Behind the Art: Liam Sharp

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Behind the Art: Liam Sharp

Liam Sharp has been working in comics since the 1980s, making a name for himself as an artist for 2000 AD, “the cutting edge powerhouse of British comics.” Sharp eventually landed with “the big two” comic powerhouses, Marvel and DC. Fans of DC’s Wonder Woman will recognize his name and his distinctive style from that title’s run during the 2016 DC Universe Rebirth.

Little trick I’ve found that works very well for me – I’ve been doing it the last few years. I keep all of my pages in order on my phone, and look through them before I go to sleep. In the morning I’m all ready to go on the next one. It also helps to visual gauge my progress.
— Liam 'Sharpy' Sharp (@LiamRSharp) June 28, 2019

These days, Sharp’s creating lavish art for DC’s The Green Lantern, written by another 2000 AD alum, Grant Morrison. Since The Green Lantern’s new run debuted in 2018, each issue has garnered favorable review after favorable review, with positive reader feedback shared on social media. On Twitter, Sharp shares his own advice about process and methods. He also dishes out words of encouragement for not only the aspiring comic book artist but also anybody who works in a creative industry.

Cover to DC Nation featuring Green Lantern, by Liam Sharp.
Sharp took time out of his busy schedule to talk about craft, inspiration, and finding your own style.
Wonder Woman Reimagined
Sharp calls his experience on writer Greg Rucka’s run of Wonder Woman “wonderful” and looks back fondly on the work, but calls landing the job kind of random. “I had no idea that it was going to happen. I had become aware through a friend of a friend that the work was available. I didn’t immediately think, I could do that book.” He stepped away from it all during the holidays and when came back to his studio, he looked at the Red Sonja art he created, titled Mouldering Stone. “Lots of symbolic imagery, a statue of death in the background that was wrapped in vines. It’s one of the rare pieces that I’m still really proud of—her haughty expression, the sense of story, who has she just killed? The way she’s looking right at us, her possible next victim. The suggestion that we’re maybe in some kind of maze, or labyrinthine ruins… The symbolic death statue… all very Barry Windsor-Smith!”

Red Sonja art titled Mouldering Stone by Liam Sharp.
Looking at that Red Sonja piece while contemplating the Wonder Woman work, Sharp had an epiphany. “It suddenly occurred to me that you could draw Wonder Woman in that kind of style, and make it very romantic and mythic. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I went to bed that night, and had a dream about superheroes and the next morning was convinced that I had to pursue it. I was completely excited. I sent Jim Lee a text with a picture of that Red Sonja piece, and I said, ‘You could do it like this.’ Jim really went to bat for me at DC.”

Wonder Woman number 1, cover by Liam Sharp.
Creating a Space Opera
Having completed a wonderful run on Wonder Woman, Sharp took on the Emerald Knight, the Intergalactic Space Cop Green Lantern. With Grant Morrison writing and Liam Sharp supplying the art, the two have created a sprawling Space Opera in the latest run, titled The Green Lantern. “Space operas in science fiction are those vast sagas in far-flung locations across multiple planets and often involving the rise and fall of various sentient cultures. Star Wars is a classic Space Opera. In literature you have books like Frank Herbert’s Dune, Iain M. Banks’s Cluster series, or Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep.” For Sharp, The Green Lantern “absolutely encompasses these themes and that kind of grand scale.” For readers and fans, it becomes evident right out of the gate in issue 1. The hardbound edition collecting the first few issues of The Green Lantern is available in case you want to read number 1 and beyond in one sitting.

The Green Lantern number 1, cover art by Liam Sharp.
“Grant and I are both huge fans of Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s Starlord, which was itself a love-letter to literary space operas.” A student of the medium, Sharp also cites Jim Starlin, whom he calls the Master of the Space Opera. Writer-artist Starlin created Marvel’s Thanos, launched into the mainstream thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and Avengers movies. In addition to Marvel’s run of space opera titles, Starlin also worked on DC’s New Gods, Adam Strange, and Stormwatch.

The Green Lantern number 2, splash page showing Green Lantern precinct on Oa, by Liam Sharp.

