure out what the brand looks like?” That kind of stuff.
Is that when the logo changed and stuff?
No, that was pre-me. Tyler Stout did the logo. We were really trying to figure out a bit of an aesthetic for the company.
When I got hired, it was right at the end of last year, I took on SteelBook. It was, “here is this whole crazy new initiative that’s going to take up most of your time.” So I did that, then we had Christmas break, then we came back and it was like, “all right, maybe we should start doing key art. Maybe we should start doing promotional art for things. Maybe we should start doing packaging. Maybe we should start doing …” That’s been the evolution.
Packaging for the toys that are coming out?
Packaging for toys, packaging for movies, packaging for anything.
For the Mondo brand?
For anybody. That’s the thing. Setting up Mondo as a creative agency as well. You have one side of Mondo that’s licensed posters and soundtracks and toys and all that. Things that we’re selling directly to people, then another side of Mondo people don’t see as much, and that’s the creative agency.
It’s that like the Drafthouse Film stuff?
That would be right in the middle, because then we’re acting as a creative agency, but that’s with one of our sister companies.
I noticed your “Borgman” poster was treated as the official poster for the movie.
That’s not another alternative poster, that’s the actual film’s art.
When I did “Pieta,” that was a thing that was going to be a Mondo poster and then Tim League saw it and really liked it, and said, “Hey, we will just make this the key art.” Or “A Field in England.” When I did that it was meant to be key art. If it feels like key art, then, it’s key art. If it feels like a Mondo poster, it’ll be a Mondo poster. Now, we’re trying to merge everything in a way where we’re acting as the creative agency for the Alamo Drafthouse. It’ll be us doing as much of that as we can.
You’re doing way more business stuff now.
Way more. I would rather not do the art. I’d rather art direct. When you’re creating the art you’re in it too close, you’re focused. When you’re art directing, you can oversee 20 projects. The thing is, now, the job has changed again, because I was lead designer for the last eight or nine months, and now I’m a creative director, so there’s three of us, me, Rob Jones, and Mitch Putnam.
Are you overseeing the final art for every product Mondo puts out?
That’s the thing. The way the company works, it’s not a pyramid. Do you know what I mean?. There isn’t one person on top and then everything coming from below. With vinyl, it’s Spencer (Hickman) and Mo (Shafeek). That’s the music department, their world. They’re pulling resources from everywhere else, so it would maybe me, Mitch, or Rob, or Eric (Garza), or Justin (Brookhart). When they need packing and they need art, they’re going to us and saying, “Okay, who do we get? What do we do?”
For the “Aliens” soundtrack they spoke to you guys and you’re like “Kilian would be good”?
We all brainstorm and say, “Who would be cool? Kilian should do it.”
They deal with getting the music together?
Everything. With “Aliens,” that’s Mo one hundred percent. He works with the studio, he’s the one that’s getting all the music together, he’s the one that’s organizing all the approvals for all the packaging, he’s doing everything on that end. That’s how it works. Sometimes, it’s like “Kilian really loves doing art, but he doesn’t love doing copy.” “Okay, cool. I’ll do the copy.” I do the copy and send it off to Rob and say, “Do you like this?” “Yeah, this is cool. Yeah, I think it’s great.” It’s kind of an organic weird mishmash of things. Depending on the project, there’s this person in charge, and then this person’s way below, or “No, no, no. This is a different project, so this person’s now running point in this direction, and the other people are not doing as much.” It just depends on what we’re doing. It’s a fun dance.
It’s better than if you were the creative director and you oversaw every project being the exact same, it might be something that you’re not super into.
That’d be awful. That’d be terrible.
I remember when I was talking to you about “Blue Sunshine.” That was your whole idea, right? “I like this movie. Let’s do some stuff.”
