Liam Sharp started drawing Judge Dredd strips in 2000 A.D. in the late ‘80s. Since then, he’s done everything there is to do in comics: drawing, inkingm and coloring his own work, writing books for every company, even being named the Chief Creative Officer of Madefire, a company that is working to revolutionize the way we read comics. He made the leap from great to superstar in 2016 when he was named one of the regular pencillers on DC’s Rebirth relaunch of Wonder Woman.
Now he’s about to launch a new edition of The Brave and the Bold, the old silver age Batman team-up book. This new version, written and drawn by Sharp, brings Batman and Wonder Woman together to solve a murder in Tir Na Nog. We had a chance to talk with Liam about the book, drawing Wonder Woman while she’s also on the big screen, and if there was anything about the book that particularly tickled his nerd fancy. Spoilers: yes.
Note: This interview has been lightly edited for length.
Den of Geek: Tell me about the story. I’ve seen some of the preview art, tell me the hook. Tell me what got you interested in telling the story, and interested in picking up The Brave and the Bold.
Liam Sharp: I came to the end of the run with Greg, and Greg made the difficult decision of stepping away because he had a lot of other things that were important to him – creator-owned stuff that he felt was falling a little bit by the wayside – and we’d had such a well-received run. He did 25 issues in a year, which is an astonishing amount. It’s twice the size of Watchmen. So he just was like, “Okay, I need to leave this. It’s going to suffer otherwise. I love it, farewell, let’s leave on a high point.” And I was left kind of going “Aah, that’s great and I love you, Greg, but I don’t want to say bye yet. I’m not done with Diana. I’ve fallen in love with her and she’s been so good to me. I want to tell some more stories.”
I was talking to the editorial team, and said “You know I’d really like to do something else with Diana.” They said “Well, let’s start dream project down, and see what you’ve got.” Because they know that I’ve written stuff before, and were interested in seeing what I might come up with.
Pretty much immediately, this idea of doing something in the Celtic realm, in Tir Na Nog just popped into my head. It’s been something that I’ve had a minor obsession with for my whole adult life, really. I’ve always loved Celtic mythology and mythology in general, but the Celtic mythology is obviously close to home. So I said “What if Diana went to the faerie realm?” Because that’s all these Irish gods and Celtic gods that we don’t ever really explore in mainstream comics. I’m like “This is really interesting. What about, maybe we could bring Batman in, or something, one of the other major characters.” Again, it was immediately that I thought “What then? If one of the gods has been murdered?”
Diana is brought there by Cernunnos to be a peacemaker, because Tir Na Nog, there’s a lot of unrest there. Tir Na Nog being the Irish faerie realm, has become cut off from the rest of the world. All the causeways have shut down. Time moves differently there, so they’ve basically been trapped in this realm for eons. And they’re kind of going stir crazy in there, and it’s manifesting in this endless cycle of just unrest and tension between the Fomorians and the Tuatha De Dannan.
And so Cernunnos, who’s the caretaker, he’s not actually an Irish god, but he’s a horned god of Celtic mythology, I cast him as the caretaker of this realm, and he’s the only one that can travel between the worlds, and he seeks the advice of the goddess Danu and the three form Morrigan. And basically everything points to Diana as being the peacemaker.
He comes to get Diana and asks her to come with him to help him restore peace. In the interim, while he’s away, one of these gods is murdered. So when she gets there, it’s all about to kick off in a big way, and it gets very firey, and there’s big arguments in the court of the De Dannan, and she basically says, “Look, I know this guy. He’s a knight. He’s a detective. Let me bring him in and he can help me. Let’s solve the murder first. Before you start fighting each other, let’s get that sorted.”
Then there’s the tension of the timeframe that they have in order to do that and keeping the peace in the interim. And that’s what it’s all about. But there’s a much bigger arc to it as well, which I don’t want to say too much about, because that would be giving plot points away, and definitely spoilers. But that’s the set up.
It seems like with the exception of really Diana’s world, when creators in the DC Universe needed a pantheon, they just made their own up rather than adapting a real world one.
You’re obviously extremely well read on Celtic myth, and are diving headfirst into it here. Is it difficult building out a fictional version of a real world mythology around all these archetypal heroes? Or does it just give you an excuse to nerd out?
That’s a really good question. The thing that you hope is that you’re true enough to it that the people who really enjoy and are fans of that material don’t feel short changed or that you’ve cherry picked too much. But at the same time, you can’t just retell the stories, especially when you’re telling a present day story with icons like Diana and Bruce.
So it does make it interesting, it means you’ve got a lot of moving parts. [One shift is] the De Dannan had three kings originally. I folded them into one. One of them is called Mac Cuill but I’ve basically taken one of the big heroes, Mac Cuill and made him the king of the De Dannan.
So things like that, I’ve done just because I don’t want it to be so complicated that it’s impenetrable for new readers. But hopefully people who love the material will enjoy it because they’ll have moments of, like, yes! I think it’s fun bringing these characters that I’ve had in my head for so long to life.
