Tuesday, September 15, 2009
An Interview with Liam Sharp
I first became aware of the amazing work of Liam Sharp with his work on Marvel Comic’s Death’s Head II in the early 9o’s. Since that time he has worked on projects as diverse as Spider-Man to Death Dealer. He continues to produce innovative and breathtaking work in comics to this day, while also writing novels and producing concept art for films and television. I am extremely proud to be able to present our readers with this look into the world of Liam Sharp!!
I've been a fan of your work since your run on Death's Head, but the work you did on Bloodseed was the first work of your’s that completely blew me away. Can you tell us about the creation of the series, and is there any chance the character will ever appear again?
Liam: Bloodseed came from a love Paul Neary and I shared for Warren comics, and for me personally the classic 70's barbarian masterpieces - Buscema, Barry Smith and Frazetta's Conan being standouts. It was a huge seller at the time - can you believe 270,000 copies? I can't quite recall why we never finished it - it may have been an offer from Marvel US to do an issue of the XMen, conflicting deadlines, something like that - but it just never happened. Also the spreads in issue 2 were printed in the wrong order, which made the narrative completely incoherent.
One day I would love to revisit it - it was creator-owned, so I would have to talk to Paul. I tried to get Dynamite, who do Red Sonja, interested, but they never came back to me sadly. Shame.
Your work on Man-Thing and Magik was very experimental and way ahead of the curve as far as your use of computer imagery mixed with highly expressionistic brushwork. What unique challenges did you face in both technique and print quality?
Liam: Oh man, I loved Man-Thing! Magik, though, was perhaps a step too far! It was all over the place! I used to think I didn't really have much of a personal style and was on a quest for something radical, something to rival Sienkewicz, McKean: the great stylists. I wanted to push the medium and be an innovator, but – Man-Thing aside - I never felt I had quite the right vehicle, and I think I was trying these things at the wrong point historically, I was way off the zeitgeist there!
I think I also probably damaged my career doing that work, as just from a hiring point of view you never knew what you would get from me. I was wildly inconsistent – but not because I wasn't trying hard enough but perhaps because I was trying TOO hard. That said, those first eight issues of Man-Thing still stand up, in my opinion, as something that melded the original 1970's vibe and artistic approach to something much more radical, especially for Marvel at that time. J.M.DeMatteis and I were a really great team and bounced off each other. The bullets to butterflies sequence in issue one was my idea - the scene was scripted as Dr. Strange having a protective bubble of energy around him, but that seemed wrong for the book – too classic Marvel. DeMatteis was really into the ideas I brought to the table, and together we had a fantastic time coming up with outlandish, epic sequences. Possibly the most fun I’ve had on a book, period.
Speaking of Man-Thing, could you tell us what path the series would have taken if it were allowed to continue?
Liam: Did you know we finished the arc? I don't know what happened to all the pages of art, but it got more and more outlandish! I should have exercised some self-control! So yes, the 12 issue storyline was completed. DeMatteis wrote up the plot somewhere online, how it all ended - I'm a bit hazy on the details after so long! There was a kind of wrap-up in a Spiderman annual, but I did some really nuts art in that. I cringe whenever I see it now!
Everyone speaks of the amazing work you produced for Verotik on Death Dealer, but your work on Jaguar God was equally impressive. The title seemed to have a real problem with keeping artists. Were you to be the regular artist on the title, or were those issues considered "fill-ins"?
Liam: The Death Dealer was wonderful purely because Frazetta had been such a huge influence on my art. The stories stank though - way too violent and unsophisticated I think. They lacked the sense of place and detail that they could have had. It was too sketched in and was really just pure sensationalist trash - no heart or depth. Jim Silke, who wrote the novels, hated what Danzig wrote, as did Frazetta I hear. I got the brunt of that in one of Frazetta's books - Icon I think. I bought it, as I did all Frazetta books, and poured over it. My heart leapt when I came to the Death Dealer section - and found I was mentioned - only to then be shattered by the completely dismissive tone of what was said about my work. Frank had approved every page. I gave him one of the best, the Death Dealer entering the tent of the blind witch.
I never got any thanks for it, and to be so casually dismissed in print was brutal and arrogant. It took me a long time to get over that. I wrote him a long letter but never sent it.
I've since heard from artists who know Frank that he was always very kind about my work, if not the comic, so it looks like it may have been editorial on some level. I doubt I'll ever know for sure.
As for the Jaguar God - that book was considered cursed even by the publisher! It had a horrible history of missed deadlines and constantly changing artists. I find that stuff really gratuitous now. At the time I was delighted to find myself associated with Bisley and Frazetta - it seemed so rock n’ roll! – but, that was just my naivety. I'm happy to draw violence, but these days I like a little context, a reason for it that doesn't simply revel in the excess.
But hey, you know, it was Verotik! Sex, violence and controversy were their calling cards!
Spawn the Dark Ages was a title that seemed tailor made for your style, even though it was a radical departure from the McFarlane and Image "house" style. Were you allowed free reign on that title or was there opposition as far as style?
