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Did you ever really THINK about what money is? I mean, what it ACTUALLY is?

I never did. It's probably part of the reason I'm not very money-oriented; not, in my heart, a capitalist. But still, as I look around at the news, at the growing divide between the rich and poor - they that truly care about the world and its well-being, and they that do not, and all that comes of globally powerful corporations, and how they absorb and smother all else that tries to grow in their shadow - and it seems increasingly like something I really HAVE to understand.

But where do you start?

There's a lot to know. And it's not cut and dried! There are many human transactions that happen without a like-for-like trade, and sometimes with no trade at all. You'll pass a hammer to somebody banging a nail in the wall to hand your photo. You'll help somebody weaker than you carry their bag across a road, up some stairs. You might furnish a beggars paper cup with a paper dollar. Not all of these are moral trade-offs. They aren't done to get soul points in the game of life. Often they are altruistic in the truest Darwinian sense - we're helping our fellow human animals survive. We're innately compassionate - at least, some of us are - and these moments well from that. Or else they are purely practical acts.

I didn't know, but at the heart of western economic theory (and it IS considered a science, with irrefutable laws) there lies a pseudo-anthropological genesis story that is only logical in the most basic sense. The story goes like this: One man in a village needs a new shoe. He happens to grow potatoes. Another man has a spare shoe but needs potatoes. Because of this 'double accident of need' they are able to trade. In fact all western monetary theory hinges on this - and it's in error. Because it turns out that no 'actual' anthropological evidence exists to suggest we naturally create like for like trading relationships within villages, towns or tribes - early societies if you like. The examples of barter-based periods (the post-empire dark ages) or nations are erroneous.

Many of the so-called 'primitive' societies studied in the 1950 in Africa, for example, had nothing like the kind of monetary system attributed to like-for-like bartering. Value would be seen in a type of hand-made cloth, or a rare wood, and would be used more as a symbol gift between tribes to facilitate marriages, or put right a wrong - such as an accidental killing. Some tribes had life-debts, with women as a kind of empowered currency. Indeed bondmaids have always been a form of currency - even (shockingly) today, where the very wealthiest businessmen might be offered women for the night. This is because these women have parents that have debts, as often as not, and we see this even on mainstream TV, frequently, and almost never really think about what is at the heart of such a transaction. Children become currency.

But still, what does a coin ACTUALLY represent?

Well, it's an IOU, but one that can be passed on in faith. And in order to work it needs debt.

Money can be made like this: A king needs an army. To support his army he needs to be able to feed it. To feed it he needs people who farm to provide his army food. He mints coins for his army, then demands tax from the farmers. To get the money to pay the king the farmers sell their stock to the army, who pay for it with the coins given them by the king. This is, of course, simplistic, but the Bank of England was formed almost exactly so (from wikipedia):

"England's crushing defeat by France, the dominant naval power, in naval engagements culminating in the 1690 Battle of Beachy Head, became the catalyst for England's rebuilding itself as a global power. England had no choice but to build a powerful navy. No public funds were available, and the credit of William III's government was so low in London that it was impossible for it to borrow the £1,200,000 (at 8 per cent) that the government wanted.

In order to induce subscription to the loan, the subscribers were to be incorporated by the name of the Governor and Company of the Bank of England. The Bank was given exclusive possession of the government's balances, and was the only limited-liability corporation allowed to issue bank notes.[14] The lenders would give the government cash (bullion) and issue notes against the government bonds, which can be lent again. The £1.2m was raised in 12 days; half of this was used to rebuild the navy."

So what IS money?

Throughout all history the most reviled have been the banks and the debtors. To be a debtor is almost equivalent to sin. We loath debt, and pity those who find themselves in debt, as we revile those that fall into debt through stupidity, gambling, living beyond their means. The debtors prison was a hellhole - unless you were rich. We hate the money-lenders - the banks - because we are tied to them from birth to the grave, and their whim can make or ruin us, help us achieve our dreams, or cast us out onto the streets. In France the concept of making interest as a money-lender was once a criminal offense. In biblical stories, Shakespeare, fact and fiction, the money lender is evil. But the debtor is fallen also.

There is a concept that we are born in debt - in debt to our parents for giving us life. A debt that can be paid only through our children.

Debt has been given spiritual gravitas - we owe our lives to the gods, to be paid with living sacrifices. (Debts, incidentally, that can never be paid because the gods already have everything.) Only our eventual death somehow clears the debt of life.

But still - what the hell IS money?

We now live in an age where the richest 85 people in the world have as much of this 'money' as the poorest 3.6 billion - that's half the world! And if money really IS just an IOU, what does that actually mean? They are hoarding IOUs? To what end? How can the economy work if those IOUs aren't actually in circulation? In this instance they have created a kind of meta-layer over humanity, where they are beyond debt, and thereby not subject to the same laws as anybody else - but the knock-on to the rest of us is immense, because the truth is their understanding of what money is is actually flawed, and based - as we saw earlier - on the pseudo-anthropological notion of a barter system that never existed.

The more you look, the more you read, the more you see that things we take for granted are built on mythology. Different currencies operated across empires, and certain of them remained a spoken currency long after that civilization had ended - in which case it became a symbolic currency only. A donkey is worth 125 denarii, for example, but the term is reduced to an idea of measurement, rather than the 'actual' Roman coin the concept is based up. There is not a tribal culture surviving in it's natural state that operates under anything remotely like our global economy, or the fictional barter-based system that supposedly spawned it. Mesopotamian money was not used in the ways we might expect - certainly nothing like we see it today. Often money was the domain of the temple, from which the palace pinched the concept - the ruler becoming like a living god who (like the gods) also had everything, and could grant (and often did) freedom of all debts to his or her people. We were indebted to them from birth too.