That started with me when Alamo Drafthouse in Denver opened. (Alamo Drafthouse owner) Tim League invited my wife and I to go to the opening night party. I was telling Tim, we were just having a conversation in the restaurant there and I was telling him, “Oh, man. I love Blue Sunshine. That movie is so good.” He knew the director, Jeff. He said, “Really? Do you guys want to do something?” “Yeah, that’d be really cool.” He said, “All right, I’ll get in touch.” All of a sudden, it was “Yeah, we can do a poster.” “Well, could we do the soundtrack, too?” “Sure, we can do a soundtrack.” “Can we do a screening?” “Yeah, we can do a screening.” “Can we do a VHS.” “Yeah, we can do a VHS.” I don’t think we made a nickel off of that. It was me and Rob Jones. Rob’s not quite as passionate about the movie as I am, but he was pretty into it. It’s goofy enough where he was like, “Yeah, let’s do it.”
That’s the kind of fun stuff. There’s “Age of Ultron” and then there’s also “Blue Sunshine” in the Mondo catalog, too.
There’s a balance. There are fans for both. Maybe a few less fans for “Blue Sunshine,” but whatever. I love that movie.
Are you still able to do that kind of stuff? Maybe more so now?
You have to balance it. You can’t just be a company that does goofy shit that nobody buys. You have to find things the fans want, because if we just started doing my thing we’d have a hundred “Zardoz” posters and no “Avengers” posters, and that would be bad.
It seems like Mondo will just drop a lot of surprises, a lot of unannounced kind of stuff. Are you planning on building more hype around posters, turn then into events?
Tons more, because some stuff it’s okay to be secretive about. There is some fun mystery. “Where’d that come from?” On other things, it doesn’t make sense to make it a mystery. It’s okay to say, “We’re doing something great we’re so excited about. Let’s promote it.”
Then you think, some fans just want the poster.
That’s fine, and they’ll get the poster. You can satisfy everybody. You build up to it. You can tell the actual story of why this is an important thing to us, why this is so cool. At the end of it, there’s the poster. Everybody gets what they want. I missed that opportunity with “Blue Sunshine,” for example. We had Jeff Lieberman out. I wasn’t in Austin at the time. We had him out for a screening, and that was super good. I should have written a few thousand words about why I love the movie so much.
Are you here solely to meet with people and meet with whoever is here, like Marvel and all those other guys?
Yeah. Definitely meeting with the studios and licensors. This is a really good hub. Everybody in town at the same time. We’re taking meetings most of the day at the convention. A couple of us are going to wander around and talk to artists too.
Which you probably haven’t gotten to do.
Not as much as I’d like. There are so many talented people hanging out. I keep walking by and catching glimpses of art and I’m like, “Who is that? Who is that person? What can we put you on?”
You guys are totally open to finding anybody anywhere?
Yes, absolutely, if you’re good and you know how to work, then we’re into it. I really want to run around and introduce us. “Hey, we’re Mondo. You might know who we are.” I’ve lived on the other side for so long. It’s so cool to be able to go to these people and it’s like “Hey! We’re peers. I can’t wait to hire you. It’s going to be one of your favorite projects. It’ll be really fun. This gig is not going to suck.”
How do you deal with knowing that fans would just be happy with more Tyler Stout posters?
They can have it. He’s great. Why not?
Read about production company Sarofsky’s custom typeface for the title sequence that appears in Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy.
Is there ever a discussion of, “We need to find the next Tyler Stout.” Someone that everybody loves.
It’s not really about finding the next Tyler Stout. Every Mondo artist is incredible in their own way. The next hot new artist could be anyone.
I guess the question is really how do you determine what makes a successful poster?
They’re all successful. That’s the thing. You have your Tyler Stout, who has this super broad appeal. You’ve got Martin Ansin and Olly Moss and the people who are going to appeal to the broadest base, then you’ve got We Buy Your Kids and Rich Kelly. These are people who are incredibly talented. They’re renowned in some circles, and then maybe not as well known in other circles. You’ve got them, and they’re successful. Everything those guys do, a million percent successful. You’ve got Anne Benjamin, who blows us away on every project. That’s success. It’s not really a matter of whether or not we can sell 700 copies of something, it’s did you do a great job? Great, then you’ve succeeded. By our standards, you have succeeded. Did you really get the film? Did you put out a really great piece of art for it? Then you have completely succeeded.
