WHO YOU GONNA CALL?: LIAM SHARP ON
by Arune Singh (Comic Book Resources)
One genre in comics that's been often ignored is the horror genre and with the success of "30 Days of Night," it seems that more horror has come back into its own. One of those is "The Possessed" from writers Geoff Johns and Kris Grimminger, which promises to be something very different from Johns' usual work. Accompanying the writing duo is artist Liam Sharp and he spoke with CBR News about the new mini-series and provided readers with an introduction to the concept.
"I love this idea. It's neat, high-concept, cool and a little crazy. If you were to pitch it to a big movie house it would be along the lines of 'Dark Ghostbusters' or 'The Exorcist meets Aliens by way of The Thing.' What we're looking at is an exorcist SWAT team. Where the priests can no longer help, 'The Possessed' take over. In this series the idea is that, once exorcised, the demons take on an earthly form. This can be shot, blown up, dismembered, whatever it takes to send it screaming back to hell! On earth the demons can exist outside a host for a really limited time, and that is when they're vulnerable. Children are like a flame to the demon's moth. They are the preferred host of these entities, their innocence like nectar, but once outside their host they'll go for anyone!
"Geoff Johns and Kris Grimminger have come up with a bunch of cool weapons to get the demons out of their hosts, and then it's time, to paraphrase 'The Possessed,' 'to get conventional on their asses!' Basically blow them away! Add to this a bunch of plot twists, an apocalyptic countdown and some tense urban action, and you'll start to get a picture of what it's about! The book is due out July 16th, so we're all getting pretty excited right now..."
The cast of characters is quite diverse according to Sharp and his passion for the characters he'll be illustrating is evident, "'The Possessed' are an army of five individuals. Christian, Holly, Father Burroughs, Trix, and Walt. Christian is the man behind the team. Complex, broken. Quietly enigmatic. I based him on Russel Ford, my brother-in-law, who's a bit of a deadringer for Nicholas Cage. Holly is outwardly tough, but damaged and quite fragile inside. I gave her the scars and muscular physicality to make her more believable as a soldier. She had to be like a dangerous flower, you know? You want to look, but you don't want to get too close...
"Father Derek Burroughs is probably our favourite character. He's mysterious and enigmatic. The strong, silent maveric. He holds onto his sanity with his own disciplined code and belief system. Very cool. But flawed, like all the rest. He's based closely on a tattooist friend of mine, Adam Dutton.
"Trix is the wise-cracking, street tough weapons expert. I've got her dressed in an eightball bra for issue two. In tattoo tradition it's what Lady Luck wears. Very cute.
"Walt is Kris's favourite. He's Holly's dad, and the only one who hasn't been possessed as a child. 'Nuff said."
Sharp makes no secret that he loves working on "The Possessed" and the creators involved were all the sign he needed that this was a project he had to take. "It was Jim Lee who got me involved," reveals the UK artist. "I'd been busy getting some color stuff together for the May issue of 'Heavy Metal,' and writing and drawing a whole bunch of stuff to try and get off the ground independently. It seemed pretty clear that the only real future a creator has in comics is to do his or her own thing. Without your own property you're gig to gig, and better pray you stay hot. Jim (Lee) checked out a bunch of work I had up at http://www.britcomicart.com/, and also at my site, http://www.liam-sharp.ch.vu/, and I got this email from him saying 'Dude, your work is awesome. Want to do a mini series with us?'
"Then it turns out to be a Geoff Johns book, along with Kris Grimminger who had done some 'Witchblade' work, and it turns out to be creator owned! Like I could walk away from that! I have to say, though, hearing the pitch and reading the script it was not without trepidation that I started work on the book! It's a long way from anything else I've done, and I hate guns, period. Especially to draw!"
That passion comes in handy with this series, as DC Comics/Wildstorm are promoting the series heavily and there's abit more pressure on Sharp to deliver. "It is a big project, definitely. And there's certainly pressure! When you've been off the shelves for a couple of years you want to come back with as much noise as possible! I'm even being billed as a "rising artist"! That's pretty cool if you can still rise after fifteen years as a pro!
