The Road to Hell: Designing Lone Wolf and Cub

Inside Criterion / Criterion Designs — Nov 30, 2016

The Lone Wolf and Cub film series has its roots in Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s manga of the same name, which was itself a major influence on Western cartooning and illustration in the 1980s. It felt only natural to pay homage to that connection in our design. We brought in Paul Pope, an American artist whose work is heavily influenced by Japanese brushwork and manga styles.

We pointed Paul toward the motif of the “road to hell,” represented in the films as a glowing white road flanked by flames on one side and water on the other. We liked the concept but felt it might be too pastoral or cerebral on its own, so we asked Paul to find a way to bring in a sense of the action and carnage in the films.

Lone Wolf and Cub sketches by Paul Pope

Lone Wolf and Cub sketches by Paul Pope

Lone Wolf and Cub sketches by Paul Pope

We landed on an image of the road to hell built out of the bodies of Itto Ogami’s fallen enemies, a gruesome concept that Paul executed with lyrical beauty (aided by colorist Ron Wimberly’s bold “grindhouse” palate).

Lone Wolf and Cub art by Paul Pope

As a final touch, we wanted to highlight the faithfulness of the adaptation, which is unsurprising when you consider that Koike himself wrote or cowrote five out of the six films. Inside the box, Paul focused on scenes that appear in both the films and the manga. The faux-manga pages that he came up with are inspired by Kojima’s work but evocative of both sources.

Lone Wolf and Cub art by Paul Pope

Lone Wolf and Cub art by Paul Pope