Numerous accounts exist of lives being saved, and the saved man demanding to be given a gift. The man who saved him might exclaim "but you should give ME a gift! I saved YOU!" Such stories confused many a Victorian evangelist or adventurer. But to be saved is a life debt, and unless you are freed of that debt you are a slave to the man who saved you. It is honourable, therefore, to give the saved man a gift, rather than demand payment. To free him. This is NOT traditional barter! And isolated societies exist by having a central store which belongs to everybody. In such tight societies it would be frowned on to want more than anybody else, and you would be punished if you were caught steeling. Incredibly elaborate systems evolve, but they are built mostly on fair-mindedness and need, and currency tends to evolve around sex and death - and, of course, debt.

I've been trying to understand what I can. I'm reading lots, and learning. But I still have no idea what money really is - other than having a hunch that we have built for ourselves an elaborate trap, a perpetual cycle that keeps us in eternal bondage...

As it's world poetry day, and also to show not ALL my posts are deep emotional/creative musings, here is my ode to a fictional version of Derby - which features in my new novel Paradise Rex Press, Inc., coming out in the next few months from PS Publishing:


The Magpies
In their shirt and tails
Caw rhapsodies
(the beauty of which they alone can hear)
and gathering like gentlemen tramps in the thorny trees
they spatter the cars that line Arboretum Rise.

The east is outlined in gold
When ‘Frankenstein’ comes home
From nightly work
Whose purpose no one cares or knows
– Though likely it’s in engineering –
And it’s good the streets as yet are bare,
For he drives too fast,
Has little care of neighbours
whose lives and names remain strangers.
He’ll sleep his coughing, retching, twisting sleep this day
troubled by wasted years and loss,
a family long gone away.
His damaged captive dog yet adoring.
And so starts another day
with one ending at 49 Arboretum Rise.

Albert Edmund
Methodist posty
Sets click-clacks from Blakey heels dancing off red-brick walls
All the long way up Darwin’s Walk,
At the end of which
– Like a giant child’s discarded block set –
Squats The Three Peaks College.
By midday he’ll be supping tea
And enjoying the paper.
Annie Edmund
Mother of three
Will by then have a headache.
(For now, though, she dreams of hot tropical forests,
And apes in grass skirts
Their eyes alight with wisdom and passion.
So far, so very far away from 68 Arboretum Rise.)

It’s five thirty a.m. precisely
When Eva Braddock-May
Age 3
Opens eyes sprung like traps
And launches
As if catapulted
From her half-size pink slumber
Into the dim promise of today.
A mound of fur
Cast in forms ursine and obscure
At once bursts and embraces
And finally buries her.
The house shakes.
Rising, reluctant and dream-drunk, her mother
Finds mechanical passage
To the kitchen
And the kettle.
Three hours yet before she opens the door of number 7
And steps out into Arboretum Rise.

The giant spider
Which adorns the window of number 51
Has beneath it a sign:
‘Please post Harry a letter.’
Three students
– This year’s custodians of Harry –
Sit in a spiral of smoke
And put the world to rights
Having stayed up all night
As have
Before them.
Such wisdom abides on Arboretum Rise.

The city stirs.
Night-chilled corners warm
As a higher sun
Beats the glass
of fifty thousand homes
Almost as one.

A bath run.
The radio news begun.
And so today
And so on and on.
And here
Spread out beneath uncertain skies
On the rugged red road that’s Arboretum Rise.

Ed Moses
Of number 9
Balled by beer consumption
And bearded
(To lend a prophet’s gravitas to his proclamations)
Wakes to a familiar anger
And with it
No more his:
A lover’s kiss.
A daughter’s little hand in his.
He’ll tell you, if you let him.
And opening hour is little more than a cup o’ tea away.
He pulls on trousers
An extravagant shirt
(Carefully beer-stained to affect bohemian distain)
And sparks up a hand rolled ciggy.
‘I’ll not forget’
He thinks
‘Not yet.
Not ever.
Oh, I’ll not forget.’
And outside,
Through the picture frame pain of his window,
(Who in truth he pushed away)
– Forgetful –
To school
Down Arboretum Rise.

The school casts wide high gates
For half an hour
It waits.

Like pin-ball-bearings
One two three
And ready to fire themselves into the moment
Anxious at passing seconds.

Alongside the school,
beside the gates,
Runs Darwin’s Way –
Upon which throng:

A clumping of youthful walking tired,
oblivious to the zeitgeist-defining fading of a former generation.

A pigeon flock of mothers,
and prams,
and children,
– Barely attached by invisible straps –
Waiting for their catches to be unlatched to run unleashed at last.
Or huddling
Or clinging,
Like wide-eyed aliens in frenzied foreign lands,
To legs
Or jackets
Or hands.

Seven types of father:
A governor
Versed in playground law
Picking over the titbits.
The businessman
Who throws open the passenger door of his Rover
And doesn’t turn his head when he says
‘’ave a nice day duck.’
Today’s unwanted trials already at play in his mind.
The sensitive unemployed drunk
Trying hard to hide his nerves
And secretly cursing his failure to do so.
The turbaned Sikh
With proud, penetrating eyes
And gentle hands.
The flirt,
The watcher,
The thief.

The fat red school
– Dressed in cheers and fears and years,
Resounding with shouts,
The knell and bell of all they that,
For now,
Dwell without –
Welcomes all.
And just so
For half an hour
Every day
Arboretum Rise
Shouts its loudest
Then softly sighs.

