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Volume 7148

Joe Jusko Discusses the Completion
of all 24 Tarzan Book Covers
Ref: Scoop Fan Newsletter ~ Feb. 20, 2024

Joe Jusko has spent a career producing realistic, expertly detailed art for book covers, comics, trading cards, and plenty more. Recently, he completed the cover art for Tarzan and the Castaways for The Edgar Rice Burroughs Authorized Library, becoming the first artist to ever paint the covers for all 24 books in the series. After finishing this milestone, Jusko spoke to Scoop about being a fan of Tarzan, the journey of working on the covers, his reaction to finishing the series, and whatís next.

Scoop: Before all of this, what made you a Tarzan fan?
Joe Jusko (JJ): My father loved the movies and he and I used to watch them together whenever they were on TV. As a comic book collector, I regularly bought the [Joe] Kubert issues published by DC and then the John Buscema series published by Marvel. That was around the same time that I began to read the novels with the Neal Adams and Boris Vallejo covers on them. I was a junior at The High School of Art & Design when they were released and those covers blew me away. That the books were so different from the old movies was a revelation to me and the cover art made me wonder how one got to a point in their career where they would be considered for such a prestigious assignment. Those covers were also the impetus for me to learn to paint rather than draw comics.

Scoop: Are the things that first drew you to Tarzan still there for you or is it different now?
JJ: Having wanted to work in comics since I was eight years old, the art was always the major draw for me. Iíve also had affinity for African wildlife, particularly big cats, from a very early age. That in itself made me enamored of those books, but the desire to interpret the incredibly diverse storylines and subject matter is what has stuck with me. How can one not be captivated by tales of lost cites and civilizations, dinosaurs, humanoid primates, knights, gladiators and of the many other things undreamt if you only knew the films?

Scoop: For folks who have known you for a while, the assignment to complete all of the Tarzan covers seemed like a natural fit. What did you think when you got it?
JJ: Iíve had an affiliation with the properties of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. ever since I painted over 120 trading cards based on books back in the mid-1990s. Some years later I had brought up the idea of painting all new covers for some of the different series as they hadnít been updated in many years. It took a while for everything to fall in line, but when it did, ERB, Inc. was kind enough to remember my interest. By this point the project had grown to include every book Burroughs had written, in excess of 80, for what was now The Edgar Rice Burroughs Authorized Library. To say I was ecstatic would be the greatest of understatements and I could not be more grateful.

Scoop: Did your view change once the project was underway?
JJ: It became more than just a cover assignment for me. Once I began, I felt a responsibility to the author (with whom I share September 1 as our birthday, believe it or not) to be as faithful to his works as humanly possible. I put more effort into being as visually accurate to the source material than with anything else Iíd ever worked on.

Scoop: Youíve painted a tremendous number of A-list characters in your career. Aside from the incredible feat of completing these works for all of the Tarzan books, what makes this special to you personally?
JJ: It hadnít been made clear to me until I was on the last cover that I would become the first artist to ever paint covers for all 24 books! I think like a baseball no-hitter, no one wanted to jinx it! While Iím totally familiar with all the amazing artists who have contributed to the history of the character, I couldnít think of one who had done it, but I was sure there had to be someone over the past 111 years. To not only fulfill a career long dream to paint these covers, but become the first artist to complete the series is the most special feeling of accomplishment.

Scoop: Were any of the covers more challenging for you or were they all about the same level of difficulty?
JJ: Definitely, the first one! I got inside my own head a little bit and felt the pressure of following legends like [J. Allen] St. John, [Robert] Abbett, [Frank] Frazetta, [Neal] Adams, and [Boris] Vallejo. I was incredibly tentative at the start, but once I found my groove they all seemed to flow. The concepts came quickly, the paintings not so much, especially ones where a ton of research and detail were required.

Scoop: Do you have a personal favorite among them?
JJ: Taking concept and execution into consideration, Iíd probably pick Tarzan and the Lion Man. Itís really two separate stories that combine to make one cohesive image. It was an ambitious design that I feel worked out as planned.

Scoop: Whatís next?
JJ: No rest for the weary. Itís on to the 11 John Carter books, followed by Pellucidar, Venus, Caspak, etc. until theyíre all done. The Tarzan series was the longest by far, so Iím looking forward to switching gears often and continuing to enjoy the ride!

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