[Interview] Tony Moore Talks About His Love Of Horror & The Longevity Of ‘Fear Agent’

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Tony Moore is one of the best artists working in the horror genre today. His detailed, hyper-violent artwork has produced some terrifying and stomach churning images that are now burned into the minds’ of his readers. Moore’s work on “The Walking Dead” and “Fear Agent” are both considered timeless classics.

Moore will be appearing at Toronto ComiCon March 7th-9th and he jumped at the chance to speak with Bloody-Disgusting about his work. Moore spoke in-depth about his love for the horror genre, the longevity of “Fear Agent”, as well as why he thinks Kickstarter will change the whole publishing paradigm.

Bloody-Disgusting: You are coming to Toronto Comic Con in March and you’ve been to the city multiple times for conventions. What keeps you coming back year after year?

Tony Moore: It’s just a really great, friendly city. Generally I don’t like the city and I live out in the country, but every time I’ve been to Toronto I’ve always enjoyed it. The people are friendly, the city is pretty, and I like it. At most conventions you see the same few square inches on concrete where your booth is and whatever is on the path to the bathrooms or hotel room, but I’ve been fortunate to get to see some of the city. Toronto is one of the few cities I have been able to get out to see a little bit of.

BD: Do you notice any difference between American and Canadian conventions at this point or are they sort of the same?

TM: I do and it’s weird for me because I’m from the south where everyone is very nice and courteous. Then there is this chunk of the country where you don’t know if people are going to be nice or not. Then you cross the border into Canada and everyone is nice again, which is part of the reason why I’ve enjoyed all my trips to Canada. It seems like the fans there feel a little less entitled and they are much more respectful. Conventions can sometimes be a bit of a pressure cooker in that people are walking around and they are tired and tense, but in Canada everyone is always so nice. If I’m sitting at my table trying to eat a sandwich I don’t get people rushing up to me with a stack of books to sign. They might seem like simple things that most people would take for granted but you would be surprised at how many other conventions are not like that.

BD: Any time that you’ve come to Toronto there is always a long line for signings and commissions. Are there any fan interactions that stick out in your mind of fans that have went to great lengths to show their admiration for your art?

TM: Well some of our friends are fans that have come up to us at conventions. We’ve had some guys that have done stuff like brought me a coffee in the middle of the convention, but some of the ones that really stick out are the ones that have made huge commitments to show their appreciation for the work I’ve done. The last several times in Toronto I’ve seen guys come up to me with tattoos of my work on their bodies. That’s always amazing for me to see, as I’m someone that has a lot of tattoos and the ink that I have are things that mean a lot to me. For someone to get a tattoo of my work is really an honour, and it still blows my mind when someone likes my work that much that they want to put it on their body forever.

BD: Walk us through your creative process when it comes to creating a page…

TM: As far as work flow goes, I’ve developed a sort of standardized process to allow myself to work through ideas quickly. Generally speaking, I get the script and I read through it while trying to visualize it as if it were a movie. I get a feel for the scene inside my head after reading the script several times, so that when I sit down I can figure out which scenes need more visual weight. I do thumbnail breakdowns of the whole page at 2 inches by 3 inches, which keeps me from getting mired in drawing little details that are not necessary to the storytelling. I just focus on major camera angles and figure placement, and I don’t have to draw every book on a book shelf or anything like that. I lay the whole book out like that so I have it in front of me, so I can make everything flow properly. I then take those thumbnails and scan them into Photoshop so I can blow them up onto an 11×17 art board so I can execute the piece. The breakdowns take me about a week to do, which is where all the hard thinking is done and unfortunately that is where I have the least amount to show. When I’m working with an editor they will often ask, “Do you have any pages?” and I’ll tell them that I have the book broken down into small postage stamp sized images. (Laughs) I put those images on art boards so that I can tighten up the pencils and begin inking. Once the inking is done I scan the finished product and then everything is done.

