Joe Jusko is undoubtedly one of the best known Fantasy, Pin-Up and Comic Artists in the world today. His career has spanned over 30 years, starting with the sale of his very first cover for Heavy Metal Magazine in 1977 at the age of 17. Since graduating that year from NYC’s High School of Art & Design, Joe has worked for almost every major comic book publisher, producing hundreds of images for both covers and interiors. His work has appeared on paperback book covers, calendars, posters, t-shirts, toy packaging and innumerable trading cards, most memorably the multi award winning 1992 Marvel Masterpieces Trading Cards. The popularity of that set has been credited with initiating the painted trading card boom of the 1990’s, and led to his groundbreaking 1995 Art of Edgar Rice Burroughs trading cards. Those 125 paintings have made him the most prolific Burroughs artist ever, producing art based on almost every major book by the famed author.
The son of a construction worker and a homemaker, Joe was born on September 1st, 1959 on the lower east side of New York City. Inspired at a very early age by watching his older brother Danny draw, and by a love of comic books which led to his discovery of the art of John Buscema, Joe knew even then what direction his life would take. He drew incessantly, using every spare moment to try to become as proficient as the artists he admired.
“All my friends were out playing baseball and football”, says Joe, “but I just couldn’t keep from drawing. I guess I made the right choice, because I don’t think I’d be playing for the Yankees right now!”
When it came time to choose a High School, his 8th grade teachers urged him to take the entry exam for Art & Design, the only vocational High School in the country with a curriculum geared toward a career in commercial art. Formerly known as the School of Industrial Arts, it boasts a long list of accomplished alumni, including Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, Josef Rubinstein, Mark Texiera, Jimmy Palmiotti and many, many diverse others, including singer Tony Bennett and actor Lawrence Hilton Jacobs, who played “Boom Boom Washington” on the ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’ TV show. Joe credits the teachers at Art & Design (all former highly experienced commercial artists, including EC Comics great Bernie Krigstein) with teaching him the necessary fundamentals that brought an early polish and modicum of professionalism to his work.
Graduating with the DC Comics Award of Excellence in Cartooning, Joe chose to forgo attending the colleges he was accepted to in order to explore the professional arena. It was a decision that in hindsight he has mixed feelings about, thinking that several more years of formal instruction would have saved him a lot of trial and error early in his career.
A chance meeting with artist Howard Chaykin in a New York City comic shop led to a five month apprenticeship, during which time Joe sold his first cover painting to the afore mentioned Heavy Metal Magazine, which was the preeminent fantasy magazine of the time.
“I would have given them the cover to print”, laughs Jusko, “but I gladly accepted the $250.00 they paid me!”
Several more jobs at Heavy Metal gave him the fortitude to contact Rick Marshall, who was the magazine editor at Marvel Comics.
” I don’t know what he saw in my work, but he gave me a Starlord cover to do that turned out to be one of the worst things they ever published! Quite honestly, I got lucky in that I broke in at a time when there weren’t a lot of guys doing painted work in comics. If I tried to break in today, with the same amount of >ahem< accomplishment I showed then, I wouldn’t get any work. The caliber of talent is so much higher today!”
Nonetheless, that cover started a run at Marvel that has lasted to this day, with Joe at one time or another painting every major character that Marvel has created, as well as a long running and well remembered stint as one of the main cover artists for The Savage Sword of Conan.
“I did segue for several years as a NYC Police Officer in the South Bronx. Work was not abundant enough to support myself with when I first started out, so when my friends all took the test, I decided to try my hand at my second favorite career. The diversity of it was exhilarating, with everything constantly changing from minute to minute. I’ve been shot at, slashed at, had both shoulders dislocated at different times, pulled people out of burning buildings and delivered three babies. I loved that job! Ultimately, though, art is my one true calling, and I’m doing what I know I’m supposed to be doing!”
In addition to his work at Marvel over the years, Joe has produced art for many other companies and characters, including DC Comics, Crusade Comics, Innovation Comics, Harris Comics, Wildstorm Comics, Top Cow Productions and Byron Preiss Visuals, to name just a few. He has produced storyboards for ad agencies and advertising campaigns for such notable clients as the World Wrestling Federation, where he designed the art for the 1991-1992 Royal Rumbles and Wrestlemania VII.
His recent work includes a fully painted graphic novel based on Lara Croft, the heroine from the Tomb Raider video game series, which recently won a Certificate of Merit from the prestigious Society of Illustrators, into which he was inducted in 2007. (“Without a doubt the most work I’ve ever put into anything!”), miscellaneous cover paintings for the revived Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, four new covers and a tribute poster for Vampirella’s 40th anniversary (“My personal favorite character to paint!”) and various covers and posters for many diverse publishers. He is currently receiving high acclaim due to his monthly covers depicting Edgar Rice Burroughs’ science fiction icons John Carter and Dejah Thoris for Dynamite Entertainment as well as those for BOOM! Studios’ new S&S series “Outcast”. His hardcover “Art of Joe Jusko” book was released by Desperado Publishing in May, 2009 to rave reviews (soon to see a 2nd printing from IDW) and he’s developing a graphic storytelling property with Steve Niles’ (author of “30 Days of Night”). Other upcoming work includes the cover for the 2012 Overstreet Price Guide and a Hulk/Abomination painting for a Marvel “Pop Up” book.
His work has earned him myriad awards and honors, including two “Favorite Painter” Wizard Fan Awards, multiple trading card awards, a Golden Lion Award from the Burroughs Bibliophiles (previous recipients include Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo) and a Chesley Award nomination for best cover in 2001.
Joe’s original paintings are held in collections worldwide, a fact that never ceases to amaze and humble him.
“When I consider where I come from, and how few people actually get to live their childhood dream in their adult life, I feel nothing if not fortunate and very, very blessed.”