Known for his work on “The Walking Dead,” “Punisher,” “Fear Agent” and an upcoming run on “Deadpool” for Marvel NOW!, horror and science fiction illustrator Tony Moore discussed “creating modern horrors” on Friday afternoon at Fan Expo in Toronto.
Unfortunately, the event organizers did not have the appropriate equipment for Moore to show the enthusiastic, eager crowd his illustration process. So as not to disappoint his fans, Moore engaged the audience in a question-and-answer session, a partial transcript of which is below.
What was your most satisfying project?
The most satisfying thing I ever worked on was “Fear Agent,” because it was a really organic creation process. It was me and my friend, Rick Remender. We had an idea. We came up with it. We build it all from the ground up … and we worked on it for seven years. It was a pure creation. There was no one there to tell us, “You can’t do this, you can’t do that.” So as artistic satisfaction goes, it’s the most fun you can have in comics when you are creating something brand new.
When you are faced with a project involving a well-known character like Deadpool, how do you approach it?
I try to find a way to get excited about it. What I usually do is look at the character, and I try to get to the (character’s) core or what’s cool. I strip the character to the bare elements and then re-build from there.
When you are working with Marvel, do you find it sometime difficult (for them) to work with your process, like how you want to move the character and how they see the character as well?
Well, when you do work-for-hire with any company, you don’t get the final say. Everything has to go through your editor, and then usually it has to go through your editor’s boss and then ultimately–you know, there’s a big food chain an idea has to go through to get passed.
All lot of time, especially in the past, it was hard to get approval for outlandish ideas. However, it seems like in recent years, I think, especially when Axel (Alonso) came over to Marvel from Vertigo, (the industry) got more welcoming to bigger, crazier ideas. But at the end of the day, these are corporate comics. These are lunch box businesses. They need to preserve the license to put on Underoos, and they are beholden to shareholders.
With that said, looking at the stuff I’ve been able to do for the last few years, like “Punisher,” I’m amazed at what we were able to get away with.
Say you are working on a cover–what sort of stuff ends up on the floor verse the final product? Is there a lot of trial and error?
Cover-wise, I try to shoot for less superhero action pose kind of covers. I obviously got a handful of them under my belt, but I try to go with setting up a scenario, and you imply that something has happened and something is about to happen. You want to set the stage with the illustration. A cover, to me, is creating some unanswered questions for the viewer.
It depends upon how much information I have for the cover I’m doing. That, in itself, usually determines the cover’s level of difficulty. Usually, I make a quick impression, and it depends upon how much coffee I have, if my brain is well lubricated or not. Most of the time, within the first couple hours, I’ve kind of figured out the idea of what I want to do, but also because of the editorial structure I have to come up with a handful of ideas. In that case, I’ll put a bit more time into the thumbnail, or do it up nice and big and put a bit more detail, more rendering, and then just throw in a few others that I really don’t like and hope the editor picks the right one. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t.
How do you keep it fresh after doing so many then? How do you keep reinventing yourself so you’re not doing the same thing?
For me, it’s a matter of trying to find a way to get excited about something. Try to find my take on it. I try to find my way to connect with the character. I try to get to the core of the character and what made them cool when they were created. I have to draw Doctor Strange pretty soon. So what I did was read some of the old [Steve] Ditko stuff and try to get back to that–what was it that sparked those guys when those guys created those characters?
I try to strip the characters down to that, their bare elements, and try to build from there.
When you are creating horror images, what do you pay attention to?
I think about what gets under people’s skin. Slasher horror, in my opinion, is easy to forget. I like the sort of stuff that, as you are brushing your teeth in the morning, you think about and you get freaked out.
I find that it’s best to ground things in reality and then drop down the rabbit hole.
What do you use for source material?
I grew up on a farm. So it wasn’t uncommon to see stuff as a kid like your family pet smeared on the side of the road. I’m also a big science nerd. I was considering going to college for Forensics when I was in high school. So I built up a fair number of references. I have this one file on my computer where I have pictures of dissections, war mutilations and dismemberment, and county coroner stuff.
Cheap scare stuff, like with the crescendo music and someone jumping out at you from the dark, is pretty hard to do on paper. You need to disturb without resorting to that cheap scare stuff. The best stuff works on a deeper level. The sort of stuff that stays in your head and freaks you out.
Do you find inspiration in the EC (Comics) stuff?
I love EC Comics. I love that style. “Fear Agent” was a love letter to those comics. I love the “Tales of the Crypt” stuff with Jack Davis, Wally Wood and Harvey Kurtzman.
Any advice you can give a creator?
Be cognizant of what people like, but don’t let that dominate developing your ideas. “Walking Dead”, I wouldn’t say, was viable at the time. The only thing that existed at the time that was similar was “30 Days of Night.” Sci-fi in comics looks dead, but that shouldn’t stop you if you have a good story to tell.
If anything, make sure your work is grounded in reality before heading down the rabbit hole. You must have a relatable aspect for the reader. You need to give the reader a sense of how off track things are when they get off track.
Unfortunately, you can’t show us your process, but can you give us an explanation?
I start with 2″ x 3″ layout and make a few thumbnails. I focus on the main elements of the illustration and try not get bogged down into too much detail. Then when I have something I like, I blow it up in Photoshop. I then lay on the perspective grid digitally because doing it by hand can be a bitch. Pretty well from there all my thinking work is done. It’s just a matter of executing the piece.
I have a scanner and printer that can handle 11″ X 17″. So I print it out and then work back and forth from pencil to digital, and then a final printout for inking.
I usually take about a day and, if I have to color, it’ll take four days. My rate doing panels is about a page a day.
How do you figure out layout?
I don’t work with a grid, if that’s what you mean. You know, that nine by nine panel stuff. I let the story or idea determine the size of the panel. It’s an intuitive process for me. I rarely, if ever, use a grid.
What I do, and it’s hard to explain, is that I play a movie in my head and pick out the right shots. The idea is better if I had a way for showing you what’s in my head. On second thought, you might not want to see that.
Unfortunately, there was not enough time to answer everyone’s questions, as the hour quickly flew by. However, Moore did take a few minutes out of his busy schedule to answer any remaining questions outside of the panel’s doors. Here is what he had to say.
What advice would you give aspiring artists?
If there is anything else you can do besides draw comics, I strongly suggest you do it. I can’t see myself doing anything else, and that is by far the best advice I can give someone who wants to make this a career.
Do you have any parting words?
Yeah, don’t let anyone get you down. Guys, who love it (comics), keep at it. Just do it. Anytime I’ve run into a person who says, “I’ve been working on this idea for X amount of years,” just isn’t serious in my book.