Jusko's TarzanNewsarama concludes our 3-part interview with legendary comic industry painter Joe Jusko—discussing the span of his 30 year career; his opinions on art and the medium; and his upcoming art book which celebrates his career from Desperado Publishing.Part Two
Newsarama: Do you think a lot of artists can damage their work or their work rate by doubting their own abilities?
Joe Jusko: That's a fascinating question. I suffer from that particular issue. Always have. You would think it were not the case being that I've been working steadily since I was 17, but I've never been secure in my knowledge or abilities. It's an issue that goes way back to my childhood. My father was pretty much full of self-loathing and took it out on everyone around him. In my case, it was by telling me I sucked and would never make it. Any psychologist will tell you it was total projection on his part; but as a kid, hearing that it kind of worms it's way into your head and buries itself there. I've spent all of my career trying to prove him wrong, or thinking I had to. As a consequence, I've always felt each job could have been better than it was. In a roundabout way, it was a positive thing because instead of damaging my work it kept (and keeps) me improving. But on the negative side, it kept me from pursuing work in areas I was really interested in, like the film industry, because I doubted my abilities.
All artists have something called "fear of the blank canvas", a certain angst over starting a new piece. In my case, I always think that the new piece is the one that's going to fail completely and prove that everything I've done prior was just luck. It makes no sense, especially when you look at the amount of work included in the art book, but it's something I've fought my way through with every new piece. Shouldn't I be laying on a couch for this interview? (laughs)
NRAMA: Since you were so personally inclined towards painting—were there others who wanted to push you do sequential work earlier in your career?
JJ: Not at all. I came in as a painter when painters were needed. Editors were amenable to giving me sequential work if I wanted it, but I pretty much stuck with painting. I did ink a few jobs early on, like a John Buscema story in Bizarre Adventures and a Mike Vosburg story in Marvel Preview, but I was consumed with learning to paint.
NRAMA: What are some of your favorite pieces of your work from the earlier parts of your career?
JJ: I still really like the very first painting I ever did, which is also the very first cover I ever sold; Heavy Metal, June 1978. I think a couple of the early Hulk! magazine covers are pretty good, especially the one I painted over a John Buscema sketch (#26). Amazingly, many of the early Savage Sword cover still hold up, too, for the time they were done.
NRAMA: How did your early achievement as an artist affect your personal life?
JJ: Not at all, really. Most of my friends from that period were still the guys I grew up with who had no interest in comics. Additionally, I ended up leaving the industry after a few years to join the NYPD, but came back to it several years later when I realized it was what I really wanted to do. Come to think of it, I became a cop because I wasn't really earning a living in comics early on, so I guess my "under-achievements" impacted my life at that point more than anything.
NRAMA: Did you ever pass on any projects that you now look back and regret not doing?
JJ: Can't say that I have. Most of the higher profile jobs I've done were my idea except for the Marvel Masterpiece cards, which were really the career changing job for me. Kind of glad I didn't turn that one down!
NRAMA: How did recognition for your work change after the mid-90s? How did it affect your issues of self-doubt you mentioned earlier?
JJ: I guess I became a bit more "name recognizable" after all of the card work. I had been known to my editors for years, with some minor fan notoriety, I guess, but with my name suddenly "above the title" on all the cards I became known on a much larger scale. I'm a pretty low key guy for the most part and not comfortable with a lot of attention, which explains my utter lack of self-promotion over the years. (laughs)Jusko's Hulk vs. Wolverine The attention was nice, but I also realized that it was momentary and being freelance I started to worry about where the next job was gonna come from. I tend to always worry about where the next job is going to come from.
NRAMA: In your opinion, does an artist's style ever hit a point where it becomes "definitive" or does it change constantly over time? Is a style perfectible?
JJ: You know, I never gave thought to whether I had a discernible style or not. I know that I can recognize other artists' work at a glance, but was never sure people could do the same with mine. I learned to paint by cobbling together tips and techniques I've gleaned from various art books and artists' Step by Step features as well as a lot of instinctive trial and error.
People have told me they can tell my work by looking at it, so I guess it does have a visual fingerprint of sorts. I try to infuse other styles into my stuff but at this stage my own sensibilities always take over and it comes put looking like "me", I'm told. I guess unless you go in an entirely different direction your style stays your style, though it continues to evolve and refine itself. As long as you continue drawing or painting your style will alter somewhat.
NRAMA: Can you tell us about any of your current comic related projects?
JJ: Off the top of my head, I'll be doing a series of covers for Vampirella's 40th anniversary in 2009, a few more Tarzan prints for www.theforestprimeval.com and possibly a couple of B&W stories, including the Hellriders book.
NRAMA: Out of all the different types of painting out there, is there a form that you might feel you've neglected? Is there a Joe Jusko water-colored Punisher in a field of daisies in you somewhere?
JJ: I'm sorry I didn't pursue oils more avidly early in my career. I'm playing with them now for the first time in over 30 years. It's a total rewiring of my thought process. I'm not used to having so much time to play with the paint before it dries. Acrylics dry almost instantly, as you know, so I have to know exactly what I'm doing before applying the paint. I'm planning on doing a series of gallery style figurative nudes and want the juicy feel that only oils can deliver.
NRAMA: How difficult is it to paint sequential work? Is the process too laborious or is it something that you like doing if you're given the time to work?Tomb Raider JJ: If I've learned anything, it's that my technique is too laborious and time consuming to apply to sequential work with any kind of efficiency. While I consider the Tomb Raider; The Greatest Treasure of All book to be the best work I've ever done, schedule-wise, it was an exercise in futility for all involved. It just takes too long as I work now.
I'd have to abbreviate my style to make it viable and that's not something I'd be comfortable with. I'm better off sticking to covers if I'm going to paint. I'd like to do more panel work but I think I'm sticking with black and white.