At 40, Liam Sharp’s artwork is still looking sharp, if not sharper than ever before.
So, is it any wonder that the veteran comic book illustrator and creator Liam Sharp has signed an exclusive contract with DC Comics?
After all, he is busy illustrating the ongoing Gears of War series based on Microsoft and Epic’s best-selling third-person tactical action video game with Gears of War 2 scriptwriter and comic book writer Joshua Ortega. That’s right. It’s an ongoing commitment for him.
We’ve already chatted with him (and Ortega) about Gears of War. This time around, we spoke with him about his decision to go exclusive with DC and how he intends to “pacify” the company’s super-heroes.
Newsarama: We've seen your work appearing in DC and its related imprint, Vertigo, in the last couple of years. From Testament to the Countdown-related mini-series, Lord Havok and the Extremists. What's the draw (no pun intended) for you this time to agreeing to an exclusive with DC? What made the offer so appealing?
Liam Sharp: I think being offered an exclusive is always appealing as it puts a sense of value of your work, it means that what you do is appreciated. As you mentioned, I've been with DC for quite a few years now, as far back as The Possessed in 2003, so it feels like a logical progression. But also this Gear of War book feels so right for me, and it's good, too, having to do all this hardware, which frankly scares the shit out of me! I love the designs, the scale and scope, and clearly the characters sit well with my style - all that grit and texture. And then there's the aliens, or whatever the hell the Locust swarm are, which are just bloody cool. It's such a detailed universe you can really sink your artist chops into it!
NRAMA: For someone who's worked on Small Soldiers, Lost in Space, and on the animated series Batman Beyond doing concept designs, Judge Dredd, Death's Head II for Marvel UK, Batman, Superman and other Marvel projects as well as starting Mam Tor, your own publishing company with your wife in 2004, what do you hope to achieve as an artist and a creator at this point in your creative career?
LS: I've had a very varied career - now in it's third decade which is shocking! - and I've been lucky enough to really jump between the genres and push myself artistically. My big aims for the future are primarily to do with generating projects and writing, which has always been a huge passion. Mam Tor have started to produce novels, the second of which is in the bookshops right now (James Johnson's Erth Chronicles Book One: The Enemy's Son) and we're involved with other stuff like the comic we're producing with Mother advertising for Time Out - I love doing that stuff, trying new things, and seeing comic production from the other side of the desk. Also my first novella and collected short stories comes out later in the year, and the next book - the first of a trilogy - is well under way, so that keeps me busy. But as far as comic work goes I'm wide open to do whatever comes my way - though obviously there are certain characters I'd love to do one day.
NRAMA: What does it mean for its projects and the quarterly comic in Time Out magazine called "Four Feet From a Rat"?
LS: Five years in we're still here, and we're still getting strong reviews and winning awards. While I'm contracted to DC I can't draw or write any comic stuff but I can still over-see our publishing outfit, and with Enemy's Son getting the attention it's getting, and the same with the Time Out comic (free downloadable PDF available here) things are really starting to gear up! Thankfully I've got an amazing, dedicated group of people working with me on the Mam Tor stuff, so for the most part I'm able to get on with my drawing work. We're still just at the beginning though in so many ways. I think Mam Tor will be around for a long time yet!
NRAMA: After the whole experience with Testament, are you also considering creating and developing your own properties at Vertigo, either on your own or with another writer/artist? Some of us still remember The Possessed, the WildStorm comic that you co-created with Geoff Johns and Kris Grimminger back in 2003/2004…
LS: Oh man, I'm always developing properties! I'm most keen to get a few of my own off the ground - long term I'd like to write more and draw a little less - but I don't think the industry has ever been this competitive or swamped with talent! It's a battlefield out there! I'm always pitching ideas though, so we'll see. There are a few close to my heart that won't go away, but it's all about timing. The zeitgeist is a near impossible thing to judge, and I've always been slightly out of sync with what's hot - except for my Death's Head days when I was right on the money! Beginners luck I guess!
NRAMA: What might some of the new projects be this time around? Okay, there's the Gears of War ongoing comic but is there a super-hero project that you hope to illustrate as well? Any specific characters that you know you want to get to during this period?
LS: There's always guys I'd love to draw! But for now Gears is what I'm focusing on. It works really well as a comic, so I'm hoping people dig it as much as we are. It's a cracking team we've got - Joshua [Ortega] knows this gaming stuff inside out, given that he writes the games themselves, and we've been talking about doing stuff together for ages. Ben [Abernathy]'s a great editor - we had fun way back on Possessed and always wanted to do something else together. It's very cool when you find yourself in a team like that, so for now I'm head down for the haul - and man, it is a haul! The pages are taking way longer than usual because everything is so visually dense! I'm all hours on this thing!
NRAMA: You and J.M. DeMatteis started the whole “Clone Saga” with an origin of Spider-Man's clone in Amazing Spider-Man #394 in 1994, right? Now that you're at DC, is there an origin tale that you'd like to re-tell?
LS: Bloody hell, that's going back... It's funny, but I've done it a lot; Spawn: The Dark Ages, GOTH, Bloodsead, The Possessed, Death's Head II, Testament, Lord Havok - I've done loads of origins, and a retelling with Man-Thing (also with DeMatteis) and I wonder how many more times it can be done now, especially with cerebral, clever stuff like [Mark] Millar did with The Ultimates, and [Warren] Ellis' Planetary, and there's Watchmen, The Twelve... there's so much of that stuff! What's left to do? [laughs] It'd be cool to do a whole new re-imagining of Hawkman, something like that. His history is so damn convoluted and plain bonkers now it would make sense to start something else from scratch - but the fans might linch me for it! I think they love all that detail and suspension of disbelief... so it would have to be another alternate reality version if I was going to survive an overhaul like that!
NRAMA: I know you've said in an interview that Batman was a "frustrating" experience for you. Would you consider tackling the Dark Knight again after all these years? Why, or why not?
LS: I'd love to do Batman - Mark Andreyko and I have a story we're very keen to do one day, but like I said earlier, it's all about timing. My problem with Batman before was that I literally had two weeks to do two issues. I only agreed really because it was Batman! Who's going to turn down Batman? But then obviously it was going to look pretty weak given the time-frame. I got the book done on time, and the editor was grateful - he thought I was being hard on myself - but I never want to do that again, as it puts my art in a bad light and nobody gets to hear why it looked a bit, well, s__t! [laughs]
NRAMA: Wrapping things up, your style has always been more masculine and macho. Are you looking to stretch your wings a little?
LS: It's my albatross! There's work I've done that isn't at all macho - I'm not a macho person, despite appearances. I paint. I write poems and songs. I'm a pacifist armchair-philosopher. I'm fascinated by string and membrane theory. I read books on anthropology - I'm a nerd! [laughs] I guess the macho stuff is either the remnant of wish fulfillment fantasies that come from being a fairly solitary, bullied kid. Or they're part of a bigger, deeper cultural thing that might be a kind of Jungian racial memory, symbolic artifact - I have a theory about epic storytelling from Gilgamesh, through the Iliad and odyssey, to present day comics that I've banged on about in my blogs for years. Most likely, though it's a bit of both! But anybody who's dropped by my online gallery and blog will know there's more to me than testosterone and muscles! I've always stretched my wings, but we can never chose what we become known for.
NRAMA: Liam Sharp manga-fying DC characters, no? After all, Batman's gotten the anime treatment with Batman: Gotham Knight…
LS: Let's go the other way - Liam Sharp pacifying DC characters... Nah. It would never work!