Liam: ‘Spawn: the Dark Ages’ was meant to be a mini-series, ‘The Origin of Medieval Spawn’. We set it in Medieval times and I did tons or research. The costume, as you see it on the first cover, was the same as Medieval Spawn, just much more organic - it hadn't set yet as he was fresh out of hell. Lord knows why McFarlane decided to call it ‘Spawn: the Dark Ages’!!! It wasn't in the dark ages at all! Brian Holguin and I had this idea that each story would be told from an alternative point of view by a different character, so they were 'legends', folklore. We could change how he looked, issue to issue, based on how the story was reported.
I loved that. Then Todd said he didn't want any more magic in the stories, (and bear in mind we were a few issues in!) which frankly seemed a tall order - he was a zombie from Hell! How could there NOT be magic? He said he wanted it to be "Braveheart! Braveheart! Braveheart!" When the next (already drawn) issue hit print and still contained magic he hit the roof! I got replaced by another artist - I was never told why. It was a gut punch. I had made my deadlines and the book was successful, the guy who fired me resigned very soon after - he said I'd always been a gentleman to work with and I know he felt just wretched doing it.
It left us in a very bleak place for a long time after that so sadly my memories of that gig aren't great. My wife had just had a baby, it was just coming up to Christmas in 1999… Bad, bad timing.
Both Possessed and Testament contained interesting takes on religious subject matter. Have you experienced any backlash from these titles?
Liam: Not really - just a few online rants, but I get that no matter what I do! The worst abuse I ever had was for my run on the Hulk!
You know what? We have the power to decide and to think for ourselves. A point of view is just that, a point of view. If you are secure in your belief it doesn't mater what anybody else thinks! Without an opposite view there's no view at all, just a doctrine. I absolutely believe we should make our own minds up about everything not based on what we are told but on what we see, what we chose to learn, and how we, ourselves, choose to go about finding our own answers. We shouldn't believe something just because another fallible human tells us we should, and because there is a book about it! Testament was just a story, we never claimed it was true. Likewise with The Possessed, which was a horror story and totally preposterous. In some ways The Possessed took religion for granted, whereas Testament questioned it - so I'm all for exploring ideas on that subject matter!
Could you take us through the steps you take in creating a page of your work, including the tools you use?
Liam: I wish I could, but it varies so much. I pencil it out roughly - I don't do layouts - then I go to ink. I put a bit more detail in the faces. I do any fixes digitally. That's about it! There's no mystery! Comics are such a relentless trade there's barely any time to second-guess what you do, you just have to dig in and hope it turns out all right...
What medium of creation (comics, writing, movie design) do you find the most rewarding?
Liam: I have to say writing. You can cover so much more ground! You can write a vast and epic battle in a day or two that would take you weeks to draw, and you can pile on the irony, any point of view you might have. In comics the artist generally acts as a cipher for the writer. My novel ‘God Killers’ (Official site:http://machivariuspoint.weebly.com/) is far more representative of me – it’s got all the kind of imagery you might expect, but it’s self-aware, and it’s really an anti-war polemic dressed as a heroic fantasy. it’s almost as much sci-fi as fantasy because it has an internal logic - magic isn’t there as a maguffin, it’s very much part of the structure. And terrible things happen to characters you wouldn’t expect. I tried to make it solid, real, believable – and shocking!
The book I’m most proud of, though, is ‘Andrew Wilmingot’s Paradise Rex Press, Inc.’ which is yet to be published and will have an into by China Miéville - who fell in love with it. There’s no question it’s the bravest, most honest and literate thing I ever wrote – though lord knows how you’d categorize it!
How do you feel the comics industry has changed since you got your start, and what do you think must happen for the industry to survive?
Liam: It’s changed beyond recognition almost. In the seventies Moebius, Druillet, Bilal and Corben were like the kings of prog-art, doing vast sprawling epics with no editorial constraints, no limits to possibility. That’s what I really wanted to do. In the eighties we got amazing writers and visionary artists combined – Moore, Sienkewicz, McKean, Frank Miller, Ted McKeever. Stylistic works that broke the mould like Dark Knight, Electra Assassin, Stray Toasters… incredible work. In the nineties we got Jim Lee and Image, which my career launched off the back of.
Now, though the writers are king.
I think the future HAS to embrace digital possibilities, no matter what the naysayers think. And the industry needs to reach out to new people, not just service an existing clientele. As the first point of contact we need the artists to be appreciated – nobody picks up a comic for the first time because of the words. The art sells it, the words make it a keeper – or not. Once you get into comics properly it may well be that it’s the writers that keep you coming back, but the artists are what you see first. That’s important!
What projects do you have coming up?
Liam: Man, so much stuff! I’m production designer on the movie adaptation of Eastman and Bisley’s ‘Fistful of Blood’, I’ve got an upcoming project with Dark Horse that I’m writing and drawing – don’t think I’m allowed to say what yet though! I’m still the artist on the bi-monthly Gears of War title, and I have a huge project in the pipeline that involves some massive names and which – if it comes off – will be very exciting indeed. It promises to be quite a year!
For more from the incredible Liam Sharp, please head here http://www.liam-sharp.com, then get your ass to the nearest comic shop and check out all of the work mentioned above!!