"I'd like to think we were paving the way for more horror stuff. I thought we were doing that on the Manthing run I did a few years back! It's a great genre with a wonderful, colorful history. Sure, bring on the horror! It's cool!"
Part of the buzz around the series involves the creepy art from Sharp himself, whose work seems inspired... but no one's sure by what. "Oh man, what inspires me? You know, I really struggle to keep it looking one way. I envy people like Steve Dillon who can start 'The Preacher' series in one style, and after - how many issues? Years? - can end it as though the last page was drawn the day after the first page. Dave Gibbons did the same on 'Watchmen.' Amazing discipline! But, in a way, it's my wayward style that makes my work RIGHT for this book. It's kind of schizophrenic. I'm inspired by so many creators that I'm off in different directions daily, pretty much depending on what the script has to offer me. The way I see it is your style can reflect the mood, or change it. You can speed up of slow the narrative by how much you put in, leave out, or how you lay it out. You can create a light mood, or a dark mood by the lighting, the camera angles, the expressions, the way you rule up - or don't rule up - the boarders. In film they use filters on the lenses. I see variations in my approach to the linework, etc. as going for the same thing. It can make it freaked-out and strange looking, or it can be as mainstreem as anything on the shelves.
"In the end there's no wrong or right way, there's just your own way. I don't get it right all the time, but when I do it's really exciting. Worth pushing the envelope just a little bit for..."
Those striking character designs that have been wowing fans are the product of Sharp's mind and he's happy at the positive reaction. "Yeah, I've had pretty much all the control over the visuals as far as the settings and demons go. The guys had pretty much worked out how they wanted the team to look, but I brought in other stuff - like the scars, the tattoos, the eightball bra..."
With the mature readers label attached to "The Possessed," the art is no doubt going to be more graphic.. but just how gorey will it be? "I have no idea what is acceptable by fans. I know what I like, though, and that's a broad kingdom! This book is mature readership, so I'll draw what I'm asked to draw in all its gory glory! I take the point that it shouldn't overwhelm the narrative though. This isn't 'Hard Boiled.' There are plenty of calm moments between the violence for exposition and character development. Issue one will not really offend anybody, I don't think, but the bodycount is upped considerably in issue 2. I don't think you can really second-guess your audience. You have to give it your best, take a chance, and hope people like it!
"There's quite a bit of gore in issue 2! I'm not going to hold back. I kind of reasoned that this is a book for grown up kids, like me, and I just don't buy family-friendly PC horror. I mean, the word is horror! I can see that people miss the old classic black and white movies, like Frankenstein, etc. But people forget that at the time the audience fainted and screamed at what they saw. It was all-new, and terrifying! We're all somewhat hardened now, thicker skinned. Both language and imagery - sexual as well as violent and horrorfic - has to go further before we even register it. If I shied away, what would be the point? In what way would it be horror? It might as well be Ghostbusters!
"Also, I like to push myself. I like to challenge my own perceptions of what I can - or rather, dare - draw. I'd rather have a little controversy. Having said that, I don't think we're going for any records in gross-out. It's not about how much we can shock you, it's about telling a good horror story."
"Possessed" also has a visual style described as "cool yet dark" by many fans, making it very unique aesthetically. But being "cool" is never easy and Sharp says he knows it's hard to keep it up. "If that's how it's coming over, then that's great! My style has always been problematic in that it is neither mainstream nor cultish. I've done horror, fantasy and Scifi work that sort of resembles the old EC and Warren stuff - the 'Manthing,' Frazetta's 'Death Dealer, Bloodseed' - , but I've done a color portfolio for 'Heavy Metal' magazine, and I've also done really mainstream work - such as the X-Men, Spiderman, Superman and The Hulk. I've never really settled in any one of these genres, so I'm still not sure what I'm really good at. Often, though, it's not the stuff you want to be good at that you really are good at!"
