Not even 30 years old, Tradd Moore has been working nonstop for almost six years on his creator-owned work, the Luther Strode trilogy, with writer Justin Jordan, as well as projects at both DC and Marvel, including providing a slew of Marvel covers. His trademark style is known throughout comics as being one of the most animated and unique, and he continues to push himself even more with every project he undertakes.
Newsarama had the chance to speak with Moore about his career and style and what’s next now that Luther Strode finished earlier this month. We also talked about recovering from artistic burnout and how some kind words from Olivier Coipel inspired him while he was still in SCAD.
Newsarama: So, Tradd, as we’ve previously talked about, ending Luther Strode felt like a graduation for you, but Luther kinda launched your career into the stratosphere. How does that feel knowing Luther changed your life seemingly overnight once it hit?
Tradd Moore: Yeah, to readers it may seem that my success was overnight, but it’s been a good five or six years since that first issue of Strode. I found success early on, which I’m very thankful for. I’m very fortunate in that. At this point it’s all about continuing on the path that I’ve set for myself and continuing to challenge myself by doing unique work.
You start off your career basically taking every job you can get. You put your all into everything. It’s weird to be in this position now where editors and companies are reaching out to me for my work instead of having to go out and solicit myself, going all, “Look at me, look at me!” So yeah, it’s a different position. Picking what you feel is the right project at the right time is a challenge in and of itself. That’s where I’m at right now; I’m learning to pick projects that make me happy as well as keep my career growing.
Nrama: Yeah, because after Strange Talent of Luther Strode, you kinda were all over the place doing covers and even a Legend of the Dark Knight story with Paul Tobin, which was your first interior stuff for the Big Two, right?
Moore: Yeah, before then I was doing all independent stuff and anthology work, but the Legends of the Dark Knight issue was my first interior work for Marvel or DC, for sure.
Nrama: What was that like going from your creator-owned stuff to working on such a legendary character like Batman?
Moore: It’s interesting. With superhero stuff, or any established character, you’re basically competing with 40, 50, 60 years of work that has come before you. Whereas when I’m drawing Luther Strode, I’m not living up to anything. It’s just me doing what I want to do, but sometimes, yeah, you have those moments while drawing Batman or X-Men where you’re like, “Oh God, is anybody going to like this?”
Nrama: Don’t sink the ship!
Moore: Seriously! Yeah, it was like that. I know for a lot of people Batman is the Holy Grail of characters and they would do anything to get to work on him. For me, though, I thought it was a great place to start. I mean, for one, I wasn’t drawing for one of the main Batman books. Legends of the Dark Knight is an episodic, anthology type title, so it felt like a safe place to be a weird artist. Also, while I like Batman as much as the next guy, he’s not a character I have a deep attachment to, so I didn’t feel constrained by anything. I didn’t feel like I had fifty different versions of him I wanted to draw, so I just ran with it, I just followed my gut. I feel that if my first ever Big Two work was something else, Wolverine or Spider-Man or something, I may have overthought things.
Nrama: Okay, so let’s talk about your style for a bit. It’s very unusual with exaggerated anatomy, but let’s first talk about your even weirder grip. Everyone knows about this who has seen you work. Can you talk about “the claw”?
Moore: [Laughs] Yes, let’s!
Nrama: Watching you ink is just so fascinating and unique because of how you hold your pencil and brush. How did that come about?
Moore: I think it was, as most good decisions are in my life, something I didn’t think about. My dad can draw and my older brother can draw, so I can’t actually recall being taught the proper way to hold the pencil or whatever. I was just trying to emulate them however I could with no real direction. I was, right off the bat, pretty good at drawing. My parents encouraged me that if this was how I wanted to hold the pencil, that’s cool with them. It was, and it stuck. It’s also the only thing I do left-handed.
Nrama: You’re not left-handed in other day-to-day activities?
