Bringing Art to Fandom Merch: Interview With MONDO Collectibles – Geek

You’re probably familiar with MONDO given the waves the company makes every time it drops a new limited-edition poster or screenprint. Those prints, which are made by a curated selection of artists and come in limited quantities, often sell out almost instantly. The company also boasts a deep selection of special-edition vinyl records drawing from the most fascinating corners of film score lore. But the brand’s collectibles division has stepped its game up in a big way over the last few years, making a strong impression with a wide array of products. From sixth-scale action figures to collectible Tiki mugs to enamel pins, they bring an artistry to fandom merchandise and collectibles you don’t see often these days.

Geek.com recently had the chance to chat with Brock Otterbacher, the division’s Creative Director, to talk about the company’s upcoming slate of releases, what goes into making a great MONDO Collectible, and how the brand has gone about bringing the love and care we’ve learned to expect from MONDO into the world of toys and collectibles.

Geek.com: Let’s start from the top: how did MONDO Collectibles get started?

Brock Otterbacher: Yeah! About six years ago one of our former creative directors had asked me to come on board and start a toy line. I had been at Sideshow Collectibles and left around 2011. We had worked with MONDO while I was at Sideshow so a couple years later out of the blue he told me they wanted to start a toy line and wanted to know if I could help. It was pretty unglamorous! Just, “Hey, do you wanna start a toy line?” “Yeah!” And that was that.

Geek.com: Between the brand’s presence at SDCC and a bunch of announcements that came up around that time, what do fans have to look forward to in the near future from MONDO Collectibles?

BO: We do all kinds of products, everything from small vinyl figures to statues to Tiki mugs. So as we’re going into the next few months there are a few more figures from our Masters of the Universe ⅙-scale line coming up. The first preorders for our Mondo Mecha series, which is gonna be our all-encompassing robot line, will be up soon. We’re taking Captain America and reinterpreting him as a Japanese-influenced mecha. We’re going to be reinterpreting a number of characters but also including characters that are already robots as well. We’re starting with Cap and a new version of our previously-released Iron Giant. Originally it was a 16-inch but this one is going to be 12-inches. It’ll be a little more affordable and hopefully people who missed out on the first one can get in on it. We also just launched our MONDOIDS line, our collection of vinyl figures with interchangeable heads. They’re very much influenced by the gross-out toys of the ‘80s like Madballs that we grew up on. Series 1 ships in October. It’s our excuse to have fun with every license possible. It’s got everything from Gremlins to Marvel to Jurassic Park.

Geek.com: Yeah, speaking of which, you guys work with a ton of incredible properties. There’s such a wide array, so I’m curious to know how you and your team go about deciding if a property is a good fit for MONDO.

BO: That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? It’s a little experience, a little science, a little math, and a little black magic. I always try to look at it in terms of what niches we can fill in this world. What hasn’t been done yet? Years ago when we were first talking about doing something for Masters of the Universe I realized I had never seen a sixth-scale He-Man before. It was an easy call. But in the case of our Batman: The Animated Series line, I’d always wanted to see versions of those characters done in a way that as much as possible matched the animated series itself. Because of the size we’re able to hide articulation a little bit better and we can make them appear as though they’re animated cels.

Geek.com: Yeah, it’s interesting how they compare to other figures produced in tandem with the series and it’s wild how much it looks, as you said, like an animated cel drawing.

BO: That was always the big push. We do have an advantage of working from a larger scale than others have, and I think what DC Collectibles has done with their B:TAS line is great. But when afforded the much larger size, you can do a lot more with the articulation, paint, etcetera. But that’s kind of what we look for: places we can fill the gaps.

And with our Mecha line, part of the joy is reinterpreting characters. That’s just something I’d never seen before. I’d seen it done as customs, you know, painting a Gundam like Wolverine, but what if there was a licensed product built that way from the ground up? What would Captain America look like as a giant anime robot? It’s using imagination and working with a lot of great people to figure out what fits the best. It’s hard to define what does and doesn’t. I can pretty much say yes or no if you shout out a name. It’s a gut feeling.