Working with Geoff Johns might be imposing to some, but Sharp doesn't mind it at all. "Nah. That's just cool, and he's a great guy to work with. I've been big in the past, for what it's worth. 'Death's Head' sold a half a million copies way back when, and the issue that I took over on the 'Hulk' was the biggest selling issue of that title ever. Popularity comes and goes, and sometimes, if you're lucky, it comes back again. What's more important is that you keep getting work and that you try to keep getting better. It's easy to get bitter and jaded, but why waste your life being that way? Geoff digs my work and I dig his. We're a team. I think more people should be talking about that new super-star writer Kris Grimminger!"
There are artists who'd like to be writers, but Sharp is happy contributing to the plotting of "Possessed" in his own way. "The guys have come up with a pretty tight plot, etc. but there's room in there for me to put my stamp on it, move the frames around a little... I'm working on a script of my own which gives me the creative release I need in that direction. I've always written, as much as I've drawn, but it's the drawing that puts food on the table. I hope to address this imbalance at some point soon, but for now - I'm an artist doing my job."
On the GeoffJohns.Com boards, Sharp mentioned a positive feedback from the Comic Festival in Bristol, but beyond that, he says there hasn't been a lot he's heard for a good reason. "I couldn't tell you. The biggest problem we've had is that the cover to issue one was pulled at the last moment, so the new cover has hardly been seen anywhere. It's not even up on the Wildstorm site yet. Also, DC have been reworking their Web site, so 'The Possessed' mini-site has yet to materialize. Here's hoping! What I do know is Jim Lee loves it, and he thinks we're going to get great figures. But we are coming out the same week as 'Arrowsmith,' and that book's getting a huge push! Magazines like Wizard haven't really picked up on us yet - to my knowledge at least. Who knows? It would be great though, wouldn't it? Have a horror comic kicking some ass out there in the top 100!"
Of course, this is no regular horror comic and both God & morality are explored heavily in the series. "Well, you know, there isn't really a strong emphasis on God, as much as on good and evil," explains Sharp. "It might appear like that, but not everything is as it seems. Personally I'm a born-again agnostic atheist with Christian values and a pagan heart. I would hate to appear to be backing any one religion over another. The issue in the book is about faith, more than anything else. Any faith. Not all the characters are Christian, but this whole genre - possession, demons, etc. - has a pretty well established history. People know it, and it's a good starting point for a damn good yarn. Also, Our guys are fighting this evil. They're on our side. As far as negative feedback goes - well. We'll get it whatever. There'll be people who love it and people who hate it, the same as everything else! You have to just hope that there are enough people that love it!"
A lot of people tend to read the first issue of a mini-series and then drop it, but Sharp says he hopes people stick around. "I think people might be a little surprised if they stick with the series. It's one that builds big time! As for whether my art blows people away - it's not really for me to say. But Jim Lee, Geoff Johns, Kris Grimminger and Glenn Fabry think my artwork rocks, so it can't be too shoddy!"
And if nothing else, Sharp urges people to allow him to keep having a good time. "Man, we are all having a fucking blast! Kris cracks me up with his emails! We're all winding each other up all the time, keeping it alive. I rib the guys for the shit they put in the scripts that I have to draw - oh yeah, sounds easy written down you fucking slave masters!!! Ben has been the man when it comes to editing. He's had a laugh, too. What's great is we're all very much together and into it. We're really communicating, really on the same page. I put forward comments and ideas about the story, the guys sometimes make me draw the pages again (the bastards) if they're not quite what they had in mind. We're all trying to give it that little extra. Truth is, it's bloody hard work! But it's been fun, so far, too. It definitely has some of the most detailed artwork I've ever drawn - but only where appropriate! I'm not just trying to show off! There are some very spartan, pared down - almost stark storytelling sections as well. A little bit of everything. Yeah, we're having a great time. I'm going to miss it when it's over! The bastards."
What's next for "The Possessed?" "There are lots of teasers on my Web site, and I keep it pretty updated with art previews," teases Sharp. "As for the story...you'll have to ask the other fellas! Even I'm in the dark as to exactly what happens! But Zombie fans will definitely like issue four...
"You should check it out because it's cool, it's brave, it's unexpected, it's clever, and you'll want to see the movie and play the game! How's that?"