Nerdlocker Artist Interview: Justin Ishmael!


For our next artist interview, we decided to go a different route. We interviewed the commissioner of all commissioners when it comes to artwork, Justin Ishmael, Creative Director of Mondo. If you are unfamiliar with, than you need to visit the site immediately before you read further! Mondo is an exciting part of the coolest theater experience in the country, the Alamo Drafthouse. Not only do they show a wide variety of films, ranging from new releases to old classics to even the cheesiest of 80s horror flicks, but they commission an even wider selection of limited edition movie prints from some of the hottest artists on the planet, including Tyler Stout, Olly Moss, Eric Tan, Kevin Tong, Ken Taylor, Martin Ansin and many others. Lucky for us, Justin has the patience to put up with our amazingly hard hitting questions! Check it out!

NL: I now live in Las Vegas, but I’m originally from Ohio. We recently interviewed Dana Lechtenberg who is from Iowa. I feel like I have to ask you this since you are from Kansas City. Do people automatically assume you grew up on a farm? And is that question immediately followed by something to do with cow tipping?

JI: I’ve actually never been cow tipping before and the only people that I ever knew that did from Kansas were girls. Probably an after prom thing. I get the farm thing as well as Wizard of Oz stuff, followed by the evolution/creationism thing in schools, followed by sports talk if they’re sports fans. I actually like that I’m from the midwest. I try to go back and visit my family like twice a year. We had a pond growing up and my grandpa had a ton of acreage that was nothing but woods. We’d go and camp and watch deer eat and stuff from his back window. We’d actually feed them corn, too. I was really big into archery and target shooting when I was little. I don’t think I would’ve got that stuff if I would’ve grown up in a big city.

NL: I’ve read that you are an incredible collector. What is the crown jewel among your many collections? And what is your favorite thing to collect (films, vhs tapes, toys, posters, etc…)?

JI: Oh man…. yeah. I do collect a lot of stuff. I’m weird about it. I’ll get on big kicks for a few months and then get all I can and then move onto the next thing. For instance, I’m really into Takashi Murakami stuff right now, so I’m trying to get as much stuff as I can of his which is hard. He did all of the Louis Vuitton stuff a few years ago, but I’m not going to carry a Speedy Bag or something. I just dedicated a room in my house to put all of the stuff in. It was kinda just scattered everywhere, but I figured that if it was all packed into the room I work out of most of the time, it would be good inspiration. Crown jewels… I’ve got a robot from the Rock-A-Fire explosion. Ghana posters are also really important to me. I’ve got a few of those and they’re amazing. Comics wise… I have a copy of Fantastic Four #1 and X-Men #1 and also got the first appearance of Wolverine this year at Comic Con. I also got an original Jack Kirby drawing. I was seriously almost hyperventilating when I got it because that stuff is like only for the super rich which I definitely am not. I found a good deal on it. It’s a DC SUPERPOWERS concept drawing and it was him designing the Boom Tube from the Fourth World stuff. It has Darkseid in it and is awesome. It’s signed by him and has this cool “Property of DC Comics” stamp on the back.

I also collect 35mm films and VHS. I think the last 35mm print I got was SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD. I actually have a tattoo of the Cyclops from that movie. I love it. I also have a print of DEADLY SPAWN and DIE HARD, so those are some of my film jewels. I have like seven copies of ROLLING VENGEANCE on VHS, too. I LOVE THAT MOVIE. It’s so brutal and really doesn’t have to be.

I collect lots of toys and just got into collecting taxidermy, too. Rob Jones, Mitch Putnam, me and Tyler Stout all went to Fort Worth after the Akira Mystery Movie and attended a taxidermy auction. We all bought a ton. Rob got zebra heads and stuff. I got a full sized baboon and a bunch of things, but Tyler totally won with his Giraffe purchase. It’s in my front room right now and it’s really tying the room together. I really love it. Maybe I’ll try to buy it from him. haha

NL: What inspired you to go from seeing movie posters hanging on walls to commissioning some of the coolest film prints ever made?

JI: That was all Rob Jones. He did it on one of the first Rolling Roadshow tours and it just kind of stuck. It’s really amazing how big it’s got since then. There are videos people took of some of the early shows where there would be a stack of Tyler Stout posters and nobody cared as much where as now there would be a line of people trying to grab them.

NL: What is your favorite part of being Creative Director at Mondo?

JI: I think it’s the fact that I’m not tied down. Like, if I wake up one day and decide to do something with Turtles, I can do it. If we want to do something for Star Wars, we can do it. It’s pretty crazy that we can actually do things in official capacities with people we respect and admire. The Struzan thing is pretty crazy. When I was little, never would I have thought I’d be drinking lemonade or whatever at his house. It’s the best job.

NL: If you could have the talent of a Mondo artist for a day, what movie poster would you create and why?

JI: I’d take a crack at Dune. Definitely. Collector wise, there aren’t really that many good ones for that movie and there 100% should be. There is an auction site we frequent a lot to buy older movie posters and every time one comes up, I’m bummed. I’d love to have Tyler or Martin’s hand and really do something awesome that is more representative of how awesome that movie is. The design of the film is INCREDIBLE and most of the posters are just an image of Arrakis or something. It’s a bummer. There is a Japanese poster, I think, where it as a ton of stuff packed in. The Guild Navigators, ships, Thade and all of this stuff and it’s still not very good.

