1. Your artwork is rich and varied. Can you tell us about some of your artistic influences ?
Liam Sharp: So many! As a kid I was fairly obsessed with Michelangelo… early superheroes! The David, Moses, the Sistine Chapel… Astonishing work. I love a lot of great illustrators and painters too, Like Rockwell, Maxfield Parish, Clement Coll, Jeffrey Bama, Frazetta… the greats! In terms of comics I’m also very eclectic in my taste – Richard Corben, Moebius, Bill Sienkiewicz, Toppi, Miller, Bolland, McMahon, Toth, Sepieri, Druillet, Manara… the list goes on and on!
2. You’ve worked on both big British and American titles. Is there a difference between working for British publishers and American publishers?
Liam Sharp: Certainly! The Brits have a mid-Atlantic thing going on that is ironic and cynical, and generally has more panels per page. It’s a mix between European and US sensibilities. US comics have evolved as more Europeans have become mainstay creators, but there’s definitely more of a leaning towards heroes and superheroes in the US – the new mythology of a new world!
3. Most artists and writers are content to rest on their laurels. But you constantly take risks and strive for more. In many ways, Madefire is considered a revolutionary approach to story telling. What led to its formation and what does its future hold?
Liam Sharp: It was born out of frustration! I had so many stories to tell that I couldn’t find a publisher for, even after 20+ years in the industry, and I found with Mam Tor publishing that print was an incredibly difficult way to get your material out. Digital seemed the obvious way to go – if you could get past the issues of piracy and how to create a marketplace. Then once you REALLY start to think about the digital space it’s not long before you start to think – hang on, this is a smarter environment than a piece of paper. What can it do? How can we use this space to innovate storytelling, not just comics? The rest grew out of that thought process.
4. As an artist, you’re extremely versatile. If you had to pick one, what is your preferred medium and work method?
Liam Sharp: Thank you! I have to say though – I really don’t have a favourite medium. It’s what I’m getting into at any given time, and it could be digital or analog. Whatever gets the job done!
5. We live in the Internet Age. How do you think the internet and digital publishing are affecting the comic book industry? Do you see it as a positive or negative thing?
Liam Sharp: Very much a positive thing. Digital is separate to print, and we’ve found it is actually driving new readers towards comic. If you’ve found our app but never read a comic – and lots of our readers conform to that description – then you are for more likely to step into the next comic shop you see…
6. You worked on some controversial books, including Testament. What were some of the challenges dealing with such controversial material? Did you go into the work knowing it would be controversial or did this have no bearing on your approach to it?
Liam Sharp: The main thing is galvanizing yourself to face the criticism – or outright hate! Funnily enough I’ve always split opinion, so I have been used to having my haters! It can be very dispiriting, but in the case of Testament I thought it was a high-brow, very intellectual work and I was thrilled to do it. It’s much closer to my personal interests than almost all of the testosterone-fuelled madness I’ve been associated with. Rushkoff is a fascinating writer with a pretty prophetic vision of things to come, as well as having a deep interest in anthropology – which I share. Very exciting work! Anybody who got angry with it was missing the point, or two narrow-minded to embrace bold ideas. We have to be able to live our lives eyes wide open if we are to learn and to grow.
7. You’re more than an artist – you’re also a writer and published God Killers. What was the premise of this book and why did you decide to explore it as a novel as opposed to a graphic novel?
Liam Sharp: I’ve always writer, but as a comic artist one tends to get pigeonholed. People never thought to ask, generally, if I wanted to write AND draw – except for a very few cases, such as Death’s Head Gold and Aliens: Fast Track to Heaven. I also love long-form writing and reading. I’m a near compulsive short story writer. God Killers, though, was a book I conceived when I was about 12. I drew the first chapter as a comic one holiday, then later I revisited it in my late teens… and it never went away. Around 20 I started to write it as prose. Then I tried to pitch it as a graphic novel a few times, then as an illustrated book, and eventually I just had to write the damn thing and be done. It took seven years to do – around my other work – and by the time I finished it I had learned so much about writing that had to start over pretty much! I have a new book called Paradise Rex Press, Inc. coming out soon, from PS Publishing, that may be the most brave, honest and unique thing I have ever done. I’m extremely excited about that!
8. As well as comics, you’ve also worked in television and film. Did you enjoy these experiences and how is it different from working in comics?
Liam Sharp: It was work-for-hire design work generally, though I got to go to the studio for Lost in Space as they were filming in London. It’s very different to comics. You can’t get too attached to any designs as somebody else will iterate on top of your work and change it, but it DOES pay better!
