LIAM SHARP: MAN, GOD or GOAT?
I first met Liam Sharp in the editorial offices of 2000AD when he was a young jobbing artist. He had hair back then. He also had a journeyman’s attitude that stood out and distinguished him from the parade of amateur portfolio-ed artists who regularly hung out in the 3 floor reception of Greater London House, in the Camden of early 1990’s North London, where comics were being published.
(We all worked in the neighborhood that Amy Winehouse grew up, sang and died in.)
Liam made his debut in the late 1980s drawing Judge Dredd for 2000AD, where I was working as the marketing manager in order to promote 2000AD and launch 3 new comics titles onto the newsstand market. These were the days that a comic like 2000 AD sold 100,000 copies A WEEK. (80% newsstand sales!) I met many of the young guns at the time like Liam who later, established a deservedly high reputation in US comics. At the time, I had the fortunate vantage point of being a “suit” that actually valued the artistry and narrative of the work being produced for a mass-market audience.
When Liam came to Greater London House, both Richard Burton, the then editor of 200AD and Alan Mackenzie, his deputy would meet him at reception, usher him in and introduce Liam to others and myself. This was, I observed at the time, special treatment I only saw on display for Grant Morrison on his frequent visits and Alan Moore on his less frequent ones. So I knew that editorially, Liam was a VIP and it was when Richard gloated to me about Liam’s apprenticeship with the British comics industry version of Jack Kirby: Don Lawrence that immediately drew my attention to Liam.
When I met and had a pint with him, (an essential communications tool in Britain: the pint), I discovered a young, working class man with a gift for art who had won both placement and scholarship in a reputable middle class school; and who had then chosen to askew an equally merited University placement in order to work instead, as an apprentice to Don Lawrence.
Don Lawrence was admittedly considered the finest British comics artist of the time, but still! This was not so much radically different as radically traditional. Liam chose his own path as a student and as an artist. Regardless, one thing was crystal clear to me: Liam Sharp had balls.
Liam later moved to Marvel UK, where he drew the best-selling Marvel UK title ever, Death’s Head II. Liam then was at the crest of the wave of British artists and writers invading the offices and comic book shelves of the US comics industry with books as diverse as the X-Men, the Hulk, Spider-Man, Venom, Man-Thing (for Marvel Comics), Superman, Batman, and The Possessed (for DC Comics and Wildstorm), Spawn: The Dark Ages (for Todd McFarlane and Image) and Red Sonja for Dynamite comics.
The pre-comics-fame Liam I met was a young, muscular Northerner from Derbyshire with a broader-voweled accent than his southern, countrymen. Liam and his ilk (English people from anywhere north of Birmingham; or as we used to call, the rest of the country) had a different style, a different way about them. More plain spoken, self-modest and more eager to share a laugh, than their southern counterparts, the Northern British seemed to have crossed a border from another country, sitting in the reception area of Greater London House on Euston Road.
It was a different time:
Alan Moore was still talking to people; Neil Gaiman was in perpetual leather-jacketed, Lou Reed mode, Grant Morrison was shy and Warren Ellis actually seemed scary to me. And everybody seemed to be on the same side: you were either publishing comics or you were writing or drawing (or both) comics.
Hard to describe to comics fans these days. Comics writing, drawing, publishing, selling, collecting has always been about
money. But in London, because of it’s New York-density, spread out over the land area of an LA; everything wound up affecting everything else. Comics did become the new rock and roll. Comics’ design and styles infiltrated the print media. Comics characters costumes, the street fashion scene, comics stories (Halo Jones, Watchmen, Judge Dredd) were injecting the music scene and this was 10 year before the comic book movies.
I first met Liam in the wake of what seemed, to all of us at the time, a unique cultural explosion. Comics had infiltrated every corner of popular fashion. Just as in the 60’s, London record companies were overwhelmed by young English songwriters and bands; the office of British comics companies in the at least the first long train journeys from Newcastle, Glasgow, Birmingham and of course Derby hoping for a commission. It was in the middle of this flurry of excitement, 3 new weekly and monthly comics being launched and work was on offer. It was the comics equivalent of a gold rush. The impact was also felt in the aesthetic migration of artists from all media to the sequential, to the narrative textures of images.