Geek.com: I think that speaks very well to the way the brand has defined itself. You can pretty much name a property and know immediately if it’s a MONDO property.

BO: Yeah, and we’ve totally tried to reach outside of our comfort zone before. We did Cass and Jesse from Preacher and, you know, they didn’t do gangbusters but the product turned out really well. That was more of an experiment in figuring out if we could do a fully rendered painting reinterpreted in 3D sculpture as close as possible, with a paint job that forced the lighting and perspective of a painting on it. I think they look great. It wasn’t the smash-hit we’d hoped it would be but it still turned out good. Even if it didn’t blow up, we still have a good product that comes out of it and reached outside of our comfort zones. There’s always room to try something new, to take a risk.

Preacher: Cassidy Statue (Photo Credit: Mondo)

Geek.com: Is that pretty comparable to what you guys did with the Batman: Red Rain statue?

BO: Kind of! That’s one of three instances in which we made a product that started as a poster, the other notable one being the Harley Quinn one. We have the rights to be able to reinterpret our posters as statues and right away I was like, I can imagine how this one would go. Same with the Harley Quinn one. In the case of the other, our Spider-Gwen statue, it was already going to be a poster but we looked at it and kind of helped push it towards something that would be a little more approachable as a statue. Sometimes you work with artists who have already made a poster, sometimes you help push a poster’s design towards something you can work with. And in the case of the Preacher ones we knew it was going to be reinterpreted as a statue from the start. As a toy collectible division we work with a lot of artists who don’t do posters but are amazing in their own right, from sculptors to printers.

Geek.com: Walk us through the process of what it’s like to create one of your sixth-scale figures.

BO: It’s different for every product we do. Those are developed a bit differently from statues. We always start with an idea that turns into a concept. How will we approach this? Are we reinterpreting it? Are we being accurate to the character? Once the concept is done and approval is given, we work with a sculptor. Within that, there’s a lot of other factors. With sculpting you’re turning a piece of 2D art into something 3D. Some things already transfer well, some things have to be adjusted or revised. We may say hey, let’s add a metal cap to the end of He-Man’s scabbard as a nod to Battle Cat. Or we’ll adjust his face a little more or add a new accessory. All of that happens in sculpting.

Generally from there, if it’s hand-sculpted it gets molded. If it’s digitally sculpted we make a 3D print of it. From there we do multiple 3D prints and refine it, and from there we go to painting. That’s the phase that really solidifies the product. You don’t actually know what the thing is REALLY going to look like until you see it painted. At SDCC we had a number of products that I’d seen in every single phase of but hadn’t seen assembled and painted. Once I see them put together though, that’s when I fully see what we’re doing. From there we go to the factories and develop our packaging, the sort of second cherry on top after painting. We try to make them a work of art in and of themselves.

Geek.com: The boxes are very well-designed, yeah. They’re worth keeping and really complete the package.

BO: We’re a company that was founded on two-dimensional art, you know, prints and posters and record sleeves. That’s why people buy our stuff, the art. Why not have that on our packaging and our 3D products?

Geek.com: Is there a single piece or product that the company has made that you’d consider your favorite?

BO: Tough one. One of our first was the larger scale Iron Giant figure. A lot of talented people worked on it and our factory really killed it in terms of production. Nobody had really touched Iron Giant in 15, 20 years so I’m pretty proud of that. I think it’s more, to me, looking at our He-Man line or Batman line. I always try to do something familiar but new, something that makes you look at it and go oh, I haven’t seen that before. So for example, Mattel never did a Skeletor figure with an articulated skull. Jaw, yes, but a full skull that you can make look around in his hood? Never been done. So we did that in ours, and it’s such a minimal thing but it’s a cool touch. That’s what I find myself most proud of, the thing you don’t even realize is there until you’re holding the figure and see it.

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