Mondo’s Mike Bonanno and Hector Arce on giving brands like Godzilla and Gremlins the tiki mug treatment

We caught up Mike Bonanno and Hector Arce, Creative Directors of Mondo’s Toy and Collectibles division, to find out more about how the company approaches design – and what fuels their creativity.

Known for its incredible movie posters, Texas-based Mondo has expanded its reach in recent years to cover soundtrack LPs, apparel, board games, toys and collectibles.

The firm’s toys offering spans action figures, statues and even tiki mugs based on mass market brands like Marvel and Batman, right the way through to more cult IP like Godzilla, The Iron Giant and Creature from the Black Lagoon.

We caught up Mike Bonanno and Hector Arce, Creative Directors of Mondo’s Toy and Collectibles division, to find out more about how the company approaches toy – and tiki mug – – design.

Mike Bonanno, Hector Arce, Mondo
Guys, it’s great to connect! So, to kick us off, was playful design always on the cards for you both, or did you ever have other careers in mind?

Mike Bonanno, Creative Director, Toys & Collectibles, Mondo: My Grandfather ran a toy factory and my Dad ran the scenic shop for MGM studios, so I’ve been around the world of playful design as long as I can remember. When I went to art school, I initially wanted to be a comic book artist, but when I found out that the college I went to offered Toy Design as a major, I quickly shifted gears and haven’t looked back. For anyone looking to get into Toy Design, I highly recommend Otis College of Art and Design’s Toy programme!

Amazing! And Hector, how about you?
Hector Arce, Creative Director, Toys & Collectibles, Mondo: Ever since I can remember I loved to collect toys. Even as a little kid I obsessed over having the whole collection of whatever it was I was into. Flash forward to my college days I had the chance to take a sculpting class as part of my Art major and from there I just fell in love with the medium. Then I came to realisation, I can just start to make my own toys and here I am…

It’s worth us pointing out that Mondo isn’t your typical ‘toy’ company, so how would you describe the sorts of products you guys work on?
MB: Mondo is really known for our gorgeous screen-printed posters and we try to live up to the quality that the posters team produces. Also, we try to make products that appeal to fans of cult properties and fun stuff that is under-represented in the market.

With artists, sculptors and designers working on everything from posters to tiki mugs, how would you describe the creative culture at Mondo?
HA: Mondo is an awesome place for creativity; to be able to make toys and collectibles in this space is really a dream come true. The creative atmosphere here at Mondo is very open and non-constrictive. In terms of the kinds of toys and collectibles we work on, it’s really about doing what we have a passion for.

For me, I love Godzilla, so being able to explore Godzilla collectibles has been amazing. We’ve also had the chance to explore properties that initially haven’t had high-end toy representation… Properties like Scott Pilgrim, Batman: The Animated Series, Legend of Kora, and many more. Exploring lesser-known properties with cult followings really lends itself to the Mondo name.

Mike Bonanno, Hector Arce, Mondo
One line I want to dive into is your incredible Tiki mugs. What’s the key to successfully giving a character the tiki treatment? And from a design point of view, did any character prove especially challenging?

MB: Tiki is a real different beast than toy design. Before becoming full-time at Mondo, they hired me to do freelance tiki designs for Gremlins and Aliens. I had to deep dive into tiki to see what has been done before. I tried to pull design elements from other tiki mugs and translate them into the features of the Alien and Gremlins franchise.

Some characters really lend themselves better than others to a tiki mug. Especially if you can easily translate a character into a cylindrical shape. There are a lot of restrictions to ceramics that limit your options but designing around those restrictions usually allows you to go places you wouldn’t have before and end up with something new and original.

Mike Bonanno, Hector Arce, Mondo
Going off of what Mike said, I think the hardest part about tiki is merging the tiki aesthetic with whatever pop culture character we’ve decided to give the tiki treatment to.

I think one of the most challenging mugs we’ve worked on recently was the Godzilla 74 tiki mug. Trying to capture Godzilla in an interesting way while keeping it ‘tiki’ was very challenging. It took myself and Mike a handful of tries until we landed on something we felt lived up to the Godzilla name – and lived up to it being the first ever Godzilla Tiki to come out!

Read the entire interview with Mike and Hector over on our sister site, Mojo Nation.

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