Moore: No, I’m actually a right-handed person, but I draw left-handed. So yeah, it was a bizarre thing. I have no idea how it started. My mom was raised Catholic, and they were pretty strict on how you have to hold your pen, and how you have to dress and stuff like that, you know. So yeah, I think it was probably a reaction from her upbringing to let me draw like I do. She probably got smacked in the hand by a nun with a ruler or something, so when she saw me drawing like a weirdo, she was like, “Keep on it, boy!” Early on she would go to my teachers and tell them that I hold a pencil really weird, but to just let me keep doing it that way.
Nrama: So let’s talk a bit about your process and going from drafting to inking a little bit. I’ve seen you draw with a Micron to get those immaculate lines and no pencil whatsoever. Talk us through how Tradd Moore lays down a page.
Moore: It’s pretty straightforward, before I do a page or cover, I do thumbnails sketches. They’re usually about two by three inches. I move straight from that to pencils on 11 x 17 Bristol. I pencil pretty loosely since I ink my own work. I don’t have to go super in-depth when I do pencil work—I make sure all the important stuff is there: perspective, character placement, gestures, expressions, that kind of stuff. From there, straight to inks.
Nrama: You’re all brush, right?
Moore: Yeah, mainly brush. Basically if anything organic is on the page, I’m using a brush for it. I’ll use a Micron for mechanical things like guns, buildings, cars, whatever.
Nrama: Why do you feel like you handle the Micron and brush differently?
Moore: They’re called technical pens, or tech pens, for a reason. They are made for technical drawings, and they work great for that. Some artists are able to get very lively line work out of using Microns, which is impressive to me because, I, for some reason, it often feels lifeless when I try it. I don’t know. With brush you can get a broad variation of line weights going from thick to thin and vice versa. I can get a lot of nice, flowing lines and smooth repetition in shapes and detail. The brush works perfectly for that, so if I’m drawing leaves or trees, I never have to switch tools. I don’t like getting messy, and I don’t like switching between a bunch of different tools. So anytime I can stay minimal with stuff in life, that’s what I go for.
Nrama: There’s this running gag about people asking artists what tools they use over livestreaming when they’re drawing, so I’m sure I’m going to get at least a headshake here, but what gauge brush do you use?
Moore: It is a size 2. Winsor and Newton Series 7 Size 2—it’s kinda one of the comic artist go-to tools. It’s about the size of a pencil, but yeah, I think it’s technically a watercolor brush, but it’s one of the go-to’s for comic inking. Every now and then I switch it up to a Raphael 8404 size 2, so anybody out there looking for exact products, there you go!
Nrama: Anybody who has seen you work and ink is always amazed. The fact you don’t use a French Curve at all almost upsets people.
Moore: I don’t know what it is. It might have something to do with my odd grip. I don’t know if my style is something that would be what it is if it weren’t for my odd grip, but I also wouldn’t suggest my odd grip to anyone because it hurts. People are welcome to try, though! [laughs]
Nrama: You went to SCAD Savannah and grew up outside Atlanta like myself so let’s talk about your education and how they helped with evolving your skill.
Moore: Yeah, I think the best thing for me about art school was being in an environment where I was surrounded by creative people. Creative peers, creative professors, all that. There are a number of great artists from my graduating class who are working professionally in comics now: Brooke Allen, who drew Lumberjanes, Paulina Ganucheau, who drawsZodiac Starforce, Jeremy Sorese, Coleman Engle, Ian McGinty… the list goes on and on. You get better when you’re surrounded by that kind of talent. You’re all pushing each other. It’s competitive. Not competitive in a way where people get nasty with each other, I love the people I went to school with, but in a way where we all wanted to succeed, and we all wanted each other succeed. We were each taking the same classes and being given the same projects to do, so you can’t help but wonder how you’re going to stack up each week. You want to do something great to show off your skills and ideas to your friends, classmates, and professors.
And yeah, you get to see how different people handle similar assignments, so you learn from one another’s successes and failures. Learning the fundamentals of drawing helped me a lot, of course. Life drawing, traditional drawing classes, sculpting, and that kind of stuff helped me a lot as an artist. My professors were great at pushing me to be better and helping me get aimed and focused in the right direction—I wouldn’t have developed as an artist the way that I have without them—but I think being part of a creative group of people where we could learn from one another was the most beneficial aspect for me.
