With The Brave and the Bold: Batman and Wonder Woman, Liam Sharp carried over the momentum from his excellent Wonder Woman run with Greg Rucka, Nicola Scott and Bilquis Evely into full-fledged investigation of Celtic mythology as it exists within the DCU, an amazingly unturned stone in a universe full of well-trod concepts.
The miniseries was a visual wonder, and a thoughtful one to boot, that found Batman and Wonder Woman in the middle of a murder mystery: the suspected assassination of the king of a long-hidden people. Utilizing these characters more thoughtful characteristics, it occupies a special place within their character’s respective canon and was recently announced as a hardcover collection for this coming November. At SDCC, I was lucky enough to get an opportunity to sit down with Sharp to discuss the comic, its origins, as well as his upcoming work with Grant Morrison on The Green Lantern, which looks to be quite an about-face in terms of genre.
He’s one of my favorite comic creators currently working, and so this was an opportunity I relished.
Kyle: Congratulations on completing a very beautiful miniseries. One of the immediate thoughts, even upon reading the first issue, it is that there’s so few adventure comics that have Celtic mythology embedded into them. I think of a few examples, something like Slaine, or the work of Mike Mignola. Was that an aim from the outset, to introduce readers to something that was of great interest to your own heritage?
Sharp: Even before I was a professional, right back to when I was a teenager, I adored Celtic mythology. It’s just always been something I loved. I kind of studied Greek and Roman mythology when I was in school. And I thought, “why do we just learn about them? I don’t know anything about my own mythology, European mythology.” I started this great book by a chap, Jim Fizpatrick, called The Silver Arm. I discovered Irish mythology reading that incredible book. He’s been very supportive on Twitter and it’s been nice just connecting with him, even, one of my childhood heroes, through this. But by the time I got professional there was already Slaine, which was doing exactly that. There was stuff that Neil Gaiman was doing that touched on all of that, and it just didn’t seem to be the right time, right place, right opportunity. And in some ways I think if I’d done it too soon in my career I wouldn’t have done it justice. I think it came at the right time, at a point where I think I’m doing my best work and I was able to give it the sort of attention and passion that I wanted to give it. And I’m amazed they went for it. It is quite an unusual book.
When you pitched it, was it always formulated as a Wonder Woman/Batman team up?
Yeah. When Greg (Rucka) felt he had to step away from Wonder Woman just because of workload, I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to her. But I also couldn’t imagine working with a different writer on the Wonder Woman book because everyone writes her so differently and I’d fallen in love with our version. At the same time I thought, “OK I’m not Greg, but I think I know her voice, I feel like I know her, so I can do her some justice, if I were to write it.” And then it was a case of: I spoke to the editors and said that I’d love to do something. And they said “why don’t you pitch something? Maybe you could do something with a couple of characters; do a series? Have you got any ideas?” And I said “actually I have, I’ve always wanted to do something with Celtic mythology”.
So Mark Doyle went to bat for me and helped me sort of put the picture together. The story wrote itself. It was amazing how it just felt like I was channeling it, in a way. It was like the story had always been there. But it was fun having Batman be a detective. What’s he going to do in that realm? They’re all giants! He wouldn’t stand a chance. He’s like a hobbit in that place. He’s got to watch himself. He can’t trust anything. So he’s got to figure out ways of seeing what’s going on using the lore of that land. It’s how he gets the Hagstone, which becomes the equivalent of his magnifying glass.
Kyle: It’s a brilliant touch. And the other thing I noticed is that they rarely throw a punch.
Sharp: I mean it is a very sort of pacified version of Wonder Woman and Batman adventures that focuses on their brain power and their ability to sort of utilize that environment to their own advantage.
I knew that there were going to be some big epic battles at the end, but it was how long people would wait for that because I know some people would say, “man there’s nothing happening in this book.” It’s like, no, there’s loads happening in this book, there’s so much happening in this book. Neil Gaiman would write whole series where there’s no fights and they would still be completely captivating. If I could do that and there was not a single punch thrown would be fine by me.
I don’t see why there always has to be violence. But also just trying to shoehorn it into a story that’s about an investigation would seem ridiculous. There always had to be a reason. There is tension there. She’s there to keep the peace. And he’s there to investigate. And to what extent they achieve that – I mean I think what he uncovers was a shock to everybody especially the people of Tir Na Nog. And I hoped as well that you would be swept along with the investigation because I wanted to keep almost real time. As you read it, you could be guessing what was about to be revealed at the same time it is revealed. I didn’t want to give it away too soon. That was a bit of a juggling act: Who was doing the voiceover? Who was this character? And then have the bookends at the end, which was fun too.
