Comics Veteran Liam Sharp Reaches For The Stars With His New Creator-Owned Project

Liam Sharp broke into comics in the 1990s when ornate, action-oriented, larger-than-life artwork was all the rage and artists looked to the likes of Frank Frazetta, Barry Windsor-Smith and Moebius for inspiration. As trends have come and gone, Sharp stayed true to his aesthetic guns, and eventually the industry rediscovered him, buoying him to an epic five year run drawing DC’s top titles including Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern.

But Sharp is more than the sum of his detailed linework. In the course of his career, he has written several novels, cofounded the digital comics platform Madefire, run several six-figure Kickstarters to publish his art books, launched a class on online learning platform Domestika, and holds forth as one of the industry’s great raconteurs. For his latest project, he’s combining his entrepreneurial, storytelling and scholarly pursuits in an ambitious new science fiction series for Image Comics called Starhenge, with the first issue set to drop in July.

I had the opportunity to talk with Sharp about his new project and his career. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Rob Salkowitz, Forbes Contributor: Tell me a little about Starhenge. What’s it about and what was your inspiration?

Liam Sharp: I’ve always loved myth and history. I wanted to do something about the mythical origins of the kings of Britain being descended from classical gods, and the Arthurian legends. In The Once and Future King, there’s this concept of Merlin being born in the future and dying in the past, and I thought, “why would he be coming to the past?” I started indulging my love of science fiction and fantasy, thinking up this scenario where, in the future, mankind discovers an alien race where AIs have taken over and threaten all organic life in the universe. The only thing that can stop them is magic, but magic only exists in the past. So the AIs send robots back to the past to wipe out that lineage of magic. It’s all horrendously convoluted, but great fun! The first few issues are about establishing the universe to get it underway, then it becomes an adventure story.


RS: What are your ambitions for this project? Is it destined to expand beyond the comics page?

LS: That would be lovely. It would be fun as a series. People liked Game of Thrones, which is fantasy, and Foundation, which is science fiction, but the visual language isn’t vastly different. So there is an audience interested in this kind of epic material. For the time being, I’m looking forward to doing the first series (in print), then a second, and why not 3 and 4 back to back? We’ll be collecting them in trade paperbacks, but I’m also thinking of doing a hardcover edition for collectors. In any case, the idea is to create a solidly-built universe that can be as big as you want or as intimate as you want.

RS: You’ve just come off a 5-6 year run tackling DC’s top characters. Why is now the right time for an independent project?

LS: The timing was perfect on that run at DC, especially on Green Lantern [written by Grant Morrison]. I’ve never been satisfied with having a single style, and that book allowed me to explore different techniques from issue to issue, in service of the story. That deliberate approach to style has become my style; it defines the work I do. After having a few pitches turned down at DC for projects I wanted to write and draw, I realized I needed to do something creator-owned. I thought, this is the right time. My audience might be big enough to make it viable, and that’s important when you have a roof to keep up and a family. I reached out to Image [publisher] Eric Stevenson. We talked about Starhenge, he loved it, and that was it.

RS: You’ve recently run a bunch of successful Kickstarters. What are your impressions of crowdfunding as a sustainable model for comics publishing, and why did you decide not to crowdfund Starhenge?

LS: Kickstarter is great for projects that already exist or one-off books. It’s brilliant for indie creators who want to launch a book or series to start their career and show what they can do. But for an ongoing series, I crunched the numbers, and it’s just more viable to do it on Image, which is a known brand. Kickstarter is amazing and I’m planning to do hardcover collectors’ editions through them, but at the same time, I have to be mindful of what my audience wants and the platforms they are willing to support.

RS: You’re both an artist and an entrepreneur. How important is it for artists to have those business instincts these days, and how do you maintain focus on your very labor-intensive artwork while juggling business concerns?

LS: It’s hard honestly. Creatives have to learn to promote themselves. It’s just the way of the world. If you want any chance of reaching an audience, your sense of who you actually are goes a lot further than a studio or third party trying to push your stuff. In a world of Instagram and Facebook and everything, people are used to feeling connected to the people who inspire them. That authentic voice is central and essential to reach anybody. Otherwise you disappear into obscurity. It’s a constant fight, trying to grow a platform. It’s a real frustration. Sometimes I just need to step back from online and focus on the work.

RS: When you came up in the 90s, comics was very much artist-driven, with hot artists driving sales. These days, it is almost entirely writer-driven; you’re one of the few artists whose name can sell a book. What do you make of that shift?

LS: It’s frustrating. It used to swing back and forth. The 70s was more arts, 80s was writers, 90s back to artists. Now it’s been mostly about writers for a long time. It’s about the writers and the corporate characters, the tentpole characters. People only buy Marvel or DC and get upset when characters change. It’s hard to understand as someone more interested in an array of titles and the creative teams for any book, any company.

I’ve always been a writer, but I’m recognized more for my art. It’s really hard as an artist to get the writing taken seriously. Art takes a lot longer. My opportunity to write has been massively reduced by the amount of time it takes to produce my artwork. But I’m aware that writers have pushed the industry, which is why I’ve been doing more writing.

That’s why I’m so excited about Starhenge. It’s my story, it’s my style. I get to do painted comics, which we haven’t seen done in a while. I hope people who like mainstream comics will give it a shot.



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