Artist and new author Liam Sharp has achieved one of his life-long ambitions with the publication of his debut novella and short-story collection, God Killers. He has an excellent career history as an artist that spans prominent companies like Marvel, DC Comics and 2000AD but writing God Killers has been very special for him.
"Art is such an immediate medium that it's an easier sell," says Sharp. "Like many artists I know I actually prefer writing to producing artwork. You can cover so much more ground, it's far more personal, and it's got a lot more room for visual interpretation by the beholder. Comics give you the story too, so you are rarely being asked to fully utilise your imagination. I like the idea that you can paint pictures just as vividly using words.
"Writing also covers more ground in more time than drawing. In the time it takes to draw a single page, or paint a picture, you can win whole battles, or lose them, in prose. You can traverse a great land-mass or write a complete short story. That, for me at least, is far more satisfying creatively.
"I've always wanted to get my writing published and now it's out there."
Sharp's story "Machivarius Point" forms the main novella in the collection but what's it all about? "Three ancient souls are locked into a terrible, shared fate. Three lovers, the destiny of two worlds borne on giant's shoulders. Across worlds -- united by the Kiazmus, a causeway that spans the heavens -- magic fades, ideologies are challenged, and hope may lie in the least likely place imaginable," enthuses Sharp.
"It's very much an ensemble. I've condensed enough story for a very big trilogy into 250 pages -- it was a lot bigger but I was brutal in the edit. There's no one main character and it's not clear who is good or bad or what motivates them. Very bad things happen!"
It's a deep read, full of thoughtful comments and alternative views and there's a reason for that. "I'm an armchair wannabe-anthropologist, philosopher, scientist and theologist -- in the very broadest, most lay sense! I'm fascinated by theological debate, the origins of myth and religion, civilisation in general. I'm enamoured of subjects like String Theory, and the notion of multiple universes. And also philosophical notions, the whole Jungian collective subconscious idea -- these subjects are just such great places to begin when you're constructing a story.
"I'm no expert in any of these areas, but they excite me hugely. Ethics, power, corruption, what is really good and what could be called evil. What man does to man. They've shaped my thinking, how I view the universe, and in turn they've become important themes in what I write."
And there were other influences on the story too. "I think the way I see it is as a progression -- a journey both through my experiences in life, my reading habits and my evolution as a writer. As was pointed out recently to me, you can quite clearly trace the lineage. It starts in very much an old classic pulp form, almost an homage to Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith. After that you can see a little Moorcock and Silverberg with some Feist-like scale (though not literal volume!), which moves again into, I hope, a more M. John Harrison-inspired type narrative -- particularly in the related short stories. It owes a debt to Viriconium. But there's a little Barker-esque horror, and I would love to say some China Miéville too with regard to invention -- particularly when it comes to a couple of the locations.
"When I first seriously dreamt of writing a fantasy novel I was in my teens and loved wish-fulfilment heroic sagas with a dark edge. As I grew older I started to broaden my taste, and fell in love with Gabriel Garcia Marques, Will Self, and much later Flann O' Brien and Joyce -- big literary figures. That meant my somewhat naïve, simplistic themes had to develop into something I could believe in, something that reflected my broadening world view.
"So that's kind of what I set out to do, to write an epic fantasy with a sense of reality that wasn't predictable but still offered enough of the staples to, hopefully, be enjoyed by lovers of the genre. I wanted my creation to have reasonable integrity, but still be a thumping good entertainment -- if not exactly an escape!"
And that's exactly what he's done in God Killers.
By Sandy Auden
IFX: When did you start writing Machivarius Point & God Killers?
The origins of Machivarius Point go back over 25 years! I think that's one reason why it's so very complex...
IFX: What was your inspiration?
I started drawing a comic strip when I was around 13 or 14 called The Wayfarer's Gem. It was inspired by a Michael Morcock adaptation by James Cawthorn called The Jewel in the Skull, and also by a memory of having seen the comic version of Elric by P. Craig Russell, which had this wonderfully designed representation of magic. I filled a ring-bind sketchbook with this story, and stopped on a cliff-hanger. It never went any futher than that, but something about the main character stuck. A tragic former hero turned bad in thrall to powers beyond his control - classic fantasy fare, but still. I was young!
After that it morphed several times over. When I was 17 I went to work with the great comic book illustrator Don Lawrence, where I drew a few more pages of the story, and envisaged a scene in which the Wayfarer came face to face with the evil entity that lent him the sight he had lost via a magical Gemstone - for which he must, of course, pay a terrible price. It was with Don that I also initially developed the Kiazmus concept of an emergency exit across the universe – at that time a story entirely unrelated.