Polly Peters hasn’t gone yet.
Rachel Grant, Pet Sheppard or June Haigh.
Conspiracy abounds,
And there are sacrifices to be made
Of a host of ready lambs.
Quips to moisten the eyes of once close,
Mostly male,
Fill the air.
Light ironic laughter bites.
And yet, behind the bitchy swipes,
Unspoken of bonds pepper their eyes with pin-points of light.

And strong
A decade lost
And won
All in a day’s good
Or ill
A castaway
Born of romantic folly
The deluded epic of art
And it’s worth
And our worth
And your worth.
Sad happy in her love hate world
With number two still clinging
Sometimes battering
Often screaming.

Rachel Grant
Too long alone
Jolly and principled.
Only child of an only child with an only child
And no father at home.

Pet Sheppard
Paying her best lip service.
Laughing her blandest knowing laugh
Knowing nothing.

June Haigh
Whose husband drew many an envious eye
Pining for a stolen kiss
With a gym mistress.

Their planetary mass
Oblivious of the barbs
Flung his way
More or less
After all,
Is Henry Hess.
And bald.

A few cars negotiate,
And subside.
The sounds of the Magpies’ rude blurting,
The sparrow’s brief flurried fluting
Emerge again along Arboretum Rise.

The Sheldon daughters
Of number 76,
Admired by myriad fathers
Trusted by numerous grateful mothers,
Watch over swarming toddlers with ethereal calm.
With monumental dental smile,
Trades flirtatious nothings with Alan Holmes,
Father of Alice,
(Who’s reluctant to go home.)
Changes Eric’s soiled pants
And somehow still smiles.
Without any effort,
They of all know best how the land lies
The length and breadth of Arboretum Rise.
My wife said to me "you've got to be kinder about England when you're around the kids. They loved Derby!"

I had no idea I was being so bitter - but when I thought about it I had to concede the point. And that made me start wondering why - Why did I feel so angry about the UK? What was my problem?

But here's the thing - Some 14 years ago I couldn't get any work. We had just had baby no.2, and I had done a run on 'Spawn: the Dark Ages', and had been suddenly replaced, along with the rest of the team on the book, because McFarlane wanted 'a change of direction'. And then there was literally no work. I went to NY to see DC and Marvel, but they had nothing. I pitched company after company, to no avail. I tried to get on illustration agency books, but was refused by all of them. I tried children's book publishers, Core Design, and other computer game companies. Nobody wanted me. Even Frank Frazetta criticized my art in his book 'Icon' - just to add insult to injury!

We ended up having to sell our house to move somewhere much cheaper, and in that whole year I earned less than six thousand pounds. I did not sign on to wellfare - I was stupid and proud. I went into debt, and I lost all sense of worth.

In fact I started to HATE drawing.

It's been a long, hard slog since then. I fought back. I started a publishing company, wrote a novel, built a web presence, and bit by bit I rebuilt myself - no thanks to the local UK papers that would not promote 'comics', the banks that would not support us, the UK VCs that had no vision, the agencies and other companies that passed me over.

And when it came to starting Madefire could we find backing in the UK? Could we bollocks! (That means 'no we couldn't' to my American brethren.)

But here, in the US, the hard work is paying off.

I realize, now, that my anger was understandable, but misplaced. After all, the US comic companies had no work for me either. Everybody hits hard times, and when you're down there's nothing like the faint whiff of desperation to drive opportunity away.

My story is a testament to the fact that you CAN come back. You CAN rebuild, survive, and even thrive. Luck is a very real thing - You can't make it, but you can give it a better chance.

So sorry, kids, for being down on home! And truth be told, I'm missing it too. A lot. Now I'm not (quite) so bloody angry about everything anymore.
Boom! - and the balled fist of cherished memory slams into your soft and unprepared guts like it wants to tear right through you, and when that happens you just have to go with it. Happened to me at the weekend, and I'm still reeling a bit. I miss all that constitutes home - family, my beer buddies, neighbours, friends. God damn it, California can feel a long way away!

I know I'm where I should be. I love it here. I'm chasing the dream, doing things I never imagined. I've grown, and I've learned so much. I'm definitely the best me I've ever been. And it's not even bragging rights, or a desire to show or prove that. I don't need to talk about it. I just sometimes want to sit in the kitchen at my parents house quietly, watching the world pass by, enjoying the odd hug, a glass of wine, a plate too full of hearty food. I want to sit by the fire pit in my sister's house with a warm face and a cold back in the dark. I want to sup three too many beers with the Thorsday crowd and listen to Finbar talking about his latest project, Ben regaling us with another fantastic tattoo-related anecdote, or Jonathan filling my brain with more anthropology and local history.

Maybe it's the time of the year. Maybe it's because I just passed the two-year anniversary of my arrival. Either way, thinking of you all.

Sometimes I feel like the classic outsider - always a part but apart. Here I've found a place that suits my thoughts, ideas, visions. Somewhere I can be fully me, and grow and learn. A place that listens, is open, and that can do something with that. A place I can make my dreams a reality. But doing it without all of the above can also - sometimes - leave you a little hollow. That's nothing against all the dear and true friends I have made while I've been here, but 43 years of life is a long time growing, and transplanting it elsewhere is not quite as simple as getting on and then off a plane.

I hear it's a three year process, adapting. Roll on year three!

I read about a little girl finding her first Teen Titans comic in a shop a few days ago, and her excitement at holding that comic in her hands. Owning it. And it was a genuinely touching story – the next generation meets paper, print, and the characters they love from the TV. The story went on to talk about digital, and it being no substitute for the real thing. You can’t own the object in the digital world; You can’t treasure it – so the argument went. The response – and there’s always a response these days – was almost unanimously pro-print, though the author conceded room for both.

I spent the last couple of days mulling this over, because this is a mental barrier we are up against – a false meme. And I don’t believe it. It’s not what I’m seeing in practice.

The first point is that the girl found a comic of her favourite TV characters. She didn’t know, most likely, that they were characters in a comic first. She came into contact with the Teen Titans through another medium, and that led her to comics. I’ve said, repeatedly, that many of the people finding digital comics on apps or online are a new audience, and that this could lead them to print. It’s possible that a young girl could discover Teen Titans in a digital comic format first, and that could lead her to discovering print. Comics are not ubiquitous in the way they once were, and the internet is the new corner shop, the spinning rack of old, where I first discovered comics. I was 19 before I stepped into a comic shop in London – I had no idea they existed! I could have so easily missed them all together. Digital helps make sure another generation doesn’t miss them.

My second point is that kids don’t need to own physical things the way we did. My youngest son has a world he’s created in Minecraft. He logs in, and goes to a virtual space which he has full ownership of. Young people feel they collectively own the internet, and everything they put on there or build in their virtual spaces. Similarly, my music collection is vastly more progressed and varied since the advent of iTunes. I know more about music, I have broader tastes, and I am prepared to take more of a chance with a new artist. I also don’t have boxes of vinyl cluttering up a house already too small for five of us, and destined to keep growing, along with my comics and books collection. I long ago had to stop buying books and comics, and indeed had to cull them – which was pretty heartbreaking! But I now have a solution to that. And if I really want the print book – and sometimes I do, because I will ALWAYS and FOREVER love print – then I can splash out, buy it, and that makes it extra special.

We must remember – the means of transmission does not the story make! We loved the films we saw at the cinema long before we could own them on tape then DVD!

Finally – comics were a by-product of newspapers. They are themselves a young medium. They are words and they are pictures, but most importantly, they are stories. And great stories can be told in ANY medium.

These are exciting times. We should embrace them, and be open to them. Everything needs to change and evolve. It’s part of what makes life so very exciting!

– Liam Sharp

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Huge, emotional changes on the horizon.

Whatever this year brings me, the hardest thing I'm facing is the reality of my daughter growing up and starting to build a life for herself. Just recently she had a truly wonderful portfolio review for a US university that I would be delighted if she attended. It has only 450 students, and the courses are fantastic, as is the location. They were also quick to email her and let her know, again, that they were very impressed.

Look, I'm a big softy and you all know that. I might look like Stone Cold Steve Austin, but I stood in the shower the other morning thinking about how proud I was, and in moments I passed from full-on elation to proper, unsightly blubbing in a matter of moments.

I'm a bit of a human/teddy-bear hybrid, as Garth Ennis once observed, but I'm not prone to crying. I'm actually pretty circumspect around most things. But this got me.

How could that amount of time pass? How could she be at the point of moving on? How would we cope without her?

I have an unusual daughter. I've never seen her angry. She's like a puddle of eternal calm. She's innately decent, innately warm. She gives the best hugs. She's funny, a total geek, and I can't imagine life without her.

And yet I must, as all good parents should, ease her on her way into her own life, her own future. And it's both beautiful and unbearable.

In the patterns we weave, the courtship dance, love, parenthood, and life - saying goodbye to our children is something that gets a little short-shrift. I have heard of empty nest syndrome, but I always - as all youths do - said I wouldn't be like that. I'd be glad to send my kids out into the world with a wave and smile. I would want it. Those were, after all, my happiest days - escaping the shackles of school and childhood. Those days of burgeoning adulthood, it's follies and joys.

Sadly I'm not as bold or brave as my promises to myself.

The void of her passing looms pretty palpably already. I can imagine the spaces where she has been even as she still sits in them, and it's hard. But because I do love her so much I'll do my best to deal with it as maturely as any 45 year old man can. I'll wish her well, and help her on her way. And I'll make it as easy - as very easy and happy and glad - as I can for her always to find a home back home. With us.

Here is a selection of never-before-seen material that went into creating the Captain Stone is Missing… story I co-created with my wife, Christina McCormack.

Top to bottom - Staz Johnson’s pencils for a page from the satirical meta-comic ‘Tyranny of the Ant Women’.

An early character sketch for ‘Plucky’, the Cap’s ‘fictional’ side-kick.

Colour variations and inks for the interior art done in a faux early 1990s style. I chose to guide it towards the pre-Photoshop, pre-glossy paper, four-colour technique to add a real authentic, period style.

Bill Sienkiewicz’s amazing black and white art, which was eventually coloured by me, and used as a cover.

The first character rough of Charlie Chance as The Pet.

An early page layout of Charlie watching the breaking news about Cap Stone and the explosion at Pilot Mountain.

And finally a rough guide to show the steps the animation could take in a page featuring The Pet.

Being an artist, writer, digital pioneer and CCO too often feels like being a salesman. I'm not very good at it, and I hate feeling like I'm beating everybody over the head to get myself some attention! Lord knows, we have enough to think about!

That said - what's the option? If I don't tell you about the work you'll never see it! If I don't think it's worth seeing, why do it?

The old catch 22 of being a creator - the one thing we LEAST want to do is shout about ourselves. The one thing we really HAVE to do is exactly that.

Anyway - to that end I thought it might be useful to put up a list of all the links to my Captain Stone books, which are ALL FREE, and all available to read on your computer RIGHT NOW.

If you live nearby I'll throw in a free carwash, and a tin of boot polish.*…………………


And bonus – Cap Stone Confidential…


*Note: Was only kidding. You REALLY don't want me washing your car! I always end up making it look worse!!!
So, here's the thing: You're reading Batman, Hellboy, My Little Pony, and other stories on the Madefire app - BUT! Not nearly enough of you are reading Captain Stone is Missing... and here's 14 reasons why you SHOULD be!

