Liam Sharp's Wise Words.
Liam’s Sharp’s Wise Words.
Over some weeks during his busy schedule, I chatted to my old mate Liam Sharp. He is an ex-Brighton boy after all. He originally hailed from Derby despite his love of living on the other side of the world these days. Although who knows when things could possibly change?
Paul: What first interested you in working in comics? Was there a Eureka moment? Was there a love of art before comics?
Liam: The truth is I can't recall a time of not loving comics, and there was never really any separation in my mind between what people consider capital 'A' Art, or fine art or illustration or comic art. It was always pretty obvious that doing any of these was and is not for the faint hearted!
Paul: Well said Liam
Liam: I would say, though, that for a long time I really thought I was going to be a book cover illustrator, like Boris Vallejo, or Frazetta, or any number of those masters of sci-fi and fantasy illustration. Comics and that kind of work bled into each other in my mind, and I loved to paint, so it made sense. But really the Eureka moment for me would have to be meeting Don Lawrence and realizing that it was going to be an actual, real job, not just a teen fantasy.
Paul: What was the very the first comic you recall reading?
Liam: I think it may have been a Gene Colan’s Daredevil featuring the Stiltman... That, or an issue of Mad magazine! But there are a few I remember. Star Wars weekly was the first (and only) comic I subscribed to... amazing back-up stories curated by Paul Neary it turned out.
Paul: How did you first come to know The Mighty Tharg? What are your memories of your first published pages for 2000AD?
Liam: That was all down to Don Lawrence. Once he realized he was not yet quite ready to hand over the baton, and I knew I didn't really want to be a clone of Don - which I most certainly was not good enough to be anyway at that time - he very graciously helped me get a portfolio together to show 2000ad. He had me do some straight-up copies of Brian Boland, and some other art in that vein, and along with my Storm copies and assorted other bits and bobs he handed me their phone number and had me call them up.
Paul: Who was your Tharg?
Liam: Richard Burton, the editor, agreed to look over my portfolio at King's Reach Towers, and that was it. I went down there, showed my wares, and landed myself a pin-up. That led to a second, and then a Future Shock, and then my first Dredd. Amazing times! I was so excited. Not long after that I moved from Eastbourne to London. I had met Andy Lanning at The Society of Strip Illustrators in Battersea and he invited me to join him and Brian West in a studio just off Upper Street in Islington, so that's what I did. I rented a flat in Finsbury Park with a couple of school mates, and suddenly everything started to feel like a real, grown-up life. I look back at that time in wonder. There have been an awful lot of ups and downs since then!
Paul: For 2000AD I think you maybe always remembered for P J Maybe. I don't know how closely you follow the Prog, but did you ever suspect the character would have such an impact on the world of Judge Dredd. Do you have any memories of that first P J Maybe story in particular?
Liam: I had no idea - until UKCAC, I'm guessing 1989. Frank Plowright used to do an introductory ceremony, with all the guests appearing on stage in the auditorium they had there. I wandered out and he whispered "I'm sorry, I don't know who you are..." I said no worries at all and introduced myself, saying I had drawn the P.J Maybe story for 2000ad. He repeated that... and I got the first of only three standing ovations I've ever had in my life! I was shocked!
Paul: Well, that’s pretty cool.
Liam: I just wasn't expecting it, having no idea it had caught the public's attention like that. Amongst ourselves as artists we were all talking about other stuff, like Zenith or Simon Bisley's ABC Warriors and Slaine. I didn't ever feel in that league, so it really blew my mind! It turned out P.J. had become one of the most popular Dredd villains ever. Pretty wonderful. On top of that I was starting to meet and become friends with everybody. John Higgins was always incredibly kind about my work. Steve Dillon was everybody's big brother, and I also hung out a few times with Bret Ewings and Pete Milligan. Dougie Braithwaite was a great friend, and soon Glenn Fabry would be too. I adored those days. It was just amazing being a part of this incredible collective of talent. I really miss those days. Nothing can replace that.
Paul: You mentioned Steve Dillon, who is obviously greatly missed. Are there any particular memories of the gentleman you can share?
Liam: Trying to keep up with him and Garth one time in New York. On about pint six or seven I was a good pint behind, and Steve was just chugging them like they were all his first. I said, "Sorry to let the side down chaps, but there's no way I can keep up with you at this point...." Steve just said, "That's alright mate, you're just not match fit." It still makes me chuckle.