There are only so many movies. There are only so many takes on something you can really do. That’s the biggest concern. How many subjects can we tackle, and how many times can we tackle that film and make it still interesting enough to where people want it? Maybe there are other things. What are people into? What do they want art for? Video games. Cool. There’s a whole other world of possibility. Publishing. There’s a whole other world there. Toys, records, anything! There’s so much you can get into. That’s more of the challenge. Figuring out the appetite of the collectors. It’s not really about who’s going to be the next successful artist. Some people do rise, though. Matt Taylor is a good example. I think his first poster for us was “Brick.” So good. That’s one of my favorite posters that Mondo’s put out. You hire him on and maybe put him on some smaller things, see what he thinks, see how it works, and it comes out great. You keep giving him stuff, and he keeps turning in great stuff, and he keeps wanting to work. He keeps doing new things, and you give him the biggest licenses ever. Want to do the entire “Back to the Future” trilogy? Go for it. He’s that smart. He’s that good. I’ll never do a Back to the Future poster, because it’d be terrible. No fan would want it. I wouldn’t want it. Marty’s face falling off with George underneath. We’re done. “Back the Future.”
But that is an amazing summation of the film. Gets to the point. You solved the problem.
I solved the problem. That’s it. That’s “Back to the Future.” See what I mean? See how easy this is?
You’re moving to Austin, right?
Not yet. We just sold our house. We bought the house in Austin, a few weeks ago. We’re a few weeks away from moving.
How did you guys decide to make the move?
I didn’t decide. I got promoted to creative director. I called Tim and said “Hey, should we move?” He said “Absolutely.” That was it. Easy.
Have you done any creative directing before?
Nothing official. I’ve never been hired as that person. I’ve been brought in on projects where it was like “Hey, what do you think?” “Well, I think it’d be cool if it went this way.” That’s creative direction. It’s a difficult job, for sure, but if you’ve been an artist with any success, it’s not a huge transition. If you rewind five steps back and you get to that point where you were about to come up with the idea, and then pause. Wherever that is, and then you communicate that to the guy who’s doing the art. Here’s the problem, and I want you to come up with the solution. Let’s hope you come up with something good. It’s nice, though, because a lot of times you’re completely surprised.
There’s a film poster we’re working on with a wonderful illustrator named Marc Aspinall. I had ideas. I had probably three ideas, two of which were bad. One was maybe good. He came up with a dozen ideas, and all 12 were better than anything I came up with, and two of them were actually brilliant. I was like, “Are you kidding? I didn’t even see that in the movie. I did not see the connection, and you made the connection, bravo.
We hired JC Richard to do a SteelBook cover recently. It was one of those things where, again, I’m not going to poison the well and tell him what I think it should be. It’s a movie I love, but let’s just see what he comes up with. I kind of said, “All right, here’s what we’ve got. Here are some of the parameters. Do your thing, man. Let’s see what you come up with.” He sent back drafts and it was so much better than what I was thinking. “Go, go. It’s perfect. I love it.” I love that. It’s so cool to get blown away by these people. I love this job.
You guys are at a spot where you could basically get the best talent out there.
If we get in on their schedules, for sure. Some people are very busy.
It seems like scheduling would be the only real issue.
Scheduling is tough. Olly Moss is a friend. I love him to tiny pieces, and he’s busy. He’s been making a video game for two years. You can’t just say push the Olly button and go, “We got a great movie. We want Olly on it,” because Olly’s always doing other stuff. You do have to work around that. You can’t just have anybody at any time. For the most part we get our first artist choices though. It’s easy to pitch really cool projects to people.
Has it been tough not being the one doing the art?
