Remember that episode of Seinfeld, from late in the all-time great sitcom's run, when Elaine becomes super-close with her ex-boyfriend and, because he's totally the opposite of Jerry, the Superman-obsessed comedian dubs him "Bizarro Jerry" in response? That iconic episode was written by David Mandel, who was inspired by the end of his own relationship — and his love of Superman.
In addition to being an Emmy-winning writer on TV comedies that have shaped the very foundations of American humor — SNL, Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and now Veep, as showrunner — Mandel is a lifelong uber-geek. He's also one of the preeminent collectors of comic art and movie props, a side hustle that has led to him filling an entire apartment with holy nerd relics. After a childhood of collecting comics and toys, he began a serious pursuit of accumulating original elements of his childhood favorites after moving out to L.A. and beginning his work on Seinfeld.
"I was a single guy working all the time at Seinfeld, being very well paid for somebody my age and renting an apartment, leasing a car and having them pay for most of my meals. I had very little actual expenses," Mandel remembers in a new episode of The Fandom Files. "I could spend like $5,000 at a Comic-Con and come back with a thick pile of comic art, to the point where I would almost need to have a friend get me another large portfolio every night."
Mandel gave The Fandom Files a window into his geek nirvana apartment (his former bachelor pad), telling stories about his pursuit of his favorite art and props. The collector market has boomed since he began his hobby, which has led to some incredible and sitcom-worthy adventures.
Like the time he hired a private investigator to track down some Star Wars posters.
Here's how he told it:
During the first Star Wars, they made glasses at Burger King. And there were also posters and glasses. There's a droids one, a bad guy one with Darth Vader and Tarkin on it, a Luke one and then a Han and Chewie one. There were four posters for glasses and they were done by this wonderful artist in Atlanta.
I was always trying to find these posters. He passed away, I checked with his children, the whole nine yards. At some point or another, I found a guy who had posted a note to like a Star Wars group going, "what do you guys think these are worth? I have these things from my father who worked at Coca-Cola back in the day." And it was those posters. So I try and send him an email through the post. Nothing. But there was a little bit of information — I had a first name, if memory serves, and Atlanta and Coca Cola.
Basically it was a dead end and oddly enough I was at my daughter's preschool end of the year event, and I was sitting there chatting and I start talking to one of the parents. A girl and one of her moms was a private eye... I was making conversation and all of a sudden realize, "hey, if I gave you some pieces of information do you think you could find a guy?"
And she's like, "well, that's what I do, literally." I sent her the pieces of the information I had and she did like a day or two of work and I remember her contacting me, saying she couldn't find it. I said, look, concentrate on Atlanta. Four hours later she emails me and goes, "Here's his information. He's waiting for your call."
He ultimately got the posters, a clutch addition given how much they connected him with his childhood. Mandel's collection is so in-depth that he's even provided museums with important pieces — the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle credits him with helping put together their big Marvel exhibit.
And yet Mandel is still looking for all kinds of original comic art — he's on the lookout for pieces from Star Wars #7, the comics adaptation that came after the release of the original film — and is open to trades, no matter how manipulative some collectors may act (he's got stories about that in the podcast).
Mandel also talked a bit of shop, inspired in part by the breaking news that came out while we were recording the podcast. President Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, had just been sent to jail, and that led to a discussion about how Veep, which begins production on its seventh and final season next month, is adjusting to the new political surreality.
I've definitely had to rethink the season. I've definitely thrown stuff in the garbage and rejiggered things, glued things together. You want to try and get close but not too close. But you want to recognize it. But what are we saying on the show? I know that sounds like a silly thing to say, but like what is politics about right now? And that feels very strange right now. It's been hard. I will not lie. I'm obviously I'm thrilled that we're going to do this season, but I am not unhappy that this is going to be the final season.
When Armando Iannucci created it, part of the idea was giving a peek behind the curtain of what politics are really like, saying this is what politicians are really like in private. None of that seems true anymore. There's no sense of that. We know exactly what [Trump's] like. Nothing's private. And so much of the humor was always like, Selina Meyers is the worst person that should ever be president and this is the stupidest staff you've ever seen. No longer true either.
I guess if you were making Veep today from scratch as opposed to Season 7, I don't quite know what you would be saying. So that's sort of some of the problem we're dealing with in Season 7 and thinking about Veep, like these people were kind of terrible, but you learn to love them and you root for them.
Check out some photos from Mandel's collection below: