Sex and Fury


Toei Studios’ reigning queen of Pinky Violence, Reiko Ike, stars in Norifumi Suzuki’s infamous, overheated Jidaigeki classic of gambling, espionage, murder, revenge, and naked swordfighting. In contrast to Shunya Itō’s furious, near-contemporaneous Female Prisoner Scorpion trilogy (and Yasuharu Hasebe’s series capper), the thrills and spills on display here don’t carry quite the same message of righteous female empowerment, falling more into the more prurient end of the pinku spectrum of the era. But, that’s not to diminish the utter badassery and screen presence of the incandescent Ike, who cuts a swathe through the film and the series of miserable baddies that killed her detective father when she was a mere child. Emerging after 2 decades as a skilled gamber, pickpocket, and brawler, she navigates the underbelly of Tokyo with smoky eyes and a sly smile that disappears when it’s time to slaughter a dozen lackeys in the snow without a stitch of clothing. While in a separate subplot, Swedish exploitation star Christina Lindberg struggles gamely with her accent as a British dancer embroiled in a plot by the dastardly British to undermine the emerging Japan’s power, despite her romantic entanglement with a Japanese political activist. The film heads towards a shocking, somewhat blasphemous, bloody and oddly captivating full-throttle conclusion (mostly stolen from Meiko Kaji’s Lady Snowblood). It’s a heady stew of bad taste good times, anchored by one of the most charismatic performers of her era relishing the solo spotlight (Ike was more often paired with the intense Miki Sugimoto during this period).

Here are my two designs inspired by the magnificent 不良姐御伝 猪の鹿お蝶 (Furyō anego den: Inoshika o-Chō) a.k.a SEX AND FURY! A large format full-colour poster print, available at Etsy as a gallery grade, 36cm x 87cm giclee print:

You can also pick up a t-shirt, or A3 poster print, of this alternative black and white design over at Teemill, from another original photomontage layout:

Full Colour Poster Process

For this poster, I knew I wanted to use the infamous naked bath house sword fight as the key image. It’s the most iconic scene in the film, utterly ridiculous, moronically cool, and the perfect hook for the type of poster I wanted to create – as close a rendition as I could manage of the early 1970s Japanese exploitaion movie posters that didn’t hold back on the base-level thrills they used to hook viewers. However, my standard edition DVD is the only source I have available for any images for this film; high resolution digital images seemed scarce and while I believe there may be a Blu-ray release of Teruo Ishii’s sequel Yasagure anego den: Sôkatsu rinchi, a.k.a Female Yakuza Tale: Inquisition and Torture, I couldn’t find one for this. That meant that, no matter if I could pull images, there would be such pixellation that I would have to degrade the picture substantially to avoid this being visible at scale. The first task was screenshotting a section of the fight – the moment Ike jumps from the bath gave the clearest set of images. These were enlarged as best I could within Photoshop, cropped (leaving the unfortunate victim of the katana-slashing intact in one), and the sword replaced in all but one shot due to the motion blur rendering them all but invisible.

Next, these screenshots were laid out together, with the spacing between them planned as best as possible to show the movement. This started to determine the shape of the poster (highly unusual in Japan – most posters of these dimensions would actually be vertical, not horizontal). While I had thought initially that they could run across the bottom of a larger design, the lack of good quality material determined that I preferred to make this the centrepiece. There were a few readjustments before I struck in the idea of a 4-folded sheet of roughly 4 x A4 paper. The size felt right: a 30cm height would be feasible for the print quality. That led to the idea to actually add ‘folds’ to the final design, one of a number of elements that would help hide the deficiencies of the original images. I liked the idea of a ‘widescreen’ poster – this influenced the idea to have a border of some kind to help create a more horizontal look, to allow for the very wide, 10 screenshot montage to not look too out of place. In this new layout (which at this point had only plain black letterbox borders) the images took roughly half of the vertical space remaining. I’d screenshotted a striking close up of Ike’s face that felt to me as the natural choice for her ‘hero’ shot; I wasn’t sure how to use it, but by adding a white layer border it looked more intentional. By this time, I’d added the pink-to-yellow colour blend as a background. The choice was largely organic – I’d seen a similar fade effect in the background of numerous Japanese posters of the era, and the pink represented, simply enough, pinku as a genre. The yellow was both complementary, and allowed for the somewhat clumsy blood splatter to be visible. That red element was tricky. I had taken screenshots of the title screens to the film, snipped them, and run both through Illustrator to create vectors. I knew I wanted the titles in red and white, but the pink background made it difficult to read. Luckily, the solution matched the white border I’d chosen to add to Ike’s closeup. A comparable close up for Christina Lindberg seemed natural – after all, on the original release poster (and subsequent DVD and video releases), she’s actually featured far larger than the film’s actual star.

Basic elements in place, I started adding text. Again, I think the mixture of vertical and horizontal text would actually be highly unusual in a poster of this era. Ike’s name goes first, as vertical text is read right-to-left rather than left-to-right, although this change was made very last minute after I hired a translator from Fiverr to translate the tagline to the film. It, in the very blunt manner you’d expect, refers to ‘Sweden’s No.1 Porno Queen!’, Lindberg, and that ‘Japan’s Porn Queen Reiko Ike!’ answers her challenge. This, then, dictated the order of the main images. The rest of the tagline, which says something like ‘These two will fight elegantly, and gracefully make the flower bloom!’, was added to the lower part of the poster, in red to help with the colour balance.

Those border sections felt like they needed something additional – I downloaded a pattern maker from Adobe Stock and created a simple wave pattern that I felt evoked the period film trappings, and used the exact shade of dark brown of Ike’s hair as the dominant colour to try to ensure that it felt organically connected, and to evoke the narrower colour palettes of older posters with limited inking abilites. The dark blue was added purely to allow it to stand out, and to hopefully make some sense of the blue light flare that was in the best available close up I could source of Lindberg.

The importance of the Hanafuda cards – the gambling cards that carry the images of the deer, the boar, and the butterfly – was something I’d wanted to include. First, via a screenshot of the cards clutched in Ike’s father’s dying hand, but I didn’t think that it fit the layout I had to this point. I managed to find, on a US Embassy website of all places, a clear image of the cards on a plain background. I separated them, and laid them out in a space that had emerged to the left of the film’s title. Adding in the various logos that would somewhat allow this to pass as a genuine period poster, including the Toei logo in the bottom left and the registration mark in the bottom right, I felt the design itself was done.

To get a vintage print style, I first downloaded Studio 2am‘s Zine effect process, as I wasn’t sure where to start with creating a realistically aged print effect. Unfortunately, the dimensions of the standard version were too small. I retrofitted the various layers of filters and processes as best I could, most importantly a color halftone effect that helped to obliterate the pixellation of the source images. Among others, there is a sandstone texture, added noise, gaussian blurs, and finally the halftone effect, set to 4 pixels. This was then exported, and dropped into a new psd.

I stitched together 4 creased paper overlays that I found on Adobe Effects – black screens that contained realistic paper fold damage – and shaped them to cover the image as needed, before using the eraser to avoid contaminating the image too much. I set this as a ‘screen’ layer, and added one more, different paper texture effect to offset the lightening that resulted with some darker paper grain.

Finally it was time to set up the print layout – I’ve ended up with slightly bizarre final dimensions, but was unwilling to affect the specific halftone pixel size by reducing the final exported image to fit a print border/bleed. I decided to add the English text based on a book I have of Japanese cult posters, Tokyo Cinegraphix, and allow for a wider border across the bottom edge. Each poster in that book has a little information block regarding the year of production, Japanese, and English translated titles. The book series is excellent, and highly recommended!

Female Prisoner Scorpion: #701’s Grudge Song


Buy shirts at Teemill and giclee poster prints at Etsy!

My final poster design in the Female Prisoner Scorpion series is for director Yasuharu Hasebe’s only entry, and Meiko Kaji’s last outing as Nami Matsushima/Sasori/The Scorpion, Grudge Song. While it lacks the wild creativity of Shunya Itō’s incredible trilogy, Hasebe was no slouch – a veteran of Nikkatsu’s ‘borderless action’ yazuka movies of the late 1960s, including his remarkable Retaliation which featured Meiko Kaji in a supporting role, and 3 entries into Kaji’s sukeban series Stray Cat Rock. A sombre and fascinating coda to the wilder Itō pictures, this film allows Kaji to ground her portrayal of Nami more than at any other time in the run – even going so far as to find her a male love interest for the first time since the evil corrupt cop that sent her down the path of cyclical incerceration and revenge. The film even features fascinating visual callbacks to the first film in the cycle that evoke that relationship, deepening the drama and dourness when things inevitably go awry for our stoic heroine.

