Body Slams in Color: How Joe Jusko Painted WWE’s Golden Age

The early ’90s was a vibrant era in WWE dominated by one particular artist. Where larger-than-life characters like undead giants and muscle-bound barbarians ruled the ring, Joe Jusko captured the essence of wrestling in a special way many fans may not realize!

One of artist Joe Jusko's memorable works is the 1991 Royal Rumble poster, which features WWE legends Ultimate Warrior, Sgt. Slaughter, Mr. Perfect, Hulk Hogan, Road Warriors Animal and Hawk, Kerry Von Erich, Randy Savage, Earthquake, Tugboat, and Big Bossman.
One of artist Joe Jusko’s memorable works is the 1991 Royal Rumble poster, which features WWE legends Ultimate Warrior, Sgt. Slaughter, Mr. Perfect, Hulk Hogan, Road Warriors Animal and Hawk, Kerry Von Erich, Randy Savage, Earthquake, Tugboat, and Big Bossman. Photo Credit: William Tung, WWE.

Joe Jusko: His Journey in Becoming An Artist

Born in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1959, Joe Jusko grew up in New York and wasted no time honing his craft.

After graduating from the High School of Art and Design in 1977 with the DC Comics award of excellence, the young artist had his first artwork published at the tender age of seventeen, a cover for Heavy Metal magazine.

Jusko would spend the next thirteen years creating iconic imagery, producing epic fantasy artwork for characters like Conan The Barbarian.

Artist Joe Jusko's Marvel Masterpieces trading card series from the early '90s are among his finest works.
Artist Joe Jusko’s Marvel Masterpieces trading card series from the early ’90s are among his finest works. Photo Credit: Marvel.

His most famous work is arguably his pieces for the Marvel Masterpieces Trading Cards during the early ’90s, which is highly regarded as starting the painting trading card boom of that era.

However, a few years before that, Joe would get a call from the World Wrestling Federation.

Joining WWE

Joe Jusko's take on the Green Goblin was initially used for the Marvel Masterpieces Trading Card series.
Joe Jusko’s take on the Green Goblin was initially used for the Marvel Masterpieces Trading Card series. Photo Credit: Marvel Comics.

Joe Jusko’s name appeared on the then World Wrestling Federation’s radar thanks to another artist who enjoyed his work.

“Mary Wilshire was a comic book artist who drew the Red Sonja comic, among others, back in the ’80s,” Joe revealed to Buffalo Rising while he was a guest at the 2019 Nickle City Comic Con.

“She was doing a lot of line illustrations for WWF’s merchandising catalog. They needed someone to do color.”

He continued, “I’d never met Mary then, but they needed someone, and somehow, she dropped my name to the art director at the WWF, and they contacted me about doing the posters.”

Known for his super detailed and realistic artwork, Jusko has brought fantasy worlds to life through posters, trading cards, and cover art for books and comics.

He has a unique talent for drawing barbarians, wizards, superheroes, and other larger-than-life muscle-bound figures of pop culture and folklore.

Thus, Joe Jusko became a perfect fit for WWE’s larger-than-life characters.

Story Behind WWE’s Memorable 1991 Royal Rumble Artwork

WWE 1991 Royal Rumble 1991 artwork by Joe Jusko.
WWF 1991 Royal Rumble 1991 artwork by Joe Jusko. Photo Credit: WWE.

The 1991 Royal Rumble was the fourth edition of the annual fan-favorite January event.

Before the Rumble match, notable moments include Virgil finally turning into a fan-favorite face and walloping Ted DiBiase with the million-dollar belt after their tag match with Dustin Rhodes and Dusty Rhodes.

Sgt. Slaughter also won the WWF World Championship from Ultimate Warrior.

Hulk Hogan was the last man standing for the second year in the titular battle royal, setting the stage for that year’s WrestleMania.

The Rumble ’91 was one of Jusko’s first jobs for the WWF and one of his most famous.

However, even at this stage, the artist found some slight annoyance working with Vince McMahon’s notes, as he explained on the gallery site comicartfans.com:

“This was a really fun job, except for the countless changes that Vince kept asking for; ‘Move Earthquake’s hand 1/4 inch; the Ultimate Warrior’s hair isn’t poofy enough.’ Overall, I really like this piece.”