BD: When you’re working do you listen to music or watch movies? I read somewhere that you listen to a lot of Sirius Satellite Radio…

TM: I like listening to Sirius, because they play a lot of stuff that I don’t own in my music collection and I can only listen to my stuff so much before I get tired of it. I listen to a lot of country music, and not the Toby Keith sort of Top 40 country, but the older honky-tonk stuff and outlaw country. There are a ton of guys out there making great country music, but you just don’t hear them on the radio a whole lot. For me I love good storytelling and good country music does that for me. I keep a lot of that stuff playing while I work, so I can keep part of my brain engaged while I execute a page.

BD: You are a big fan of outlaw country, but I’ve read you are also a fan of the hip-hop label Rhymesayers and even Norwegian black metal, which is a pretty eclectic musical taste.

TM: When I put together a mixtape it pretty much sounds like a crazy person made it because it jumps all over the place. (Laughs) Music is one of the ways I stay engaged while I work, because I can’t languish too long.

BD: Being a fan of Black Metal, did you ever read the book “Lords of Chaos”’?

TM: I’ve never had that chance to read it but I am familiar with all those crazy stories from that era. I love reading about all the crazy stuff that happened with the Emperor guys, Mayhem and Varg Vikernes.

BD: I know they optioned it for a movie quite a few years back, but I think it got stuck in development hell.

TM: Those would be some really cool stories to see and it would make for a pretty engaging movie.

BD: I think at one point they were in talks to have Jackson Rathbone from “Twilight” to play one of the lead roles, which is kind of funny.

TM: I think that would grind that to a screeching halt (Chuckles). I always loved the story of Mayhem when they found the murdered body of guitarist Euronymous and they made necklaces out of his skull fragments. I know it might sound a little bit disrespectful to the dead, but I think it would be an amazing story to see in a movie.

BD: The horror genre has played a large part in your career, what is it about the darker more grotesque things that you seem to find so inspiring as a creator?

TM: I’m not really sure what it is. On some levels something like an old dilapidated “Evil Dead” looking shack is comforting to me because I grew up out in the sticks. I grew up on a farm, so I was familiar with all kinds of dead things and just facts of life type shit. There are things that people see and think are creepy like an old run down house, but I’ve always found comfort in them because that is what the countryside looks like and that’s where I grew up. Even where I live now, I could walk to a collapsed barn right behind my house and there are lots of old abandoned houses all over the place. I like to sneak into those types of places and take pictures or stuff like that. Then, when I was a kid, horror was all over the place. Growing up my Grandmother worked second shift at a factory, so I would wait up watching the “Twilight Zone”, “Tales from the Darkside” or even Elvira. Horror was pretty ubiquitous back then and very accessible to anyone, even kids. I always loved it and I remember inheriting a big batch of horror comics from my uncle, who left them behind when he moved out. I learned to read by reading old MAD Magazines and old EC Comics. I don’t know what it was, but I would sit there white-knuckle gripping the couch watching this stuff, as a sort of endurance test to see how much I could take. There was also a feeling like I was getting away with something by watching or reading that stuff. I felt like I was pulling the wool over someone, somewhere and it was empowering. As a kid that sort of experience really sets you up for thinking like an individual and doing your own thing. Yes, some of it was somewhat goofy, but every once in a while there would be one really creepy concept that would stick with you to the point where you would be laying awake staring up at the ceiling all night. There is sort of this giddy feeling that you get from that, because you know that you’re safe and that you’re not really going to get hurt by any of it. There is just that creepy feeling that you can’t shake and I love that still to this day. Even now, I try and soak in as much horror as I can because it’s still fun for me.

BD: I know you’re a big fan of the old EC Comics and guys like Jack Davis and Wally Wood. What was it about those books that had such a lasting impression on you?

TM: I think it was the mixture of horror and humor. Horror can be so dark and bleak at times, but a little levity can go a long way, which is where EC Comics really shined. I had learned to read from MAD Magazine and that’s where I discovered guys like Jack Davis and John Severin. I saw their work and I immediately wanted to know what other stuff they had done, so I would go to the comic shop and dig through the crate to find the books. That’s how I came to discover the old EC Comics. Jack Davis and John Severin were two of the first artists that I could recognize their work by style. They are two of my biggest formative influences and still to this day they are two of my favorite artists.

BD: I’ve noticed that you’ve referred to yourself as a cartoonist many times, rather than a comic book artist. Is there a distinction between the two in your mind?

TM: Well, honestly, I don’t know that I’ve earned the title of cartoonist in my mind because that’s a sort of all in one package. Guys like Frank Miller, Will Eisner or Mike Mignola are cartoonists because they do everything. I don’t know if I’ve earned the style of cartoonist yet. As far as the style of my work, I don’t feel like there is any shame in cartooning or being overt with body language. I feel like generally the term cartoonist is considered a dirty word in comics, and I don’t know why that is. I think that some people who are praised or want to be taken seriously, they don’t want to see that term when they are reading a book about a person running around with their underwear on the outside of their pants fighting giant robots. There is only so much seriousness I can give those types of things and only so much seriousness I can take in life in general. The work that always spoke to me was a little bit more freewheeling, so that’s the type of work I try to produce. I don’t feel like there is any shame in being a cartoonist and I don’t think that every superhero book should have to be the most dead serious thing you’ve ever read either. We can’t all be “Watchmen” and I think that the more serious that some of that shit gets taken, the more of a joke it becomes.

BD: But you also have guys like Jeff Lemire and Matt Kindt that are doing a style of cartooning that is more accepted today than it was in say the 90s.

TM: I think that the stalwart comic book audience grabs onto the thing that they love, so you end up with a decade of DC Comics house style snooze fest books. I think the audience at large can appreciate someone like Cameron Stewart or Darwyn Cooke who can appreciate a bolder style that is a little more outside the box of your standard house style of comics. I feel like the door has been opened up a lot for guys like Jeff Lemire that have an offbeat cartooning style. I think that there is room for that in comics, because that is the joy of comic books and things shouldn’t be narrowed down to make every peg fit into the exact same hole.

BD: Do you ever reflect on the work you’ve created or are you constantly looking ahead to the future?

TM: I look back through my old stuff and as I get older and become a better artist I’ve slowed down. When I was younger I was sort of fearless and just plowed through things a lot quicker. The better I get as an artist I look back at my old stuff and try not to repeat my mistakes, but I also look back at the older work I’ve done and I can see where I didn’t get bogged down with worrying about the piece. Sometimes just doing it and not over-thinking a piece can give it energy. It’s always a constant balance of trying to keep things fresh without worrying about the mistakes, but also learning from the past to make better art. I always want to be cognizant of my growth as an artist, but I also don’t want to rest on my laurels either.

BD: What are you working on at the moment? I know there was talk of you doing a cover for “My Little Pony”.

TM: That was something that I did just for fun. The writer for “My Little Pony” is a friend of mine, and she just had a baby so my wife, daughter, and I went to visit them. While we were there hanging out we came up with the idea to do a sketch cover. We just sat down and doodled it out over the course of a night and just had fun with it. For the most part I’ve been working on this comic convention that my wife and I put together with some friends in Cincinnati where I live. That’s become an endeavour that’s taken up quite a bit of time, but we’re really proud of the way that things are going with it. I’m also always cooking up new comic ideas and I have a book full of outlines for properties that I’m developing. I’ve got some westerns and some horror stuff, so I’ll stick with the genre stuff because it’s typically what I enjoy working on the most. I’m also working on a fine art project where we’re doing a series of large art prints that will sort of be my manifesto in visual format I guess. I don’t really know how to describe it other than that, but that’s the theme of it. I’m trying to branch out and do some things outside of comics until I get a project that I’m pretty excited about.

BD: We’re huge fans of your work on “Fear Agent” here at Bloody-Disgusting and we all love the series. Even though the series wrapped up years ago, it continues to go back to print again and again because new readers keep discovering it. Is it surprising that the book is still in demand and continues to be discovered by new fans years later?

TM: As we were doing the book it would have been a real help to have that readership at the time, but it’s nice that people are still picking it up. As creators the number one goal is for people to pick it up and enjoy it. As Rick and I worked on it we had to start looking at other venues to pay the bills and Marvel was especially attractive to us because they were allowing us to do our own thing in their sandbox. I think that is where a lot of the new readers came from is because Rick has went on to do some of the top selling books at Marvel and I’ve had the chance to work with him and some other guys. I think that some of those readers have gone back and dug through the crate to find other work that we’ve done. We’ve been very fortunate that people have maintained an interest in “Fear Agent” and that the publisher has been willing to go back to press and put out the work in new formats.

BD: I know at one point there was talk of you and Rick coming back to “Fear Agent” to do another story, but is that still an option or is it a completed story?

TM: I don’t like to speak in absolute terms, but as it stands I think we told the story that we wanted to tell it and Heath’s saga plays out as we intended. That’s not to say that we don’t have ideas for things that we would have liked to do with the character and we do entertain these notions when we’re on the phone with each other. That’s just kind of what we do is bounce ideas back and forth off of each other. We’ve kicked around a lot of things and I can safely say that they won’t happen in the immediate future, but maybe at some far flung future date; I don’t know.

BD: I’m interested to hear your thoughts on Kickstarter and artists using crowd-funding sites to get projects off the ground, as there has been a great deal of debate about it in recent months.

TM: Realistically, any time you are putting out a project you are begging. You are either begging the public to buy it or you are begging an editor to look at it, or you’re begging a publisher to roll the dice by putting it out. Shy of taking the reins and public be damned you’re putting it out yourself whether they want it or not, you’re still putting it into someone else’s hands. I don’t think there is any shame in going to a site like Kickstarter and selling it direct to the buying public because you’re asking them if they want to see this project pledge your cash and I’ll use the money to produce it. It’s basically a pre-order and it’s not really that different than the regular system of pre-ordering comics that’s in place now. I really think that it’s great and that it will help change the entire paradigm. God knows how many books have been pitched to publishers and the creators have been told, “Westerns and Sci-fi doesn’t sell.” I can distinctly remember a time when horror didn’t sell. It was not a commercially viable genre that had been proven to be that way time and time again. There was always an audience for it, but the audience didn’t get to decide what came out; the publishers did. If the publishers were looking at the market and decided that horror books weren’t conducive to sales then the book just died on the vine. I think in the not too distant future publishers and editors could find themselves being less and less of a necessity. Kickstarter allows a creator to take a project directly to the buying public and modern digital formats make it so that projects don’t require a lot of overhead for things like printing or shipping. It is a feasible new avenue for creators to come up with new properties and help make them successful.

BD: So to wrap things up what’s next for you as an artist and creator?

TM: Well I’ve got a notebook of ideas that I’ve kept since before I started drawing comics. A lot of these ideas rattle around in my head and I jot them down in a notebook. Some of them get stuck together or just develop into something new over time. I’ve always worked with someone else when I was working in comics, but I’ve always wanted to do my own stuff. That’s never really been much of an option because I’ve always been committed to other projects or I’m just paying the bills doing a mainstream book. Those ideas have been kicking around for a while now and they’ve gotten to the point where they are fully formed, so I just need to sit down and do them. It’s exciting for me to know that I’ve got options for my next project and that I’ve been working on these concepts in the background to the point where I would feel good about doing any one of them. That stuff will be coming in the not too distant future and I’ve got a western, as well as a couple horror stories that I want to work on. I really want to work on genre stuff and I’ve got a couple cool horror things that I think I could really sink my teeth into. In the meantime, I’ve got that fine art project coming up, which will be really cool and cover art for some different books in the meantime. I want to really make a go at being a cover artist because I really enjoy doing that stuff. When you work on the interior of a book you sometimes have to say that it’s good enough, as they can’t always be home runs, but on a cover that’s the one opportunity you have to make it all that it can be in one static image.

BD: Well we are huge fans of your work at Bloody-Disgusting and we look forward to your upcoming new projects as they will be at the top of our reading pile.

TM: Thanks man. I really appreciate that because I started reading the site back when I was doing “Battle Pope”, and I was working at UPS at the time, but I remember reading the site when it was still new. Bloody-Disgusting has been one of my go to sites for horror, so it’s really cool that you guys are enjoying my work.