Paul: That’s funny.
Liam: On a more poignant note, I saw him on the last night of NYCC a year before he died. It was just the two of us, and he was not in great shape. He was very frail and had, had to stop drinking alcohol, but he still loved pubs, so it was tomato juice. To be fair alcohol had stopped having much effect on him a long time earlier, so it wasn't that different, or so he said. His voice was very quiet, but he was still the same old Steve, still just as sharp, and still with that twinkle in his eye. I'm just thankful I had those last few hours with him to myself, though obviously I had no way of knowing that it would be the last time I would see him. It's still pretty hard to take in. The only thing you could almost say was a good thing that came out of his passing was that it brought almost all of that old 2000AD, late 80's era crew of creators all together again for the first time in decades. His memorial gathering was truly wonderful, and very moving. I wish we could find a better reason to do it again some time.
Paul: After 2000AD you moved on to work for American publishers. Can you compare at all the experience of working for Tharg, and then into what must have been quite a different environment? How did Marvel compare to 2000AD?
Liam: It was entirely different. For a start, Paul Neary, the Editor in Chief, was a creator first - a very funny writer, and a wonderful artist and (famously) inker. He had a much lighter touch and brought us into the Marvel UK building in very much a bullpen kind of style. He was also inclusive when it came to developing content, so we all had a say in that too - throwing around ideas, developing potential new properties... it was insanely exciting, and it felt like you mattered, like you had a voice. I adored working for 2000AD, and there was always greatness in those pages, but at Marvel UK I felt a whole different level of creative involvement from the ground up. I've not really experienced anything quite like that since - though to be fair DC has come pretty close in the last six years.
Paul: Madefire was a pretty impressive endeavour with a huge remit. Can you explain at all how it came about and what the goals were?
Liam: It grew out of Mam Tor, where I had been talking to a large number of creators about the potential in digital comics, and how we might be able to create something that could be read online but not easily pirated, that would cut out the cost of print and potentially reach a wider audience globally than print could. The initial issue was how to avoid piracy since copying online documents is so easy. At first there was a lot of reticence about digital comics - everybody thought it would be the end of print - but I saw it as a gateway. I'm a print guy, always have been and always will be, but if we could just get people seeing the comics, like they had back in the days when comics were in every corner store, then maybe we could begin to regrow the industry through different means. It was a simple enough idea, but the initial mission got quickly lost as we grew, and as shareholders and corporate meetings started to control the direction of the company, after which it became a kind of lab for what was possible, as well as a digital app builder for other companies. I ended up leaving a few years in as I felt completely disillusioned by it and was desperate to get back to writing and drawing my own stories - which had been the original intention of the company from the start: to provide a platform for people like me to make their stories.
Paul: I have to ask about your time with DC. Your art on Wonder Woman was a revelation in many ways for the character I feel. It seemed like a sudden burst of creativity.
Liam: Well, you have to bear in mind - I had been at Madefire for, I think, four years by then, and had done very little art compared to everything that came before! The switch to being an exec at a start-up was pretty extreme, but one thing I hadn't expected was how much I would miss drawing, and how much it would kind of back-up inside me. When that opportunity presented itself, everything came bursting out... it was like a valve had been released! But there was more to it than that. I knew that this was a major opportunity to do work that would actually be seen, you know? It was a bona fide comeback. I never dreamed I would get that chance again, so I grabbed the bull by both horns and went for it - falling in love with the character in the process.
Paul: After Wonder Woman came the incredible Brave and the Bold, and then after that the insanely well received Green Lantern. It was critically adored and a huge success in regard to sales. If I had to criticise at all, I just wish there was more of it. Would you say it was the perfect collaboration?
Liam: I adored drawing The Brave and the Bold, which was a passion project - material I've wanted to do a comic about for almost as long as I can remember! Those Irish myths are so rich and vivid! I think it's become more widely appreciated with each passing year now. The Green Lantern, though, was something else! I've wanted to work with Grant for a very long time, and we'd talked about various ideas, but nothing had come to fruition. When the chance came I jumped at it, and certainly from my perspective it was a perfect collaboration, because Grant gave me everything I love in a comic. The chance to be creative, daring, epic and a little bonkers - in the best way! I still miss it. Grant's such a lovely person and it was a joy collaborating with him. We both got kind of gleeful doing it, like a couple of kids. I think we pulled off something really rare in the mainstream. There was no ongoing title on the shelves quite like it.
