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Myths, Monsters and Mental Health – an interview with Liam Sharp

I had the very great honour of buying comics artist and writer extraordinaire Liam Sharp a coffee at the recent MCM London Comic Con, and in return he was kind enough to answer some questions for me…

Your current DC title, The Brave and the Bold, is a massively popular book, everyone I know that is reading it loves it. Now obviously it is really highly detailed, not only with the art and the layouts, but also with the mythical ideas that you are bringing in to it.

The Brave and The Bold: Batman and Wonder Woman #1

What kind of research do you have to do for that, is that something that is already in your head, do you have to go to the library, do you Google it, where does it come from?

I’ve had a passion for Irish mythology for an awful long time, since I was a kid really, and I stumbled across some books by a chap called Jim Fitzpatrick, which are illustrated Celtic myths, specifically Irish myths, and it sort of kick started an interest in more of the Celtic side of things, because I’d always had a passion for the sort of more mainstream mythology that everybody knows, the Greek myths and the Roman myths, and there was a kind of a point where I though “I don’t know much about our own myths”, so that was one of the books.

There was also a book called A Quest For Merlin, by Tolstoy, who was a distant relative, and he got me again very interested in the anthropological roots of those characters, so move on a few years after that, my wife’s half Irish, and her dad was an Irishman and very, very into the myths and legends of Ireland, so we both used to talk about it and trade books, he’d give me copies of Lady Gregory’s The Torn and Cúchulainn, so then I would be finding myself steeped in it for all my adult life, and I’ve always wanted to do something with those characters are he was always saying “you’ve got to do Cúchulainn”, and I’d go “one day daddy, one day”, and there was never quite the right opening and of course with Slaine, being as big as he was, early on in my career, it seemed like that was probably a bit too close and a bit too present for me to try doing anything else.

Then there’s also an element of wanting to do it justice, and I am probably only just at a point in my career where I feel that I am sort of good enough to do it justice, you know? I’ve been doing it thirty-two years and I’m glad it took so long, I think it deserved the treatment that I’ve given it. So actually when it came to do it, I found I sort of already knew it all, it just fell out. It wrote itself actually.

It wrote itself very well in that case, if everything just fell out of your head like that!

The biggest piece of research that I really had to do was around the bit where Ethnae is taking them round and showing them the paintings.

Those pages are gorgeous

Well thank you!

Sorry, I’m fangirling all over you now! That’s embarrassing…

No, no, I don’t take it lightly and it’s appreciated. It’s what we do it for, it makes it all worthwhile.  Um, yeah so I mean that, I had to change certain things like, there were actually three kings of the Tuatha De Danann, and I made them one, because it was too unwieldy. I think people already found it dense.

I know a lot of people are saying that they are buying it to read it all in one go at the end, because they read the first issue, especially American friends because they perhaps don’t have the basis of the mythology to build on, whereas I have found, and I know others have too, some people over here have a vague inkling of who everyone – or some of them – are, and can keep up a bit better, because there is a lot to unpack in there.

There was a lot of unpacking, and I did all I could try to keep the characters, interestingly Furf was two characters as well, at one point, and I realized that wasn’t necessary for the story, so he became one character. McCool was actually McQuill, it’s a different spelling but there is the famous McCool from Irish mythology and I thought it’d be cool to have him in there anyway, and maybe it’s the same character and I looked at the roots and there’s nothing to say for sure that they are the same character but there’s nothing to say they are not the same character, so I thought I could get away with that one.

Well it is your book!

Well yes it was my book, but I wanted to bring these characters into DC, and the DC universe in a way that would be a little more rooted in the actual mythology, as opposed to a kind of sci-fi reinterpretation or something. I wanted it to be as true as I could get it to that mythology.

Cernunnos is not in Irish mythology at all, he’s something I brought in because I’ve always been fascinated by him as a character, and he seemed like, there’s really no stories about him. We know the name, we see him all over Europe and we know what he represents, but there aren’t the stories that there are in the same way about the Greek gods or anything like that, so having him as a sort of caretaker of these sadly trapped people really seemed like a nice thing. I think we should love Cernunnos, I think people do, he’s kind of lovable somehow.

He’s just trying to do his best.

