1) Rusty, you’ve been a staple in the comic medium since 1978. You’ve had an illustrious career working as an artist for Marvel, DC, Image, Big Bang and MORE!! So I gotta ask, what have been the absolute BEST parts of your career and what kinds of things do you look forward to when going to conventions?
**Well, the best part is meeting my heroes. I was a huge collector and fan before I started working, so I loved Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Gray Morrow, Joe Sinnott, Rich Buckler… I got to meet and talk to each on a professional level and became good friends with Rich for years. I was devastated when Rich passed last year.
Conventions are my favorite part of the industry. I love seeing the fans and collectors live, chatting, hamming it up for pix, and doing sketches. I appreciate them a lot and try to give back a lot.
I keep my prices down, I give away free items like promo cards and handouts and even connect with them afterward online. I also bring a cosplayer in the costume of one of my characters to take free photos with.
2) Talk to us about working for The Big Three. Were there certain characters you loved to draw? And what’s the BEST advice can you give us about working for them?
**I have to say from the beginning that I worked from home in most cases, and never in the ‘bullpens’ or offices of any of these publishers. The industry got that way with the introduction of the internet and its relation to the TV and film industry.
I loved drawing Captain America for one of my first assignments – aside from my love of the golden age, there’s a certain ‘message’ to him. It gives you a proud feeling when you finish. I was lucky enough to work on production art for the first film as well.
I drew the Thing (my favorite Marvel character) for a few Upper Deck cards and a Marvel Report. And I provided a ton of production art for Spiderman 2 and 3.
3) What was the TOUGHEST thing you’ve had to face in your career as an artist and how did you overcome it?
**The toughest thing? Negativity. I love to make friends and contacts, work with friends, join projects, do charity – but there have been times where certain names in the industry have acted unprofessional – times where show promoters have become rude – and to me that unacceptable and a downer.
I get upset at these things more than I get angry, and I take them personally like anyone else would. There’s no magic trick to getting over these occurrences. I try to remain positive in the face of it.
In the past few years, an even tougher problem for me has been my health – I have a hard time walking around due to an injury with my back from when I was a pro-wrestler years ago. And now, it’s affecting my legs a bit. It’s hard to live with pain every day, but I love being a guest at shows and doing appearances. Thank God I have my family to help me.
4) You even got to work in the Art Department for on TV/movie posters for the likes of, oh I dunno…The Avengers, Captain America, Spider-man 2 and The Walking Dead!!! How did you get those gigs and what was it like working on them?
**I’ve been a part of the film industry since I was a child actor, and sort-of ‘fell’ into a job where I did sketching and art for the original Heavy Metal film back in 1981 which I got from my agent at the time, Mitzi MacGregor (God rest her soul). She was a hell of an agent and had me working in many different areas of film.
Since then, between the acting and the production art, it’s all agents and referrals… It’s been an honor to participate in these productions.
Doing production art is very different from doing storyboards. You work more closely on developing a character’s look and feel, and this can become a big help to the director, casting director, and wardrobe department.
For Spiderman 2, another artist and I did over 55 drawings that were rejected before we hit upon the right ‘mix’ and nailed the characterization.
Sometimes the art has a dual-purpose and is used further. I could wind up on merchandising, promotional materials, and press kits.
5) You also created first the sketch card in 1993 for Clubhouse Diamonds. This went on to become a worldwide phenomenon in the trading card business. How did that first come about and why do you think it took off so quickly?
**I was sitting in a Las Vegas hotel room with Brian ‘Buddy’ Fetter the owner of Gentleman’s Club Magazine and Tayne Onekea (Marketing manager for Clubhouse Diamonds) and we were trying to brainstorm a ‘new concept’ for the Clubhouse Diamonds Series 2 set.
Our printer at the time would send us our finished cards in long boxes, separated by a few blanks, and I would always grab them and doodle on them – where others would just toss them. It had to be 2 or 3 am, and I brought out some of these blanks to draw on – just to keep my mind active – when it hit me “Why not put some live art as inserts directly into the packs?”
Buddy loved the idea, and within days we were contracting with comic stars such as Rich Buckler, Bruce Patterson, and Gray Morrow for live artwork as well as some local tattoo artists.
The first cards were rushed – blank on both sides, and had a printed sticker on the back with the date.
God bless both Buddy and Tayne for having faith in my idea and rolling with it. Both have passed, and I’ve never forgotten them.
After that, everyone copied the idea – it wound up in many card sets, including the Simpsons set months after.
To answer the second part of the question, I think that fans love the idea of getting original art themed to the card sets that they’re collecting. This is a wonderful form of the hobby, it shows original and unique sides of the heroes and themes by artists from all over the genre. The only problem with sketch cards today is the rates of pay and the many restrictions placed on the artists. In some cases, artists get an average of $3-$5 for each full color card and short deadlines.
But, on the collector side, I’ve seen these same cards on eBay for $50-100 per – and in rare occurrences (depending on the artist, subject matter, etc.) up to $1,000 !
6) You went on to create your OWN characters like Mac and Trouble, The Super and The Symbol. Who are these characters? What makes them unique and how did you create them?