Paul: An interview with Liam Sharp is not complete without mention of The Hulk. Your approach to the Hulk is loved. Do you still sketch him for fun?
Liam: I wish I had better memories of that time. The world was kind of my oyster after the success of Death's Head II, and I had done the Spider-Man clone story, and a Venom mini-series. The Hulk had always been one of my absolute favourites, and I had really enjoyed Peter David's writing prior to my coming onboard. But it got off to a rocky start right from the off. I spoke to Peter and he asked what I liked and didn't like, and I said I loved sci-fi and fantasy, and didn't like cars and suburban interiors. He said that unfortunately that's precisely what Gary Frank had been doing so he'd have a think about it, and in the end made him a mechanic in Florida. I was also fighting some huge personal demons back then and was filled with self-doubt. I just couldn't decide how to approach it and got in a mass- kind of throwing everything and the kitchen sink at it stylistically. I was focusing too much on what it looked like, and struggling under the weight of it in the shadow of Gary, Dale Keone, and McFarlane... I was deeply unhappy. And Peter wasn't a fan of what I was doing either. I wasn't able to communicate my misgivings and people didn't really understand depression back then in the way they do now. I felt like a deer in the headlights, and like everything was slipping through my fingers. And the work I was doing was hugely dividing the audience. It got a lot of hate - which didn't help! It was the start of a long, dark period in my career that I'm only just now getting my arms around. That said, whenever I do cons it is The Hulk I sign the most, and it seems that a good many people did actually love the run. You know what they say about 20/20 hindsight? I have long wished I could have another crack at the character. I'd love to see what I could do with him now! As for drawing him for fun - I have done a few times, yes. And my kids all love him too - particularly my daughter Matylda. He’s, her favourite.
Paul: It is only fair to end an interview by asking if there is any current work you would like to promote. I suspect there might be.
Liam: I'm currently working on a huge epic called StarHenge, book one - six issues for Image. If it does well enough, I'll be back for more. It's a sci-fantasy across time, and kind of Terminator meets The Green Knight. Loads of cultural references to my home here in CA, in Walnut Creek, as well as Brighton in Sussex, and obviously Stonehenge... it's my Arthurian saga told in a completely new and unique way. I'm insanely proud of it. 🙂 After that I'm doing X-O Manowar with B Cloonan and Michael Conrad, and I have stuff even lined up for after that, but I'm not allowed to talk about it! 🙂
Paul: What does the future hold for Liam Sharp?
Liam: Ha! BIG question that one! I sincerely hope my creator-owned title does well because my dream is to write and draw a lot more personal material of my own invention. Of course, I love the icons, and I don't want to ever completely stop working with them - at least not for now! - but it's a truism that as we get older, we become more focussed because we start to get a real sense of the limits on the time that lies ahead of us - if we're lucky! Knowing that makes you start to consider what you actually want to do and how long that might take. I had hoped to one day direct a movie, but I'll settle for the shorts I did at this point. I miss being in a band and would dearly love to record an album, but again, I WAS in a few bands, so if I have to give that dream up so be it. My focus has become writing and drawing comic stories. I hope I get to paint on canvas again at some point - the time and freedom to paint is a luxury I long for - and I have more novels up my sleeve, but it all comes down to time, and how hard you push yourself. I've been pushing hard for a good six years now, and there's only so long you can maintain that level of output, so I also hope I can slow down just a smidgeon because I'm not as young as I was!
Paul: PLEASE one final question. Can I ask about your STAR in Derby in the UK. It is your hometown. What does that mean to you?
Liam: It IS my hometown, yes. They have done a whole walk around the town - like the one in Hollywood. There's me, John Hurt, Florence Nightingale, and even Lara Croft because she was created at Derby's Core Design studio! It was, and is, a HUGE honour. I've still not seen it in person yet... I'm oddly nervous about it! Maybe next time I'm over I'll take a walk down to it. It's a beautiful design!
Paul: Thank you for your time Liam.