Kyle: I just read it a couple of days ago. It’s a great finale. I’m kind of curious about the way you mapped out the story itself. Did you have all six issues mapped out, script-wise, or as you worked on each issue, was it more organic?
Sharp: No, I prompted it all the way through. I learned a lot from Greg about how he would lay the pages out, beat for beat. So I really did an overall plot where I’d say; “OK, pages 1 through 6, Diana and Steve, and then here’s the Batman sequence, here’s his turn and arc”, and I tried to have some sort of tension at the end of every issue in order to make you want to get into the next one. To be fair, I planned it as though those were chapters of a big story so it probably was made to be read in one sitting, one big collected volume…because it’s such a steady buildup, there’s not like the buildup to a fight in the next issue, buildup to fight, resolution. The arc of the whole thing is more like one big story.
Kyle: These pages are just so lovingly crafted. Sometimes I just like to look at them and just kind of take it in. There’s some beautiful tapestries behind them. I can imagine the amount of work you poured into this, the love you poured into it. Were there times where you were drawing something and suddenly said: “nope, next, do it again!”?
It’s funny. I found the textures and the details and all that, sometimes you can go into a kind of fugue state when you’re doing that stuff. Every now and again if you’re a little bit worn out with the drawing of the figures and everything, it’s actually really nice to just noodle into the backgrounds. Sometimes it’s a great way to warm you up to the rest of the page. I loved doing the environments. Issue 3, where they go for the tour around the land, was one of the most fun issues I’ve ever had to draw. And I always wanted to do a comic like that, where you really got to see the place, like a bit of world building. Sometimes you don’t really get that in a comic. You arrive somewhere and you’re just there. This was, I hope anyway, that people have a sense that they can travel through this realm. It felt like they knew the place.
Kyle: Issue 4 was my favorite. With all the paintings and the backgounds, I found myself really enraptured in that history. Moving over to The Green Lantern with Grant Morrison briefly: the transition back over to drawing a collaborator’s script. Is that a relieving transition for you now to be taking on someone else’s story? Or is there are a lot of push and pull between the two of you as a creative team?
Sharp: It’s a joy working with other people because you’re part of a team. But it’s also a pleasure when you’re writing your own thing in that you’ve got more control. It becomes very personal to you. Not to say it doesn’t become personal when you’re working with somebody else. Working with Greg was a delight in that sense. With Grant you get so much glee through his scripts. And he wanders all over the place and meanders off into different areas. He might be describing a panel and he’ll digress into a story about why he loved this character when he was a kid, how he discovered this character, and what he loved about this particular thing. And then he’ll reference comics from the 40’s and 50’s.
It’s a lot of research on this project. But for me as well I didn’t want to just become the fantasy guy. It’s a joy to be able to kind of switch and do a real space epic opera.
Kyle: How much of your layout muscle that we saw in The Brave and the Bold will be translated over to The Green Lantern?
Sharp: Oh I think a lot. I mean, The Brave and the Bold was quieter. Grant’s stuff is always fast moving, a lot happens in his stories.
He’ll pack a lot in a single issue. I like the way that often you won’t see the whole fight. It’ll be the start of it and the end of it and he moves on very quickly or the resolution is very quick, and then onto the next point. It’s funny because he’s all about brevity in his scripts in terms of what’s on the paper. But in the scripts it’s the other way around, they’re really dense. He definitely lays a lot of groundwork.
Kyle: For the follow up to The Brave and the Bold – Do you already have your plans in place? Do you already have a sense of what’s coming next?
Sharp: I’ve got a whole bunch of ideas, but I haven’t formulated them fully yet. I’m excited to get to that. And I want to expand the mythological themes a bit there. If that all comes off the way I hope it does, I’d love to bring in some of the Iron Age/Geoffrey of Monmouth/Merlin stuff. So that’s a big thing in my head at the moment. I’m still not sure if it would even be the same two characters, because I think there’s an opportunity to bring in more of the DC Universe, if the character is appropriate to the story. I’m figuring it out. I’m spending a lot of time thinking about it. I obviously can’t help myself. But I’ve got at least 12 issue of Green Lantern to draw first.