Today we continue our conversation with acclaimed painter Joe Jusko, celebrating his 30th year in the industry, as well as the forthcoming release of The Art of Joe Jusko from Desperado.
Yesterday, we discussed the start of his career and when he knew he wanted to be an artist. Today, we take some time to reflect on his work on the Marvel Masterpiece card set, which brought him front and center in the attention of many comic fans.
Newsarama: Joe, let's talk about your work on the 1992 Marvel Masterpiece cards. I remember the craze--I was about 14 when those cards hit stores. How were you brought to the project? How did this set of 100-plus cards change your career?
Joe Jusko: You were 14? Thanks for making feel really old! (laughs) Those cards were the spotlight job of my career to that point. I had been working in the industry (mostly for Marvel) for about fourteen years, painting covers, posters and (very) occasionally stories. Bob Budiansky, editor of Special Projects and I had been working together for several years on various jobs, the most recent having been the cosmically kaleidoscopic background paintings for the Marvel Universe 3 trading cards. Marvel kept trying to progress their card sets and had Jim Lee draw an entire X-Men set.
The next logical evolution was a painted set. In the 50's and 60's painted sets were normal fare. Think Mars Attacks and the Batman sets. Artist Norm Saunders was an industry unto himself. All of the current cards resembled pen & ink comic book art, though. Since I was pretty much their main painted cover guy at that period I was tapped for the card set. Simple as that, really. I wasn't quite prepared for the reaction, though. The cards sold out their entire print run of 350,000 boxes, an unfathomable amount today. That set has been credited with spring boarding the trading card craze of the 90's, but that's not for me to say. I do know that I suddenly had a lot more notoriety than I ever had before, and as a result a lot more work.
NRAMA: How much art direction were you taking during your work on the Masterpiece cards--or were you left entirely to your own devices?
JJ: The schedule was really tight; 100 fully painted cards in 92 days. I had planned on doing them in 25 card blocks, but after I sent in the first batch of sketches I saw a problem with that scenario. I immediately started getting copious amounts of revisions, some minor, some not. Realizing immediately that I was never going to meet an already improbable deadline if that continued, I never sent any more sketches in. (laughs) I simply went straight to finishes and sent in 10 painting blocks from then on. Remarkably, the only alteration was removing the copyrighted Academy Award statue on the Wonder Man card. Bob trusted me to have enough insight into the characters and just let me do my thing. I find it ironic that the work has become so revered, because it really was such a rush job that no one expected to take off as it did.
NRAMA: A lot of comic book artists tend to have their own interpretations of the human physique and anatomy--is there a stronger urge to be "anatomically correct" so to speak as a painter?Jusko's Red Sonja JJ: It's not being a "painter" that dictates that, it's just your approach as an artist. I'm a literal painter. I was influenced by ‘50s and ‘60s paperback and magazine artists, who all worked realistically, from models and photos. I learned a lot of my dynamics from comics and draw my paintings out before I ever look at a photo. It helps to keep the photo ref I do use from looking stiff and posed.
NRAMA: What are you feelings on the use of photo-realism in comics? Is there a fine line between work similar to what you and Tim Bradstreet do--which openly uses references--as opposed to artists using photo references and then claiming that the work is "original"?
JJ: Photo ref is a lot more prevalent in today's comics than most people realize. It was a natural progression of the art form, especially with how the digital age has simplified achieving pseudo realism today. Professionals understand that, but many fans don't. I know of several guys who won't cop to using reference because it may damage their "artistic cred". This is only an issue in comics, no other area of art.
NRAMA: What happened to your career after the success of the Marvel Masterpiece cards? Did you take a break? Did you want to do something different? That's a lot of superheroes...
JJ: Marvel immediately wanted me to put another set out, but I was pretty burned out after set #1 and didn't want to repeat myself so quickly under the same kind of insane timeframe. Marvel didn't have anyone else they thought could do the entire set in time so they farmed it out to multiple artists. As time went on they got smart and gave the chosen artists more and more time to complete the cards. I've always felt kinda cheated out of doing my best work on the Masterpiece cards by the deadline and would really love to paint another set today with a proper deadline. I did, however, produce a ton of chase and bonus cards for more companies than I can remember as well as several more complete sets. In all I must have 500-600 trading cards under my belt.
NRAMA: Was there room for growth after the Marvel Masterpiece cards? Do you even look back at the growth of your work?
JJ: As I said, I never felt the work on Masterpiece was indicative of what I was capable of. I had done much better work prior but the property itself became this juggernaut, I think making the art seem better than it actually was. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of good pieces in there, but not all of them. The unevenness bothers me, I guess. I can see a refinement growing throughout the years but it's not something I consciously observe on a regular basis. Growth doesn't adhere to any kind of schedule. You can go for long stretches stuck on a plateau and then suddenly you jump it. It just happens. You just have to hope those stretches don't last too long.
NRAMA: What can you tell readers about the DVD project you're working on?
JJ: In addition to the art book from Desperado I filmed an interview and instructional painting DVD for the Creator Chronicles series from EVAink and Woodcrest Productions. They had done previous entries in the series on George Perez and Bill Scienkiewicz, but without the art demo. In addition to a lengthy, comprehensive interview I had a film crew in my studio for a couple of weekends while I produced a finished cover quality painting from start to finish. It was nerve wracking at first, but once I got into the swing of things I completely forgot the cameras were there. It took about 40 hours overall that will get edited down to about 3 hours in the final cut. Luckily the piece came out well so I don't look like an idiot! I enjoyed the experience so much, actually that I'm planning a painting instruction and techniques book with Desperado this coming year.
NRAMA: Who are some of your contemporaries that you enjoy currently?Jusko's Vampirella JJ: I assume you're talking artists, right? The list long and varied, and probably not what you'd think by looking ay me stuff. For comic guys, I love Eduardo Risso and Dave Johnson's work on 100 Bullets, Sean Phillips on Criminal, Tim Sale, Adam Hughes (pure genius) anything by Arthur Adams, Mark Schultz (I adore his brushwork), Eric Powell's Goon, and so many more guys that I know I'm excluding do to brain freeze and will remember the second this is published.
As far as traditional comic painters I'd have to list Alex Ross, J.G. Jones, Simone Bianchi and.....geez! Are there any other guys not working digitally at the moment? I'm sure there are but names escape me. I tend to look outside the industry for painted work, to be honest. I do love seeing the resurgence of guys like Sanjulian and Enric in the private arena, who are doing work that surpasses their best commercial work. Again, I'm gonna forget and piss off a ton of guys.
NRAMA: You've always been very good at presenting "instructional" pieces that show your work process. Do you teach at all or have you considered it?
JJ: It's something I think about more and more these days. I had always planned on testing those waters later on in my career, but I may be headed down that road much sooner than I anticipated. Fact is, I don't get anywhere near as much work as I used to and it's getting harder and harder to make ends meet. The painting instruction book I mentioned writing earlier is going to serve a secondary purpose of presenting a course curriculum to different schools.
NRAMA: What can fans expect from the next 30 years of Joe Jusko?
JJ: I have no idea. I love painting, and will continue until the day I die. Whether or not it'll be in this industry is anybody's guess.Check back tomorrow, as we wrap up our conversation with Joe Jusko