I’ve tried to capture that pared-back simplicity with a bold and stark design that incorporates a flower-shaped bloodstain – visually representing one of the more memorable kills in the series as Nami eludes capture by driving a flower into a cop’s jugular. The bloodstained fabric refers to that visual callback during Nami’s brief moment of physical intimacy she shares with the damaged anarchist she comes to trust enough to take to bed – a visual motif that in the original film also recalls the hinomaru flag.

Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable


Buy shirts at Teemill and giclee poster prints at Etsy!

Shunya Itō’s third and final Female Prisoner Scorpion film opens with a bravura jolt – Nami Matsushima, Sasori, the Scorpion, is out of prison and on the run. As superimposed wanted posters fly past the screen while the camera barrels down a Metro track, we eventually enter the carriage where a glowering, olive green jacket-clad Matsu stares dead ahead while a crew of detectives scour the faces of the passengers. As their eyes lock, she springs violently into action, slashing away at the cops with a knife and escaping as the train pulls up to a platform. Alas, one dogged detective catches her arm and slaps the cuffs on her wrist, and tethers it to his own, just as the doors are closing. Wide-eyed, desperate, she takes a second to assess the situation and then begins hacking away with the blade, eventually severing his arm in a torrent of blood as she swings his severed appendage above her arm. Freeze frame, blood red title card, the first blast of Meiko Kaji’s now familiar theme song enters, as the image becomes aggresively solarised. The stricken cop writhes on the floor, as Matsu takes flight, emerging into the harsh light of the Tokyo streets. She sprints through panicked pedestrians with the bloodied arm flailing in her wake, we know that once again, Itō isn’t going to let his audience settle in to the familiar despite the rapid production schedule of his series.

This vérité approach strips away the grim-yet-operatic visuals of the previous film, coming off more like the street-level gangster movies that preceeded it. The poster has, in tandem with the film’s more toned down, gritty, comparatively stripped-down aesthetic, been created to emphasise fewer elements (and increased violence). Again using the stripes of the iconic prison uniforms as a guide, I wanted to divide the poster into three horizontal strips, and was immediately convinced that the image of Nami dragging the detective’s severed arm would be her hero shot at the bottom – unrestricted by the stripes that would run across the top and middle. With realtively little real estate to work with, choosing the right images for the rest of the poster was a challenge. Originally I had used a screenshot of Katsu and her gang menacing Yuki, but the brutality of the sequence, divorced from the context of the film and the intent and artistry of Itō surrounding it, came across as too extreme and exploitative to use as a standalone image. These posters do have to strike a balance – these films are, after all, ‘exploitation’ films, which the artwork has to reflect, but should never stray too far into the realm of bad taste where they become too unpleasant or triggering. Even when dealing with somewhat extreme material, there are still lines to be drawn. And while the backstory behind the image of Yuki I did end up using is of course horrifying (she is raising a knife to her brother, wondering whether to kill him to spare them both the pain of their desperate situation), visually it seemed to me to be compelling, suitably harsh for the tone of the film, but falling just barely on the right side of acceptability. It was also one of many of Itō’s beautifully composed and lit shots, Yuki’s heavy makeup popping out of the gloomy dark room, the blade poised dangerously across her, the Dutch angle of the camera creating the fantastic diagonal sweep of the room behind her.

The colour scheme, overall, came to me instinctively. Again, the green was inspired by the original release poster, albeit that one was a very dark green, with red, blue and yellow along with a large image of a crow. I used Nami’s jacket as inspiration for a more military green mid-tone, with a pale green background – much in the same way the #701 poster used a solid blue over a pale blue background. And I knew I wanted to have the title text in white – which meant using a less detailed image for the middle strip upon which it would sit. I stumped for a wide shot of the one-armed Detective Kondo walking down a dark, industrial-looking street plastered with wanted posters – this time with all white removed so that the whole image was green-on-green. That was when the idea hit to incorporate red into the image. First, I wanted Kondo’s severed arm to be in red, so that it would be clearer to the viewer what it was (the downside of this film’s use of exterior, almost documentary footage is that both focussing issues and massively increased grain, coupled with a reduction in the kind of contrast you get from studio lighting, meant that the main image of Nami was, and remains, a little soft). A few tweaks were made to the image – painting in more detail on the hand, the cuffs, and most controversially and experimentally, running the face of the image through an AI enhancer. Knowing that the riso filter process would help to smooth over any mismatches in the image quality, I feel that it was important in being able to make the main hero image of the poster stand out, and was happy with the result in the end.

