Liam Sharp on forging The Green Lantern alongside Grant Morrison, Steve Oliff and Tom Orzechowski.
Liam Sharp’s big return to the world of mainstream comics has been an absolute delight. Having been away for years, he returned to rebirth and refocus the Wonder Woman franchise alongside Greg Rucka. He then followed it up with the fantastic Brave and the Bold mini-series starring Wonder Woman and Batman. Now, after work rooted so strongly in fantasy, he’s on a space odyssey alongside Grant Morrison to re-examine the cosmic corners of the DC Universe.
Moving away from the blockbuster event tradition of the last ten years in the franchise, Sharp and Morrison’s The Green Lantern has turned the title into a wondrous and episodic police procedural exploring various sectors of the DC cosmos. The first issue showcased a psychedelic tapestry featuring virus lanterns, spider-pirates, luck dials and even a new Oa.
Liam sat down with AiPT! to chat about the great work he’s doing, digging into everything from Vampires, ’70s Star-Lord and 2000 AD to Hal Jordan arresting God.
Beginning our discussion on his collaboration with the legendary colorist Steve Oliff, Sharp is ecstatic. “We met at a con five years ago in San Jose and really got on,” Sharp says with fondness. Speaking on Oliff’s pioneering work across the years, his digital coloring and his work with Al Williamson, Sharp professes great love for the man’s oeuvre. “When this came up and we were looking, I suggested to our editor Brian [Cunningham] that we get him in the saddle and Brian said ‘He’s a real bucket-list creator!'”
When asked about Volk, the volcano lantern from the Todd Klein and Kevin O’Neil’s era of the title and his return to the book (featured proudly on the cover of #2), Sharp chuckles. “Yeah, we definitely wanted to bring back some of what Kevin was doing. The weirdness, especially. And even going back, to guys like Gil Kane and what they were doing on the book. Grant really wanted to bring all of that into the title.” The passion for the past of Green Lantern is evident in speaking to Sharp, as he reports the excitement of the team on the title. “Our editor, Jessica Chen, really took a shine to Volk. She loves him a lot. And he’s just so much fun to draw, there’s always a cloud hovering above him and it’s amazing.”
In regards to what makes the DC Cosmos they’re crafting distinctive, unlike any other cosmic realms out there, Sharp points to the heart of their take–bringing in the European influence, especially that of French graphic novels. “Grant’s pitch really was ‘This is 2000 AD meets Bande dessinées in American comics.’ So what I’m doing is very much not treating it like a superhero book, but as a science-fiction book. It’s different from everything else in American comics.”
Bringing up his great mentor, Don Lawrence, and his wisdom, Sharp goes onto explain how his teachings very much guide his work and inform his approach. “It’s all world-building, you know? When you’re doing a book like this, it’s all about creating settings that feel lived-in, that feel different and all have a different makeup and allude to their history. You suggest all of that and this is something I learned when I was working under Don Lawrence. One of the things he’d have me do is draw from test scripts and I’d draw a corridor and it was just a box, he’d ask me ‘Well, what’s the box made of? Is it made of wood? Is it made of meat? It could be made of anything! And what about the background?’ and so he really got me asking questions like that. Being able to answer all that and suggest things for the reader, that I really enjoy and do in my work to this day.”
Getting into the vile villains of the universe they’re tackling and the long-term vision of the series, Sharp teases that there is a lot in play. Issue two sees the long-awaited return of classic silver age foe Evil Star and Sharp is thrilled at the mention of the villain. “We’ve got Evil Star in issue two, yeah! And there’s going to be some others coming as well. The Blackstars are great and Controller Mu, he’s really our big bad. There’s the female Vampire, who I don’t wanna give much away about yet. She’s really got legs in the story, this one. Grant’s got a big overarching plan and he’s putting in all these little seeds. Some are red herrings, but a good number are not. His vision for the book really was, each issue is a standalone story, while playing into a much bigger one. So each issue and episode lets us do something different, both conceptually and visually. Issue four is a really great issue and I can’t wait for people to pick that one up. It’s some of my best work to date and it’s my favorite so far. Fans are going to see some familiar things there. And then issue five is, again, very different, it’s much darker and draws from more gothic stuff. Then issue six brings in a lot of the ’60s and people will see some more special stuff there. What we’re really trying to do with the book is not only go to all these different worlds across the universe, but also different times and ages in comics, as well.”
