Poster artist Jay Shaw has already made a name for himself by creating some of the coolest prints for Mondo, Gallery 1988 and more than a handful of other studios. While a lot of other artists feel the need to throw every single detail of a film into their posters, Shaw’s style is a very unique one, typically focusing on an identifiable object from the film, and working from there.
By far my favorite artist working today, Jaw’s posters are plastered across my walls at home, and it’d be an accurate statement to say that I was pretty stoked to spend a little bit of time speaking with Jay regarding his work with Mondo & Gallery 1988, how he got into poster design, and some of his favorite horror films. Read on!
You have a very unique style to your work, while a lot of artists throw everything AND the kitchen sink into their stuff, I like how your prints usually have one focal point, and how you build off of that. What draws you to that approach?
Mostly a lack of illustrative ability, I suck at drawing..(laughs). I’m kidding there by the way. Really, most of my stuff is influenced by Polish film posters. I think the method that they employed was to communicate as much as possible with as little as possible, and I’ve always thought that that was great, a really bold central image and no fill. I’m not really great doing a lot of fill, a lot of other poster artists do beautiful background art, they can draw trees and leave and buildings, and other stuff. I try to do that and it just looks like a mess, I get a better result if I just focus on one central image and see what I can come up with.
How did you get into creating poster art, and more specifically, the limited prints?
Actually, I’ve been collecting posters forever, collecting theatrical one-sheets since I was a kid really. I used to go to a video store near my house, and they’d have all of these boxes full of posters that they would get sent from distribution companies, mostly things they wouldn’t want to put up, like TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 or things like that. They’d say “we’re putting this in the window!”, and they’d let me rummage through it and steal stuff out of there. So yeah, I’ve been collecting forever. I’d say about four or five years ago, I was looking for a JOHN CARPENTER’S THE THING one-sheet. I had one but it had some damage to it, so I was looking for another copy, so I looked on eBay and they were kind of expensive, and then I accidentally stumbled onto a website called Mondotees. At that time, they were selling Tyler Stout’s poster for THE THING, and I think it was around $35, and it was a timed-release, however many they sold that wee, that would be what the edition would be. I kind of went back and forth, asking myself “Do I really want this?, it’s not an original, it’s kind of a bootleg”…but I ended up buying it and once I got it, I really fell in love with it.
Yeah, that poster is awesome.
That’s how that started, and I just fell in love with the medium. I looked into it, and it turned out that there was a way to break into it by doing it yourself. I started making posters, and picked a bunch of David Cronenberg movies, and did some early, really awful screenprinted posters for Cronenberg’s movies, none of which I had ANY licenses or rights to, but I did it anyway.
Did you have a traditional education in art?
Yeah, actually I did. I’d like to think that I just picked it up because I was gifted but not at all (laughs). I went to art school, to the Corcoran in Washington D.C., and graduated. I had a short career as a graphic designer in the late ’90s, after graduating. It didn’t last, and I kind of just quit for about a decade. My first big jump back into it was with screenprinted posters.
You’ve done posters for everything from A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and FRIDAY THE 13TH to the Blue Underground films like THE PROWLER and DEAD AND BURIED. Do you choose what films to cover or is that up to Mondo, Gallery 1988 or whoever else that you’re doing stuff for?
In the beginning, it was basically fan art, so I did pretty much whatever I wanted. More recently, with companies like Mondo or anybody that approaches me to do stuff, they tend to have a license on a property, and they think I’d be good for it. They’ll ask me if I want to do it, and usually they’re right, so I’ll say yes. Every once in a great while, I’ll have an idea to do something and I’ll ask if they have the license for it. I recently did a ROBOCOP poster, and with that one, nobody asked me to do it. I just did it, hoping that somebody had the license to it, and sent it in to Mondo. Those guys were great, they said “yeah send it in, we’ll see if it gets approved” and we didn’t think it was going to get approved, it’s in Polish (laughs).
That poster was for the Alamo Drafthouse, right?
That one was a lucky coincidence, because I made the poster, and everything was approved and Mondo said “let’s go for it”, but we couldn’t figure out where to put it, how to release it. My stuff is a little weird, it’s not usually the best “Thursday afternoon random release” kind of stuff, but the new Alamo Drafthouse where I live, in Colorado was already doing a ROBOCOP screening. It was absolutely perfect, so we said “hey, do you guys want to release this poster at your screening?” and they said yes.
Are there any dream projects that you’ve always wanted to tackle but haven’t gotten a chance to do thus far?
Oh yeah, there are tons of them. Honestly, I would love to do a poster for everything that David Cronenberg has ever made. I’m a HUGE fan of his work, and I love him to pieces. I would LOVE to do a SHIVERS poster, that would be a dream of mine. Better yet, I would love for there to be a cool Criterion release of SHIVERS and I could do the cover for it. SO yeah, anything by Cronenberg or ANY of my favorite directors. Tobe Hooper would be another one, if Mondo ever did a Hooper series, I would beg for everything that I could do for that because it would be a lot of fun, I’d love to do a LIFEFORCE poster, or a TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE poster. When I was doing the Blue Underground series, I had seen most of them, but I watched them all again to pick things up, and I thought it would be cool to do a whole Giallo series too. I’m a huge fan of Giallos and there are a ton of them there, quite a few are garbage, but there are a lot of really great films in that genre.
