Drawn & Quartered! The Art of 365 Infantry
Exploring the Illustrated Look of the Cyberpulp Series...
Went back and forth on whether or not I should, but in the spirit of the season, I have decided that our final article for the year shall be FREE for all readers. Thank you all so much for the support this year. Enjoy!
In our last behind-the-scenes piece for the year, let’s shine a light on the one thing that’s been right under our noses this entire time; the illustrations made for 365 Infantry.
The decision for illustrated story art was one rooted in the pulp tradition the series has strived to uphold. Back in the days of nickel-and-dime magazines, not only were the paying public treated to thrilling adventures wrapped in a dazzling cover, but within each volume were handsome little illustrations to aid the imaginations of those ravenous readers.
Now, being a first-run digital project (one on a low budget), doing fully illustrated stories wasn’t an option. However, I still wanted something to give readers a taste of the world as I saw it, as I hoped they would see it. I could write the purpliest of prose until I was blue in the face and hands, but there is a certain ephemeral quality that I can never get across in the stories. Thusly, I sought out an artist to help me draw up both concept art and these cover illustrations, picking up a few helping hands along the way.
Before we go any further, a disclaimer: we won’t be getting knee-deep in the production design of things (that was covered in our Style Guide article). The purpose of this article is describing the overall look of the art itself rather than the aesthetic vision of the series. We’ve talked about our metallic origins and our various genre influences before, so this will be a time to appreciate the craft of the artists who have worked on or helped realize the series in some way.
I’ve always had a photographic vision when it came to my work. That is to say that I’ve seen it all in my head with absolute crystal clarity. What I want and how I want it, down to the letter. 365 Infantry was no exception.
Perhaps the chief artist I had in mind when conceiving the series was a Canadian fellow who goes by “Temiree” online. His unique brand of anthro art with a Don Bluth warmth was essential to another project, the animated film Gunning that I’ve been writing on-and-off for a few years now. I had first commissioned from him in 2018 and have been a regular customer ever since.
Though the frothy adorableness on display wasn’t the intent for 365, he captures my core demands of anthropomorphism, what I call my 50/50 rule:
Humanoid body and limbs. Animal head, hands, and paws.
His style helped cement that as my go-to demand.
During preproduction, I was hunting around for other anthro artists to reach out to or reference. One name I was surprised to find was a chap who went by Retehi. His M.O. were these astounding pieces paying tribute to the B-picture action of the late 80s/early 90s, especially martial arts, and all with the crispness of a Hollywood animation studio. Ones very much in the spirit of what I wanted to do with the series. While he hadn’t been active in ages, one piece in particular that really captured my imagination was this:
Certainly cuts to the Mad Max heart of the series and its high-octane aspirations.
And though he may be AWOL, his art remains online across multiple sites, so he’s a reference I’ve come back to from time to time alongside my nonstop stockpile of film noir stills and movie posters.
When I finally had myself a lead artist, the wonderful Kevin John Jacob, what happened was something rather special. My inspirations were these very dynamic anthro artists with visibly Western animated styles, and my main man was a komik artist with a strong bent towards manga. The end results were fascinating to say the least.
Developing The Look of 365 Infantry
The process of working on 365 Infantry was that of any artist and creative teaming up; a whole lotta back-and-forth. I kick the concept Kevin’s way, he kicks the preliminary sketches back my way, I send him feedback, and the volley doesn’t stop until we get it right.
Early on, I essentially had to teach him the ways of anthro art and all my little devils-in-the-detail. Four-fingered hands and the like, as well as other design preferences; jeans are to be of loose fit, never tight. The pant leg goes over the boot, not under unless explicitly stated so. Oddball minutiae like that.
In those early days, there was definitely an air of manga to the proceedings, specifically the amount of realism alongside the largely “cartoony” character design, something that would ultimately settle into a sort of hybrid style. My demands for the characters’ appearance were satisfied while Kevin maintained the sleekness and depth of detail. An East-meets-West design ethos, one I’ve often heard compared to Saturday morning cartoons (which I appreciate!), and ultimately a well-rounded match.
During pre-production, I had the good fortune of working with other artists to help me realize some other aspects of the series. Ben Rodriguez, aka bar1scorpio, took the manga experimentation from the early days a step further when I commissioned a design for Knox’s bride, Angel. I also tapped in a friend of mine, Moritz Kubald, to help with vehicle design, cooking up rough sketches for some of the metal beasties under ACES’ command.
By the end of preproduction, a fresh new vision of the series emerged that balanced my own preconceptions and brought something to the table that felt right for the series, especially when it came to the little things. All of my collaborators have always added a little detail here or there that I never even thought of, and it gets me every damn time. Whether it was the U1’s humorous graffiti Moritz cooked up, the amazing mohawk Kevin gave Lita, or the double belts Ben gave Angel. I cherish little touches like those because they are what makes the world feel lived in.
Once the look was established and refined with each new issue, I also sought to expand the look of the series in other ways. The results were quite the departure.
The Steele Experiment
After much haranguing on my part because of his unique white-on-black style, I got to work with artist Spookitty on bringing the Force’s go-to spy to life in a way befitting the character’s mid-century origins.
My original idea for the character was a jazzy old-school cartoon-looking wolf-dude inspired by the graphic-style art of UPA and its contemporaries in the mid-to-late 50s and early 60s. We came up with a pretty snazzy chap and set about setting him in the white-on-black world Spookitty cooks up so well. The final results (shown here for the first time) were based on a still of Lee Marvin from neo-noir classic Point Blank. It was upon completion that I set about sharing it with fellow collaborators for second opinions…and got the news that this did not fit the overall intent of the project and story.
Though it stung at first, it wasn’t long before I recognized the truth of the assessment and worked with the cat on cooking up something with a bit more edge. And nothing says edge quite like the cubism of graphic design legend Saul Bass, the man who ultimately inspired the final cover that ran ahead of every installment of the Steeled Spies serial. It was classic trial-and-error, but the end result is one of my favorite pieces from the series because of how distinct it is from everything else. Fret not though, the UPA look may come back up when you least expect it…
There’s no real lesson to learn from all this, except for one basic truth: a great collaborator is worth more than their weight in gold. The way I work, I need people willing to stick with me and go the distances I’m willing to go in pursuit of a vision unlike much else out there. And I’m happy to have worked with those willing and able to do so.
To Spooky, Moritz, Ben, Tem, and Kevin, I thank you.
Got any questions about the art for the series? Have a favorite illustration? Let us know in the comments below! Otherwise, Happy New Year friends! We’ll see you in the future.
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