When I had just the arm in red, it felt very disjointed (so to speak). So, I experimented with using a blood splash to link it to Nami at the top and bottom. I felt this looked a lot better, and this inspired the further use of the splash across the text. In turn, that necessitated using red on the top image. At first, I had a horizontal streak running through the middle of the image, but this seemed to imbalance the layout. I experimented next with a splash, which looked more in keeping, but now seemed to be overusing the effect and diminishing its impact. Finally, it hit me to use the diagonal back wall – that a diagonal streak would direct the eye through the image, and would mirror the angle of Nami’s right arm, almost like a chevron, running from the top left, through the right middle, and back to the bottom left, encompassing the whole poster.

Now all that remained was the lettering. Each poster has had very different fonts – chunky and minimal for #701, more traditional and elaborate for Jailhouse 41 – and here, I wanted to use a more functional, appropriately 1970s street signage font. The final decision was to highlight Meiko Kaji’s acting credit in red, in a placement that I felt helped draw the eye in that chevron-esque direction through the composition. All this achieved, I felt that the poster had done all I could hope for. I was disappointed to not be able to include Katsu or her birds, or Kaji’s horror scene where she attempts to grind off her handcuffs while grasping Kondo’s disembodied arm in her teeth in a graveyard, but I feel like, if I saw this poster, I’d go and seek out this film. Which is surely what it’s all about.

To adapt this into a shirt design, I simplified the design down to just Nami’s daring escape, and kept the blood-spattered title text and the credits. I added the horizontal dark green bars top and bottom just to create some solidity to the layout (it also reminded me of a fantastic Stars of the Lid band shirt I owned many years ago! Head to Teemill for shirts and sweatshirts.

Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41


Buy shirts at Teemill and giclee poster prints at Etsy!

The 2nd film in the series, and one of the most incredibly creative, strange and unsettling of its era. I’ve tried to reflect the evolution of the series within this artwork, which came via a very different process to the first image. The #701 poster was confined to a diamond shape to reflect the story’s containment within the prison, with the dark blue and white colour scheme of the main image used to evoke the uniform colours of the general prison population. The pale blue and yellow were used to offset and compliment this, while referencing the original cinema release poster. With this film, I knew I would want to break out of that restricted shape space, in the same way that the characters break out of the prison. After trialling a few failed attempts to create a ‘breakout’ type of image, I was struck by the stunning split diopter shot early in the film of a bound Matsu on the floor of a dank solitary confinement cell, towered over by the villainous warden and his two lackeys under the glare of a harsh blue light.

I knew immediately that this would be the foundation of my image, right in the bottom 1/3 of the frame, the defiant but temporarily defeated heroine before she leads a ragtag group of prisoners on an impromptu, hallucinogenic jailbreak. It was dark, subterranean, illustrates the odds she will have to overcome. I also knew that the title would have to sit just above this, to divide the poster into the ‘before and after’ chapters representing the imprisoned opening, and the remainder of the film which sees her on the run. That left the top half (approximately) of the poster – and after rewatching the film a couple of times, one of which to gather as many screenshots as I thought might be helpful, I realised that the dominant image could only be the moment where Matsu takes some kind of enchanted dagger from a mysterious old woman in a forest. This shot, where Meiko Kaji looks right down the lens as a mysterious wind whips her hair up vertically, is her iconic hero moment. Free of the bonds of prison, commanding nature, more some kind of legend or spirit than a mere person. This sequence also inspired an idea – to tint the poster beneath a black riso-style, pixellated collage with a holofoilesque colour spill – like petrol and water mixing. The palette was lifted from the film itself – the orange light that gives Kaji’s hair a sort of halo, reflected also in the autumnal leaves which blow across the screen; the acid-y pinks and purples of the forest sequence and the wild fantasy/dreams that punctuate throughout; the pale greens that stand in for sickly moonlight; the harsh light blues of the prison cell. The black of the main image was essential given the gloom of the shacks in which the women lie low while being hunted.

