This interview was conducted 02/05/2019
In brightest day, in blackest night, No evil shall escape my sight…. Never mind evil ! If our next interviewees artwork escapes your sight you aren’t seeking out what is arguably the best comic from DC on the spinner rack at the moment. Ladies and Gentleman the truly sublime Mr Liam Sharp.
Where did that first spark of interest in art come from was it something that was encouraged at home?
It was always there. My dad is very artistic, but being from a very pragmatic working-class background he was never very supported in those ambitions. When I pretty much immediately started showing signs that I would likewise be artistic he and my mum determined to support that – which they did and have done throughout my life. As for the comics side – my view is very much that comics are another medium, like music, prose or film. I loved all those mediums, and particularly loved genre fare, be it science-fiction, fantasy or horror. I really loved mythological themes, and grand tales of high adventure. Also westerns and pirate stories… anything, really, that was larger than life. And comics gave that in spades. There always seemed to be comics around, even though they were not easy to come by. You could only get them at the local corner shop and news agent. I think my uncle Ian, who was in the navy and later merchant navy, and who had long hair and listened to Hendrix, used to leave them behind when he visited.
It’s obvious you were a talented artist in the making early on winning scholarships to St Andrews Prep and then Eastbourne College but you then decided against going to university and became the legendary Don Lawrence’s apprentice how did that come about?
Word of mouth and friends of friends! I was introduced after hearing he was looking for an assistant. In the summer holidays, when I was 17, I spent three weeks trying out. A year later I joined him full time. He became a very dear friend – family really. I miss him enormously.
Once you spent a short time with Don you started work at 2000ad working on a variety of strips from Futershock to Dredd, ABC Warriors and with Pat Mills on the Origins of Finn. Did you enjoy your time on 2000ad ?
It was amazing! I loved 2000ad! I even recall the first issue, which coincidentally had a cover drawn by Don, with a Carlos Esquerra Dredd drawing pasted over Don’s version… I couldn’t believe I was getting to draw for the Galaxy’s greatest comic! But oddly it also had a part in my losing my way for what turned out to be a couple of decades. Identity is something we can really wrestle with if we’re not given the right advice, and I didn’t know who I was back then, or how best to be me artistically. That was fully compounded when I drew what turned out to be my final episode of P.J.Maybe’s epic saga – a character I co-created with John Wagner. I was determined to draw the best strip I had ever done, spending three days at least per page. And the result appeared in the same issue as Simon Bisley’s first instalment of Slaine. It simultaneously blew my mind and broke my heart, casting my efforts – in my mind at least – in deep shade. It was so beautiful, and my work suddenly looked old-fashioned and laboured and conservative. Simon’s looked like rock and roll, mine looked like a relic. After that I spent far too many years trying to be somebody else, and to find a style I though was current, relevant and cool. Ha! I recall somebody on a message board in the mid 90’s summing up my career. He wrote: ‘I f**king hate Liam Sharp. He started out doing piss-poor Judge Dredd stories, then became a second-rate Bisley clone.’ Harsh, but in my own estimation pretty much on the money! I tell young artists now, though, don’t worry about style! Worry about working hard, drawing the very best you can, and in the end your style will find you. There’s a difference to being influenced, and slavishly impersonation. The former is the better!
After that you went to work for Marvel UK and on Deaths Head II originally a miniseries but due to its popularity it became an on-going and in fact I think it is still Marvel UK’s most exported title. I read recently that you pitched a new series for Deaths Head a few years back is that true? If so where would it have taken the character?
Death’s Head II was life-changing – at least for a while! I found something fresh in combining the brutality of the UK aesthetic of comics with what was then the Marvel (now largely remembered as the Image) house style, popularised by Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, Liefield and co. It was state of the art at the time, and our editor in chief, The legendary Paul Neary, introduced me to their work. I hadn’t been reading mainstream comics for a while, but I fell in love with the work they were doing. And also Barry Smith was back doing Weapon X, which I absolutely adored. I pitched a Death’s Head reboot with Bryan Hitch co-writing in around 2005, I’m guessing. It was a big story, with a new Tuck, and more of a based-in-reality feel, even though it eventually incorporated a group of Guardians-like hyper-evolved beings watching from on high. Big, bold, Kirbyesque concepts told with brooding sincerity – as you do! It was, I heard, nixed by marketing, who said it wouldn’t sell.
You then worked on numerous titles for Marvel, DC, Image and others before going on to do work for Glenn Danzig’s Verotik. Did you have an idea in your head for a direction in your career or did it just come along naturally?
I would have worked for Marvel forever, but somewhere along this point I fell out of favour and they stopped giving me work on the big books. I spent too long trying to find out why, and heard many different stories from peers and even a few editors, most of it fiction. Competitors can have sharp elbows, and people can be ruthless! But as much as anything I think I was confusing as an artist and not the safe pair of hands an editor needs. My styles varied wildly. I was inconsistent, and unpredictable artistically. You couldn’t really be sure which Liam Sharp you were going to get! Bizsharp? Leesharp? Bollandsharp? Fabrysharp? Sienkisharp? It was a toss-up. I really had no confidence in my own style – which I hated at that point. I always gave it my best, and never stopped reaching to be more than just ‘ok’, but realistically I was a risk as a creator, and editors tend to prefer to use solid, reliable creators, who’s style is predictable and who won’t be always trying to break the mould. Danzig, at least, had an eye for adventurous creators, and he reached out to me as a fan. I took the work because I had nowhere else to go at that time.
