Just as when you ask a young child to draw a house, you can predict the image they’ll come up with, ask an illustrator to draw Mexicans and stand by for the clichés to appear.
Looking at the photographs from the Pancho Villa era, you could be forgiven for thinking that you are witnessing a large fancy-dress party on a Mexican theme. Vast sombreros, cross-bandoleers full of rounds and droopy mustachios really were the Villista dress code. If it’s a cliché now, it was just natty dressing then, but of course, they were very much aware of the image they were trying to create.
Sam Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch was very much in my mind for the night scene from Villa’s Columbus raid. The fading sunset cowboys in the film adopted this US military dress for one of their capers. I was tempted to doff my cap to Sam by showing a big exploding exit wound on the back of the stricken Mexican, but restrained myself mainly by sending the artwork to the editor before the splatter-urge overcame me.
I’ve spent a few weeks touring New Mexico and Arizona, where the adobe and collapsing clapboard of the ghost towns is still there for the wanderer to find. I could well imagine the desert darkness illuminated by stuttering machine-gun fire.
Osprey illustrators never know if a reference photo in the author’s brief is going to appear in the book. He had sent a great period reference for the Hoover Hotel that a model-maker would appreciate, but which showed a very plain building. Letting the gunfire cast huge shadows, as it would have done, for a split second, was a way of making it a more dramatic part of the composition.
Frederick Remington was the inspiration for the Cardenas encounter between a young Patton, and a charging Villista. He created the look of the Cowboy as completely as Howard Pyle invented our idea of a Pirate, and his paintings of galloping horsemen inspired the treatment of the Mexican charging our cool hero. I tried many different poses for Patton. I’m a lousy shot with a pistol and I’d want to take a steady aim if I trusted my ability to bring him down, so I settled on this one. I wouldn’t have trusted my own ability of course, I’d have legged it, but then I’m not Patton. The hacienda gateway came from a Google search. What did we do before we had that resource?
Oh, and the giant Cacti which snag unwary visitors to our conservatory came in handy too…