**Anyone that knows me, knows that I love golden age. So most of my creations have a certain ‘golden age feel’ to them.
Mac and Trouble emulate the comedy characters of the era… Heckle and Jeckle, Tom and Jerry, the Katzenjammer Kids… but with a modern twist of sci-fi. They are basically two housecats that fall through a wormhole in their litterbox and enter a nexus of realities. They have many adventures through time and space, meet superheroes and odd creatures, and get into a lot of trouble.
The Symbol is a classic WW2 patriotic character that (due to a failed gov’t experiment) winds up ‘hopping’ realities in a very unstable way… always looking for a way home, always on a mission.
I like to keep all of my characters in the same universe.
We actually have a novel coming out soon where Mac and Trouble meet up with Symbol in a strong action tale.
7) In today’s market, do you feel it’s better to self-promote/self-publish in the indie field or search for bigger, more mainstream publishers to accept and promote your book?
**The Internet has surely changed the comics industry in many ways, some good and some bad.
At one time, it was hard to break into the industry. There was a ‘barrier of professionalism’ – and many artists and writers had to perfect their craft to make it into the ‘major leagues’.
Today things are very different. And, unfortunately, the field is flooded with ‘self-editors’ that bring less-than-professional work to the market – overcrowding it with a glut of material.
The subject of ‘publishing’ has become a wider field than before. There are many platforms to publish on now, the argument of digital vs print, print-on-demand, taking a table at a convention, etc. All factors in determining if self-publishing is right for the creator.
My personal feeling is to self-publish, explore all forms of distribution, and be creative with your sales plans.
The biggest hurdle in the industry, and the biggest determining factor for any creator is distribution. Going with a large publisher vs self-publishing will depend on that solely… a large publisher may have stronger lines of distribution, but, there’s more profit and ability to control your property in self-publishing/distribution.
8) Let’s take it back ALL the way to your childhood: What was the FIRST comic you ever read and how did it inspire you to become the artist you are today?
**Like a lot of kids from my time, I read Archies and Disney-themed comics. Parents thought they were safe, and they were fun to grow up with.
My first superhero comic was a Tales of Suspense. It was a few years old at the time, but I loved it and read it over and over. Captain America and Iron Man on the cover… Lee, Kirby, Heck, Ayers, Tuska… amazing talents.
Marvel needs talent like this again – real ‘workers’ who knew real storytelling and not the schlock of today.
9) How would you describe your style and what makes it uniquely yours?
**I’m not sure that I’m unique LOL. I will say that I listened and learned from a lot of older pros, shop owners, and advertising professionals.
When I write, I like to think of the reader. I prefer self-contained stories filled with action and a slice of humor. This was very popular in the golden age.
As for art, I’m mostly an inker – I started penciling but found out that I wasn’t good at continuity – so I got into inking after Jack Kirby gave me some tips at a show in Los Angeles. I like to incorporate a few styles of texture into my work like stippling, creative shading, etc. Aside from pens and brushes, I often use some odd items to create effects like feathers, cotton balls, etc – I’ve even used a swatch of a screen from a screen door.
10) You’re also working with ME on an upcoming Mac and Trouble issue!! (I’m honored by the way). So I have to ask, what kinds of things do you look for in a good writer? How can you tell if it’s a fit collaboratively and if their writing style fits the idea/tone of the series’ YOU have created?
**I love entertaining different views of my characters, so I don’t put limitations or restrictions on writers. I’ve often worked with Arthur Gibson, a writer and dear friend that’s worked on Mac and Trouble many times… his ‘take’ on stories is very character driven.
Not every writer understands that Mac and Trouble aren’t just dropping anvils and throwing pies in each other’s faces. hey are more comedy/action along the lines of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Cerberus the Aardvark.
But I hate throwing away good things… so if a script needs tweaking, I try to work with the writer to produce something of quality. And, I love working with new artists/writers and giving them a chance to ear first-time credits.
It’s important to bring budding creators into the industry and that the with respect and show them the positive side of the industry – there’s too much negativity today.
11) How do you push writers to make them BETTER writers and to get the BEST work out of them? And also, how do you push yourself as an artist to turn out the BEST artwork and to keep your skill-sets sharp?
**Motivation is a hard thing, everyone draws inspiration from different places and it affects them in different ways. I feel that ‘freedom’ is the key. I never put restrictions on anyone… writers, artists, etc. I like to look at finished products and make positive and constructive suggestions. Like I said before, no negativity.
As for myself – I do the best that I can with my family and the fans in mind always with a positive attitude and respect for the industry. (oh, and a hot cup of tea helps!)
12) If you were Dr. Strange and you had ONE SPELL that can change something in the comic medium going forward, what would that change-spell be?
**To reset everything back to the silver and early bronze ages. I hate all the restarts, rebirths, crisis, new direction, retooling. I’m sorry, we don’t need ‘updated’ versions of these great characters to pander to new readers.
Comics are a medium all their own. Writers these days are writing comics like they’re movies and by hopping genres in this way, they’re leaving traditional fans in the dust and creating a new fan market that isn’t supporting the original medium.