NL: How do you choose which artist will work on what film print?

JI: We do this several different ways. It could range from an artist emailing and saying, “I want that!” to us thinking someone has an appropriate style for a film. Every one we do is different.

NL: What determines the number of prints for a particular project?

JI: It all depends on the specifics of the poster. With something like STAR WARS, obviously we’ll do a lot because it’s a giant thing people know about. Things like MANIAC, we won’t do as many because far fewer people have been exposed to it.

NL: Star Wars of Star Trek? Why?

JI: I grew up Star Wars. I would memorize all of the characters names in Jabba’s Palace and stuff. My grandpa had a room full of my uncles old toys, so we had a Rancor and all of that. He even had X-Wings hanging from the ceiling with fishing line. I remember splitting G.I. Joe figures in half. Like, cutting the rubber band that held them together and sticking half of them in the Rancor’s mouth to make it look like he was getting ate. Tomax got it the most.

I only started watching STAR TREK when I got older. Probably, within the last five years or so. My favorite episode is Doomsday Machine.

It was crazy when we did the poster for The City On The Edge Of Forever. We were nervous about it because we knew about Harlan Ellison’s past with other merchandise. We talked to CBS and they said that everything was cool to do it and after we released it, I got an email saying that Harlan wanted to talk to me. I was REALLY excited because we had all joked about how cool it would be to get sued by him. It’d almost be like a badge of honor. So we talked for a while and he said how much he liked it and I said I’d send him some and I admitted to him that I was a little excited/nervous about talking to him because I thought/hoped he would sue us and he thought it was the funniest thing. He said, “If I was younger, maybe I would’ve granted your wish.” It was an awesome phone call.

NL: What do you do in your free time?

JI: I took a break a few weekends ago and went to Dallas and hit up a bunch of comic book stores. I have this intense love of comic book stores and one of my favorite things to do is go to ones when I am in new cities. I have favorites in a lot of the major cities…. LA, NY, Portland, Philadelphia, etc. I found a great one in Dallas though and talked the owner into letting me go in the back room and dig through his 90’s comic book posters. There was a GIANT STACK. I came out with a bunch of the Moebius stuff he did for Marvel, lots of McFarlane stuff, Jusko Silver Surfers, etc. It was the best. So, I guess yeah… on my free time I waste money on stuff like that. haha. And sushi. I love eating sushi.

NL: Give us a Nerdy secret that most people don’t know about you.

JI: I named a cat of mine in Kansas City after Robert Redford’s adopted son Caleb in JEREMIAH JOHNSON. Like, I acted the scene out and everything. It was like a knighting ceremony, but this cat was just sitting there so confused. I actually had two cats. One I named Caleb and one I named Not- Caleb. I was SO INTO THIS MOVIE. Like, me and my friends watched it and got so crazy about it that we actually started dressing like that for a while. We were all mountain manned out. Floppy prospector hats, leather fringe, the works. It was really awesome.

NL: What is your favorite movie?

JI: My favorite movie is DIE HARD. I watched it on repeat when I was little. I had a tape with that and ALIENS on it. That was so major. My dad would leave to go compete in B.A.S.S. Fishing Tournaments and my mom and I would hang out at the house. I remember many times I’d have a Turtles TV tray eating macaroni watching it. That was in like ’88 before I was even in Kindergarten. My parents were really cool about that stuff. They let me watch pretty much anything…. except horror movies. I grew up exclusively on action and sci-fi and really didn’t watch horror movies until I was a junior in high school. Pretty nuts considering how that’s probably my favorite genre now.

NL: What is your favorite video game?

JI: NES. DUCKTALES. FAVORITE. GAME. EVER. I can sing all of the themes. Know all of the secrets. All of it. I remember at the end when you have to climb the rope against Flintheart Glomgold ( I would always get cocky and give him a head start or make myself fall off the rope just to make it a challenge. I like how I got cocky playing the Ducktales game. I must’ve been the only person in the world that thought that was a cool thing to do.

NL: What is your favorite comic book or comic book character?

JI: My favorite comic book ever is the Gerber/ Colan Howard The Duck run. It’s the best. I have three favorite characters. The Thing, Howard The Duck and Man-Thing. I guess I really like monsters and all of these guys have such tragic stories. Like, I like Superman well enough, but he has all of these powers, but is still a crazy attractive dude. Most superheroes are really good looking which is fine, I get it, but I just side with the ugly dudes… and ducks.

So once again, despite decreasing my own odds of snagging the coolest art ever as more and more people learn about Mondo’s awesomeness, we here at Nerdlocker just had to share the incredible work that Justin and his team do. I highly recommend you peruse the archives of said work here. And as you look through the pages of contemporary movie magic, realize that these prints are now archived with The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (or the Oscars to you)!

One of the best ways to keep up to date on all the happenings with Mondo is through their twitter page, And of course if you’re lucky enough to be in one of the four cities that has an Alamo Drafthouse (a total of 13 locations), stop in and have a beer and watch a great flick!

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I'm a true child of the 80s from a small town near Cleveland, Ohio. My all time favorite topics are Star Wars, slasher films and Cleveland sports (despite the misery it causes). I narrowly avoided law school, instead choosing film school. I have been accused of being a walking IMDB, but I take it as a compliment!

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