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Interview: Comic artist Joe Jusko, appearing at Nickel City Con

From accurately copying Fred Flintstone off the television screen as child to a decorated career as one of the top living comic, fantasy and pin up artists, Joe Jusko never could have imagined how far his hobby would take him in life.

“I was five or six at the time, and my parents realized that I had a knack for drawing, and I became sort of obsessed with it afterwards, once I realized I could draw,” Jusko said.

That obsession would result in decades of incredibly colorful and detailed characters that explode off the page with rippling anatomy and dazzling backgrounds in Jusko’s signature style.

Jusko will be a featured artist at the Nickel City Con presented by Dave and Adam’s at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center May 17-19.

It will be a short trip to Buffalo for Jusko, who lives in his wife’s (“a huge Bills fan”) home region of Syracuse. Born and raised in New York City—prime territory for a comic book artist—Jusko said modern technology allows him to stay untethered geographically.

“I don’t think geographic location matters so much anymore because of the internet. Because when I got started back in the late 70s, all of the publishing houses were in New York City. So New York City was where you pretty much had to be,” Jusko said.

New York City still holds plenty of significance to Jusko. He never lost his lower east side accent, and he spent time working as a police officer there. It’s also where he attended the New York City High School of Art and Design, and where he realized that his artistic style was especially time consuming.

“By the time I was coming up to graduation, I realized I was never going to be fast enough to draw an actual comic,” Jusko said. “There are guys who can just naturally knock out stuff, just page after page, and I really admire those guys. I really have to work on my drawing a bit more to get it right.

I felt that pursuing a career drawing sequential work wasn’t for me, plus my attention span was incredibly short and still is.”

Part of the reason that Jusko’s work takes more time is because of his heavy focus on process. He said mentor Howard Chaykin helped instill the importance of strong drawing basics early in his career. It’s something Jusko tries to impart to aspiring artists who visit him at comic conventions.

“It’s one of the main critiques I give to people when they show me their work… and they have a nice painting, they had the rendering down, they kind of know color. But they blow past the drawing and foundation stage and it really shows in their work. And I have to explain to them that they really have to make sure that foundation drawing is right first. Make sure that the composition and the drawing and the anatomy is right first before you apply the paint. Because the paint doesn’t hide bad drawing, it only amplifies,” Jusko said.

Jusko has worked for almost every major comic book publisher, and his work has appeared on paperback book covers, calendars, posters, t-shirts and toy packaging. He created the popular 1992 Marvel Masterpieces Trading Cards set, which led to an ongoing working relationship with the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs (“Tarzan”) that continues on today.

Along with the litany of comic, fantasy and sci-fi characters he’s depicted, Jusko did some unique work for the WWF (now WWE) in the early 1990s that is still celebrated by fans today.

“Mary Wilshire was a comic book artist who drew the Red Sonja comic (among others) back in the 80s. She was doing a lot of line illustrations for WWF’s merchandising catalogue. They needed someone to do color. I’d never met Mary at that time, but they needed someone and somehow she dropped my name to the art director at the WWF and they contacted me about doing the posters.

I did my very first Royal Rumble poster for them and I did the Wrestlemania VII poster that same year. I believe I did the following year’s Royal Rumble and then a hockey game for Remco. I did the box art for a (WWF) hockey game… I’m shocked at how popular those posters still are. They still follow me around and people still talk about them,” Jusko said.

Written by Kip Doyle

Kip Doyle

Kip Doyle is a writer and marketing professional. His interviews have been read in The Public, Artvoice and on Metal Injection, and his satire work has been published by The Hard Times. Doyle is a former managing editor of the Salamanca Press and a former reporter for the Olean Times Herald. He was also an editor at Punknews.org. He graduated from Buffalo State College and has a master's degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from St. Bonaventure University. His interests include music, comedy, pro wrestling, sports and technology. He lives with his family in downtown Buffalo.

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