Painters like Simon Bisley and mixed media artists such as Dave McKean were pushing the envelope on what was considered acceptable art for comics. I remember pages of artwork that were so densely painted or mixed up with objects that the printer could literally not bend the page around the drum needed to shoot the film. Layers of film had to be shot to turn these new, thickly, painted canvasses into comics pages. Experiments were being tried and barriers were being broken.
But 20 odd years later, Liam is still a working artist. More importantly, he has mutated into that essential modern mold, that survivalist camouflage, of entrepreneur. The smart businessman/artist/producer, all artists working in the popular arts, (not just comics), need to be in order to earn a living with their craft.
Liam Sharp is again at the crest of a new wave of artists who understand the entire cycle of creation, production and dissemination of a creative product to a market.
With the founding of Madefire.com in Berkeley, California, in 2011, Liam took his Northern English, working class creative drive to the edge of the medium again. Motion books are moving narratives, in both senses of the term and Liam continues to further his artistry both visually as an artist and producer, but also as a writer in his current ground-breaking Motion Book for Madefire.com “Captain Stone is Missing” written with his wife Christina McCormack.
Liam’s critically acclaimed first novel GOD KILLERS: MACHIVARIUS POINT & OTHER TALES was published in 2008 with a second edition in 2009.
Liam Aliens graphic novella Aliens: Fast Track to Heaven for Dark Horse, which he both wrote and illustrated, has been critically acclaimed.
Liam Sharp is not just a successful artist, producer and now publisher, he uses his expertise and now sizeable experience to not just accumulate money (and rare bourbons), but to generate new work, to create value that engages; which is after all, the duty of an artist, is it not?
If it is an artist’s duty to advance the medium they craft in, then Ladies and Gentleman I present Liam with my imaginary, CGI Medal of Valor beyond the call of duty in the field of creative endeavor.
“For Chrissakes, Liam! Keep your helmet on; that’s live ammo they’re using out there!”
The Sedition of Words
There is a sign post on the cross roads I’m standing at.
This is a pause in transitions.
A lingering in the corridor before turning the handle of a door with a strangely morphing symbol on it.
A sharp intake of breath, a quick check of watch, phone, keys and I step forward, across a threshold into an empty room
Change is a process, a movement of energy and matter from familiar shapes to less familiar ones that gradually regain familiarity. Things go out (of focus) and then come back in (to focus).
Events are the signposts I use to orient my position within the transition.
When you’re hiking in the woods, you look up at the patterns of the tree leaves; at night you use the stars as a compass and in cities day or night, there are street signs, Googlemaps and the answers to questions you ask strangers.
The events I know are first, we have successfully launched the new website for SUBVERSIONfactory, the portfolio of digital arts projects I’ve been carrying around from office to office, down dark corridors into gaping boardrooms and secret smoking whiskey bars. It’s now a transparent incubator of eggs under glass. Possibly alien. Possibly earthborn. Where visitors can watch chickens being born, pecking their way out of their perfect oval containers, spitting fragments; where visitors can witness the slow progress of development, like clock hands or sands escaping an hour glass, as we add layers on layers of assets, and chocolate frostings and conjure flesh out of concepts, collectively having orgiastic brainstorms while welcoming new shipmates along for the ride.
We are also openly and candidly asking for help, for financial sponsorship from our supporters who can see the raw value of what we are trying to do and would like us to carry on creating, producing, subverting. By paying-forwards for projects, our sponsors receive not only a copy of the work upon completion but become collaborators in its development.
Now is the time for direct distribution, where our audience are our co-producers.
We are mainly asking for your sponsorship to fund the next stage of each projects development; mainly consisting of a working prototype.
Come and take a look and express your interest with your sponsorship.
There are many other transitions.
Tomorrow I take a plane to California with my daughter.
