mondocon 2016 in review

One of the first things you notice at MondoCon is that there are people who take this collectible movie poster thing far more seriously than you do.

I’m there because the subject matter at hand appeals to my interests. I like pop culture art. After all, my walls are already lined with posters produced by the Austin-based Mondo and their ever-growing stable of artists. But at the end of the weekend, it’s still a lark, albeit a lark that sees me spending far too much money on art that will have to live in the closet until I’m able to conjure more wall space out of thin air. For me, the amateur collector, MondoCon is a fun way to spend two days. For others, the attendees carrying war-torn and heavy-duty poster tubes that look they were designed to survive a small explosion, it’s a religion. The best thing I can say about MondoCon 2016 is that both crowds seemed to be having a good time.

I’ve been in Austin, Texas long enough to remember when Mondo was just a t-shirt and collectible shop located in the corner of a movie theater lobby. But like a frog sitting in boiling water, it took me far longer than it should have for me to realize that this homegrown tribute to movie art had bubbled over into a genuine phenomenon and one of the leaders in the rise of pop culture art and other related collectibles. In addition to posters and t-shirts, they now produce vinyl soundtracks and toys and pins and even pint glasses. If it can reflect a movie or TV show or character you love, Mondo is making it.

Now, Mondo is big enough to host its own convention, taking over the Austin Film Society (also known as Marchesa Theater) and the neighboring Holiday Inn for one weekend each year. This is the third MondoCon and this set-up is already starting to feel stretched a little thin. A few different logistical choices could probably help ease the crowding issues for another year or two, but if the con continues, Mondo may need to seek out a larger space.

But hey, too many people wanting to attend a convention is probably a good problem to have, right?

Still, the first hour of the first day of MondoCon is something of an assault. Some folks literally wait in line all night and they’re rabid. There’s one booth they must visit, one limited edition poster the have to get, one artist they’re seeking out because they’re wishing and hoping that they still have a copy of something that otherwise sold out years ago. The initial rush, the opening of the doors, should feel familiar to anyone who has attended any other convention in the past.

After those first few hours or so, MondoCon starts to find its groove. Attendees stop hunting and start looking. Artists, no longer staring down the barrel of a long line with a credit card reader that only wants to work 50% of the time, are able to relax and engage their customers in conversation as their transactions are processed. This is MondoCon starts to feel worth the trouble. It’s one thing to buy the latest and greatest from an artist you admire, but it’s another thing altogether to have a moment with them.

MondoCon is in an interesting place right now: just big enough to attract incredible artists like Jason Edmiston, Laurent Durieux, Olly Moss, Daniel Danger, Ken Taylor, Beck Cloonan, Scott C., Matt Taylor, Kevin Tong, Craig Drake, Jonathan Burton and many, many others, but also just small enough that you can have a personal interaction with them. It’s a delicate balance, a sweet spot that I hope future cons can maintain. MondoCon will never be as big as something like San Diego Comic-Con, but it’s easy to imagine it growing large enough to become more cumbersome and less fun to navigate. But right now? It’s nearly perfect, especially on day two, when everyone has settled into a more relaxed groove and the lines start to thin out.

There are some frustrations inherent to MondoCon that are simply inherent to the pop culture convention scene in general. Crowding can be a serious issue, especially in areas where a few major draws have been placed a little too close to one another. And while the crowds grow thinner and less intense as the weekend goes on, some lines are simply unbearable. The Mondo Store, for example, commanded waits of three hours or more on day one. I stepped in the line later in the day and still waited for upwards of 120 minutes. Then again, the same line on day two was non-existent. Then again, several posters were completely sold out on day two and if I had waited, I wouldn’t have been able to snag certain prints. MondoCon is a delicate balance of weighing time and money against how much you really want a particular poster or piece of art.

It’s easy to imagine someone showing up to MondoCon and wandering the halls and checking out art and just having a good time and calling it a day. But the $90 admission fee (which covers both days) feels like a warning: be prepared to spend money should you walk through the doors and if you’re not prepared to drop that just to get in, this may not be the con for you. I lost count of the number of times I gritted my teeth and thought “I’m Supporting Artists And That Is An Important Thing To Do In The Year 2016” as I handed over my credit card. I spent a… certain amount of money and called it a weekend. Meanwhile, I watched as the more enthusiastic collectors, those with the bomb-proof poster tubes, literally drop thousands of dollars in single transactions. Like I said, there are some people who take this stuff far more seriously than I do.

It should be noted that I don’t regret a single penny spent. At the end of the day, it’s hard to deny what a pleasure it is to spend two days browsing art and handing over your cash to people whose work you genuinely admire.

And this is also the point where I feel like I should mention the elephant in the con, the conversation that I heard from a few too many attendees. Nothing deflates your mood quite like overhearing people strategize about their plan to buy everything for the sole purpose of flipping it at a higher cost. While there’s nothing Mondo can do to stop this and what attendees do with their money and time is their business, there’s something dispiriting about attending a genuine celebration of pop culture art and occasionally rubbing shoulders with people who are there for profit instead of genuine excitement.

Still, when the dust clears and the weekend ends and my checking account begins weeping tears of blood, MondoCon remains an event worth attending and a fine place to blow a lot of money on a company and on artists who continuously do fine, high-quality work. Despite the crowding and the lines, the volunteers are friendly and fast on their feet. The artist line-up is top-notch. The screenings of A Clockwork Orange, Enter the Dragon, and The Fountain, special events whose tickets costs included a poster or vinyl album unique to the screening, reflect programmers with a knack for knowing exactly what their audience wants (or in the case of a screening of The Witchneed).

The most positive thing I can say about MondoCon is that I fully intend to be back next year. My wallet is already shuddering.

Continue Reading For an Interview With Mondo’s Justin Brookhart >>

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