To accompany that image of Matsu with her blade (the hair had to be replaced as the frame cut off the top – I ended up going more stylised that in the film itself as reference material was scarce, and I needed the effect to be very bold), I knew I wanted to see the women escaping, and the stakes if they were caught. Initially this section was far busier, including the prison guards the women kill during their escape, and a burning truck, but in the end I went with a shot of a tracker dog and the pursuing officers. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know how the dog plays a fairly shocking role in proceedings. I also grabbed a shot of the destroyed town in which the women hide – the sight of a town abandoned to ash and decay cannot help but evoke the devastation of wartime Japan. The mountains behind allowed for a sense of scale to play with (the prison guards are not of course intended to look like they are physically right behind the women – I hoped that the collage nature of the poster would be an evocation, not a believable representation) and the serendipitous placement of a central mountain made for a natural base to the image of Matsu, just off centre to make space for her knife-carrying hand. This was snipped out and adjusted to pop out from behind the horizon line – multiple other fixes were made to the wardens, the women, and the environment to hide any seams, to extend backgrounds or characters where cropped by the frame (all screenshots were taken direct from the movie in regular HD resolution, so the widescreen matting did remove a lot of essential information – see if you can spot the leg that I had to shove into the image from a frantic Google image search). The forest behind Matsu was snipped from a slightly earlier shot as I preferred the way the trees looked, with a wider shot of Matsu removed and covered up. Leaves were added from stock photography, tweaked, as all images, within the Studio 2am ‘Riso Effect’ workspace to ensure that they stood out against the backdrop enough. In all, there are about 22 layers of risoprint-processed assets, plus some brush work to connect them together.

The title was lifted whole from a screenshot of the movie itself, simply cleaned up as an image trace in Illustrator. The red colour comes straight from the film, and I thought made a strong contrast with the already busy design. Logos like the Toei Studios imprint, and the unusual, small symbol that sits next to the title (I still do not know what this means – I think it is something akin to the Eastmancolor, or Technicolor, trademarks?) were lifted from the earlier poster – the former lifted from a logo repository website, the latter actually created in Illustrator from geometric shapes). Shun’ya Itō’s director credit made for a bold split down the lower middle image, and that also dictated the acting credits going in vertically, rather than horizontally. This was also inspired by the original release poster, which listed its credits in this alignment, reading from right to left starting with Meiko Kaji.

In all, the conception of this design took up far more of my headspace than the previous. Working without a sketched layout made getting started very difficult, but in the end the film itself was inspiring, and gathering screenshots led to ideas forming throughout. I had originally intended this series of posters to resemble each other much more closely, but I hope that there is enough connective tissue that they do seem of a piece, while representing the spirit of the differing films.

If you like this poster, please head over to my Etsy shop to pick up a limited edition giclee print! I have mastered this work on A1 size paper, but 2 more sizes are available if you want to pair this with the A3 #701: Scorpion poster. You can order as a standalone A1 giant print – I can confirm, the good people at Atom Printing do amazing work! On the larger scale there is a huge amount of detail which is lost in the digital version above. And you can buy shirts of this design over at Teemill right now! Available in long sleeve, short sleeve and a variety of cuts, as always printed to order on sustainable shirts.

Rumble Fish


Of all the ‘movie brat’ generation, no other director captured my imagination more than Francis Ford Coppola. And back in my film school days that obsession was, more than any other film, inspired by his lyrical, personal, stylish 1983 teen melodrama Rumble Fish. Shot back-to-back right after the more successful (although, I find, slightly cloying) companion S. E. Hinton adaptation The Outsiders, Coppola showed his range by switching out the honey-hued magic hour glow of the former for a luminous, German Expressionist-inspired monochrome pallet – all the better to capture the stark Midwestern heat of the Tulsa, Oklahoma summer. Retaining some of his extraordinary young cast from The Outsiders – Matt Dillon and Diane Lane – as a young high school couple, she as concerned, high achieving girlfriend Patty, he as fiery, shiftless young gang leader Rusty James, and adds Mickey Rourke as Rusty’s near-mythical older brother The Motorcycle Boy, a philosophical, long-absent gang leader finally returned home.

The film’s unusual sound mix and beautiful black-and-white visuals are intended to take us into the headspace of The Motorcycle Boy, colour blind and suffering from hearing loss. He floats through the film, half-smiling to a joke only he seems to hear or understand, whispering non-sequitors and alternately fascinating and infuriating Rusty as the younger boy desperately tried to impress him. Coppola spoke eloquently about how his own hero worship of his older brother August inspired his take on the story – the film is dedicated to him.