(Forgive me while I go against type, suppress my inner national - and regional - modesty, and wax lyrical about my book for a while. You see, I truly believe it is worth the effort!)

No - it's not on android (yet!) but it's free, and it IS on iPod touch, iPad, iPhone, and right here on deviantArt in the Motion Book section here… - so you CAN all read it. Right now! All seven issues of book 1.

It's DNA is that of Bill Sienkiewicz and Frank Miller's Electra Assassin, and Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore's The Watchmen.

It's the sum of 27 years working experience, in all genres and for all age ranges.

It's co-written by my wife, Christina McCormack, so it is NOT just a mindless testosterone-fueled slug-fest.

It's a mystery - Captain Stone really IS missing.

It's a commentary on fame and global stardom.

It's a dissemination on the media, and our own fickle natures.

It has a female protagonist.

It's a decades-spanning family saga.

It features Arnie in a cameo.

It's genuinely groundbreaking.

It's the richest, most complex story-world I've ever created.

It ties in to many real world events.

It's going to go somewhere in book 2 that I don't think anybody will expect.

Plus - it's literate, amusing and a little bit shocking.

What's not to love? :-)

So please - DO go read it!

Download the Madefire app - both it and Cap Stone are free! Or read it all on deviantART in the motion books category. And tell people about it! The book needs more readers! I want to do book 2, so help me make the effort worth while!

Here's Stanley 'Artgerm' Lau's cover for issue 7!

This is a copy and paste from my facebook page, but I felt it was really important to say something, and equally valid here:

'I HATE that trashy Image style. Hiding bad drawing with flashy technique….'

Oh boy. I'm so tired of hearing this.

The internet nearly broke yesterday with a battle (on FaceBook) around good drawing, bad drawing, technique, bad manners, being able to take criticism or not, and whether a certain artist did or didn't deserve his success, and why we hate him, or not. It was epic.

I'm not going to go into the details. It got out of hand. My toes curled when I read all the comments. My heart sank. The entire original point of the thread was buried under a mound of vitriol which, justified or not, made me a little ashamed of my industry.

Comics are not all about good drawing. I've seen plenty of Jack Kirby anatomy that aligns to reality only in the most rudimentary sense, but we all know he was great.

The so-called Image style actually evolved at Marvel - and if you were around at the time you would have seen that all the guys progressing that style produced books that were the most interesting, dynamic and well-drawn (not that that matters) of the mainstream.

The guys that sparked this artistic revolution were brilliant stylists. Arthur Adams was one of the first to utilize hatching in such a bold way, playing with the way figures were drawn, and how best to show powers graphically. He inspired a legion of artists to try and do what he was doing (I remember J. Scott Campbell very humbly saying in an interview once "I'm not a Jim Lee clone! I'm an Art Adams clone!"

But it wasn't just Arthur, it was Barry Windsor-Smith, with his amazing detailed and symbolic work on stories like 'Red Nails' that informed this new approach. We had grown up being blown away by that work and wanted to try it. It was also the pioneering work done by Scott Williams on the inks, who himself inspired a generation of inkers. And there had also been inspiration in the tight, increasingly stylized work of John Byrne and Terry Austin (who's Starlord story with Chris Claremont remains a high water mark in my collection.)

Jim Lee and Marc Silvestri were the two guys that really inspired me the most during the time I was working on Marvel UK's Death's Head II. Paul Neary, the editor in chief, had introduced me to their work and wanted our Marvel UK work to share the house technique, and these guys blew my mind. Their XMen work, before the shiny paper and Image days, even before Photoshop coloring, was just stunning. It possessed great energy, bold layouts and a real underlying ability that I found utterly irresistible. But even the work of the much-vilified Rob Liefield oozed charisma and vigor. He dared to put the impetus of the story before continuity, and anything else. I could see the appeal, and put it in a similar category to Todd McFarlane's work of that time - who's Hulk run inked by Bob Wiacek I absolutely adored.

(As an aside - regarding continuity, Simon Bisley made a virtue of not giving a damn about that in his seminal ABC Warriors work, and we all applauded him for it. Rules are made for breaking!)

The so-called 'Image style' revitalized the mainstream. It brought me back to US superhero comics, which I had given up on to a very large extent. It inspired me. It excited me. It was bloody good stuff!!!  Out of this style came me, Travis Charest, the late Michael Turner, Finch, Capullo, and many others who went on to great things.

When the books went glossy, and the color got shiny and lens-flare-happy it was, to be fair, a step away from the genuine class that preceded. But these were changing times, and there are always birthing pains. At times it did seem that the stylistic excesses overwhelmed the drawing - but make no mistake: it is NOT easy to do! And when a style so dominates where else do you go? If not MORE, then what?

Too often this amazing time is painted as vulgar and over-blown. The artistry is dismissed, the creators seen as second-rate and sometimes deserving of mass ridicule. I think it can get incredibly personal in ways it never could, nor ever should, in the past. Once the worst we got was a stinging letter in a letter column - and that could cause mass alcohol consumption and self doubt for a stretch of time all by itself!

Comics CAN be great art by incredible artists - the world's best in my opinion. But they can also just be bubblegum entertainment for people who just want to escape the world for half an hour and be transported somewhere magical. To judge all comics with the same expectation is futile and pointless. To mock or bully people who's art you have personally decided is sub par seems mean-spirited. That they may not be paragons of virtue themselves does not negate our own behavior.

We should be better than that. We should be an example.

That's just what I think. You may, of course, beg to differ.
And you can read it right here, right now, on dA! Madefire and dA are delighted to be able to bring it to you on the same day and date it appears everywhere else... very exciting! Enjoy!

Click the link!…

So - how was my year then?

