Get to know the man behind Hulk, Spider-Man, Green Lantern and more - Liam Sharp

Liam Sharp
Liam Sharp

In the past 30 years, he has given life to the characters

By Nasreen Abdulla

Published: Thu 20 Feb 2020, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Fri 28 Feb 2020, 8:50 AM

Who would come to a comic signing on a Wednesday evening, I wondered as I made my way to Comic Stop, the first standalone comic bookstore in Dubai, at Dar Wasl shopping mall on Al Wasl Road. As soon I stepped out of the elevator though, my eyes popped. There, ahead of me, was a long line of comic enthusiasts waiting patiently to get an autographed copy of the special edition cover of the 750th issue of Wonder Woman by its illustrator Liam Sharp.
Sharp is nothing short of a legend in the world of comics. For over 30 years, he has produced highly detailed images of characters from Judge Dredd, The Hulk and Spider-Man to iconic DC characters such as Superman, Wonder Woman and now, Green Lantern. He has two novels to his name - God Killers and Andrew Wilmingot's Paradise Rex Press, Inc. - and he co-founded the progressive digital storytelling company Madefire, which recently produced the world's first VR comics experience. Sharp was in Dubai to showcase the special edition cover, commissioned by Saeed Arjumand, the owner of Comic Stop, for the 750th issue of Wonder Woman comics.
I was escorted to the back of the store where the illustrator sat at a table wearing a black and white T-shirt with a picture of Batman Metal across the front, and a purple cap. Excerpts from conversation:

Liam, this is your first visit to Dubai. How are you finding it? And what do you think of the local comic scene?
I am loving Dubai. The architecture is incredible, the food is good and they have great coffee (laughs). We had kebabs at Ostadi restaurant and I really enjoyed it. We went to Al Qudra and the Bastakiya area. I also got a private tour of the Burj Khalifa, which was pretty cool. The comic scene is looking pretty good in Dubai. It is pretty happening and I think there is great potential.  

You have had an incredible career spanning over 30 years. Tell us about your journey.
Someone pointed out to me recently that, statistically, you are more likely to be an international pop star than you are to be an artist on one of these iconic titles, because there are so few of those that come out. The Green Lantern turns 80 this year, which is amazing. But when you think about it in that context, there might have been one artist drawing it for three years, another artist drawing it for a couple of years... There
have been very few people who have been drawing it in its time. So, it is actually a privilege to draw it; it is part of a wider legacy. I look at it now with awe. So, I take it very seriously. I try to do the best I can with those characters for future generations. Hopefully, when I finish the book, I would have left it in a good place for someone else to do their best.

You have drawn hundreds of characters during your career and each of them has been exceptional. Whether it is a feminine and strong Wonder Woman or the super suave Batman, you have infused a lot of nuances into your characters. How do you do that?
That's a really good question. I think the thing is you have to love the book you are working on. Sometimes, people ask me what my favourite character is. The truth is, my favourite character is always the book I am drawing. And that's because when you are spending all that time with it, you fall in love with it. I am often spending 12 hours a day, six to seven days a week, to give it the sort of finesse, to draw the art as well as I hope to in the time that I have. It is a monthly schedule and you are literally living with the character from the minute you wake up to the moment you go to sleep, except when you stop for tea and have family time. When you are working so much on this, you get to know the characters almost as much as your family. And that's the trick. You have to fall in love with the characters you are drawing. And I somehow always do. There's always a way to connect with the character even if it's a difficult character to connect to.
Some people see Hal Jordan from Green Lantern as a kind of an old-school, 70s-type man who we don't see as much as we used to and they question how he remains relevant today. That is a very interesting question. And, actually, in the book I wonder if he is that relevant. In a way, he is aware that he is becoming slightly out of touch with the way things are now and he actually yearns for the old times. And there is something quite lonely about him. The nuances of a character are what you find when you are telling the story, that you think "I hadn't really thought about that".

And when you sketch out these characters, are you ever influenced by people around you?
I think when I write, I put people I know in my characters. I don't know what to tell them about it (chuckles). But, certainly, I have a rather large, shaggy friend. When I drew Ferdinand in Wonder Woman, this friend's voice was in my head. Also, for the character of Etta Candy, I drew heavily from my neighbour who is also a friend of mine. She was thrilled to bits that she became a big part of the story. So, yeah, sometimes you draw from those around you but, sometimes, it is a bit of you. There is always something that is a bit of you in there. That is the nature of art.

Now with the onslaught of the digital media, have you ever felt like the world of comics stands threatened?
Sales of comics haven't really gone down. If anything, they have gone up because of digital media. People are exposed to and finding their way into comic books sometimes by finding their digital version on Comixology or other platforms, and also the films. The possibilities are bigger than ever. There is a whole new market of people who only read digital comics. Some of them are free. I think it is a really fascinating time for comics. But I must add, there is still something about having the collectible mentality. The pleasure of having something you love on the shelf. Books are books. They will always be important. I don't think they are going away any time soon.

Do you use digital tools to draw?
I still draw on paper but I finish it digitally. I use the digital tools to clean up more than draw. I am still very old school and do about 98 per cent of my comics with brush and paper.

Do you have any advice for aspiring illustrators, given how difficult the field is?
It's really tempting to say, "Don't do it because it is really, really hard work" (laughs). It's how you think of it. People credit the writers as being the creators of a character. But that is not really the case. Comics are created equally by the writers and the artists. As an artist, you get the script. Then you are the director, you are the costume designer, you are the choreographer and you are all of the characters, too. So, you are essentially the animator and you have to act the whole thing out in your head. The best advice I can give to youngsters is to think of the world that your characters exist in, because if you can't convince the reader that the world is authentic, then they are not going to believe the characters are authentic. So, think about why a structure might be built if you draw a space station, don't just think of it as the control deck. You've got to think about the sleeping quarters, the engine, the fact that it is ancient and has been rebuilt. All these little details add personality and depth to the character as well. The backgrounds matter.

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