Living on dairy farm helped 'Walking Dead' creator get gory

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky is known for lots of cool stuff. Bourbon, Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence, bluegrass, the Kentucky Derby, Muhammad Ali and zombies.

That's right, zombies.

And not to incite an apocalypse, but even if you don't care a lick about comic books or the "undead," we'll bet a dumpster full of rotting flesh that you've heard of "The Walking Dead."

Told in comic books and on a long-running television series (Season 10 premiered on AMC earlier this month), "The Walking Dead" follows a cop named Rick who wakes up out of a coma in the middle of a zombie battleground. He goes on to lead an unlikely group of survivors as they search for a safe place to hold out until the apocalypse blows over.

Fans of this pop culture phenomenon range from geeky teenage boys to successful middle-aged women. And in case you've been living under a tombstone, the co-creators of this post-apocalyptic tale are a couple of school friends from Cynthiana, Kentucky, about 90-miles outside of Louisville.

On Oct. 23, Kentucky native Tony Moore, the original illustrator of "The Walking Dead" comics, will be the featured guest at the next Kentucky To The World event held at the Kentucky Center for Performing Arts, 501 W. Main St. The annual speaker series highlights the excellence of outstanding men and women with strong Kentucky ties.

"There is nothing like the spirit of support you get from Kentuckians, we love goin' out for Kentucky," Moore told The Courier Journal ahead of the October event. "It's a support that I haven't seen anywhere else in the world. It's awesome."

We assure you, this Kentucky success story has a lot more to it than just a world overrun by zombies, including how growing up on a dairy and tobacco farm in the Bluegrass State shaped his world view. He says the long stretches of solitude made the perfect environment for cultivating a creative young mind to explore the dark and disturbing depths of the gory and grim as well as superheroes and other warriors of the world.

After graduating from Harrison County High School in 1997, Moore wasn't sure he could follow his artistic passion staying put in the Commonwealth.

"I thought I would have to move to New York City or Los Angeles until I realized that a guy named David Mack who was doing a book called 'Kabuki, Circle of Blood' lived in Florence, Kentucky," he said. "When I realized that he could do that from there, I knew I could do what I wanted to do from wherever."

Moore went on to nearly complete his BFA in drawing from the University of Louisville's Hite Art Institute before abandoning his studies to pursue his career illustrating comics.

Without question, this comic book artist is best known for his work on "The Walking Dead," which he co-created with fellow Kentuckian Robert Kirkman. There's a holiday in Cynthiana, where they grew up, called "The Walking Dead Day" and a large green sign on the side of the highway celebrating the comic book artist and writer.

But there is a lot more to Moore's career than the stumbling and lurching world of zombies.

Although he ended his regular interior artist duties on "The Walking Dead" with issue six, he continued to contribute to the title as the cover artist through issue 24 and also illustrated the covers for the first four collected volumes of the series.

Moore was twice nominated for the comics industry's prestigious Eisner Award, and Steve Beshear made Moore a Kentucky Colonel, following in the footsteps of his grandfather.

"The honor is important to me because I feel I have achieved something within my state's cultural identity," Moore said, "I like being able to say that's who I am. It's where I am from."

Since "The Walking Dead," Moore has moved on to his own co-created properties illustrating "The Exterminators" and "Fear Agent." He's also lent his hand to bombastic runs on Marvel's "Ghost Rider," ''Punisher," ''Venom," and "Deadpool," and has drawn covers for countless others.

His artistic success has made him a sought after celebrity in Kentucky, but the world wants Moore, too.

Along with his wife, Kara, and their 9-year-old daughter, it's not uncommon for the Kentucky artist to travel to 15 comic book conventions a year. Many are located in alluring locations like France, The Netherlands, Chile, Sweden and Australia.

"Not too bad for drawing guys who punch each other with their underwear on the outside of their pants," said the illustrious illustrator.

Having never left the country himself until he was in his 30s, Moore hopes the family's travels will allow his daughter, who the couple homeschools, to develop a sense of empathy for people and cultures different from her own.

"I don't expect that she'll become an artist, but I want her to see that her dad was able to make a living drawing comic books and whatever her passion may be, I want her to know that she can chase her dreams too, wherever she happens to live."

___

Information from: Courier Journal, http://www.courier-journal.com