When we sit down to speak with Liam Sharp, he’s just finished another comic book cover. Lately he’s been doing a run of covers for the DC series Manhunter. He’s also just finished four and a half issues of a set called Lord Havok and the Extremists, and is pitching for a Batman mini series. Nice little regulars like this are going down
well with Liam.
With a 20-year career in the comics industry under his belt, Liam has done artwork featuring some of biggest characters in the genre many times over, and he’s completed a range of series for the big hitting, mainstream companies. We’re talking here about the likes of Judge Dredd, X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, Superman and Batman, accompanied by their well-known proprietors 2000 AD, Marvel and DC.Let’s get Biblical
But it’s not only the household names that have captured Liam’s imagination. He readily admits that for stretches in his career he’s been enamoured with creating artwork for stories that are a little more niche. Take, for example, Testament. Liam created visuals for several volumes of this graphic novel series by the writer Douglas Rushkoff. Described as ‘seriously trippy’
by Rolling Stone, the books tackle some weighty subjects in colourful and innovative ways.
“Testament took Old Testament stories and juxtaposed them with a near-future dystopia, concerning itself with the battle for possession of free will between mankind and the gods, and shearing the floss off a few sacrificial goats along the way,” says Liam. “It’s a fantastic, surprising read with amazingly engaging and radical heroes and heroines.”
Themes like this seem to excite Liam’s mind and as he explains, he’s a ponderer and an armchair philosopher. Things like anthropology, Darwinism, ancient history and string theory are just a handful of the areas that interest him. And his eclectic thinking is more than reflected in his creative approach.
Straight away you’ll notice that rather than working within established styles, Liam has an appetite for innovation and exploration. Even when he takes on work in a series involving an established character he’ll look for his own stylistic interpretation. Whether he works in
lumpy oils or photorealism, it will always be determined by how he’s inspired by
“Oh man, I get distracted so easily!” says Liam. “I’m like the proverbial kid in a sweet shop when it comes to techniques, and I just want to try everything! A good example of my wayward technique would be a story I wrote and illustrated for Heavy Metal magazine called A-crazy-A – after the sorceress, Acrasia, who turned her lovers to statues. Technique-wise I used 3D spaceships built in an old program called Strata Vision 3D, traditional pen and ink drawing, Photoshop colouring, and even some fully painted acrylic bits! It was really an homage to all the guys I’ve loved in Heavy Metal, from Moebius, through Corben to Biz.”
Sometimes, Liam admits, he ends up creating things that look and feel a little more niche than expected. A few years ago he worked on The Possessed with Geoff Johns. Because the writer’s a fan favourite, the money was on Liam producing a mainstream romp. Instead the finished books were full of dark, graphic horror. Carefully inked detail gives way to manic looseness which, Liam explains, was intended to represent the kinetics of motion and the confusion of fear.
“I very much respond to what’s in the script – though to be honest my attempts at pioneering don’t always come off,” says Liam candidly. “For me it’s part of the job, to try to be innovative, and bring something new – though that’s not always what fans want, particularly in the mainstream where consistency is king.”
These days Liam isn’t only doing comic art. He also loves writing. His venture into publishing with Mam Tor is broadening his thinking as well (see page 58). Alongside critiquing the variety of styles and techniques he’s used, he’s also been looking into what comic fans expect. It’s not always what comic artists would like to produce. Successful mainstream comic artists, he points out, often take a draftsman-like approach. However, like Liam himself many comic artists have more of a fine art sensibility, reacting to the storylines, not necessarily portraying the characters the way collectors would expect.
The creativity that excites the comic artist does not always infect the collecting masses. “As comic art fans we think we’re comic fans like all other comic fans – but we’re not,” says Liam. “It’s a big help to understand that when it comes to mainstream work. Certainly if I had understood that I would have had a very different career, and played a lot more safe when I drew books like the Hulk and Spawn: the Dark Ages. Maybe I’d have remained more visible in the mainstream.”
Liam probably shouldn’t be too hard on himself. Mainstream and niche work seems to strike a great balance in his career, and that works with his creative approach and his way of thinking.
The likes of DC Comics continue to invite him back for more, and he’s a very active and popular convention regular who does many signings several times a year at the big comic cons and shows around the world. With his own writing and publishing projects underway alongside
all the artwork, Liam Sharp remains one