I have to say I'm weary. I mean REALLY bloody to-the-bone weary.

When I started at Madefire a little over two years ago I sat in a tiny office in San Francisco with my co-founders and thought to myself 'Christ! What the hell am I doing here?!!? I haven't got the faintest idea what I have to do...' The truth is, though, none of us did! We had an idea, and a bit of money, and we were four good men with very different skills. I brought the creators. Ben brought leadership and mad design skills, Eugene brought tech genius, and Graves brought organization. The overwhelming sensation I felt was of equal parts fear and excitement.

Today, I have to tell you, I still feel both! That sensation has never subsided. If anything it's even more keenly felt! But my word, it's been worth it!

I'm driving the car that came with the house we are renting - it is a lease car, and it made more sense to drive that than attempt to buy a new one having no US credit. It's a BMW, which I find deeply humorous, having never been a car guy. A week or so ago I was heading home after dropping a visitor off. I took a route up over the hills behind Berkeley, it was twilight. Led Zepellin came on the radio - Ramble On - and the water in the bay was on fire, glowing liquid gold as the sun set. It was a magical moment. And I was struck, profoundly, by the fact that if I had been told, two years earlier, I would be doing that I would have laughed hard and long. I mean, REALLY laughed.

That's how today feels. Magical. Impossible.

I must have spent the best part of 15 years fighting to have this overnight success...

So how has my year been?

It's been AMAZING. I'm the luckiest man alive. I have a wonderful, truly wonderful family. I've made some dear friends. And Madefire has come way further than I ever dared hope to dream. Culminating in today, and the launch of Batman: Arkham Origins on the app, and the fantastic remasters of Injustice. It's just impossible to take in.

So thank you, dear friend, family, and everybody else who has believed in us and supported us. It's down to you, too. Without all of you guys it's entirely meaningless.

Have a wonderful holiday and an truly brilliant New Year!


Madefire, DC and dA bring you completely remastered exclusive Motion Books of DC's biggest-selling digital book of all-time:!!!

An amazing day!!!!!! :D

Happy Holidays all!!!!


I’ve loved Mike Mignola’s work for a VERY long time – longer than perhaps either of us would like to admit! Right from the first book I remember, Truimph & Torment, the Marvel Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom graphic novel of 1989, he was one of those love-at-first-sight artists – instantly iconic, instantly impressive, and always idiosyncratic. You can’t mistake a Mignola for anybody else, despite the many creators that have been influenced by him.

There are too many great Mignola books to call out – I believe I may have all his books, and there’s not one that isn’t worth owning – but for the sake of brevity there are three I’ll talk about that remain particular favourites.




Faithfully adapted from the famous stories by Fitz Lieber, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser from 1991, was a series of four prestige books produced by Marvel’s Epic line. The characters are so wonderfully realized, and the stories so charmingly acted throughout that you can’t help but be swept away. There’s also a kind of shorthand in the storytelling in Hellboy that seemed, to my eyes at least, to really have evolved out of these books. Design – always a factor in Mignola art – is a huge part of what makes them so special, and the world is fully evolved, the culture feels so tangible. Book four, in particular, has a cover that contains echoes of what was to come – including a character that looks remarkably like a certain Abe Sapien…




The next book that I absolutely adored was Ironwolf: Fires of the Revolution, written by Howard Chaykin and John Francis Moore. A tale of flying wooden ships, a vampire elite and lion men, it’s full of charm and derring-do. With an extreme economy of line Mignola can create an extraordinary breadth of expression, but he also really knows form and lighting, so everything is incredibly solid. It’s a stunning book. Track it down in hardback. You won’t regret it!




When Hellboy came along – based on a convention drawing that triggered a thought process that resulted in the creation of the book – it was a genuine ‘event’. Within the industry, particularly amongst artists, Mignola was already revered – much more, I believed, than he ever personally knew! - and Hellboy didn’t disappoint. Mythology, folklore and crime procedurals collided in a manner that Mignola somehow made seem effortless. And at the heart of the book was the incredibly appealing Hellboy himself, stone-fisted and shorn of horns, you somehow found empathy with this good-hearted demon-spawn.


We’re delighted to be able to bring you Mignola’s Hellboy in Hell as a Motion Book on the Madefire app and dA, and we believe it’s a medium entirely suited to the big red lug! Read it right here, right now!:…

You know - I've had enough of me. I'm all talked out. It's been an amazing - exhausting! - year, and so much has happened to me, stuff that has changed my life and changed me too. But that can wait. I need a while to get some perspective on everything. Be sure I'll let you know my findings!

But for now - tell me about YOUR year... your highs and lows, the things that have inspired you.

If you had one piece of art that stood out what was it?

What music blew your mind this year?

What did you re-discover?

What did you loose?

What really hurt that nobody noticed?

What made you laugh like a drain?

I want to hear from you! :-)

Early on at Madefire, just as the first stories and pieces of art started to come in, and the medium we were involved in progressing really started to look like it was progressing, one of our key investors noted that it was here that 'the myths of the 21st century would be created.'

It was a pretty bold statement!

This week we launch a book that can legitimately lay claim to that 'War in Heaven' by Ricardo Pinto and Adrian Smith.

WIH Facebook header

Ricardo Pinto is the writer of one of the most epic, brutal, and pioneering trilogies of the last fifteen years. The Stone Dance of the Chameleon is told over three huge volumes, and features a world of astonishing lucidity. Ricardo built models which he lit with a false electric sun so he could chart the lengthening of shadows across the terrain. The astonishingly cruel caste system of his native culture is exposed in every facet; beautiful and barbaric. At times it reads like an anthropological study, at other times it's a psychological nightmare. The ghost of Jung embeds his icons in the intricate structures of both the story and the plot. It's exhaustive and exhausting, and utterly riveting.

