Mondo to Release New ‘Jaws’ Screen Prints Recreating Missing Original Painting

On Tuesday, July 3, Mondo, known for their highly collectible screen printed posters, vinyl movie soundtracks and apparel, will release two limited edition Jaws posters. It won’t be their first—or even their second or third (or fourth) Jaws poster—but there’s a fundamental difference this time. Instead of the typical Mondo M.O., distilling the spirit of a movie beyond the limiting aesthetic of Hollywood marketing departments, this release is an extraordinarily detailed effort to restore one of the most legendary poster images of all time: artist Roger Kastel’s original Jaws painting, missing since 1975.

You know the one. A woman, presumably the shark’s first victim Chrissie Watkins, skinny dips just below “JAWS” in bold, red lettering. Beneath her, the shark. Its eyes black and impenetrable, but its purpose clear. Just like John Williams’ unforgettable theme, the Jaws poster has become an inseparable part of Steven Spielberg’s 1975 movie. The poster and movie are packaged together in our collective imagination— Tremors, Grizzly, Piranha, Rogue, didn’t just nab plot elements from Jaws, but also its poster. Where Jaws sequels could rise no higher than kitsch (as in Jaws: The Revenge and its tagline “This Time It’s Personal”), the original Jaws poster achieves a level of iconography typically reserved for religion.

Mondo’s release comes in two flavors. Each is 24” by 36” and released as a limited edition of 280 posters, printed by DL Screenprinting.

There’s “JAWS by Roger Kastel,” a recreation of the original Jaws movie poster, with its bright blues and airbrushed away nudity:

Kastel_JawsOneSheet_PR "JAWS by Roger Kastel," Mondo's new screen print edition of the original "Jaws" poster. Mondo / Universal Pictures

And “‘The Shark by Roger Kastel,” which captures the original painting done for the paperback book release, before the addition of text. Later adapted for the movie poster, this version, like the original painting, has a darker, more toned-down color palette:

Kastel_ArtPrint_PR "The Shark" by Roger Kastel, a screen print of the original painting featured on the paperback cover of Peter Benchley's "Jaws." Mondo / Roger Kastel

Although it’s been splattered all over t-shirts and countless other products, recreating the original Jaws poster wasn’t simple, especially since the Mondo releases are screen prints, a format popular with collectors because of the craft that goes into them and the slight variability and imperfections inherent to the format.

These aren’t lithographs, spit 20,000 at a time out of a printer. Screen printing remains an intensely mechanical process. Unlike other printing methods, a screen print is built layer by layer. In screen printing, ink is pushed through a mesh on to the printing surface, with a blocking stencil determining which portions of the mesh will be impermeable to the ink. Instead of a single pass, a multicolored image is built one color at a time.

dl-screenprinting Screen printing posters is an ink-stained, mechanical process. DL Screenprinting

Translating Kastel’s original Jaws oil painting to a screen print is uniquely challenging. Infinite gradations of color, light and shadow possible with a palette of oil paints can be tricky to translate into the multiple monochromatic layers that together form a screen print. Mondo enlisted painter and veteran poster artist Jason Edmiston to convert the Jaws poster into color layers.

“The difficulty comes when you’re given a flat, finished painting and you have to separate them,” Edmiston told Newsweek.

Edmiston’s Mondo output is astounding. He has painted posters for Evil Dead II, Conan the Barbarian, Halloween (okay, two for Halloween), The Thing, Friday the 13th Part III, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, and the Planet of the Apes series. And with his capacity for the larger-than-life, Edmison also specializes in incredibly characterful portraits of movie characters, including the Predator, General Zod, Lo-Pan, the T-800, The Joker, The Exorcist’s Pazuzu, Universal Studios monsters like The Creature (of the Black Lagoon) and the alien politicians from They Live.

In recreating the Jaws painting and poster, computers can only accomplish so much, leaving the rest to Edmiston’s artistic instincts. “It’s like adjusting exposure on a photograph,” Edmiston said, describing the process of selecting the color layers, then stacking them to recreate Kastel’s original as “trapping the art.”

Using transparent inks, as if he were working with a watercolor painting, Edmiston recreated the Jaws painting in just nine color layers, including a violet (“for some light shadows”), turquoise, multiple variations of blue, a tint of green, skin shades and finally, a layer of black on top, to “hold in the information.”

Jaws poster seps 1-cropped A single color layer from Jason Edmiston's screen print recreation of Kastel's "Jaws" painting. Mondo / Jason Edmiston

“You don’t only get those nine individual colors. Because they’re transparent, you get every color they make with every other color,” Edmiston said, pointing out dozens of minor color variations around the shark’s lips. “It’s really reverse engineering.”

Edmiston wasn’t just grappling with technical obstacles, but historical ones as well. In fact, Edmiston’s recreation is very nearly a forensic challenge: the original Jaws painting is missing, likely stolen.

In 1974, Bantam publisher Oscar Dystel sent home a copy of Peter Benchley’s novel Jaws with artist Roger Kastel, who painted images for many of their paperback releases. The original hardcover for Jaws has a familiar layout, but couldn’t feel more different. The shark at the cover’s bottom is little more than a white wedge, like a thumb with a frown carved in it. Instead of those terrible, dagger-like teeth, these jaws are lined with rodential white pegs—a nibbler. All is black and white.