Characters like Cernunnos are interesting because there’s not really any great myths or stories that feature him, but we know of him from imagery, and we know what he stands for and what he represents. He’s almost like a force of nature, but he doesn’t have great associated stories.He’s not even really part of the Irish mythology, he’s a Celtic god as opposed to an Irish god. But again, he’s somebody I’ve wanted to tell a story with for so long, and he’s been a real joy. It’s funny as well with him, I couldn’t get him right. I’ve had him in my head for so long, and I couldn’t get him right. I was getting closer and closer to starting the book, and one day he came, and I was like “That’s him! I know him, that’s exactly how he looks and he’s always looked in my head.” It’s odd that sometimes it’s hard to find that personality.
You’ve written and drawn a book in the past, but this is the highest profile book that you’ve written and drawn at the same time. Has that changed how the ideas spring out of your head at all? Or are you trying to be deliberately methodical with your process to try and keep yourself organized as you’re writing it? How has that shift worked for you?
I plotted the entire thing out right at the beginning, so I knew exactly what the story beats were going to be. I made really sure that I was going to be able to tell a solid story. It’s got an end, of sorts. And I learned a lot from Greg in that working with him on Wonder Woman, just in the way that he broke down each issue into beats and page turns and double pages. I literally lay out each issue in my folders. I keep the icons really big, and I keep them side by side as spreads so that I know what it’s going to look like in a collected edition, because that kind of page-to-page beat and pace of the book is really important. And the way it ramps up, and the way it slowly speeds up towards a big conclusion.
So yes, I guess I’ve been methodical in that sense, but I think when you write any story, you’re giving it your best. It’s scariest at first, because Batman and Wonder Woman! I was overwriting Batman early on. He was saying too much. I was just like, “He wouldn’t talk like that. It’s not Batman.” It took me a while to find Batman’s voice, because I have not written him before.
But Diana I felt more comfortable with because I felt like I just sort of know her. All the groundwork in terms of who she is and what she’s like and what she represents was done in our run. So I haven’t felt like I’ve had to retread any of that. She just fulfills that role in the story. She is diana the diana that she was at the end of our run. To me, this story pretty much jumps right off the back of Greg and my run on Wonder Woman.
You’re coming off of a run with Greg on Wonder Woman, and Greg is one of the iconic Wonder Woman writers of all time. But you’ve also been drawing Wonder Woman on both sides of the movie – both before and after the movie hit. Has the movie changed the experience of drawing her at all? Does it change how you approach her as a character at all, or was it just an affirmation of what you were already doing?
I think that the movie informed everything right from the get go, to some extent. We didn’t know what it was going to be like, and it was a delight that there was enough crossover chemistry between what we were doing and what was in the movie in terms of the root and the heart of what the character represents. So that was delightful.
The other side of it, the fact that there was so much attention on it, was unexpected. I had no idea that was going to be the case when I started. But it’s interesting what you end up feeling. I think for me, and I’m sure Greg would say the same, the Diana that we created, that’s to us Diana. And she’s slightly different to the film version, but that’s our version, and that’s the version that feels most truly Diana.
It’s odd, and I’m sure that everyone who works on any book starts to feel a little bit of ownership for the character. [For me] it’s almost the other way around. You feel like a vessel for that character. I think if you’re doing your job, the character speaks to you, and the history of that character speaks to you, and the weight of everything that the character represents speaks to you.
Then you also have to be informed by the times. It was really really important that Diana be done right at this specific time for a thousand different reasons. So you are having to tread a very fine line. There are a lot of people who feel ownership with the character, especially in fandom. They all have very different versions, and you can’t please all of them. They all have different notions of who she should be wit and who she shouldn’t be with. You just have to try and decide what is important yourself.
Is there any indulgence that you allowed yourself? Is there any Batman sequence that you’d been wishing you’d read before that you just put in the book because you finally could?
Ha! That’s a really good question.
So much of this whole book is like that. Honestly, the issue I just finished, issue 3 and so far what I’m doing in issue 4 have just been a joy. What it is is that it’s quite simply about the space and the world. I made a world that, I made it an expanse. They ride around in this place. You get to see it. You get to see lots of it. You get to see the scale of it, and the weirdness of it and the beauty of it. The realm of Tir Na Nog itself becomes like a character. And it’s almost like being in a sandbox or in one of those games where you can just roam endlessly. To get to do that in comic form was so much fun. It sounds like it could be quite boring, just going on a ride with Diana and Bruce, but they are, of course, they’re discussing the case. The stuff they’re looking at hopefully is impressive and beautiful enough that it feels fresh to people. It feels like it’s something I haven’t seen before. So we’ll see how people take it.
The Brave and the Bold #1 hits shelves on February 21st, 2018. For more on the series, stick with Den of Geek!