9. You provided the artwork for a comic book set in the Gears Of War universe. The Gears Of War universe and characters are among the most iconic in recent gaming. People closely associate Marcus Fenix and the other gears with their 3D models from the game. What was your approach to portraying the characters and their world in the 2D medium of comics?
Liam Sharp: I wanted it to be a great comic first and foremost. I didn’t want to slavishly copy the CGI, it had to be illustrative and sensitive. I wanted to add as much humanity as possible – see the characters in civies, having a drink. There was a character that took about eight pages to die after he was shot, and Joshua (Ortega) had his just slowly fade away. It was a unique, humane way of telling the story I think. I’m extremely proud of that work – plus I got to design Jace and Barrick!
10. How did you get into comics? Many people are called but few are chosen, so to speak. How did you break into this charmed circle and what advice can you give aspiring comic book artists and writers?
Liam Sharp: I was lucky enough to get an apprenticeship with the late, very great Don Lawrence – my mentor and friend. I miss him very much. That opened doors at 2000ad, and that opened doors at Marvel UK, then the staggering success of my Death’s Head II character (500,000 copies) opened doors at Marvel US, and beyond. I think I was only in the fabled charmed circle for a couple of years really, back in the early 90s. I tend to find that people know my work more than they know my name – if at all. We all drift in and out of the zeitgeist, and so much is down to happenstance and kismet! I would say I’m fairly respected in the industry, but it’s been a very very long time since I was a fan favourite…
11. This a question I ask as many creators and publishers as possible and I’d love to get your feedback. How would you like to see the comic book industry grow and change over the next few years?
Liam Sharp: I think it’s always changing. The writing is generally better across the board. Digital adds a new wrinkle. Big names doing great, unique independent work like Saga is very good for resetting audience expectations.
12. Some of your work has a dream-like surreal quality that reminds me of Dave Mckean. This certainly stands out in the world of super-rendered digital painting. I actually find that the surreal quality of some of your work (specifically that in Captain Stone) is very evocative. What are your feelings and views about the art world’s recent shift to highly detailed, realistic digital paintings?
Liam Sharp: Thank you! I hope we get more of the kind of innovation artistically that we saw in the 80s, from Europe and the US – I really miss that experimentalism, the pushing at boundaries. It’s very much what I attempt in my art, and in particular Cap Stone – as you note! I’m not always sure I’m hitting my mark, and I know it doesn’t always work, but it’s a risk worth taking. I constantly feel like I straddle this no man’s land between the mainstream and the innovative, the sublime and obscure. It sometimes troubles me because I think it can be alienating. If we don’t, as artists, educate our audience to develop a broader palette with regard to taste, then we will always be stuck with a very staid, one-note sense of what is and what should be comics art. In my view words vand pictures combined should not be reductive. The potential for art is innate and implicit in the medium, but still has a faint stigma attached to it – which I find utterly ridiculous. I will spend my life trying to find my way to something I believe is true art in what I do. It’s a compulsion. I’m stretching towards something that I hope, one day, will resonate. Whether I achieve that or not only time will tell!
13. Can you tell us more about Captain Stone? It looks to be a fascinating take on the superhero genre. Would I be right in saying it partially deconstructs the classic tropes of this genre? And what inspired it and what themes does it explore?
Liam Sharp: Thank you! And yes, it’s deconstructive. Some of my favourite bits are the articles – such as the Playbunny interview – that really establish his character and motive, his place in time. You get to know him through these external, meta details, as opposed to within the actual narrative. It’s also a study of celebrity, the media, the rise and fall of public figures, and how we really know nothing. Also – working with my wife Christina was, and has always been, a joy. It’s so great to share a credit with her!
14. You’re active on DeviantArt, an online art community. Can you tell us more about DA and its association with Madefire?
Liam Sharp: dA and Madefire are very close partners. With deviants using the tool and creating motion books that they are publishing to the site that partnership is evolving all the time. My journals are intended to help new creators navigate the industry, as well as – I hope – offering some sage insights into creating, publishing and growing as a creator. I try to remove some of the opacity and mythology associated with comic creation. It’s no cake walk.
15. Finally (and you knew I would ask this question 🙂 ), can you please tell us more about Beardism?
Liam Sharp: Ha! Well if you read my upcoming book Paradise Rex Press, Inc. you will learn everything you need to know about beardism! But in the meantime you can enjoy this delightful site: http://beardism.weebly.com/