You can find A3 poster prints and t-shirts at my Teemill store. A3 giclee prints coming soon to Etsy.

Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion


Buy shirts at Teemill and giclee poster prints at Etsy!

Inspired by one of my absolute favourite films, the bruising, brilliant 1972 prison vengeance tale by Shunya Itō. Meiko Kaji plays Nami Matsushima, or as she is dubbed, SASORI – a wronged woman betrayed and left to rot in jail by a sleazy cop on the take, targetted by sadistic guards and malicious inmates alike yet persevering with a piercing gaze that demonstrates her indomitable will to exact her revenge.

Truly one of the stand-out exploitation films of its era, or indeed any era, the film inspired 3 direct sequels with Meiko Kaji in the lead (which I intend to create further designs for), a subsequent two-film 1970s run with Ryôko Ema and Yôko Natsuki attempting to take over the mantle, and a slew of later remakes, reboots and ripoffs. Meiko Kaji, at the time gaining renown for her run in the Stray Cat Rock series, balked at studio Nikkatsu’s drift towards ever more graphic sexual content and jumped ship for Toei Studios to take the lead and sing the exquisite theme song for the film. And while this first entry into the Kaji quadrilogy doesn’t skimp on the exploitative elements of the pinku genre, it wields them in a pointedly, angrily, defying any male-gaze viewer to treat the scenes as mere eye candy before thrusting a shard of blood-splattered glass right through their cornea.

The poster was created by stitching multiple screenshots, which were whittled down from dozens taken from throughout the running time, from the film together after running each through various processes to achieve the aged, grainy riso printing style. The middle section, for example, drops a cropped-out image of Nami into an unrelated crowd scene, which was then superimposed over a shot of a prison escape later in the film, with a slew of clone stamps and texture layering to try to hide the seams. Missing elements (such as arms or the tops of peoples heads), or areas where props or background obscured or confused the image, were either painted in or carefully removed manually. Areas of light and shade were added to ensure clarity using a variety of brushes, often a pixel or two wide, to avoid affecting the riso effect. The overall design idea came about extremely quickly during a slow-moving day at work, as you can see from this extremely comprehensive sketch. During the process, a simplification of the design and colour scheme emerged, and I found it more interesting to work under these restrictions – just the dark blue and white of the prison uniforms, and the yellow lettering and light blue background of the original release poster logo.

You can buy a limited edition high quality A3 giclee poster print at Etsy here, or if you’d like to buy any of these shirts and hoodies, go ahead and shop the Teemill range here.


“Not Some…Gutless Boy!”, 2021, white charcoal pencil on black paper, 10″ x 10″ sketch

This terrifying mug belongs, as Meyer Gothic Period aficionados will be well aware, to the actor who I thought was the magnetic standout of this era of Russ Meyer’s career – the great Hal Hopper. Where my Lorna poster was understandably dominated by the gorgeous, statuesque figure of lead actress Lorna Maitland, the lust object of the various collection of creeps, rogues and saps who surrounded her, 1965’s Mudhoney is totally dominated by the manic, mirthless grin of agitator-in-chief Sidney Brenshaw, so the poster should follow suit.

Despite Meyer having said he concocted the film purely as a vehicle for his new squeeze Rena Horten (casting her as a mute, sexually voracious yet thoroughly innocent prostitute – a choice which creates a whole heap of cod-psychologising that deserves exploration elsewhere), the evidence on film very much suggests otherwise. At 92 minutes, it is his longest film, notwithstanding his studio productions at 20th Century Fox or certain cuts of his unsatisfying adaptation of Fanny Hill (during production of which he met and fell for the aforementioned Horten) and without doubt the film that most resembles a ‘real’ drama. This Depression-era dustbowl melodrama sees John Furlong (later a regular face in Russ’ filmography all the way through to Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens, who occasionally popped up in such varied fare elsewhere as the Hulk Hogan vehicle Suburban Commando and John Carpenter’s Vampires) as down-on-his-luck ex-con Calif McKinney. He blows in to a small town in Missouri, where he takes up as the odd-job man on old Lute Wade’s farm. He develops a crush on Wade’s kindly niece Hannah Brenshaw, but her despicable, abusive drunk of a husband Sidney takes it upon himself to concoct an increasingly wild scheme to paint this interloping newcomer as a threat to the moral fibre of the town, enlisting oddball preacher Brother Hanson to help stir the pot.