Nrama: Did it feel weird going back to SCAD to give a presentation not that much later after graduating?
Moore: Yeah, it did. It was weird finding that I had enough work under my belt that some of these students had grown up looking at my work. They knew me by reputation! I didn’t really have to introduce myself, which was weird. They were like, “You’re the guy who drawsLuther Strode and Ghost Rider!” It’s cool to see students who are sitting right where you were not long ago and to be able to give them a boost of positive energy. I know I’m giving the same sort of advice they’ve heard a thousand times, and it can all of course seem trite after a while, but I think it’s nice to meet face-to-face with creators who you like and who have made it, you know? It’s different than reading words of encouragement online or listening to a podcast or something. I know, for me, when I went back to DragonCon in 2009 I met Olivier Coipel and it was huge. It’s one thing to have friends and family tell you your work is great, or even a professor, but to have somebody like Olivier Coipel critique my work and give me real, honest, constructive feedback really stuck with me. The fact that I had this guy who I had looked up to for years and years basically give me a pat on the back and tell me, “Keep going, you got what it takes, you’re almost there,” was really uplifting. So yeah, that’s something I look forward to when visiting art schools or cons. Somebody will bring their portfolio to me and their work will be really promising and exciting, and the idea that my words could maybe make that person feel as good and as encouraged as Olivier’s compliment made me feel is cool to imagine.
Nrama: With Luther Strode finished, what’s next for Tradd Moore? What do you have planned?
Moore: I’m honestly not sure... I mean, let me rephrase that, I know what I’m doing, but I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say just yet. I can say I’m doing a creator-owned comic with a writer I love, and I’m also doing an issue of a superhero Big Two comic [laughs]. So if you’re an indie person, there’s something for you, and if you’re a superhero person, I have something coming up for you, too. I’m basically trying to stay relevant in both worlds.
Nrama: Do you find that that’s difficult?
Moore: I think it’s difficult in that drawing takes a long time. A lot of times you have stuff you want to work on, but you simply don’t have time to do it. So yeah, I think you have to be smart with your planning in order to make sure your work reaches a lot of people. With my work speed, my maximum output is six issues a year, maybe seven if I’m booking it, or four or five if I’m feeling lazy. Yeah, so it’s hard to reach both indie and mainstream communities at the same time when I can basically only tell one story a year. I really love creator-owned stuff, but I also love a lot of the licensed work opportunities I get, so I try to pick jobs that make me happiest, but also take on jobs that allow my work to be seen by a broad audience. I don’t want to be pigeonholed as “the violence guy” or “the superhero guy.” I want to have a body of work that keeps me excited and hopefully keeps readers excited as well. I think part of staying exciting as a creator is making it so that no one really knows what’s coming next from you.
Nrama: Lastly, you do have things planned, but how long do you think you’ll want to stay in comics? You got in relatively young. I mean, you’re not even 30 yet and I’ve noticed comics does have a tendency to burn some people out.
Moore: Admittedly, there was a short time a couple years back where I thought I was going to burn out if I didn’t pull back a little bit. I was right on the cusp, but I made some changes in my life and career that rejuvenated me.
So, as a side note, I hope that young artists getting into this industry keep that kind of thing in mind. Don’t burn yourself out! If you feel yourself becoming miserable, change something. Slow down. Get some sleep. Take time to analyze your life and career and find out what’s wearing you down. I love comics, but they aren’t worth being unhappy for. Your health is more important; your relationships are more important. It’s your life, your time, your art, and your career—find what makes you happy.
There are a lot of things I would love to do with my career, but right now I’m completely focused on comics. If an opportunity comes up that I think is equally exciting, I’ll try it out. Though, I can’t imagine leaving comics indefinitely, you know, just forever quitting comics, but I would say my current three-to-five-year plan is firmly rooted in comics. After that, let’s see where it goes.