These days, with the proliferation of Marvel’s licensing partners, it would be quite possible to decorate your own home from floor to ceiling in Marvel merchandise. If you can put a Marvel character on it, then it exists. It makes sense in this climate for Mondo Gallery to expand its relationship with Marvel, going beyond its custom movie posters into limited-edition art inspired by the source comics themselves.
For the task, Mondo solicited Mike Mitchell, the American Academy of Art alum probably best known for the 2010 “I’m with Coco” campaign. At the gallery opening, every character was ogled equally, with guests brushing up against Marvel cosplayers to discuss the finer points of the use of color on an oversized painting of a Sentinel. It was a perfect storm of high art and low-down geekery, and we loved it.
Mike Mitchell sat down with us for a moment to talk about the work and the mighty Marvel characters themselves.
Movies.com: Who do you anticipate as the character who will sell the slowest?
Mike Mitchell: There are some weird ones, but they’re also lower edition, like Puck and the white Vision. Those are kind of obscure. Probably white Vision.
Movies.com: Why did you chose Alpha Flight’s Puck as a subject over his teammate Sasquatch?
Mitchell: I like the way Puck looks. I like that he’s just some short guy with a mustache in that all-black suit with a giant P. The iconography of it; I like that.
Movies.com: Is the Invisible Woman for sale? (The gallery sported an empty blue canvas, framed, with an Invisible Woman placard below it.)
Mitchell: No, not for sale [Laughs]. If it were up to me, I’d sell it.
Movies.com: It’s notable as the only member of the Fantastic Four that’s on display. Were the characters licensed in separate groups, like one agreement for Spider-Man characters, one for X-Men, or were they all under one Marvel-universe umbrella?
Mitchell: It was just a big, old long list to chose from. Way bigger than [what was painted]. There’s so much stuff in there and it’s a fraction of what was on the list.
Movies.com: We assume you’re a comic fan…
Mitchell: I was when I was a kid and, not that I lost interest, but when you go through life you go through different periods of being into stuff. I’ve always loved going to comic shops. I’ve always loved looking at the art. I’ve always loved the characters since I was a kid. Probably the movies have gotten me more into it. The movies started coming out, and now it’s more in your face, which gets you more excited about it. I started reading a lot of comics in preparation for the show. I’ve just been reading stuff like crazy and it’s weird — it’s really reignited my love for comics. I’ve just read so many. And they’re really good now. Marvel Comics is great.
Movies.com: Yeah, there’s a creative resurgence at Marvel.
Mitchell: Yeah, they figured it out. Marvel is killing it right now. Hawkeye. Daredevil. All the Marvel NOW stuff that they started is just great. I’ve been reading stuff I’ve never read before. I really, really like it a lot.
Movies.com: Was it the reading of these books that got you inspired to start making your own decisions about who you wanted to paint or did you see the existing master list and then start reading up on certain characters?
Mitchell: It was the list, and then I started reading stuff. Like Thunderbolts? The list had Red Hulk. I didn’t even know who Red Hulk was. “This is silly — why is there a red Hulk? Oh! It’s General Ross! This is awesome!” A Hulk who keeps his intelligence when he’s hulked up? Kind of badass. I went through the list and went “for sure… for sure…” then some I thought, well, I have to read this character.
Movies.com: Have you done any sequential work for comics?
Mitchell: No, I think I’d be terrible at it. I’d just hate it. I think I could do a good job but it would take me forever. I get to be a perfectionist about that stuff.
Movies.com: What about comic covers?
Mitchell: I’d love to do covers, hopefully. I talked to some people at Marvel recently, so that might be a thing that happens. I’ve been talking to people at Marvel about doing covers for years, it’s just never happened.
When I was a kid, my dad had a baseball-card shop and he had a little corner for comics. We’d get comics through there all the time and, whatever came in, I would get, but I never had enough to get a full storyline. It was just one-shots or catching up on a story. You don’t get the beginning, you don’t get the end, but the thing I’ve always really liked is the art. I love going to comic book stores and just looking at the art. Especially now that there’s so many different styles and so many different things. You have Adi Granov doing one thing and then Mike Allred right next to it.
Movies.com: The covers are much more graphic design-based now. The covers for Hawkeye for instance, the word search cover from a couple of months ago for example (Hawkeye #15), is a bold graphic design decision. It doesn’t spell out what’s in the book, but it stands out on the rack.
Mitchell: That whole series is just a genre breaker. Did you read the dog issue [Hawkeye #11]?
Movies.com: Yeah. What’s great about the “pizza dog” issue is the fact that a lot of times you see comics that you can tell are a movie pitch in comic form. The great thing about Hawkeye #11 is the way the story is told, through the iconography of what the dog is smelling. That’s a story that can only be done in that format. You couldn’t tell it in animation or movies. You can only tell it in that sequential format. It’s an amazing example of pure comic book storytelling. That story can’t exist outside of its pages.
Mitchell: No dialogue. If you did that in 3D live action it would be awful. You can’t even do it in writing. I loved it.
Movies.com: What’s your favorite piece of your own for maybe your least favorite character?
Mitchell: I know the answer to this. I like most of the characters in there… the Cyclops one. I liked Cyclops as a kid, but as you get older you realize he’s a total weiner. He’s the worst. He’s a worse version of Leonardo from the Ninja Turtles. He’s just a pure leader guy, but he complains all the time. But I really like how it came out.
Movies.com: The portratis here that blew us away were some that most wouldn’t consider their favorite characters, like Storm and Nightcrawler.
Mitchell: That’s a good example. I’m not super into Storm but mohawk Storm, with the leather? [Nods head] I like Nightcrawler. I like the portrait, but I also really like Nightcrawler.
Movies.com: Are you done with Marvel heads for awhile?
Mitchell: I’m done with portraits for awhile. My brother asked me what the longest work week was. I did the math in my head, a rough estimate, but I think there were a couple weeks straight where I worked 110 hour weeks on the show. Literally wake up, work on it, take an hour or two in the day, go to sleep, wake up, do it again.
Movies.com: But you know there’s going to be people asking “who’s in the next batch?”
Mitchell: I could do more. I mean the list still has so many. I mean, there are three other Cyclops I could’ve done. There are like seven other Wolverines I could do; 10 other Spider-Mans. I wouldn’t say it won’t happen. There are characters that I didn’t get to, that I wanted to, like Phoenix, Kitty Pryde… I could’ve done just a regular Howard the Duck, but I personally dont have a connection to Howard the Duck. If I would’ve done it, it would’ve been for Justin [Justin Ishmael, Mondo Gallery’s creative director and owner of a Howard the Duck tattoo]. It still might happen.
Movies.com: What’s your favorite Marvel movie?
Mitchell: I ranked these recently! I really liked Iron Man 3. I haven’t seen The Winter Soldier yet because I’ve been too busy with the show, but I’ll see that next week. Either Iron Man or Iron Man 3.
Movies.com: A lot of people say The Winter Soldier or Avengers, but until they get the gang together on that “helicarrier,” Avengers is a little rough.
Mitchell: I was on a plane and somebody was watching that movie and I kept peeking over and seeing the end, and I was thinking, man, the ending of this movie is so good. I’m not even listening to it; I’m just watching it, but the ending is so good. But to rank it at number one? It’s just not worthy. Iron Man and Iron Man 3 are solid all the way through.
Mike Mitchell x Marvel x Mondo is running from now until May 17 at Mondo Gallery, 4115 Guadalupe Street, Austin, Texas. Remaining prints will be sold online at an unspecified date. Follow @MondoGallery on Twitter for updates.
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