Yeah, he might be a bit of an old perv but he’s a god of fertility.

Yeah, one of my friends did say “oh, what was that whole thing with him and Steve and Diana”, and I had to say “it’s okay, it’s okay, he’s a fertility god, don’t worry about it, he’s just trying to help”.

Exactly, and you’ve got to have some humour in there. I thought it was fun just looking at Steve going “what, wait, fertility, did you say fertility, what does that imply…?!”. I doubt we’ll ever come back to that, but that would be cool wouldn’t it?

Ha ha, that sure would be something! You’ve been working with Diana a lot recently, you’ve done the run with Greg Rucka on Wonder Woman, who is your favourite character to actually work on, either as an artist or as a writer or both, from everyone that you have worked on in your whole career? That’s quite  big question, sorry.

That is a huge question! I don’t think I can say one because there’s different characters at different times. I loved working with John DeMatteis on Man-Thing, I’m really proud of that run, there was something, I tend to the mythic I must admit, and there was something mythic about Man-Thing in that run anyway, it was magical and it had a kind of, again, almost a Gaiman-esque kind of quality to it. Actually I don’t want to, that doesn’t do DeMatteis justice, he’s a great, great writer in his own right, so it was DeMatteis-esque and it was beautifully done.

I don’t think anyone complains about being compared to Neil Gaiman though?

No but he deserves, he’s a writer that I have loved before I got to work with him, and I had a ball working with him on that, on Man-Thing, and I’m very proud of that still.

Man-Thing by J M DeMatteis and Liam Sharp

Otherwise I think the stuff I’m doing now has got a sort of kinship with that and the sort of mythic quality and the romance, in the true sense of the word romance, not the shipping romance that everyone gets so hooked up on, but, you know it is a romantic story and Man-Thing was all Atlantis and all of that kind of magical underwater stuff and it was a lot of fun.

The Hulk was fun, I felt like I got on that too young, I would love to have another shot at the Hulk one day, again I feel like I grew up loving the Hulk and that’s a character I feel I could do justice to.

I’ve always wanted to do Conan, never have yet but one day.

I would buy your Conan, that would be awesome

I really have a fantasy about writing and drawing Conan, but you know, we’ll see. We’ll see.

One thing I did want to ask about, on social media especially, you are quite open about the need to look after your mental health and your physical health, how do you feel that the need to have that life-work balance has had an effect on either how you work, or what work you take on, or do you just keep that separately and just do the things that are good for you?

That’s a really good question. I mean, it was something I discovered about myself quite late on, so, and I was one of these people like so many others that probably didn’t really understand it and had a slightly dismissive view of it, um, until the day I realized that I really struggled with depression, you know , it’s very sort of debilitating.

Please don’t answer if I’m making you feel uncomfortable?

No no, I’m happy to talk about it. We shouldn’t not. We need to, we should normalize it, it’s fine, it’s fine.  It doesn’t make you incapable of anything, it doesn’t make you… Mine was very internalised so it’s the kind of thing that people wouldn’t even know, you know? So I think people think “oh if you’re depressive then you’re awkward”, and for some people it is hard for them to be out socially, and I’ve always been a very social person, I like people, I like to be around people. I am anxious in those situations and…

Oh this is my nightmare, right here. [gestures around huge hall that Artists Alley is located in] My anxiety is on fire right now.

So you know, but a lot of people in this place probably have that feeling but they come anyway because they still like people, they still want to celebrate stuff together and be part of something. So it became, once I sort of admitted it to myself and started dealing with it, it became important that I should talk about it, because I know a lot of creators have reached out privately and said “thank you, totally feel the same, I’m not ready yet to say that I am yet, but you’re giving me strength to say that maybe I will one day”.

