As you may be aware, I am a huge fan of the Arthurian legend in all its forms, and so I was excited to see what fellow fan, Liam Sharp, was going to do with it in his new series StarHenge from Image Comics. With the debut issue already out and the second issue hitting shelves this week, I was keen to catch up with Sharpy and quiz him on this new book:
Olly MacNamee: I know StarHenge is a series long in the making, but exactly how long? What was the original inception of this idea ad how far has it changed form your original thoughts for the series?
Liam Sharp: I’m trying to put an age on when I first thought I would love to do a comic based on ancient Celtic myths! I would say, probably when I was about 13 or 14. Then I read Slaine in 2000 AD and it suddenly felt like I’d been beaten to it! I wrote a short film screenplay around 1990, when I thought I was going to go to Bournemouth film school, but then I landed the Death’s Head II gig at Marvel UK, and it was all change! I wrote another treatment about ten years ago for Madefire, hoping we could get Simon Bisley to paint it, but that never got developed. Then I pitched it to DC as a Camelot 3000 reboot – but they eventually passed on that. So yes, at least 40 years in the making!
OM: Now, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain is a big source text for this adaption of the Arthurian legend, but what other sources might fans want to track down. I notice in the upcoming second issue there are other British myths included beyond just King Arthur. And, of course, there is Amber’s own interest in Celtic gods such as Cernunnous.
LS: The two other major influences were both by Nicolai Tolstoy. One was The Quest for Merlin, which postulates the idea that Merlin was an actual, historical figure. The other was his novel The Book of Merlin: The Coming of The King, which was Book One of a proposed trilogy, but he never followed it up, sadly. Beyond that I’ve largely stayed away from other fictional Arthurian books because I didn’t want to find myself inadvertently being influenced by other takes! Although I did read Marrion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon many years ago at school, and T.H.White’s The Once and Future King gave me the idea of Merlin being born in the future…
OM: While many will think of King Arthur as a chivalric medieval story, your Arthur return of its 5th century roots. Is this the era of Arthurian legend that most fascinates you, as it does me? For me it’s the brutal Dark Ages roots of this story that is the most satisfying, void of any of the politeness and pomp of the Middle Ages’ chivalric code.
LS: Yes. The Monmouth version is wildly different. He’s much more like Alexander the Great – this conquering hero! A really unstoppable force. That’s a version we never see, and that fascinated me. But, to be fair, the Arthurian material in StarHenge is really there to set up the book. It’s the background ‘history’ of the book – as if it were real. So it will set the tone for the work that comes after, rather than being the actual basis of the story. It’s not a retelling of anything that came before, it’s just set in the Monmouth universe!
OM: As well as the legend of King Arthur, there is a strong element of science fiction too. How have you approached the art to a book that is set in the past, present and future? Any inspirations you can share? And how are you finding digital art helps you better realise your vision?
LS: I think it’s mostly inspired by illustrators, with a few exceptions. People like Chris Foss, H.R.Giger, Jim Burns, John Berkey. There’s obviously Frazetta and Jeffrey Catherine Jones in the mix too, and even classical Victorian painters like Sir Edwin Landseer! From comics, my art wouldn’t be what it is without Bill Sienkiewicz and Dave McKean!
As far as working digitally goes, what I really love is the flexibility. The way in which you can constantly evolve and change the pages. It’s much faster than traditional painting, so you can cover more ground, but it’s easier to fix and modify. If you get something badly wrong you don’t always have to start over from scratch. You can usually salvage some of it.
OM: I noticed you have your daughter, Matylda Sharp, contribute a few pages in StarHenge #2. The Avalon apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. A proud moment for you, I take it?
LS: Ha! No, that was delightful, to work with Matylda! And she killed it! Her three pages take a truly devastating time in Amber’s young life and make them so delicate and approachable. You really feel this is how she processes everything – Matylda’s art representing Amber’s art. I felt it really set-up that part of her character, and in a sense, the whole book.
OM: What I have enjoyed the two issues I’ve read is that as well as a time twisting sci-fi/fantasy it also does a good deal to inform the reader too. Was this always an important part of the story you wanted to tell?
LS: Not intentionally, no, but it became a thing when I realized that here in Walnut Creek we have Mount Diablo, and in Brighton we had The Devil’s Dike, and just seeing that lovely synchronicity made me curious about how these two local features got their names. And then it became obvious that Amber’s character would be interested in these kinds of things – she has a very rich and diverse inner life! And I always loved how Herodotus – the father of history – was always going off on wild digressions, which seemed like a fun thing to try and incorporate too, since we’re in the realm of dubious historical recounting!
OM: Okay, finally then, Liam, what next for this series after an issue more focused on the past and the present? Any more glimpses into the cosmically far-out future we saw in the first issue, for instance?
LS: There are glimpses, certainly, but a lot of it is set-up. The plan for future books of StarHenge is to move through time with Amber, Daryl and Merlin, starting in the past, and eventually moving into the future, and even the far future amongst the stars. So it will generally start to focus more and more on the specific time they are actually in, as they work to save magic from extinction.
StarHenge #2 is out Wednesday 10th July from Image Comics, while you can read my review of the first issue here.