Nice, that would be awesome to see. You’ve obviously done tons of work with Mondo, are you surprised by how big their stuff has gotten, with your work along with the other artists’ stuff as well?
No, I’m not surprised at all, it makes perfect sense. Their vision makes perfect sense, they’re bringing art back to film posters, that’s something that I think has been missing for MANY years. There’s been a void there, and even though people don’t know that they want it, I really think people want really well done movie posters. There are some really decent one-sheets that come out, but for the most part there aren’t. I don’t know anyone who wants a giant photo of Ben Affleck’s face on their wall, not something that people would want to collect (laughs). There are just as many movie fans as ever, so I can understand why Mondo would be so big. Plus honestly, those guys are so smart, they go for the biggest licenses in the world to the tiniest licenses in the world. They do go for everything that is even remotely cool, and has decent art for it. So yeah, I’m not surprised at all. I’m surprise that I’M a part of it (laughs), and that I’m in the lineup of artists.
How do you feel about the whole resell craze, with people snatching up the prints right away and instantly selling them for three times the amount on eBay?
It’s a mixed bag honestly. I think it’s a shame when people can’t get a poster that they want, but at the same time, it’s intrinsic to the collectible market. If everyone did have the opportunity to get whatever poster at all times, then you take away the collectibility of it all. If anyone could get it at anytime, it would take away the excitement of it all. If I looked on eBay to see what my stuff was selling for, it would be a bad measure for success. I have no idea if my stuff resells or doesn’t.
*editor’s note: It DOES. I missed out on Jay’s MIMIC poster and ended up paying over $110 for it, haha*
You’ve created really memorable posters for some of the most iconic and even cult horror films, are you a fan of the genre and if so, what are some of your favorite horror films?
Oh yeah, a huge fan, it’s easily my favorite genre of movies. It’s hard to say what your favorite horror films are without breaking into sub-categories, but my favorite film of all time is John Carpenter’s THE THING. In my mind, that’s as close to a perfect film as it gets, I think it’s absolutely wonderful. I’m also a HUGE fan of Philip Kaufman’s 1978 remake of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. I’ve seen it over a hundred times and it’s easily one of my favorite movies. Gosh, I should probably round it off with a third one here with something that’s not a remake (laughs). This will sound weird, but FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 4 is another one.
That doesn’t sound weird at all, that’s one of my five favorite movies of all time man.
Yeah, they hit every note exactly right, and it doesn’t get better. It’s the one I can watch over and over. I can pick holes in the rest of them, but part four is so well crafted..
Totally! It’s the one film in that series, in which the kids are just as interesting as Jason. I love it.
Yeah! You genuinely care about those kids. They went through such great lengths to develop them, it’s almost like watching Jason chase THE GOONIES kids around. Everytime one of the kids dies in Part four, it’s like “NO! I love these kids!”. Oh, and I have my number four: THE MONSTER SQUAD. Fred Dekker’s a genius, so yeah THE MONSTER SQUAD. Back to FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 4 (laughs), it’s funny because my wife and I talk about the FRIDAY THE 13TH movies all of the time, and she HATES all of them, but I’ll want to talk about them. I’ll want to say “You know, part three is actually pretty good, despite all of the 3-D gags, here’s a reason why it’s good, ” or “Here’s why part seven isn’t that bad, it actually has the BEST fight scene between Jason and the survivor girl!”. I love that series so much.
You recently designed an exclusive poster for Emily Hagins’ new film, GROW UP TONY PHILIPS, for the Kickstarter campaign for that film. How did that come about?
I actually met Emily in Austin, at Fantastic Fest a couple of years ago. She was there, not with a film, but more as an attendee. I talked to her about a couple of movies that she had done before, and she was awesome, very cool. She’s a really talented, young filmmaker. Last year, I saw her again, and she told me about her movie, and said “hey, would you like to do a poster for it?” and I said that I’d love to. I think I’ve sketched out eight or nine different versions of the poster (laughs), so I don’t know which one will come out for it.
A lot of what you do for Mondo is pretty secretive until the day it’s released, are there any projects coming up that you are at liberty to mention?
99.9% of what I do depends on being completely secretive. I can’t reveal any Mondo work, though I CAN say that I’m doing a lot of Mondo work. I can say that I’m doing artwork and posters for some really really out there soundtracks that they’re doing.
For the vinyl releases that they’ve been doing, right?
Yeah, they’re doing a lot more of the vinyl stuff, which is really cool because some of those soundtracks are gone forever. It’s really neat to get them back. So yeah, I’m doing a bunch of stuff like that, and even my work with Criterion is like that. I did the REPO MAN cover for their upcoming release.
Yeah, that cover looks great.
Oh thanks. I’m doing more with Criterion, but again, I can’t say what. They don’t like to reveal their releases until they’re really ready to reveal them. I wish I could kind of blab, but yeah, everything’s a secret. I did an Easter card recently,
so that’s not a secret (laughs).
Cool man, well whatever you do have coming up, we’re all looking forward to it. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today.
For sure man, thank you.
Check out Jay Shaw’s website KINGDOM OF NONSENSE.