Hopper, so thoroughly reptilian and vicious in Lorna before being humbled and cowed before the film’s end, is totally let loose here. The film opens with Sidney, shown only from the knees down as he stumbles from a rowdy bordello house and in to his car before careening home as the titles roll. Arriving home, he crashes in to the steps of his house to wake his terrified wife – we are inside with her as he breaks through the bedroom door to accost her and the effect, after such a suspenseful build, is chilling. Drunkenly stalking through Lute’s farm, whiling away the months until the old man croaks and he can inherit the farm and sell it off to live a life of lascivious luxury, spending what little cash he has at the brothel of the cackling Maggie Marie, and eventually allowing his jealous fixation on Calif to cause him to spiral in to a deadly obsession, Hopper is the phenomenal centrepiece of a film whose full-throated craziness is blackly compelling. For me at least it’s Meyer’s underappreciated masterpiece – seeing him work without the handrails of camp (well, less than there is in his more cartoony triumphs a little later in his career) and to a more-or-less traditional 90 minute dramatic structure, its surface normality only highlights the inimitable weirdness that suffuses every frame.

I’m dreadful at allowing myself time for this kind of sketching, so this poster will likely see completion some time in early 2022. This is the first element of what I hope will be a panorama of all the major characters.

The Self-Seers

“Self-Seers” original sketch, 2021, A3, white charcoal pencils on black paper

My extremely talented friend Matt Ridley wrote and directed a short film, in his adoptive country of South Korea. The Self-Seers is an atmospheric, melancholic and stark piece that sees a high school student struggle under the weight of educational expectation, the unique and sometimes repressive influence of the Christian community in the country, and the implacable feeling of a shadowy second self. See for yourself below:

After a successful run on the independent short film festival circuit, he has now released the film for general viewing. To mark this, he hired me to create a release poster, plus supplemental graphic material he could use to publicise its release. Having seen the film a few times and being super impressed with its stark, monochrome imagery (achieved with a remarkably small amount of equipment and crew), I jumped at the chance. During its festival run, Matt had been using a still frame of lead actress Song Na Rin as Yu Ye Ri, leaning her head against the window of a bus with her reflection fuzzed out by the scratched panes of glass. I knew this would be my key image, as the delicate, contrast-y lighting would lend itself well to my preferred method of working with white pencil on black paper.

Production still from “The Self-Seers”

I then took the disturbing nocturnal vision of Ye Ri’s shadowy other self wrapping around her, and intended to create a realistic pencil sketch in photo negative as a mirror image of that same frame. I liked the challenge of fighting against instinct to reverse how the eye sees light, to see whether I could draw the reference picture accurately. But, as Matt pointed out, this ran counter to how the vision appears in the film – darker, not lighter; a shadow, not a light. He shared a hazy, unsettling photo manipulation he had made.

Photo manipulation by Matt Ridley

I changed tack a little, instead using another image from within the film of the kids’ notebooks being filled with scratchy, threatening, hastily-drawn line images of these shadowy figures. This time, I only drew in the outline, and the facial features in sketchy, quick motions. I had already decided to incorporate another strong, key visual from the film – the neon cross that dominates the small town’s skyline. Taking from this the hazy corona glow that the cross kicks off, I added this washed-out light haze to the sketch lines to appear as if the apparition, while dark, was glowing, motivating the light source on Song Na Rin’s face. I also hoped that the light haze would make the void within it seem darker by contrast.

Production still from “The Self-Seers”

My sketch completed, I knew I would have to adjust the layout for the landscape format YouTube cover image. Because the sketch was made on black paper, and photographed at home using a lighting set up of two softbox lights at 45-degree angles to the sketch, I would have to photograph a blank sheet of the same paper to use as a blending tool. There’s no digital way to fully recreate the random nature of how each piece of paper will react to the light source – you can clearly see in the sketch, for example, that the top and bottom of the drawing is darker than the centre, as even on such a small surface, the lighting will always be inconsistent. A time-consuming additional labour, for sure, but one that is kind of essential when working in a purely hand-drawn medium. These pencil sketches really don’t integrate well in to digital environments.

A lo-fi solution

Matt provided his original titles from the film – drawn on Procreate in both English by Matt, and in Korean by the film’s producer Shin. While experimenting with the layout, Matt felt that the 2nd figure wasn’t quite capturing how he had interpreted it, and I felt that while the integration of both the English and Korean titles was a good idea, it was crowding the top half of the poster and diminishing the sense of space.