You have taken a sideways step from comics a couple of times in recent times with your involvement with your company Mam Tor Publishing and Madefire what can you tell us about how those two ventures came about and your involvement with them?
MamTor was CO-founded by myself, my wife, my sister and John Bamber – a dear friend and art collector. The idea was to give exposure to new creators, help established creators scratch an itch with their creator-owned material, and help me re-establish myself in the industry. My perception of things was that the best way to prove I was not what rumour seemed to be suggesting (‘unreliable’ being the key killing meme, and, I suspect, a largely misunderstood notion of what that means, as in I don’t think it was originally about not delivering, but rather about what you might get on delivery) was to start a publishing company. I hadn’t worked for a year. I lost my house in Brighton, and had a young family to support. I had so many pitches fall through that if they had all happened I would have been in constant work for 32 years. It was a heartbreaking and soul destroying time, but something kept me fighting. With my wife constantly believing in, and supporting me, even when I lost all sense of self belief and felt like I never wanted to draw again, we muscled through together. We created some very special books at MamTor, all beautifully branded and designed by the genius Tom Muller. And we helped launch the careers of some lovely people. Dave Kendall, Emily Hare, Kev Crossley, Lee Carter, Emma Tooth… it was quite the line-up! Madefire grew out of that, with the advent of digital platforms like the iPad. There was a sense, for me at least, that much as we all love print we had better be involved in the digital possibilities or miss out. If it was going to be anybody it should be us, the creators, otherwise we’d be left yelling angrily on the sidelines as history and technology passed our 22page paper world by.
What can you tell us about the Beardism movement?
For that you’ll have to read my short novel Paradise Rex Press, Inc.’! Which, by the way, Grant Morrison adored! China Miéville also loved it and wrote a stunning afterword for me. It’s available through PS Publishing. My boldest, most fearless and raw work. It is also, largely, a self-portrait. I don’t want to say more than that for fear of spoiling it!
Your work on Wonder Woman and The Brave and the Bold were both drawing a fair amount from mythology. Green Lantern is for the most part Sci-Fi and is equally as wonderful. I can see bits of 2000ad ,Heavy Metal and even some European comics with a splash of Barry Windsor Smith did you enjoy the switch to something more cosmic?
Very much, because I was starting to develop a reputation as a fantasy artist, which I’m not. We can get easily pigeonholed, and if that happens it can be very detrimental. You don’t hire a fantasy guy to draw an urban noir. You don’t hire a horror guy to draw ethereal and beautiful faeries. So it’s very important, if you can do it, to demonstrate your scope. Thankfully if there’s one thing my meandering and turbulent career has prepared me for it’s scope!
How did you get involved with The Green Lantern coming off the back of another major project like Wonder Woman?
Grant and I kept running into each other, and we started talking about doing something together. I even once pitched him a Batman in space idea, with Batman solving a crime on a planet that never had crime. That idea ultimately became The Brave and The Bold, which I wrote myself, because Grant was certain he would never write another ongoing mainstream series. So when he then talked himself into writing The Green Lantern after telling Dan DiDio how he thought it should be done, Dan then pitched it to me. I had been mulling over either doing Hawkman or the JLA. But with TGL on the table it was a no-brainer for me. Working with Grant had, by then, become inevitable and something the universe seemed to be conspiring for us to do…
Is your Hal Jordan look influenced by any other artists that have come previously? We see a touch of Dave Gibbons in there possibly?
Yes. Three GL artists – Gibbons, Adams and Kane.
There are a few new Lanterns we haven’t seen before such as Floozle Flem. How do you go about drawing a virus or indeed a character like Volk who has an ever changing volcano up top?
Well we never see Floozle Flem, just his – hum – work! And Volk is an older character. I first saw him in a Kevin O’Neil drawn story, but I believe he also predates that…
Have you taken any inspiration from anywhere in regards to the design of the aliens? They are mental!
They have largely been extrapolated from very early versions of characters from way back in the series. Rather than take our inspiration from recent takes we went back to the very old, odd takes of the 60s, which is an aesthetic very unlike todays. I kind of tried to make the preposterous somehow believable!
Do you get a chance to enjoy a collaborative experience in any way or are the roles you and Grant have very much defined?
I feel very much like I have Grant’s trust!
At this point the collaboration feels largely telepathic! How do you go about approaching a new project such as this do you research previous runs for ideas for the look you feel suits the scripts or something more natural?
There’s a ton of research, but I try to not be too affected by previous runs. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been prone to self-doubt, and when that happens there can be a tendency to think other versions will inevitably be much better than your own. At that point there’s a big danger that you’ll start to imitate what has gone before. I’ve tried hard to incorporate the great work of my predecessors and to pay homage, while always remaining ‘me’ – if that makes sense? It’s quite a tough trick to pull off!
There’s a lot of humour in certain issues at times such as issue two with evil star but then it does go darker as well do you change your approach in any way when tackling the different scripts?
Right? It’s hilarious! And yes, of course. But not too much. I don’t want to go into cartoonish realms! It has to feel of-a-piece.
And with that our time with Liam is done. If you haven’t checked out Liam’s work on Green Lantern then you are missing out as it’s quite possibly his best work yet.
You can find Liam
On Twitter – @LiamRSharp
And on his website here – sharpy.net