Adrian Smith is one of the most highly respected dark fantasy gaming artists in the world. His battle scenes are choreographed with a general's eye, the thuggish intent of the protagonists unquestioned. He makes preposterous, insanely ornate, over-sized armour seem logical and practical. There's no cutting corners here he paints everything! I've studied his work and can't figure out how he does it without an army of clones, or some sort of time-retarding device. There aren't enough hours in any given day to accommodate his output, so I have come to trust that he is in league with demonic and arcane individuals, that some satanic pact has been enacted. It's scary!

'War in Heaven' is their first Motion Book. Loosely based on Milton's Paradise Lost it wastes no time at all getting going, and Pinto doesn't over-burden Smith's art with exposition or dialogue. It's sparse, lyrical indeed the words fit the art more like the lyrics of a concept album than anything else. This is post-rock-art, epic and unapologetic. And it really is epic! Not since Philippe Druillet gave us Yragail/Urm have I seen such scale in a work of narrative art. It's mind-blowing, and it's aided by some of our best soundscapes to date.

On Thursday, which fittingly happens to be Hallowe'en, we're releasing all six issues at once. Dive in. Be transported.

21st Century mythology?

Absolutely, in every monochromatic chamber of it's dark, elegiac heart.

WIH web 03


WIH web 01

Read part one right here, for free, now!…

Or - Making it When you Least Expect it

Who knows when you're going to hit the zeitgeist, and suddenly your world changes in way you could never predict?

I was 20 years old and messing up everything in a monumental way. I'd had my heart broken, failed to stay focused on work, and run up a ton of debts. I was drinking Falstaffian quantities, and doing pretty much all I could to avoid facing into my own reality. My electricity was cut off, then my phone. Instead of collecting rent from my lodger I got drunk with him on a fairly nightly basis.

I needed to face it - I was a mess.

I returned to London aged 21 with a ten pound note in my pocket and a dear friend prepared to put me up while I got back on my feet. Brian West was a cartoonist and writer then, and together we tried numerous things to bring in money and put beer and food in our bellies. We spent our weekends getting up at 4.30am to secure a slot at Campden Market where we drew caricatures. We planned magical comedy skits for the fringe circuit. We wrote plays, concocted ideas for television series's, and we drank. A lot. And played guitars loudly and badly.

I'd burned a bridge at 2000ad through general tardiness. I meant well, but my lack of any hold on my own destiny, spiraling debts and everything else I was failing to do just resulted in late delivery of art - which is a big no-no (though it's also very common of freelancers!) I've worked hard for the last 20 years to change that, and my track record since then has been exemplary, but I was young and foolish, and I won't deny it. I was unreliable. That only left Marvel UK, a company I had previously failed to make any real impression upon.

However, a new editor in chief had taken over, and things were changing there, so I chanced a visit--

Paul Neary was instantly likeable. He immediately started showing me work I should look at - in particular Jim Lee, who blew me away. I had not been keeping track of Marvel or US style comics, and there was an amazing renaissance going on. Jim was at the forefront of it with Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri, Scott Williams, and others. Barry Smith was drawing Wolverine: Weapon X... truly stunning work all round. It ignited me, and it was a style I instantly understood and could work with. Now it's viewed as the 'Image' style, but back then it was the Marvel house style, and Paul was keen that Marvel UK should not get left behind.

Paul showed me a picture of a redesign for Death's Head, created by Simon Furman and Geoff Senior. It was lovely work, but he felt it wasn't in step with where he wanted to take the company. It set me thinking, and that night I faxed Paul a sketch, with a note that read 'Hi Paul. I always thought Death's Head should look something like this...'

Death's Head prelim by LiamSharp

The next day Paul called me in again. He wanted to start over, with me as the artist. A whole new team. Dan Abnet had been an editor at Marvel UK but had left to pursue his writing. In he came to work with me on fleshing the book out. Then we tried out several inkers, settling on the lovely Andy Lanning - he, myself and Brian had previously shared a studio in Islington, so it was wonderful to be working with familiar faces again. It was rough on Simon and Geoff, but I was so swept up in the excitement and this incredible, unexpected opportunity that there wasn't much time to consider their fates. Thankfully they are both extremely decent chaps and we long ago put any animosity to bed in the cigarette-enshrouded bars around the Temple area in London, where the offices used to be.

Death's Head II cover by LiamSharp Death's Head II by LiamSharp

The cover was done. The strip work began in earnest - and proved quite a process! The book was announced in Marvel's 'Sales to Astonish' catalog, and pre-orders jumped from 30,000 to 300,000!  It rocked the Marvel UK offices to the core, and we quickly regrouped. This had to be done right. I was growing as an artist, and the complex time-travel nature of the story was proving unwieldy. I ended up drawing the first issue almost twice, with the pages below completely cut from the series and redrawn--

Lost original DH vs.DH II end by LiamSharp

Eventually we were ready to go - and man, did it go big! The first issue of the four issue mini series sold out immediately, and there was a second and third printing with silver and gold ink on the covers. It was insane! We couldn't believe the size of the print runs, and I was suddenly a 'hot' artist in the US. I started getting profiles and interviews, invites to conventions, including San Diego. They made a costume of the character, and people were getting tattoos of him! He was a genuine superstar!

Death's Head II issue 3 cover by LiamSharpDHII 3b cover by LiamSharp

Issue after issue the sales were solid. It was not going to be a one-off. Death's Head II had legs. We started to plan an ongoing series, and this time I did a full-colour painting which became the launch poster--

Death's Head II Xmen poster by LiamSharp

The orders came is just shy of 500,000 copies - unheard of now. It was a staggering success. Nothing would ever be the same for me.