The Green Lantern number 6 guest starring Adam Strange (left) with Green Lantern, cover art by Liam Sharp.
The collaboration with The Green Lantern’s writer Grant Morrison, is one built on teamwork, evident when talking with Sharp about his artistic process and just how far the art gets pushed one way or another. For Sharp, the look and feel comes from the writing. “I don’t try to push further than what’s in the script. I want to build universes that feel rich and feel real, that are not shiny and plastic. Like when I did the shot on Oa, I wanted it to feel like a real precinct, with functional areas. But I also wanted it to twinkle, and have multiple layers, and styles of architecture, but also twinkling and beautiful. I will think about the environments, and a planet inhabited by an alien race that’s largely insectile, making it in an intelligent way. Grant, really, at this point, he writes with my art in mind. He trusts me to get it done. I try to interpret his script as clearly as possible—you can’t grandstand. I don’t take each page as an opportunity to show off, do one pin-up after pin-up It’s about the character and the story.”
Style Finds You

The truth is your style finds you, so don't force it. Try to hit the beats and be of service to the story, not the other way round. 2/2
— Liam 'Sharpy' Sharp (@LiamRSharp) April 14, 2017

The path to becoming a comic book artist is different for each artist. For many, it will take years of practice, trial and error, and long hours at a desk. Some have their own style, and others will search for a style their entire career by mimicking their heroes or predecessors, or mixing and matching styles. While it’s definitely a way to work, it’s not necessarily the way to work. On Twitter, Sharp has been vocal about style, namely, finding and defining your own. He says that he’s been guilty of imitating “with varying degrees of success” which he admits, have always been folly. “Usually it’s down to a matter of confidence and either not liking your own style, or feeling you lack one that is hard-hitting, current or relevant. Back in the late 80s I did a Judge Dredd story for 2000 AD that I poured everything I had into. I was spending three days on each page, and when I see that work now I think it was the prototype of what I’m doing currently.”

CLASSIC COVER: PJ Maybe by Liam Sharp for 2000 AD Prog 592 (17th September, 1988)
— 2000 AD (@2000AD) September 17, 2018

Recounting those events, Sharp remembers his story appearing in 2000 AD when Simon Bisley’s also did—in the very same issue. “Simon became an instant sensation, and I knew right away he would totally eclipse my efforts, making my work seem suddenly very old-fashioned. His art was heavy-metal-on-paper, and it seemed to channel so many of my own artistic heroes—Frazetta, Giger, Corben, Neal Adams, Brian Froud—and honestly, my heart just sank. The result was I had a creative wobble, and lost all faith in my own style. By second-guessing myself I derailed everything I was doing.” Shortly after that, Sharp says he jumped from style to style “trying to find a good fit.”
The search continued for him, culminating with work done at Marvel. “My Man-Thing run came somewhat close to what I now consider my own style, but it was also heavily influenced by Jeffrey Jones and Bill Sienkiewicz. Actually, I think the first time I really consolidated my own style was in Gears of War which I drew for Wildstorm and Epic. There were hints of it a little earlier on in The Possessed with Geoff Johns—another Wildstorm title—but Gears was where it came together. When I came to drawing Wonder Woman I resolved to stick to something approaching the Red Sonja piece, and not be distracted by other styles—basically to draw it as well as I possibly could!”
Journey to Style, Journey to Self
Sharp’s years of experience combined with hard work and determination, have brought him to where he is today. But style, being cool, being current, none of that matters to Sharp, who lives by his own creed. “Draw as well as you possibly can. Draw well, tell the story clearly. You are the cameraman, and all the characters—you literally have to act every role and transpose that onto paper. You’re the lighting technician, the choreographer, the set designer, the production designer. You have enough jobs to worry about first! Concentrate on the world-building, the acting and just draw as well as you humanly can. Your style will find you.”
If and when you find your own style, comparing yourself to others is “a bad idea” according to Sharp. “Be inspired by your heroes, don’t judge yourself against them—in that lies despair and folly! Of course that’s easier to say than to do, but it’s a good rule of thumb I think! You can learn a lot by imitation, but you can’t ever be that other person. You have to be the best you.”
Artwork courtesy of Liam Sharp. The Green Lantern and Wonder Woman and Adam Strange, copyright DC comics.
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