And what of Sinestro, the chief Green Lantern foe? When asked if he came up in discussions at all, Sharp discusses the nature of their run and how it contrasts with the recent past. “Not really, no. Geoff’s run was so all-encompassing and so…finished. It was kind of the big apocalypse of the Green Lantern world and by the end of it, it truly was the end of all things. So we didn’t want to mess with that or repeat what he’d done, so Sinestro, who was at the forefront of all that, never really came up. As for Carol Ferris, who Morrison and Sharp have discussed before as being ‘the one true love of Hal Jordan, with sparks and fire’, while Sharp cannot confirm her appearance, he says she will be mentioned and that the team has talked about her. “Right now, we’re really bringing back a lot of the history. We’ve already brought back Eve [Doremus] and we’re definitely going to see a lot of Hal’s other girlfriends from across the years show up. And the thing is, they might not all be from earth, either.”
Oa is a place of great significance in Green Lantern history and is one of the elements #1 brought back to the title. #2 features a magnificent full page shot of the cosmic citadel of the lanterns, one that’s been posted and teased without colors, across all of social media. But brought to life by Steve Oliff’s eye-popping color-work, the end result is an ethereal, magisterial look at the setting unlike any other in the past. The only word that seems appropriate in discussing it is ‘definitive.’ Sharp is happy to chat about the page and how it even came to be. “Again, it goes back to the European influence and wanting to build a setting that feels lived-in. I wanted Oa to be twinkling with lights, with glowing bits about, because it’s really a city of light. Originally, it was just a panel in, like, a five-panel page. But I took that and really blew it up into a page with a long-panning shot to really be able to showcase this magnificent home-world and precinct of the Lanterns. It took me four and a half days to do it, which is a lot for me, as I usually shoot for a page a day. But that’s what you have to do, right? Settings are characters in their own right and they’re so important, so that kind of detail is really key to building them up and creating an immersive world. I really believe that. It also just gives the readers a sense of where they are. And the thing is– all that detail? It contrasts perfectly with #1 in the desert, with all of that emptiness surrounding Hal on Earth.”
Another image that’s been making the rounds across the internet is the now viral image of Hal Jordan facing off against God to arrest him, while Earth lies behind him. Sharp is absolutely delighted when it comes up and laughs in response. “It’s classic Grant, right? And, again, there is another angle to that, because there always is with Grant, right? Of course there is. But yeah, it’s just this guy arresting God and it’s such an entertaining concept. I had a lot of fun with it.”
Going from God to the laws of the lanterns, we also ask about one of the more fascinating ideas at the core of the book: What laws do the Green Lanterns actually enforce? It’s a question that has never really been answered in a meaningful way, but The Green Lantern is determined to explore it to unveil some answers. “That’s really what Grant’s been having a lot of fun figuring out,” Sharp explains. “It’s like, what are these laws? There’s natural laws to the universe, right? In #1 we mention the square-cube law and it’s like, that’s physics, it’s the natural law of the universe, it’s not tied to humans. And so in that fashion, that’s sort where we’re going with that. Those natural laws of the universe and Grant’s really been working on those.”
We then finally get into Hal Jordan, himself. Long dubbed ‘The Greatest Green Lantern,’ Hal feels like it and acts like it in The Green Lantern. Calmly resolving cosmic problems and doing police work with clear years under his belt, Hal lives up to his title. But beyond his job as a Green Lantern, he’s also a hero who very much struggles. Finding meaning and purpose only in being Green Lantern, Hal no longer knows who he is beyond it. This is a man who stares at the stars for hours on end until he’s called back for duty, because there’s so little for him on his home planet. Rather than a hero with PTSD, Jordan is a man who’s simply seen and experienced so much beyond comprehension over the years that he has no way of expressing or conveying any of it. He’s been dead, he’s returned from the dead, he’s been the Spectre, he’s been bad and he’s been good. He’s fought gods and survived the apocalypse. He’s lived through it all and he can’t quite live the way any of us do. His perspective has been changed from all he’s encountered. And he’s still very processing everything and trying to live as best he can.
Sharp expresses agreement throughout our discussion of the character. “I think you hit it right on the head. That’s exactly right. He’s a guy who’s been through everything and he does not have PTSD, though in the past we have seen PTSD Hal. He’s been an interesting character and not at different times, so for us it was all about this guy who’s been through everything, like in Geoff’s run. He’s seen the end of days and he’s come out of it and he’s unfazed — he’s a man beyond fear, almost — he’s so utterly unfazed by anything in front of him and so even if it’s a god, he’ll treat it like a normal thing and do what needs to be done. I talked to Grant about this and for us, his journey and struggle is almost that of a cosmic entity. He’s more like this cosmic being, despite starting out human, that has to try to keep his humanity and it’s really all about that. And Grant’s vision really plays into that. It’s intimate and epic, laid out in the form of a police season. It feels small but at the same time it’s massive.”