The Art Of WrestleMania VII

Hulk Hogan carries the stars and stripes in this promo artwork for WrestleMania VII.
Hulk Hogan carries the stars and stripes in this promo artwork for WrestleMania VII. Photo Credit: WWE.

WrestleMania 7 had a few historical wrestling moments worth noting:

Randy Savage’s emotional face turn and reunion with Miss Elizabeth were quite moving.

Undertaker’s first victory in “The Streak” began with his besting of Jimmy Snuka.

Hulk Hogan also vanquished WWF Champion and Iraqi sympathizer Sgt. Slaughter for the title.

Such a patriotic main event required a poster to capture that vibe, and wrestling artist Joe Jusko did not disappoint.

This one holds many happy memories for Joe, as he revealed to Comic Book Fans.

“The Hulkster! This was used on the sides of buses in New York, and the head was on a 40-foot billboard in Los Angeles and on cable bill inserts. When I visited the WWF offices, I saw that Vince had this and the 1991 poster originals hanging in his office! Too cool!”

Story Behind the Box Art of WWF Superstar Shootout

WWE superstars Earthquake, Ultimate Warrior, Sgt. Slaughter, Big Bossman, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Rick Martel, Mr. Perfect, Ted DiBiase, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Tugboat, and Jake "The Snake" Roberts face each other on the ice for WWF Superstar Shootout. Artwork by Joe Jusko.
WWE superstars Earthquake, Ultimate Warrior, Sgt. Slaughter, Big Bossman, Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Rick Martel, Mr. Perfect, Ted DiBiase, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Tugboat, and Jake “The Snake” Roberts face each other on the ice for WWF Superstar Shootout. Artwork by Joe Jusko. Photo Credit: WWE/Remco.Photo Credit: WWE/Remco.

The World Wrestling Federation was still cruising through the Hulkamania era and enjoying great success, but merchandise sales were also through the roof.

One classic toy set was the WWF Superstar Shootout table hockey game.

It featured a small hockey table with babyface and heel teams of figures, allowing two players to battle each other with their favorite professional wrestlers.

In creating the box art, Joe Jusko once again had to work with production notes, no matter how restrictive they were.

“This is the cover art for the Remco table hockey game from 1992. The hardest thing about producing ad art is following some really lame layouts and comps that are handed to you. You have to follow them EXACTLY, whether the design or perspective works or not,” admitted Jusko to Comic Book Fans.

Superstar Shootout: The Heroes

The fan-favorite babyface team displayed on the side panels for the WWF Superstar Shootout. Artwork by Joe Jusko.
The fan-favorite babyface team displayed on the side panels for the WWF Superstar Shootout. Artwork by Joe Jusko. Photo Credit: WWE/Remco.

As well as creating the cover art for WWF Superstar Shootout, Joe Jusko made side panels for the two opposing teams.

This hero side featured “Tugboat” Fred Ottman, Big Boss Man, Ultimate Warrior, Hulk Hogan, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, and Hacksaw Jim Duggan.

Superstar Shootout: The Villains

The heel team depicted for WWF Superstar Shootout. Artwork by Joe Jusko.
The heel team depicted for WWF Superstar Shootout. Artwork by Joe Jusko. Photo Credit: WWE/Remco.

What good are goodies without baddies to battle?

On the opposing side of the babyfaces in WWF Superstar Shootout, we had the villains: Rick “The Model” Martel, Mr. Perfect, Sgt. Slaughter, Earthquake, Randy Savage, and Ted DiBiase.

WWE Royal Rumble 1992 Artwork

The instantly recognizable artwork created by Joe Jusko for the 1992 Royal Rumble.
The instantly recognizable artwork created by Joe Jusko for the 1992 Royal Rumble. Photo Credit: WWE.

The 1992 Royal Rumble will probably be best remembered for Ric Flair winning the 30-man main event and capturing the WWF World Heavyweight Championship.

With its spectacular, star-studded line-up, many consider this Rumble one of the greatest of all time.

Sadly, this would be one of the last pieces Joe Jusko would create for WWE, as fatigue with their work style would finally set in.

“This was the second Rumble poster I did. It’s not as good as the first one since I was so bored by the fact that they basically wanted the SAME poster as last year, with only some character and minor background changes made. [It felt like pulling teeth.]”

How Joe Jusko Helped Create The Undertaker

The Undertaker in his original ring gear.
The Undertaker in his original ring gear. Photo Credit: WWE.