The next incarnation was in prose form when I was around 19, and I began to reinterpret it as an epic fantasy novel, with all clichés intact. Here the characters and names “Woebeg”, “Thrall Brookbane” and “The Munger” were created, and the concept took on a little more flesh, with generous helpings of cheese. I was reading Raymond E. Feist's Magician at the time, that kind of epic, easy going fare. I used to love that stuff.
I revisited the concept many more times. As “athfinder” it became a comic proposal, and a whole new branch was developed using similar themes, but set in an alternate present day where magic was commonplace. (It seemed a novel idea some 17 or 18 years ago!) I also had the idea of doing it as a “believable” convention-smashing barbarian comic.
The next development was a return to the Kiazmus concept, conceived as an illustrated book. I took six months off to paint and write it, but the publishers balked, and again it languished in limbo.
When, after all this time, that book failed to materialize I just decided to start writing, and to keep writing, with no other plan than to get these ideas down to the best of my ability. And here all the ideas started to merge and become one huge picture. It was at this time also that I discovered the writers China Miéville (whom I now count amongst my friends, and who gave me some invaluable feedback along the way) and M. John Harrison, both of which were doing fantasy and science fiction with beautiful prose and serious literary ambition. It was imaginative writing for language lovers, and it broke a lot of rules – which also appealed. And I'd discovered writers like Will Self - his Great Apes is an astonishing, eye-opening book. And Gabriel Garcia Marqués's One Hundred Years of Solitude - I kind of realized there was a fine line between literary magical-realist fiction and fantasy. All huge inspirational works.
IFX: Can you give me a flavour of the world in which it's set?
Machivarius Point, the main novella in the book - which is also supported by several other related stories that happen in the same universe, not unlike M.John Harrison's Viriconium - is set on three distinct worlds, and spans ten thousand years. It deals with a self-exiled race of giants, a universe where magic - or the paranatural - is fading. It features a mad god that survived the death of his own universe, and an epic quest that goes horribly wrong. It's brutal, hopefully shocking, and it intentionally wrong-foots any expectations. There's a love triangle, of course. Big battles, great journeys. Horror. And naturally there's an awful lot at stake! I tried to take classic themes and then play them out in my mind as if it were the real world, where nothing ever really goes to plan. But I wanted it to be beautiful too.
IFX: Where does the artwork come in, it's inspired by rather than illustrative right?
Actually the artwork was all done as part of it, growing with the book at various stages. For a long while I saw it as an illustrated book, like the classic Dragon's Dream and Paper Tiger books Roger Dean put out in the 70s and early 80s. However, as time moved on I realized that the writing was what was important to me. I've always sold myself on the back of my art, but I've written my whole life, compulsively. It's probably more a passion than my artwork, but I've never really pushed that side. Ultimately I wanted it to be a novel, but when I saw what James Johnson had done with his Erth Chronicles novel and website I realized I could do both - have the illustrations to the novel online! Such great idea, and it means that the readers get that little bit more, a way to interact and participate in the world if they want that. This way the illustrations aren't forced upon them. They have the choice.
IFX: Has the resulting artwork fed back into the writing?
Absolutely, it's been a back and forth as I figured out how to present it. Some of the images are getting on for fifteen years old now, so they're a little naive perhaps, or maybe less subtle than I'd do now - more brazen. The nudity of the priestess in the Kiazmus section was something that felt bold and edgy when I was in my mid twenties. Now it seems unsubtle to me, and I think it works better in the writing. But, you know, it was all part of the process. I always try to be honest with my work, and even though I'd do it differently now it was good work for the time and deserves to be seen I think. It's where my passions lay outside of the comic work that was my mainstay.
IFX: What are you planning next?
I've got a related trilogy worked out set on the continental mainland of Arddn, which barely gets a look-in in Machivarius Point. I've written the first main section of book one, which is called Caged Aurora. It's probably more traditional, being basically an epic fantasy adventure that centers around two sisters, but knowing me that'll change as I get into it... LOL! I've got another book planned called Arborex, which is a little more of a boys own sci-fantasy adventure, and at some point I'd like to go back and continue my Jed Lightsear, Space Pirate comedy sci-fi noir stuff that I started in Event Horizon. But it's all down to time!
An early limited run of God Killers will be available at the end of September, early October on the website (www.mamtor.com) and I'll have copies for the Birmingham convention the first weekend of October.