With this week’s The Green Lantern #1, artist Liam Sharp has united with Grant Morrison to take a new approach to the world of Hal Jordan.
For Sharp, it’s a dream project, one that Sharp says resulted from the universe “conspiring” to bring the two British creators together. And although Morrison’s story is structured like a police procedural, Sharp is spending plenty of time drawing strange alines and settings, many of them pulled from obscure references in DC’s distant past.
Newsarama talked to Sharp to find out more about his work with Grant, how far ahead the two of them are, and what influenced his visual approach to Hal Jordan.
Newsarama: Liam, you and I have talked before about how the stars kind of aligned to bring you together with Grant for The Green Lantern. How involved were you in the direction it’s taking? Or was it something Grant had sort of formulated before you got involved?
Liam Sharp: I think Grant sort of talked himself into the whole series when he was having dinner with DC Publisher Dan DiDio. Dan sort of said, what’s the chances of you doing Green Lantern? And he said no chance at all, but “if you’re going to do it, you should do this.” And by the time he’d finished explaining an entire season of what should happen with Green Lantern, he’d talked himself into doing it. And that was it.
He and I had been talking separately about doing something together and what that might look like, because we just kept bumping into each other at events. And so we were circling each other and figuring it out. And then this opportunity came up. And it was just a no-brainer.
So at that point, we both spoke together. Grant sort of laid his ideas on the table. And I threw some ideas in the pot, but you know, he’d already got the overall sense of what it was going to be.
Where the collaboration comes in is in terms of the way the story’s told and the way I make it look. And the way I pace it and build the world visually. My part is less about informing the story and more taking what I see on the paper and making it as amazing as I can.
Nrama: One of the things Grant likes to do is take really obscure concepts and characters from the past and bring them into the modern day. Have you had to go back for references and things like that and update them for now?
Sharp: Oh definitely. He’s great because when he does reference something, he gives the issue and where it is and what year it is and all of that. So he’s very specific about the references.
And then editorial have been fantastic about helping me out and getting the references to me. So they’ve had people pouring through old issues and digging out these very obscure characters.
For instance, there are three characters in the Vegas scene at the beginning that are projected down and it’s sort of three floating heads. Those guys are, like, acrobats from another planet that appeared in, gosh I can’t remember if it was an old Green Lantern issue or a Justice League issue. But they are a direct reference to something way, way back in the day.
One of the fun things is that the very old designs now look much weirder to us than they did. So oddly, as they have been updated over years and years and years, you end up with a lot of characters that look huge and muscular and brutish, and there’s an almost standard route were we as artists have been inclined to go for a long time. And it’s fun to go back to the very early versions of these characters and taking that much older aesthetic with these weird bug eyes and strong features and funny little shorts - all sorts of weird tropes from a different era that we just don’t do anymore and applying them to these characters again. It’s fun and it makes it look really odd yet entertaining.
Nrama: Can you describe how you’re involved with the story’s structure? Grant told us he was influenced by TV writing. Does he kind of control the pacing and structure?
Sharp: Yeah, Grant actually draws a thumbnail of every page as part of his process. So he knows that what he’s asking for it possible, one way or another.
But then when I get the script, like for panel 2 of page 2, that page in the script was four pages long. There were so many details about the various characters in the background.
And really what he’s doing is throwing ideas out there and trying to get you to embrace the universe and be in it, submerged in it. And I did my best to try to fit all the little details in. I missed a couple, but I got most of them.
And then I threw in a couple of my own.
So he’s kind of fun with that. There are characters from really … there’s like, a funny old bird character that replaced Superman in an old comic back in the day. There’s all sorts of stuff.
And they all say things like, there’s a little elephant-type creature that’s drinking out of a huge bucket of alcohol, but he’s raising his hand, calling over a robot that’s bringing another one to him.
That’s all in there. It’s tiny, but it’s there.
It’s just crazy fun character stuff that brings a little more to the world, I think.
Nrama: If he draws the page, then is he doing the breakdown?
Sharp: He generally breaks every page down into five panels. And I tend to stick with that, but occasionally I add more panels, and very occasionally I will take some of the panels onto another page so that I can create something near to a splash.
There’s a panel that was doing the rounds, a shot of Oa, just a city scape from issue #2. But it’s already been seen quite a bit.
That was one panel from a five-panel page and I just thought, you know what? I just want to do an epic shot of this place, because I can’t remember the last time we saw anything like that.
Nrama: Looking at your Hal Jordan, did you have anyone in mind as you drew him? Or any artistic influences on the way you drew him? It looks like a pretty classic approach.
Sharp: Yeah, I wanted to keep it pretty classic. It’s pretty much exactly the Neal Adams' costume, but I’ve lifted the waistline up so it’s not like a leotard. That’s it. I didn’t want to add much more.
For this, we just wanted to go back to a more classic, pulp vibe with him and probably reference more of the older stuff rather than try to modernize anything.
So it’s very deferential to everything that went before. Dave Gibbons’ Green Lantern was seminal in my youth. That was one of the versions that most resonated with me. Hal was always my Green Lantern.
And of course, there’s Gil Kane before that.
I think it’s some of those three. And then a little bit of my spin on top of it.
Nrama: Looking at the level of detail in this, and really the level of detail you always put in your work - are you ahead on this title? I feel like you can’t do this monthly.
Sharp: Oddly, I’m ridiculously far ahead. I’m more ahead than any other book, I think. I’m well into issue #5, I think, which is kind of unheard of, but it’s partly because I’m having so much fun. Grant is really far ahead too. I haven’t ever had to wait for a script. He’s already got a few in the pipeline beyond this.
As he’s writing now, he’s also visualizing me drawing it, which is nice. It makes it more of a two-person thing. I think we seem well made for each other.
Nrama: Do you use digital in your work? Or are you still drawing more traditionally?
Sharp: I’m very much traditional. I’m bringing little digital elements in. I use it to tidy up afterwards because I’m sending in the pages digitally. I scan them after I draw them, and there are some gray scale elements I’m bringing in that feel appropriate for planets or spaceships. And that would be hard to do in just black and white. I’m finding new ways of doing that that involve Photoshop. There are different media.
Nrama: So you’re inking over your pencils?
Nrama: Wow. Yeah, I’m glad you’re ahead, Liam.
Sharp: Yeah. I’m working silly hours too, non-stop a lot of the time. But I’m very much in the zone and having a ball.
Nrama: Are you feeling comfortable with your art team as well?
Sharp: Oh yeah. It’s such a joy to have Steve Oliff on colors. The entire team is a veteran team. I’m the kid on the book and I’m 50. It’s lovely to be part of this classic, veteran team. Steve Oliff is one of the great pioneers of the early ‘90s with digital coloring. But even before that, he was doing hand separations and was already a well-established voice in the industry.
Also, Tom Orzechowski doing the lettering - he’s just been doing seminal works all the way even in the ‘70s.
So it’s a joy for me to be working with these incredible people. But we also all feel like kids on the book. There’s definitely a freshness to it. There’s nothing jaded here. I think the pleasure is palpable. It’s really exciting.