You know the more of us that say it, Dwayne Johnson just came out and admitted that he is, Springsteen came out and said that he deals, lots and lots and lots of creative people deal with these problems. I mean, it’s important for us to get out because we have a very solitary existence, and I think pushing yourself to engage socially is important, I think online is a horrible place for that condition, I don’t think it helps, I think people see what we’ve done. Online should be an open forum, like a town square or something, it seems like people, we’ve somehow allowed it to be a place where people can just be outright rude, just horrible, unnecessarily rude, and say things in an aggressive, opinionated, nasty way, that you’d never say in a public space, and if you did then you would be a horrible person, if you acted like that in a public space, so I don’t know why we’ve kind of tolerated this, I don’t know why we, this like ‘don’t feed the trolls’ thing, it’s like just ignore them, and now they’ve ganged up and now they can, now there’s whole like armies of trolls and they’re not even aware that they are trolls, they honestly believe that they have some moral right to shut down the work of a creator just because they don’t agree with the particular direction a story is going, it’s fiction, it’s not reality, it’s completely bonkers.

You’re dealing with people that are, a lot of artists and creators are very fragile, very fragile individuals, and they’re doing it because they love it, they’re doing it because they came from that culture and because they were fans to start with, and because, you know, no artist out there is just trying every day to get, to kind of, just do something mean to piss off the fans you know, thinking “how can I really piss the fans off today”, it’s like, that’s not what we do. Everyone is working with heart and soul, everyone is doing it because they want to stay in the business, they don’t want to piss anyone off, this is their living! This is what they do, and it’s like they want people to like it, they don’t want people to hate it, but by being afraid, by being put in a position where we start second guessing whether it’s going to piss people off or not, it’s just ridiculous so, we shouldn’t have to. We have to have the strength of our conviction, we have to do what we do whether its going to be liked or not, because the next thing might be liked, the next thing might not be liked, but stories have to come from somewhere, and if we keep telling the same story over and over again, otherwise it’s insanely tedious. It’s like Groundhog Day.. “ah, Spider-Man, still 16 then”, okay, and he’s still 16, I’m 42 and he’s still 16, yay I’m really glad about that…

[sarcastically] But it fits in continuity!

Is it canon…?!

We don’t need character development, that’s a terrible idea!

Well exactly! For me it’s like, it doesn’t matter if it resets, it’ll all come around, you know? You’ll get your version back that’s just…

Yes, and if you don’t like this version don’t buy it!

Yeah, go and buy something else, spread your wings a bit! See what else is out there, go and support something, and be positive, and be like, you know support the industry and support the creators, people aren’t trying to piss anyone off. So, so yeah I mean it does all get tied up, and to some extent I’m stepping back a little bit from there, because I’m just really busy at the moment, you know?

Well that leads me nicely onto the question, other than The Brave and The Bold, is there anything that you are working on at the moment that you are allowed to talk about or is it all super-secret?

It’s all super-secret!

Oh no, don’t say that! Okay, in that case are we going to see any more The Brave and The Bold after the current run – please say yes or I’ll take your coffee away!

I have left it open for a follow on. I definitely want to come back to it, whether it’s with the same two characters, it might be different ones, I know that the editors love it and they would love to do a follow up and I’m even toying with writing a follow up with a different artist that would tie in to an even bigger Brave and Bold arc with the set-up from this story.

So, we’ll just see, we’ll just see. I think, these things all, unfortunately, depend on sales and things like that, so there’s nothing much I can do about that, just hope people keep buying it, and I think the word of mouth has been really good on it, I’m pleased to say, because it was kind of a left field pitch.

I know a lot of people picked it up because it had Wonder Woman, a lot of other people because it had Batman, a lot of other people because you were working on it, and there has definitely been a buzz about it online, that I’ve seen – because I unfortunately spend a lot of time on social media to do what I do – it’s really had a positive buzz and people are definitely talking about it in positive terms, and when people found out I might get the chance to speak to you the response was “find out if there’s going to be more, make there be more”!

I definitely, definitely left it open, there is, in my head it’s a trilogy.

That would make me even happier!

Possibly, associated spin-offs. I do like the idea of writing something for another artist.

Can the spin-off be something to do with Arthurian legend, because I have a minor obsession there and that would be amazing!

It wouldn’t be a spin-off, it would be the next series.

[audible sound of Sarah having a nerdgasm]

Well we have to leave it there because there is a queue of people waiting to speak to you, but thank you so, so much for taking to time speak with me today

Thank you, and thanks for the coffee!

Hailing from the South Coast of England, I've been called a "genius" by Jock, a "posh tart" by Huw Parry and "almost normal" by a medical professional. I enjoy comics, movies, games (computer and board), book, cakes and…

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