Tom Reilly's Got It Covered: The Art of 'Astro Hustle'

by Troy-Jeffrey Allen

How do you find the right artist? That's a question that at the forefront of any comic book endeavor. It used to be that publishers would headhunt at conventions or rummage through a pile of mailed-in art submissions for the next dynamic draftsmen. In 2019, however, the answer can sometimes be discovered with a tweet.

 "Quite honestly, I probably got this job because I got a Twitter account," explains artist Tom Reilly. Reilly's collaboration with writer Jai Nitz is Astro Hustle. A "romp through the stars" that came to Reilly's attention after traditional methods for getting work didn't pan out. "I had spent the previous year traveling to conventions and posting my work on my website and other places, and ended up meeting some people and getting a lot of great advice and drawing practice, but no job," Reilly continues. "So, while you can’t just walk into Dark Horse headquarters and ask for a portfolio review anymore, social media has made it so that anyone in the world can see what you’re doing if they choose to."

Once Nitz and Reilly connected, Astro Hustle's character design process immediately followed. Then came the cover, which is when the project started to really congeal conceptually and visually. "This cover was the first image I actually drew for the book, except for a few character designs beforehand.  So, the challenging part was really just establishing the look and feel of the book as I was drawing, notes Reilly. "It’s funny, this is the first image people will see related to the book, and it was also technically the first one I really saw. Having worked with these characters and learned how to draw them over the past few months, I may have done a few things differently, but that’s just the nature of the business."

If the cover to Astro Hustle #1 feels rippingly retro then that was the intention. The comic was designed from the get-go to be an homage to 1970s science fiction. Particularly, the "one sheets" of sci-fi cinema's past. "I wanted this cover to be an homage to classic sci-fi posters of the era, like those made for Flash Gordon and Star Trek. Something that showed off all the main players, was fun to look at, and made you want to pick up the book and see what’s inside." Creating a sort of character poster did result in a fair amount of give and take -- proportionally. "You can see in the pencilled piece that the figures are much larger, and take up too much space for the logo to be put on, so I shrunk them down in the final version using Photoshop."          

As for the rest of the artistic team, that consists of two other colorists. Ursula Decay ("Who’s killing it on the book," Reilly adds) tackled interior pages while Vampironica's Greg Smallwood handled cover colors. "Jai is good friends with Greg Smallwood, who was nice enough to color all of the covers for the series. I don’t need to tell you how good of an artist Greg Smallwood is, and he really did a great job here. He nails the 70’s vibe I was going for in my designs, and I couldn’t stop smiling the first time I saw the finished piece. Greg also designed the logo for the series, which is quintessential 70’s, right down to the Kenner-esque border stripe." Smallwood also drew the variant cover for Astro Hustle #1.

As for tools. Reilly used his mechanical pencil, a Pentel Color Brush pen, a fine tip/flexible tip Pentel Sign Pen, with the occasional "here and there" from a China Marker. However, there is one other important instrument that Reilly acknowledges: The power of a pull quote on the cover. Particularly one from Watchmen's Dave Gibbons. "It doesn’t hurt that Jai was able to get a quote from the great Dave Gibbons to stick on the front. Usually, if something’s good enough for Dave Gibbons, it’s good enough for me." 

About Astro Hustle #1:

Chen Andalou, the black sheep of a prominent activist family, returns after being accidentally put in cryo-stasis for sixty years. Chen, a cosmic criminal, wakes up to find his younger brother is now the President of the Galaxy. Chen does what he knows best:  he steals stuff and causes a problem.

Astro Hustle #1 (JAN190432) is available at your local comic shop starting March 6th.


Troy-Jeffrey Allen is the producer and co-host of PREVIEWSworld Weekly. His comics work includes BAMN, Fight of the Century, the Harvey Award-nominated District Comics, and the Ringo Awards-nominated Magic Bullet.

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