No. I love it. I absolutely love it. If I never do art again, I’ll be happy.
Absolutely. I would be fine if I never in my life created another piece of art, but had some hand in a really great piece from another artist coming to life. That’d be just fine.
Even doing personal stuff at home?
I don’t do personal stuff.
It’s all business. I’m a commercial artist. I’m a private dancer. I like being around art. Don’t get me wrong. I love art to pieces, down to the marrow, I love art, but …
You don’t need to make any.
I just don’t love making it. I don’t like my stuff near as much as I like other people’s stuff. It’s kind of hard to want to see your own things happen. I know that somebody else can do the thing that I want to a lot better than I ever can. I’d rather figure out how to get that to happen.
You still do art though.
Oh sure I’ll do it anyway. There’s this weird duality. A project comes up, and I’m like, “I’m going to do it. I’m going to do that because I have a compulsion or something.” Do you know what I mean?
Art is like a coke habit. I know it’s bad for me. I probably shouldn’t do it, but it feels so good while I’m high. I just did the cover for Aziz Ansari’s book. I did it because Aziz asked me. I love that guy, and I love working with him. He’s smart and he’s funny and he’s a considerate person. Everything is so well thought out that it’s a huge turn on for a designer to work with somebody like that.
On the book, the font, we agonized over it. It’s the most simple thing in the world. It’s just Avant Garde. It took us a week to get to that one, because we went back and forth, because the dude genuinely gives a shit about things like that. Presentation really means something to him. I love that. It’s so cool.
You’re not offering yourself up, like “I think I’d be perfect for this”?
I’ll put myself in the ring, if I’m the person they want for it, cool. Once you’re hired, once the client wants you, and they need you, then that’s all that really matters, anymore.
Obviously, they liked you for a specific reason. You might hate that reason.
I don’t care what it is. It doesn’t make any difference. Now, I’m yours. I’m your dancer.
Or a cog.
Or you’re the whole machine. Just do the job. I don’t know. That’s probably not good advice. Good advice is love your work.
It seems like you do.
Actually, I love the job. I’m just weird about my own art.
I don’t know if it’s self-deprecating, though. I like myself just fine. It’s like being in a band. When you’re playing you feel incredible, it’s when you have to go back and listen to the recording that you start to doubt everything. When it I go into a store and I see some blu-ray cover on the shelf that I made, I get a little nauseous.
How did you guys get into toys? Were you there when that started?
Toys are one of those things like vinyl where it was “This is really cool. I think we could do it well.” We lucked out because we got Brock. He’s our toy guy and he comes from the toy world. Hiring him, all of a sudden we had an expert. We learn from him and figure it out as we go, “Is this a good idea? Can we do this? Yes, no, maybe, sort of?” He’s the one who understands how to make all those things really happen. He’s also the one that can say, “That’s terrible. You can’t make money off of this. No, there’s no demand for a Holy Mountain toy.” There should be. There really should be.
You could do it though.
It could physically be done, but we’d probably lose a fortune. With a poster, you can misfire. You can put out a poster that doesn’t succeed. It’s not the end of the world, because it didn’t cost an arm and a leg to make. You can’t have too many duds, but you can get away with more risk. A toy, you can’t really screw up, because if you screw up a toy, then it’s like you’ve gone through so much to get that thing to happen. There are so many levels of production. You really have to know if it’s going to be something people really want.
We’ve gone through this with the toys where we’ve sat around just pitching stupid ideas like, “What if we had a Steve McQueen Bullit toy and he had a car?” That’s fun for us. It’s something that a couple of us would definitely buy, but then you start looking at reality. You need to make this many of them to break even. What’s the appetite for a thing like this? There’s a reason you don’t have that toy. The reason is it doesn’t exist yet, because it’s not feasible.
We’re a small company. At this point, we’re putting out as much as we can. We just want everything we do to be great.
Photos from the Mondo booth at Comic-Con: