I was fortunate enough to speak with writer Justin Jordan and artist Tradd Moore about their kick ass Luther Strode series, which recently finished its third arc. These guys were super cool and gave some amazing insight into their creative process. We talked about collaboration in comic books, their influences when creating such a fun comic, and if we’ve seen the last of everyone’s favorite muscle-bound, Kung-fu fighting superhero, Luther Strode. Enjoy!
BiC: Justin, what drove you to incorporate existing mythologies into the one you’ve created?
Justin: Well, we’d done it with Cain in the first series, and that was because having a book about murder and power go back to the first murderer who did what he did and felt powerless felt right. It added a depth and history to the book. More iceberg.
But in general, I like that kind of stuff. Tim Powers, whose books are very, very different than mine, takes real historical events and then looks for holes where he can thread in the supernatural. Which is super fun. So I wanted to do that too.
And there was a lot of stuff that just fit. Most of the ancient heroes would have fit right in. Samson was an obvious choice, of course, but really Achilles, Goliath, any of those would have fit.
The point, though, was always to create a sense of depth in the world, a sense that this was a story playing out over time that we were only seeing a part of. Which worked, I hope.
BiC: Tradd, how did you tackle creating new visual interpretations of such well-known figures?
Tradd: You know, it was mostly a matter of trusting my artistic instincts. I followed my gut and aimed to create characters who would appeal to my aesthetics as well as be visually interesting to readers whether or not they knew about the history of each figure.
When you’re dealing with historical or mythological figures and characters–Hercules, Cain, Samson, Delilah, Jack the Ripper, Miyamoto Musashi, and Joan of Arc, to name some we’ve used–you’re already safe in knowing that many readers know and love some version of each character. You have a head start, in a sense. From there, it’s a matter of trying to find that sweet spot between how much to pull from past iterations, and how much of your own style to inject into them.
I pulled from classic interpretations of the characters–the Farnese Hercules, Jeanne d’Arc, old Japanese paintings of Musashi–but I also aimed to visually unify them. In Luther Strode, each historical/mythological figure wears white, and each of their costumes has elements of tightly wrapped cloth that calls to mind bandaging, tourniquets, and mummification. This visually unifies the historical figures to our main character, Luther, since this bandaged aesthetic stems from and is first established by the design of Luther’s mask.
BiC: I’m sure it can be a difficult balancing act. You want to give readers who are familiar with the characters something new, but you don’t want to deviate too far away from what they’re used to. Speaking of your personal aesthetics, Tradd, what are some influences on your art when drawing Luther Strode? I see a lot of Eastern stylistic choices, some which echo works like Fist of the North Star and Riki-Oh. Is that intentional or am I way off base?
Tradd: You’re right on the money! Yeah, I was born in 1987, so I grew up in the midst of the big anime boom of the mid 90’s and early 2000’s, which had an immeasurable influence on my style. My work wouldn’t be what it is without stuff like Dragon Ball Z, Samurai Champloo, and Cowboy Bebop.
My art was hugely influenced by the video games of that era as well: Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, Marvel Vs. Capcom, Tekken, and countless other series. Some of my biggest influences are Japanese game artists: Yoshitaka Amano (Final Fantasy), Yoji Shinkawa (Metal Gear Solid), Daigo Ikeno (Street Fighter, Onimusha), Akihiko Yoshida (Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy), Tetsuya Nomura (Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts).
European artists Moebius and Gianni De Luca both influenced me significantly during my work on The Legacy of Luther Strode. Moebius is, of course, one of the all-time greats of comics, and Gianni De Luca, while lesser known, is absolutely incredible. He drew some of my favorite page layouts ever. He adapted a bunch of Shakespeare into comics, and they’re truly a sight to behold. Look up his Hamlet work!
Some recent influences of mine are James Harren, who draws the Image comic RUMBLE, Andrew MacLean, who draws the Image comic HEADLOPPER, and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure by Hirohiko Araki.
So yeah, add all that in with my lifelong love of superhero comics (long time favorites/major influences include: Frank Quitely, John Romita Jr, the Kuberts, Frank Miller, Joe Mad, Geof Darrow) Disney animation, The Matrix, and Jackie Chan movies, and you have most of the major ingredients of my style!
BiC: Your style really does scream “child of the ‘80s” (and I mean that as a huge compliment, being that I too am a child of the ’80s). But seriously, if you and Justin tackled a revamped Fist of the North Star comic, I’d read the shit out of it. Who do we have to contact to get that going?
TRADD: And it’s taken as such! Haha, yeah, I’d be all about drawing some Fist of the North Star comics. However, I’m afraid our only option for making this happen is witchcraft, which is, of course, very spooky.
JUSTIN: I am totally in, if anyone wants to make that a thing. I would also nominate us for an MD Geist comic.
BiC: I wanted to know more about the genesis of the sequential work for the fight scenes in Luther Strode. How much of the action was taken directly from Justin’s script? Since there’s such a distinct visual flare to it, was it something you guys closely collaborate on?
Tradd: Yeah, the fight scenes in the Legacy of Luther Strode are very collaborative between the two of us–the whole script is. Comic creation is not often the clean cut “You do this job, I do that job” type collaboration readers seem to view it as. Justin paced/plotted the fight scenes into the scripts, sometimes in detail, sometimes not. I changed some pages/scenes drastically to fit the vision I had in my head, while I left some exactly as he’d written them.
First off, Justin and I discussed the story direction and most of, if not all of, the fight sequences from the Legacy in person before putting any words or drawings down for the series, so there was a unified vision and goal in mind for the series from the start. Also, with The Legacy of Luther Strode, we passed each script back and forth between the two of us multiple times before finalizing it. Justin would send me his first draft and I would sketch out the issue and revise the script according to my adjustments, most of which involved adding my own flair and pacing to the fight sequences. Justin would check my revisions over, then I’d check over the whole thing again for a final FINAL revision pass to send to our letterer, Fonografiks.
So yeah, by the end of the process you have a script that is very much “ours” as a creative unit. Just about all of both of our ideas end up on the page.
Justin: As Tradd said, we’re super collaborative. We really do sweat the fight scenes. The book is, essentially, a fight book, and so for the fight scenes to not become repetitive we had to really think about what we were trying to do with each fight, how it was different than the others, and why it was happening.
And there needs to be an ebb and flow in every fight. It’s conflict, and it usually needs to not be totally one sided. So there’s a whole lot of planning and work that goes into the fight and really trying to make them sing.
BiC: Did you guys know where the series was going to end when it first started or did the story evolve naturally?
Tradd: We had a basic idea of where it was going–we knew it would end with a showdown between Luther and Cain, and we knew we wanted Luther to end up in a mental/emotional state that was better and more at peace than the one he began with–but I feel it evolved naturally as we created it. I think stories work best that way, for me at least. You have to keep yourself interested, you know?
Justin: We knew pretty definitely knew it was going to be Luther versus Cain, and that Luther would be in a better mental state in it. The first series is a tragedy (in the classic sense, even) and the second was about surviving that, and the third would be about overcoming it. And that was pretty much what all three were going to be about from the start.
But the details were always flexible. The actual shape of the last one, with the worldwide scope and the multiple villains, didn’t really form until we started to talk about it and get a sense of what it should be.
BiC: Do you guys have another collaboration coming up?
Tradd: It’ll be a little while, but we got some ideas cooking, definitely.
Justin: As Tradd says it’s a ways off yet, but we have plans for reuniting Team Strode.
BiC: Is this the last we’ll see of Luther Strode?
Tradd: I’m going to say yes right now, but who knows if 34 year old Tradd will agree with me 😉
Justin: That’s the plan. We haven’t remotely ruled out doing stuff set in the Strode universe, though. But Luther and Petra’s story is over.
BiC: Finally, is there anything you guys would like to say to people who may not be familiar with Luther Strode or might pass over it on the comic rack? How would you pitch it to someone on the street?
Tradd: Specifically with Luther Strode, I think the best pitch I can give is this: Go look at it! It’s fucking cool! If you like over the top action, hyper-violence, fun characters, big muscles, and genre fiction in general (superhero, horror, martial arts), I think you’ll really enjoy Luther Strode. It’s pure action comic entertainment with heart.
I’ve also noticed a lot of crossover interest in Luther Strode from manga readers and anime watchers. If you’re into stuff like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Fist of the North Star, Riki-Oh, Ninja Scroll, DBZ, etc and you’re looking for an American comic that scratches a similar hyper-action itch, I think Luther Strode may be just the right the comic for you.
Generally speaking, I encourage everyone to try new comics! Comics that are new to YOU, I should say, not literally brand new. Every time you go into your comic shop or pop onto comiXology or whatever, give something a look that you’ve never flipped through before. Even if you don’t buy it right then and there, it’s nice to keep cool things on your radar.
1 – It’s fun to explore
2 – You never know when you’ll discover your next favorite thing.
Justin: This is the part where I mention that people can try Strode out for free: http://lutherstrode.keenspot.com/d/20160104.html
But beyond that, there’s action, mayhem, humor, and even romance. Also, thanks to Tradd and Felipe, it looks rad. I’d reiterate the manga anime connection too – I’ve suggested to retailers to give it to anyone who buys One Punch Man and that totally works.