Digital artist combines pop culture savvy, comic art skill and music fandom for business
By Tim Anderl
When self-taught digital comic artist Jay King fell in love with food blogger Brandy Voiles (now Brandy King), their whirlwind courtship landed King in the land of square-shaped pizza – Dayton. Operating under the moniker Rusty Shackles, King has since turned a life-long interest in comic art into a Dayton-based freelance business delivering eye-popping and humorous renderings for a variety of clients including America Online’s ComicsAlliance website, 1UP online video game website, Antarctic and Oni Press, and nerdcore rapper Adam WarRock among others. A busy 2011 saw King exhibiting his work at the Gem City and Derby City comic conventions, as well as free comic book day at Superfly Comics in Yellow Springs, and he’s hoping 2012 will put him a step closer to making digital art his full-time day job. Recently, King was kind enough to take a breather from his pen and tablet to discuss his roots and influences, projects, and future plans with Dayton City Paper.
Where did the Rusty Shackles’ moniker come from?
A few years back I was under contract to a company online, but had to do other work incognito because of their contract terms. For whatever reason, I was making a character in a boxing video game and went to name him Rusty Shackleford after Dale Gribble from King of the Hill’s alias, but could only put in eight characters for the last name. It stuck. [Jay King]
What brought you to Dayton?
While briefly living in Lawrenceburg, Ind. after seven years in Panama City Beach, Fla., I lucked into a fabulous relationship with a Dayton gal, moved over with the quickness and put a ring on it. I’ve now had square pizza from all the major places so I feel right at home. [JK]
When did your affinity for comic art develop?
At a pretty young age. I distinctly remember most of my early comics being the Marvel Tales reprints of the first issues of “The Amazing Spider-Man” from the ‘60s. So my introduction to the art from was via the work of Steve Ditko and I couldn’t have possibly asked for a better place to start. The ‘60s and ‘70s artists just brought so much craftsmanship and skill to those books, which is why their takes on the characters are still the iconic ones. José Luis García-López’s versions of the DC characters are still the most recognizable utilized versions of the characters in other mediums. [JK]
Have you had any artistic mentors?
When I was about 13 or so I was to be tutored (along with CreatureBox’s Dave Guertin) by former Marvel and Eclipse inker Bruce Miller. Bruce showed me how to appreciate Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko — both of whom are on the Mt. Rushmore of comics for a reason. You have with Kirby, the consummate storyteller and creator of worlds, and with Steranko you have this uncanny pop-art approach that brings unrelenting style into the art form. I think I learned to break down what does and does not work from him more than anything, and learned how to handle myself around other artists. [JK]
When did you begin freelancing as an artist?
I had my first comic published in 1994 — Antarctic Press’ “Absolute Zero #3,” and did about five other short stories before moving on. I had a lot of false starts, which discouraged me for a spell, but during that time I focused on delving in to Adobe Photoshop and truly learning every in, out and macro humanly possible. I also learned the illustration program Manga Studio Debut 4.0 so I could fully function as a digital artist. I’m way too shaky to ink my own work. [JK]
What was your most recently published comic?
The most recent credit I have was Oni’s “Resurrection #8,” which was a blast to do. I think the best part for me was being acknowledged by the editor for being overly responsible for my time and giving them nearly daily updates. Apparently artists can be very, very flaky. That opportunity came about due to a book we had done, “The Hard Ones,” which was released for free in its entirety on www.actionagecomics.com last month. [JK]
Who has been your best customer to work for?
Adam Warrock has been fantastic to work with. I’ve done a large number of projects with him, from his site’s banner, the packaging for his first album The War For Infinity, show posters, T-shirts, just about everything. Through working with him I’ve gotten to work with the Thought Criminals, Beefy, DJ Empirical, JFX316 and other musicians, so Adam has definitely been a gateway into a whole music scene.[JK]
So you’ve been really active as a gig poster artist as of late. How does comic art complement other mediums like music?
Comic artists tend to be more versatile. We’re used to adapting and learning how to draw things we don’t know how to draw fairly rapidly. A writer can give you something halfway through a script you have never laid eyes on but you can’t just avoid it, you have to manage to portray it accurately or risk stopping the flow of the story. I think musicians respect that, like they know you won’t say no because you’re intimidated or it’s not your specialty. Honestly nowadays I think my joke about being “a comic artist that works in everything but comics” is more and more accurate the more work I get with musicians. I think there’s a degree of humbleness that being from comics brings, which people seem to appreciate. [JK]
Didn’t one of the dudes from Wu-Tang retweet a piece you did for AOL’s ComicsAlliance website?
I think so.I want to say it was Ghostface Killah? I had done one featuring Ted Nugent (Nugent Vs. Aliens Vs. Predator), and Ted’s business manager sent a compliment via a mutual friend. More recently, a feature I had done for 1UP was reposted by Felicia Day who has something like a million followers online. So that was pretty sweet. [JK]
What are your loftiest artistic goals?
Right now the main goal would to be doing this full-time, but I’d love to be synonymous with a music genre. I’m doing my best to be the “Coop of Nerdcore” right now. I also host a videogame-themed art blog — palette-swap.blogspot.com and would love to do the retail cover for a 2D fighting game. [JK]
To see more work by “Rusty Shackles” visit his website at www.tabletopfetus.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Anderl at TimAnderl@DaytonCityPaper.com.