But how do Hal’s peers and friends feel about the man? These are questions that also interest the creative team, who’re intent on bringing back all his lovers and building a portrait of Hal Jordan through various figures in Hal’s life across his vast history, spanning from John Broome to the contemporary age. “It depends on the person. But I think those who really know him and are close to him, his friends and family, are a bit frustrated with him. In #3 there’s a bit with an old earthly ally, so you’ll see,” Sharp remarks. “He’s a ’70s movie hero, really, in the vein of Paul Newman and it’s that kind of unreconstructed, old-fashioned guy who’s out of time and place. The kind of character us kids back then grew up on, but things changed and they changed for the better. But since no one’s doing it, it’s an interesting character to explore.”
And tying back into humans with changed perspectives, who struggle with keeping their humanity, Sharp responds to a popular question that’s been on many minds since the first issue. Doctor Manhattan’s symbol is clearly visible on The Book of Oa, with the Guardians discussing how all that is known has been messed with and perhaps edited. It’s a fascinating choice and one made even more interesting in the context of the story the team is telling about Hal Jordan. Amused, Sharp replies “Sometimes Grant will be fairly enigmatic, even to me. It was just there in the script. And that’s another thing about this book, usually, I try not to read ahead of the story I’m drawing. If I do, I sit with it long enough to the point where I’ve feel like I’ve already done it and also reading it one after the other, that’s how I get to experience it as a fan. It’s the only way I get to enjoy my work as a reader, at that script stage. On this though, I’ve actually been reading ahead to see what’s being done and to get a better sense of things.”
Examining his experience as an ex-Judge Dredd artist and a 2000 AD creator, Sharp has a lot to say on how British comics influence everything he does. “In general, I think all of us British creators growing up really have that influence.” he notes. “It’s inevitable, right? It’s our own homegrown comics and we’re bound to be influenced by stuff like Eagle and 2000 AD. We really bring a mid-Atlantic sensibility, I think. And again, especially in regards to scope and world-building, the work of my mentor, Don Lawrence. He used to do these books called Storm, which were published by the Dutch Press, so a lot of stuff like that plays in. It’s all really about new ways of thinking. For instance, how do you resolve a dispute between sentient clouds that take a hundred years to form a thought? What if a god builds a giant alien mega-structure near a populated planet and it causes weather problems and tidal waves? A Green Lantern has to tell him ‘Oi! Move your thing elsewhere! You can’t put this here!’ things like that. But again there’s always been that cross-pollination, right? Everything influences everything.”
Finally concluding on the collaboration between him and the legendary Grant Morrison, Sharp begins to tell the tale of its very inception. “It’s funny, really. Grant and I have been circling each other for years, wanting to do something together. We finally got talking at the Wonder Woman premiere and decided that we really should. I’d written this prose book called Paradise Rex, which Grant had read and loved and we both grew up loving a lot of the same cosmic stuff, particularly Adam Warlock and Star-Lord. There’s a great little Star-Lord story by Chris Claremont and John Bryne which we both adore. Great stuff. We also loved Luther Arkwright, these steampunk books by Bryan Talbot, so we had all these commonalities and interests. Originally, we were gonna do a 40 page thing, something special where I could really dig in and have time to work. But when DC came in with the offer, it was perfect. I’d already been talking to them about what to do after Brave and the Bold and there were a lot of offers — for instance, Scott Snyder mentioned how much he’d love for me to do some work on Justice League. But then Dan DiDio called and said ‘Hey do you wanna do Green Lantern with Grant?’ and it was like ‘Yes!’. And that’s the thing, you know? Green Lantern isn’t just another book, it’s everything. That’s why I had to do it. It’s all the worlds, it’s the entire universe and there’s no limits to what you can do. I didn’t just want to be ‘the fantasy guy’ at DC, and so I had to shake things up. Doing science fiction with Grant was the perfect opportunity.”
There’s a wealth of passion and infectious excitement that’s evident in Sharp’s voice as he speaks. In regards to how the collaboration has grown and how long it may last, Sharp provides some insight. “We’re definitely doing the first season, all 12 issues and we have plans beyond that. Grant’s currently working those out. I might need a break to help me catch my breath after that first season, because it does take a lot to do the book, but I’ll be doing most of it. The thing is, now, whenever he’s writing and planning the stories, Grant’s always thinking of my art and how it’s going to be drawn and that’s very much in his mind. It’s very much done for my sensibilities. We’ve gotten to that point and so that’s exciting. But really, we’ll keep doing the book as long as we can, so long as we keep enjoying what we’re doing.”
The Green Lantern #2 is out on December 5th.