I will be flying to San Diego to the rehabilitation facility at Pacific Regentsrehabilitation facility where my mother is recovering from surgery. Born on September 28th, 1919 she’s the first artist I ever knew; the first woman I ever met; the first person I’ve ever known. Born in San Jose, Costa Rica, at age 20 she won her country’s national award for painting, which consisted of an all expenses paid 3 month tour of post world II European art centres in Italy, France and Spain. In Spain, she attended the student workshop of resident artist Salvador Dali. She took in the Paris art scene and upon her return, joined her older brother the sculptor Francisco Zuniga, in Mexico City where he was literally carving out a living working for the state casting national monuments.It was an exciting time to be in Mexico City where my uncle, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Tamayo and others were busy reinventing Latin American art in the bright tropical light of indigenous magical realism; while down the road in Cuernivaca Che and Fidel were drinking rumand planning the Cuban revolution.
It was a time of militant politics running headlong into radical art.
There was music in the cafes at night and revolution in the air.
A time I could always almost taste on the tip of my tongue.
My mother eventually returned to Costa Rica to continue her painting career where she met my father, an anthropology graduate student researching his pHd in contemporary Mayan culture. He met her at an art gallery where she was exhibiting and tried to impress her with his naive commentary on the artist’s work, not knowing to whom he was speaking. My father’s Spanish was acquired from his work in rural indigenous villages in both Chiapas and Costa Rica, a Spanish considered coarse and vulgar by the European smitten Costa Ricans.
But my mother took pity on my father and tried to teach him to improve his Spanish before meeting her father, a mason and a sculptor of religious figures for churches and tombstones. When I visited his workshop as a boy, I recall the shelves and shelves of busts of Kennedy; as if the trophies of some tribe of Presidential head hunters.
My mother was diagnosed with advanced dementia last year as a result of Alzeimers.
I flew to see her last year to try and arrange her assistance at least in house and she promptly called the police to have me arrested. She insisted to the police when they did arrive that I was an imposter. “He doesn’t even live in this country”, she kept repeating to them. This year her friend who had been looking after her fell and lapsed into a coma. So I have been managing her condition remotely with the help of Coronado Elderly Homecare.
She was admitted for surgery 2 weeks ago and the young ortheopedic surgeon who telephoned me before wheeling her into the theatre (why do they call it theatre; becuse there are curtains?), explained to me soberly what her odds of surviving surgery were. But she went with the odds and is now recovering. My phone conversations with her have been frequent of late, however I am visiting her at different points of time in her life.
This has begun to make me understand that life is not made up of a linear narrative; a sequence of A, B and ending in C. Rather we are comprised of constellations of events, peak intensities of experiences that have formed the core, the shape, the consistency of who we see when we look in the mirror. It is the cluster of our intensities that tell us who we are; not age or time frame but the vertical imprints of Being. Sometimes she thinks I am away at college, others that she’s flying to see me.
I am flying with my daughter tomorrow so that she can say goodbye to my mother.
I will stay with her for as long as she needs me.
In the meantime, I will be taking my daughter north to Berkeley so that she can spend an American Halloween with her cousins, my young sister’s children.
On Halloween day I will be dropping in on an old, mad acquantance Liam Sharp at the new Madefire headquarters.
Apart from catching up, we hope to advance the development of graphic narratives taken from our project The Village of Lights on the Madefire Motion Books platform. More news about this when it happens!
When I return to San Diego after Halloween, my daughter will be flying back to England on her own to go back to school. I never believed I would ever say that my daughter could be flying anywhere on her own, but she’s a mature 14 year old now and with the passage of time comes growth in equal measure to decay.
I will be setting up to work from California for the unforeseeable future. San Diego for as long as my mother is alive but also LA and San Francisco, and New York the City of Lights that spear the sky.
I look forwards to be working on some projects with Mike Towry of the San Diego Comics Festival that involve some creative artists and writers as well as furthering development on the SUBVERSIONfactory portfolio. I am also going to be puttng my 15+ years of IT experience to work on offering some European finesse to some American technology projects.
I am also looking forward to working with San Diego State University in furthering my longer term objectives of advancing learning through the arts of story-telling, art and technology; as well as the UCSD based Arthur C. Clarke Centre for Human Imagination.
I will continue posting more personal and professional information on this blog on my re-entry into California, the progress of the SUBVERSIONfactory, my work with the San Diego Comics Festival and my new focus on revisiting producing my own work that bridges art, storytelling and technology.
Stay in tune.