Mondo’s Marvel Gallery: See All 50 Posters, Plus an Interview With Artist Mike Mitchell!
Superheroes are all about action. They’re defined by their superpowers, colorful costumes and catchphrases. Whether they’re battling a dozen henchman or their arch-nemesis, these characters battle evil with gadgets, magic or just their fists.
So what happens when you take away that action and ask the heroes (and villains) of the Marvel universe to stand still for a portrait? That’s the idea behind artist Mike Mitchell’s new Mondo Gallery show, which takes the denizens of the massively popular comic book universe and asks them to “catch their breath.”
It’s a match made in geek heaven. Marvel reigns supreme at the box office and in comic shops. Mondo is nerdom’s leading provider of gorgeous, in-demand pop culture art. Mitchell, already known for his simple and often hilarious depictions of film and TV characters, became nationally known when his “I’m With Coco” poster became a rallying symbol for fans when Conan O’Brien left ‘The Tonight Show’ in 2010.
The result of this collaboration is a wonderful show, a collection of 50 portraits and 12 additional drawings that give us a look at our favorite Marvel characters in a new light. We sat down with Mitchell to talk about the gallery, his history with Marvel, and whether or not he’s done with superheroes after drawing so many of them.
Was the idea of a Marvel show your idea or did Mondo come to you?
I found out they had the Marvel license, I got excited and started talking to Justin [Ishmael, Creative Director at Mondo] about it. It went from being five portraits that we would release online to as many as I could do. The conversation started with “let’s do a couple of portraits.” It was, “let’s do three different Spider-Man portraits.” Then it became those portraits and Wolverine. And Avengers. And X-Men. And then I said let’s just do a show!
You have a lot of the expected characters like Spider-Man and Iron Man in the show, but you can really see where your comic tastes lie based on the B-level heroes you have in the show. Who excited you the most outside of the big guys?
I was really excited to do Ant-Man, the original Hawkeye, Weapon X … there are so many! It’s hard to narrow down. I was excited to do Rogue. And Mysterio! I just love Mysterio! Kraven!
M.O.D.O.K.! He was a fun one. Did you see the big M.O.D.O.K. outside the entrace?
No, not yet!
There’s a big M.O.D.O.K. on top of the gallery.
I’ll have to go check that out.
It’s hard to think about what I’m excited about because there was a lot I was excited to do. And there were some I didn’t get a chance to make.
I love how you stick to the original costumes. I love the ‘Avengers’ movie but I don’t like Hawkeye just wearing sunglasses.
I love his old purple costume.
I understand why they use the new Hawkeye in the movies. You can’t have the weird winged mask [on film]. But, I just love the colors. I love that he’s pink and purple and blue. All of these great colors. I’m kind of bummed that they took that out of the movie and other more modern interpretations. There’s something about the old Hawkeye costume that’s just so classic. I absolutely love it.
You also have posters depicting Iron Man and Daredevil in their original costume designs in addition to the more modern takes.
Originally, I was going to do the Iron Man Mark One suit and then the silver age one and then the red and silver one and go on from there. There are just so many. I had to end up narrowing it down to the ones I really liked. I stayed away from the more modern Adi Granov-style ones, where they’re highly detailed. I can’t pull that off! He’s already done a good job and I don’t want to do a worse job! So I went with the more classic suits. Those are the ones I grew up with and those are the ones I like.
It’s really cool to see those classic designs rendered in a more modern art style.
It’s kind of funny since they’re almost janky in a way. They’re very simple designs because they had to be drawn very simple, so it was fun to try to make more sense out of that. I had a lot of fun doing them. The classic Iron Man is one of my favorite pieces in the show.
You have a history of doing these profile shots of pop culture icons, but this style works perfectly with Marvel because these characters are so human when compared to other comic characters.
So how do you find the humanity in these characters when they’re all profile shots? I’m thinking of the Doc Ock poster, where his evil grin says so much about his personality.
That’s the whole point for me, to try and humanize them. It’s a funny idea, to have them posed as if they’re sitting down and I’m painting them. Some of them, like Doc Ock and Bullseye, are so twisted and evil that they can’t sit down and be calm for a minute. They look so much more evil when they’re smiling! It’s important to me to have them all together and that there’s a large collection of them because it’s not something you really get a chance to see in comics. Comic art is always so dynamic and I like the idea of these characters being more static and focused. They’re not battle damaged or covered in blood or being overly emotional.
I have a hard time imagining DC characters working as well in this format because they’re so godlike. They’d look Biblical instead of human. With the Marvel portraits, its like you’re having a moment with each of them.
That’s a good way of putting it. I love DC, too, but Marvel just has that human thing about it. That’s why they’ve taken that direction with the movies and comics. Especially the comics, which are really personal. These people are flawed. I like being able to remind people of that. Some of them are just human, like Hawkeye and Puck. Well, Puck’s sort of human. He was a human. But he doesn’t have superpowers.
There’s a lot of X-Men in the gallery. Were they always your favorite?
When I was about 10 in the early ’90s, the X-Men were huge. Wolverine was on the cover of every Wizard magazine. There was the cartoon, which I was really into. There was the beat ‘em up style arcade game. I loved those characters. I loved Colossus and Cyclops and Rogue and Wolverine and Storm and Nightcrawler and Gambit. They have a special place in my heart, moreso than the Avengers and Spider-Man. I like them a lot, but as far as nostalgia goes … it was just so big. There are so many good X-Men characters. It’s a third of the show and I’ve got no problem with that.
How much of the show was your personal line-up? Did Mondo or Marvel have a say in who got added to the gallery?
It was 100% me. Mondo has certain licenses for which characters they can do, so I picked the ones I wanted. Marvel didn’t really have any input, but I think they were pretty happy with what I picked. But if the people at Mondo had a personal favorite, I’d always put that into consideration. I’m not going to do something I don’t want to do, but if it was lower on the list I’d bump it up a little bit.
I can’t imagine Marvel not loving this gallery. People are excited about a superhero art show when there’s no fighting or action. It’s a testament to those characters. People like these characters, not just the costumes.
I hope people are excited! One thing I really like about comic characters is the iconography of it. I love just looking at the way these characters are designed. They’re just so cool. Even the older costumes make me feel so good. I’m so excited about those things. I think they stand on their own individually, even weird stuff like the white Vision.
So, I take if you’re not burnt out on superheroes yet?
Oh no! I’ve been reading a lot of comics, soaking it all in and catching up on stuff that I haven’t read. It’s a momentum thing. Even today, I was readying comics before I came here. I can’t stop. I’m good on portraits for now. I don’t want to do another portrait for a couple of months. If anything, this has made me appreciate the characters and the people who created them even more.
The Mike Mitchell x Marvel x Mondo show will run from April 25 through May 17 at the Mondo Gallery located at 4115 Guadalupe Street in Austin, Texas. If you can’t make the journey to see them firsthand, you can check out all of the individual portraits and pieces from the show below.