An interesting side note from Joe Jusko’s time in the WWE (then-WWF) took place after he joined the company in 1990. It was around the time The Undertaker was set to make his debut.

In the lead-up to that year’s Survivor Series, Joe was asked by the powers that be if he could help with any concept designs.

Jusko was more than happy to oblige, and some of his ideas would be unexpectedly implemented into the final design of The Undertaker.

A Western Style for The Undertaker

The "old western" Undertaker warns his foes from the funeral parlor.
The “old western” Undertaker warns his foes from the funeral parlor. Photo Credit: WWE.

“The art director at the time, Bill Thrash, said they were conceiving a new wrestler called The Undertaker and that they wanted my concept of what The Undertaker would look like,” Jusko revealed to Geek Hard at the Toronto ComiCON in 2013.

“So I did a few concept designs for it. Basically, it was a little more of a western-type Undertaker thing, where he had a stovepipe hat, a long coat, and cut-off sleeves.

“I sent off the design, and they ended up using an Amish hat and a zombie-type guy. They made him a little more unearthly than I had designed him, but he had the long coat and things like that, so I did the initial design for The Undertaker.”

Rowdy Roddy Piper’s Secret Life as a Monster Killer, Courtesy of Joe Jusko

Rody Piper faces an ogre on the cover of his very own comic. Artwork by Joe Jusko.
Rody Piper faces an ogre on the cover of his very own comic. Artwork by Joe Jusko. Photo Credit: Grindhouse Comics.

After 21 years away from the WWE, Joe Jusko returned to the world of professional wrestling with a very special comic cover.

Rowdy Roddy Piper: The Monster Killer was released by Grind House Comics in 2015, written by Ian Edington, with interior artwork by Cliff Richard.

Joe Jusko was asked to create a spectacular cover for such an epic premise.

So, what was the premise exactly? The official synopsis read as such.

Rowdy Roddy Piper is a man of many talents – wrestler, storyteller, monster killer. Get the real scoop about Rod’s life, his mission, and the way he’s been secretly saving humanity for the past 30 years.

“Wrestling gave him the cover, but Rod’s real job isn’t something he chose – it was handed down to him by his ancestors, and now it’s time for Rod to pass it along to his son, Colt, who thinks Rod abandoned him, and who wants nothing to do with him.

“With a cover by renowned artist Joe Jusko, incredible interior art, and a story you can’t put down, this graphic novel is sure to be a collector’s item for generations.”

Piper Approved

Roddy Piper proudly displays his comic of monster-killing adventures entitled "Rowdy Roddy Piper Monster Killer," featuring artwork by Joe Jusko.
Roddy Piper proudly displays his comic of monster-killing adventures entitled “Rowdy Roddy Piper Monster Killer,” featuring artwork by Joe Jusko. Photo Credit: Roddy Piper.

Sadly, Roddy Piper died in July 2015, the same year the graphic novel was released.

Although the physical copy wasn’t published until October of that year, the digital edition came out in March, so at least Piper saw his fans’ warm reaction to this fantastic piece of fiction.

Reason Behind Joe Jusko’s WWE Run Coming to an End

A collage of Joe Jusko's artwork featuring iconic characters like Spiderman, Wolverine, Batman, and Catwoman.
A collage of Joe Jusko’s artwork featuring iconic characters like Spiderman, Wolverine, Batman, and Catwoman. Photo Credit: Marvel / DC.

Joe Jusko’s run ended with the then WWF in 1992, the same year his Marvel Masterpieces trading cards were released, propelling him into comic book superstardom.

He continues producing artwork today, capturing imagery of the world’s most famous superheroes, the fantasy worlds of legends such as Conan and Tarzan, and horror icons like Freddy Kruger and Lady Death.

After Jusko, WWF employed another fantasy artist, Tom Flemming, who designed some of the most iconic professional wrestling imagery in the ’90s and beyond.

But that’s another pro wrestling story for another day.

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Tim Buckler, a senior writer here at Pro Wrestling Stories, has been an author for over a decade, penning articles for sites such as WhatCulture, Screen Rant, Inside The Ropes, and many more, but his heart will always belong to Pro Wrestling Stories. He also presents a pop culture radio show entitled "The Little Telly Upstairs," which airs every Thursday 8-10 pm on Radio Woking, featuring news, views, and music from film, television, comic books, video games and, of course, Pro Wrestling. Follow him @blockbusterman on Twitter for more of his ramblings!