By layering the blank paper underneath the sketch and erasing and blending as needed, I removed the 2nd face from Matt’s final draft and replaced with the English title – this seemed to help the balance a lot. Matt’s idea was to add the Korean title at one corner, inspired by a DVD cover he had seen. I liked the use of it. We added 10 film festival laurels (there were many more!) and debated on including any credits. In the end, only Matt’s Scarious Artists production credit made the cut, in the interests of minimalism.

The final poster design

While editing the poster, I experimented a little by combining Matt’s preferred draft with my version that still included the ghostly 2nd face. I think it adds a layer of nice, weird intrigue, and I think it’s my favourite of the bunch. I added his ‘film by’ credit, and relocated the Korean Hangul title, giving it more prominence and filling some empty space. But I, of course, think Matt’s choice was the correct one for the film poster (it is, after all, his film!) as it focusses the eye more easily and showcases the title and the tone more successfully. Call this a remix.

My ‘alternative’ final design

Finally, I used the blank paper to extend the piece horizontally to allow for a different arrangement of the festival laurels for the YouTube still image, and then cropped down to 1080×1080 pixels for an Instagram post, including one 1080×1080 blank black paper square to include quotes or any other text as an image carousel.

YouTube preview image final version

Big thanks to Matt for entrusting this release to me, I hope you all check out his fantastic film!


“A Pillar of Salt”, 2021, white charcoal pencil on black paper, 9″ x 12″ sketch

I read about Jimmy McDonough’s extraordinary biography of the inimitable, proudly disrespectful auteur Russ Meyer, Big Bosoms and Square Jaws, kinda by accident in a stray magazine article. I remembered having seen Faster, Pussycat, Kill! Kill! several years earlier as part of a loosely defined weekend tribute to The Cramps, big fans of Meyer’s work, and figured I’d give it a read as I thought the film was pretty amazing at the time. Little did I know that this brilliant book would spark a total fascination with his work – the kind of fascination that only comes with seeing a weird man lay out the most base and bizarre parts of his psyche for all to see without the pesky filters of good taste or meddlesome industry requirements.

1964’s Lorna, Meyer’s first foray outside of the “nudie cutie” genre he basically pioneered with the 1959 feature The Immoral Mr. Teas, was, of course, driven at least in part by his insatiable appetite for financial success in the burgeoning exploitation market. As he would proudly boast, he got in to the business to get rich, and get laid. But what fascinates me is the meticulous technical artistry which he brought to bear on his films – the innovative camera tricks, pin-sharp focussed and gorgeously lit visuals (usually using reflectors to harness the harsh light of his often desolate locations), and drum-tight editing that stands out from his pack of innovators who were usually content to drag meaningless, shabbily shot scenes out in pursuit of nothing more than the contractually-obligated runtime and minimum amount of indifferently presented nudity to sate the suckers in the cinema stalls. That, and the twisted and increasingly manic plots he trotted out. In Lorna, the kickoff to the Gothic/”roughie” phase of his career, this takes the form of a parable of sorts – a wild-eyed preacher/narrator (scriptwriter James Griffiths, who dashed off the screenplay in 4 days) halts the audience as it hurtles down a desolate highway, warning us of the immorality and shame that lie beyond. As he steps aside, we alight in a bleak little nowhere town, and meet a pair of shady, no-good scumbags and their hapless, blandly handsome co-worker. They cajole and bully him over his beautiful but inattentive wife, the titular (…) Lorna, played by pneumatic newcomer Lorna Maitland. Cue another sleazy gent, an escaped convict who happens upon Lorna indulging in some extended skinny dipping in a filthy-looking lake, and a whole lot of overwrought tragedy ensues.

Final artwork layout

The main image of the poster portrays Lorna lost in a reverie for a life of go-go neon excess and excitement that she so desperately craves, a phenomenal, overwhelming montage of champagne and pearls. Leering from above her, against a foreboding background of the stark and thorny swamp that is her dreary daily reality, are the three lascivious degenerates that desire her, alongside her sadsack spouse.

The final artwork dimensions are 30cm x 60cm, with each copy professionally giclee printed in archival quality lightfast pigment inks with extraordinary lifelike rendering of the pencil and paper textures of the original sketches, on Hahnemuehle Photo Rag 308gsm paper. This is a limited run of 64 signed and numbered prints.

Available now on ETSY