“That was done by Paul Bacon, he was a famous book designer and illustrator,” Kastel told Newsweek. After reading the book, Kastel found the opening sequence, with the shark killing its first victim—an unnamed woman skinny dipping—as powerful as Bacon had.

“The hardcover image was a good image,” Kastel said. After showing a first sketch to Dystel and Bantam art director Len Leones, they settled on a similar composition with a radically different approach (after a lawsuit from Doubleday, Bantam paid Bacon in recognition of the similarities). Rather than the stark iconography of the hardcover, which reduces the shark and Chrissie to near abstractions, Kastel’s version would be large and realistic.

Jaws poster sketch Roger Kastel's composition sketch for "Jaws." Roger Kastel

Painting a paperback cover would take Kastel a week or two of actual painting, though research and reference photography could make for a couple month’s work. When it came to Jaws, Kastel’s first stop was the American Museum of Natural History in New York. First he searched through the shark images in their photo department, but this was before the shark was a pop culture obsession. “They just had nothing that would work for me for the cover,” Kastel recalls.

Then more bad news: their shark exhibit was closed for cleaning. Kastel debated taking his camera out to the New York Aquarium on the outside edge of Brooklyn, but first decided to check out the exhibit floor for himself. “It was lunchtime and everything was taken down and the sharks were laid on tables,” Kastel says.

Able to take good close-ups, Kastel searched out the most ferocious specimens. “I didn’t know what a white shark looked like, really, but I combined pieces of them to make the shark on the book cover.” After a session with model Allison Maher, who posed as Chrissie swimming by lying facedown on a stool and tabletop, Kastel was ready to paint.

Kastel’s take, oil paints on a masonite board, is viciously alive. Streaming bubbles to each side indicate velocity, the shark’s head narrowing to a bullet snout. Instead of the triangle wedges of real great white shark teeth, Jaws has irregular knife blades, sticking out at all angles. Some are even grooved, like the blood gutter on a bayonet.

The image was an instant sensation. And because of its luridness—a woman skinny dipping, menaced by blades, presaging the emblems of the coming slasher boom—Kastel’s paperback Jaws cover was banned in Boston and St. Petersburg, Florida. “I thought that was the end of my career,” Kastel said. “But Bantam loved that, because they sold a lot of book.”

roger-kastel-biography-portrait Artist Roger Kastel with the "Jaws" movie poster. Roger Kastel

When the movie went into production, Bantam agreed to the image’s use in the movie’s poster. “[The painting] went out to Hollywood and had an agency working on the poster and that was the last I heard of it,” Kastel said. Kastel’s only communication came from an art director at Universal informing him the ad agency had won a gold medal at a design competition for the Jaws poster. The painting is missing to this day, presumably still hanging on the thief’s wall despite the publisher’s efforts to recover it.

Kastel was able to provide to Mondo what scans he had from before the painting went missing. But without the benefit of a modern, high-resolution scan, Edmiston had a lot of detective work ahead of him.

“They’re not necessarily as high-res as you could get with modern scanners,” Edmiston said of Kastel’s surviving scans. “You don’t get the fine details, everything has a soft focus to it.” It was a start, but Edmiston was chasing perfection.

“All the brush strokes, all the splashes, all the shading on the shark, all those little details have to be exactly where Roger put them,” he said, describing the process of perfecting bubbles, enhancing water droplets and recreating in high-resolution every minute detail. “My goal was to make it exactly like his,” Edmiston said.

Capturing the original colors posed completely different challenges. “The Mona Lisa doesn’t look like how da Vinci painted it. We have an idea of what it used to be like, but you have to use your time machine brain to figure out how it originally looked,” Edmison said. “Even the scan I got from Roger, of the original painting, was tinted—there was age to it.”

Edmiston sought out every possible version of the Jaws poster he could find online, but quickly discovered no two were alike. Different world regions, different printers, conversions from different color models like RGB and CMYK resulted in a spectrum of Jaws possibilities. Edmiston decided on color values near the median of all his samples. “I tried to go right down the middle and have the most iconic version: the most Jaws version of the Jaws poster.”

“It’s like a forgery,” he added, after trying out “recreation” and finding it inadequate. “It sounds devious. But every step of the way we were consulting Roger and getting his approval.” The final touch was Roger Kastel’s autograph, on every one of the 560 screen prints.

The resulting screen prints, one an expert recreation of the Jaws movie poster (with a layout by designer Chris Bilheimer and custom typography by artist Bruce Yan), the other a perfect duplicate of Roger Kastel’s original painting, are the results of both reverence and an extraordinary attention to detail. Best of all, the verisimilitude captured in the screen prints’ color palette evokes Jaws as it must have felt on June 20, 1975, when the movie first hit theaters. It’s The Shark, returned to life from a time before Spielberg’s storytelling was a signature big and loopy enough for the Stranger Things and Super 8s of the world to imitate. The Shark that made us afraid to go in the water. Roger Kastel’s shark. As Quint reminds us, just after scraping his fingernails down a chalkboard in Amity Town Hall, “This shark, swallow you whole. Little shaking, little tenderizing, down you go.”

“JAWS by Roger Kastel” and “‘The Shark’ by Roger Kastel” go on sale Tuesday, July 3 at MondoTees.com.