Justin Jordan has become oneof the most versatile writers on the independent scene, and Tradd Moore has become an in-demand artist for DC, Marvel and elsewhere - but it all started for them with 2010's Strange Talent of Luther Strode #1. And now, it's over.
The final volume of the Luther trilogy, The Legacy of Luther Strode was released this week by Image Comics and it gave Luther his well-deserved happy ending. Newsarama spent some time with Jordan and Moore and talked to them about Luther’s legacy as well as how if his legacy will define theirs.
Newsarama: Justin, Tradd, Luther Strode just ended!
Tradd Moore: Whoa!
Nrama: It all started about six years ago and I know you guys have worked on it for a little longer, how does it feel now that it’s over?
Justin Jordan: Uh, weird? Yeah, I don’t know, it’s strange. It is weird. That’s probably the word. It’s been since 2009 I’ve been in regular contact with Tradd and especially over the last five years you know, talking on and off about Strode, kicking around ideas continuously for five, six years now. There was an interval in there of nothing, but once we got it cranking and it was accepted by Image in 2010, it’s been a constant thing.
So it’s weird to not have that and not be thinking about that. It’s the nature of comics though that even with the last issue just coming out, we’ve been done with it for a bit and so my emotional parts were done then. I’m proofing the trade this week and I’ve been emailing Tradd and Felipe and I didn’t think anybody else thought Petra was a f-cking riot. Because reading her stuff throughout the book makes me laugh, but it takes some distance to get that effect.
Nrama: Tradd, how do you feel? This was your foot in the door and now you’re both at the party.
Moore: Yeah, I feel like finishing this makes me feel like I’m a professional. In having this done and people asking what work have I done in comics, I finally feel like I have something complete and I can show someone. Because yeah, when people would pick up Strange Talent of Luther Strode, they would assume I would have more work to show and I would be like, no, I’m fresh out the box. This is all I got right here. Now that I’ve got three volumes of Luther Strode and All-New Ghost Rider I feel like I no longer have a foot in the door and I’m officially in the house. You know what I mean? It feels good. It feels like a graduation of sorts.
Nrama: Okay so talk to us about the finale. Did you feel like it was the ending you wanted from when you originally conceived it?
Jordan: Yeah, I think so! I’m pretty pleased with it across the board. It’s not that the Luther Strode books are perfect, but I can look at each volume and say that was the best way to tell that version of the story that I was capable of telling. Honestly, in the case of Strange Talent, I don’t think there is anything better that I could do now and that’s not the case with the rest of my career. There’s some stuff I can look back at and having a lot more experience now I can do that story better, but the Luther Strode volume one came out as good as we could tell it. When we got to the finale, we did everything that we wanted to be in there. It’s hard in the sense that though, especially as a writer, that when you create interesting characters you definitely want to spend more time with them.
I could have spent more time writing the Shooter, and I could go all Star Wars Expanded Universe with it but in the terms of the narrative that we were going for, I’m at least happy with it. The hardest part of that for me was actually kind of verbalizing, through the characters, the whole point of the thing. I think that we nailed that pretty well. And I do mean “we." There’s chunks of dialog that are courtesy of Tradd.
Nrama: Tradd, how did you feel about going from Strange Talent to Legacy? Is this how you wanted it to play out?
Moore: Yeah, I think Legacy is I guess is the most like something that I would do outside of the context of working with anyone else. It’s obviously very collaborative, but when I look at the Legacy, it being almost like a martial arts book, telling the story through and during the fight scenes and never stop moving, that’s what I wanted to give Luther Strode. Having a complete arc for Luther the character that you can follow the same way as Luke Skywalker. You don’t get that much time with Luke Skywalker but you still feel by the end of it that you watched this guy grow up. That’s what I wanted with Luther Strode. I like that each volume has a different feel to it and I feel like that I got to draw some cool characters and cool fight scenes.
Nrama: Now going back to the collaborative efforts by the both of you, how collaborative was it? Starting with Strange Talent to now, how did it evolve and expand?
Jordan: It’s gotten more collaborative as time has went on, but that’s also due in part of me, Tradd, and Felipe knowing each other. We think very similarly in storytelling, especially with this story, so that worked out. With Strange Talent, we hadn’t known each other when we started it so it all started with a blind email so that script is the one that is mostly purely me. Even then, as a writer, I am not a dictating person and I always tell artists that certain beats need to happen in a certain way and if you don’t agree, let me know and we can talk about that. If you want to add panels, subtract panels, if you want to change things around, I don’t mind because I want things to be collaborative and in my experience that’s always worked better than me.
Artists have a better grasp on how things should look on pages and have a better flow, so as we went on that became more so and by the time Legacy came around that is purely a co-written endeavor. As it happens, Tradd is a solid writer and if you read the Twins’ back-up, that’s all Tradd writing. It’s interesting as it’s written as well as I could have written it but also written differently as I would have and I don’t mean that in a negative way. If Tradd had worked with a different writer, it would have been a different story and if I had worked with a different artist it would have been just as different from what we got. So what made it to the page was all of us.
Moore: For sure, and building on what Justin said, as the story progressed it became more and more about the action and movement for the characters, not literally of course, but The Legacy of Luther Strode never stops moving. Each issue is this moving, choreographed fight scene, dance conversation. So when Justin would send me the initial scripts, I would thumbnail out and then we we would rewrite from there, if need be, and move dialog around and it was very collaborative unlike how it was with Strange Talent where it was like here’s a finished script, you do your job and I’ll do mine. With Felipe as well, as we’ve worked more and more together I know when to leave panels more open. So yeah, with all three of us, we leaned on each other to get the best out of the final product.
Nrama: And the final product is doing pretty well and getting well received. Going back to Strange Talent, were you taken aback at all with the reviews and positive response it was getting with this being your first big project? Did you have any expectations at first?
Jordan: Oh, I had no expectations to speak of. I very much told Tradd and Felipe that we wouldn’t make much money and, at best, that we would have a trade we could show off that we could make a comic book, which was literally all I was hoping for. So in that regard, it exceeded all my wildest expectations for it. You know that the first book came out five years ago and it still sells and people still talk about it, which is remarkable to me, it has this longevity that I never anticipated about it and I’m very happy. It’s a bit surprising and one of those things that have hit a chord with people and how it’s looked at as something unique unto itself, even though it very much is a fight comic, there’s not a lot out there that people think it’s like.
It’s also interesting now to see people who are influenced by Tradd’s art work. It happened this weekend and had a guy who wanted me to look at his artwork and as it turned out was pretty good. It always sucks when people come up and they’re not and I have to struggle to find nice things to say and not be hurdled and not be all “you’re never going to make it, your hopes and dreams should die”. That’s always terrible. Anyways looking at this guy’s and it was very much looking like Tradd’s style and panels in it. The generational lifetime of comic book artist influence seems to be about five years because this kid was five years younger than Tradd and if you go five years ahead of Tradd, you can see guys like Sean Murphy influencing people. It’s just interesting to see how the book and Tradd had an influence on people.
Moore: Yeah, for sure. I didn’t know what to expect. As Justin mentioned I put together the pitch when I was in college and I’ve put together some other pitches, but at that point I didn’t think pitches were the way to go, honestly. I thought I was doing these things to learn how to draw and none of them were actually going anywhere even though I thought a lot of them were pretty cool. I graduated and whatever it was five, six months after that Justin sent in the pitch after we got it colored and he contacted me and said, "Well, it got picked up." I didn’t know what to expect because I thought I would have to trudge through the murk for years and years before somebody at Marvel and DC noticed me. From there, I wanted to treat every issue as a case for me to get better and better at drawing. I wanted to hopefully do well and for people to like it and they like it, and they did. I’ll go to the Savannah College of Art & Design and talk to students and as Justin said, see where I’ve influenced people with my artwork and it’s cool to see a generation of up-and-coming artists influenced by me and my peers. It’s been great.
Nrama: Why did you decide to end Legacy so cleanly? It just seems with Legacy you wanted to put a definitive end to it.
Jordan: It just felt like the natural end point of Luther’s story. On one hand it is definitely a definitive end of this part of Luther’s life. Him and Petra survive and they’ve got a mission going forward. It’s not that it wouldn’t be impossible to tell more stories with Luther and Petra, but I don’t contend to. I think they exist for solely for the story we told.
I’m going to make a terrible comparison that is probably going to get me a lot of sh-t, which is, you could, and people have, told stories before and after Watchmen. Not that I’m comparing our book to Watchmen, but the entire story of those characters that has meaning is contained in that work. So yeah, when we brought it to a close, I wanted it to have an ending even though it’s a fairly happy ending. It has Luther overcoming the stuff that set him on the journey he was on. He’s moved past it. He’s gained the wisdom to make the right decisions, which was his main fault in the first book. He had good intentions, but not the wisdom to make them happen so he kept making situations worse. Not through malice, just from being young.
So when he got to a place where that wasn’t the case he had defeated the ultimate source of the ills of his life, both internally and externally, with Cain, that’s where we wanted to end it at.
Moore: Yeah, there was a time earlier on in the series where that I could’ve foreseen a darker or tragic direction, but as we were putting the book together, I realized I didn’t want that at all for Luther Strode. I wanted it to be a happy ending. I remember going back and forth on should we kill Luther, should we kill Petra, should we kill this person, that person…
Nrama: Yeah, because even in Strange Talent he doesn’t have a great time.
Moore: [Laughs] Yeah, Strange Talent was our 'dour ending' book. Honestly though, I was looking back on my career and thoughts on life and didn’t want to make a sad book. I wanted it to be positive. You can yank the rug under some people and there’s a lot of popular stuff that does that very well, but I just felt that this one was going to be stronger and about overcoming your obstacles kind of thing and not be crushed by them. That, for me, was better.
Nrama: Lastly, if Luther Strode is your own legacy, how would you feel about that?
Jordan: Oh that’s fine. Like I said I am ultimately happier with anything else I’ve done. I would love to be known more than just Luther Strode and if at the end of the day, that’s what they remember from me, that’s a fine career. You know, being a one-hit wonder still means you had a hit. In this case, it’s a book I’m really proud of. If I’m known for one of the books I’m not pleased with, that would probably be a bummer. If people remember as the guy that screwed up Superboy or whatever, that would be a bummer, yeah. For a book that people like and I’m proud of, I’m perfectly fine with it.
Moore: Yeah, I think that as I was saying completing this feels like a graduation for me. When I look at the three volumes of Luther Strode I can see a lot of the things I grew up loving within these books. I feel like there’s a lot of me in there, so to have that be reflected and have people see me as that book, I’m totally happy with that. So yeah, I also think when creative people have different eras in their career and I think this will mark my early career. I think if you go from Strange Talent to Legacy a lot of change and growth in my work. I have a lot people come up to me and say that they discovered my work in Ghost Rider, but they went back and found Strode and it’s crazy to see how I’ve develop. That’s what you want, I think. To never stop moving. I never want to do three books in a row and they all look the same.