I drew four issues of the series, then wrote and drew Death's Head Gold, before getting wooed by Marvel US, drawing Spiderman, the XMen, and graduating to a run on The Incredible Hulk. But it was all thanks to metal horns, red wire dreadlocks, a metal skull, Death's Head II, Marvel UK, and Paul Neary. Those were halcyon days I will never forget.

I did get to (kind of) revisit Death's Head II in a DC series that gently parodied Marvel. Lord Havoc had been a pastiche of Dr Doom, but with the editor on side we changed it to be a Death's Head riff. I was even fortunate enough to have one of the greatest inkers of our age, and a direct influence on the DHII series, ink me - Scott Williams!

LORD HAVOK cover 6 inked by LiamSharp

Five years ago I pitched a Death's Head II reboot to Marvel, with Bryan Hitch co-plotting the story. Sadly they passed, but here's a taster of what could have been--

Death's Head reboot pic by LiamSharp

Marvel are finally creating a new Death's Head comic with the excellent Nick Roche on art chores, featuring an alternate cover by me! I wish Nick the very best, and hope that old skull-head is a great for him as he was for me. :-) See my process below, from rough to the finishished piece coloured by the excellent Ryan Brown.

Image by LiamSharpImage(1) by LiamSharp
New DH2 cover  by LiamSharpREVOWARDH2014004 Var copy(1) by LiamSharp

And last but not least, I got to draw him again for former Marvel UK editor and writer of Knights of Pendragon, John Tomlinson, for Eaglemoss' Marvel Fact Files - again digitally painted by Ryan Brown!

Death's Head too by LiamSharp

Welcome back old son. I've missed you!
Man, there's a kind of magic around some people. I call them the untouchables.

I'm sort of terminally honest. I seem to just say or write what I'm thinking without much filter. It comes out, and I can't help it - and it's a bloody pain in the bum sometimes. For example - we took the kids out of school for a day for a long over-due trip to Disney, which is something my daughter has wished for for most of her 17 years of life. We were advised to lie to the school by our friends, but no. We tell the truth. The school dutifully tells us that we can't have the day off for a reason like that. But we CAN say it's a trip to look at a university for her. So what do we do? We find a nearby university and arrange to go see it before we drive home. Y' know - so that we're telling the truth! (It turned out to be great, but that's another story...)

Terminally honest.

But these untouchables? Well, you know them. We all do. One of my untouchable friends stood on a table at a big event at the Hard Rock Hotel in San Diego - and lit up a cigarette!!! And you know what? Nobody said a thing to him - not the guests, the hosts or the waiters. He did it all night! They basically let him smoke inside a hotel while standing on a table - as if he was invisible! And one thing this guy is not is invisible!

You see - if I ever tried a stunt like that I'd be asked to leave immediately.

Sometimes you can, however, get behind an Untouchable's force-field. Another San Diego convention I was at found me hanging out with Simon Bisley. We were at the Hyatt Hotel and heading down to the lobby with cigars. In the elevator Simon began collecting props from each floor - a table, a large golden throne, some plants, a podium... Floor after floor saw us add more and more stuff until we had created a whole set. Simon sat on the throne, and I stood just behind. Then he lit his cigar and eventually the doors opened to a waiting group of people. What they got was the sight of two tattooed brit barbarians in shades with cigars in a kind of Indian/jungle-themed set completely filling the elevator. Their faces were a picture, and after the surprise they burst out laughing. The doors closed and we burst out laughing ourselves.

Silly silly stuff. But we got away with it because Simon is an Untouchable and I was behind his magic untouchable force-field.

In life there are those that break ever rule and walk free, and those other poor folk that do one small thing wrong and are made an example of.

Like I said - it's a kind of magic! :-)
Good lord, there are some scumbags around.

A week ago there was a raging fire on Mount Diablo throwing huge plumes of smoke into the air a few miles away from where we live. It raged a good 24 hours but was eventually tamed by the heroic efforts of the local firemen.

A genuine disaster averted.

So while all that is going on, the fire station is broken into, and iPads, wedding rings and cash are stolen.

Words fail me.
I often get called oversensitive - and maybe I am, I don't know. If it is the case then at least it is tempered by general good cheer! And by that I mean if it seems that I let things get to me in the notes or journals I write and post up here, then that's not generally accurate! I don't dwell. I don't carry it around, letting it inform the mood of any given day. I'm not bitter and harried. I'm a happy sort of a bloke!

However, I do like to know what's going on. I like to know how my head is working, what I'm trying to get at, and how I'm responding to the medium, the audience, and my peers. I can't help but to question myself at every stage, and check my thinking and integrity. If I'm not doing that then I'm just coasting! And I'd be a big fat baldy liar if I let everybody think that it was all easy, and that I really didn't give a fat poo what anybody thought about my work. Maybe we're not meant to care what people think, if we're touching them or not, if we're failing or succeeding in connecting. But I DO care, and I think I should care.

This does not mean I'm craving attention, or that I'm a delicate flower people should be nice to. I don't expect everybody to like my work, or me, and I'm not feeling sorry for myself!

For me the whole of my life and my career is an exploration. It's all I know. The ebbs and flows are part of it, and the views of others - as expressed so warmly on here so often - are a huge and important part of that. It's a dialogue, and it's something that I hope I can learn from as much as I hope it generally informs. I think we should be clear when we get uncertain. I think we should be honest when we wobble. I think we should share our lows as much as our highs, our doubts as much as our certainties, and our fear as much as our bravery.

If a criticism seems to be persistent - repeated by unconnected people over a span of time - then I think it's OK to look at that, kick it about, and see whether it holds any merit or not. If, for a moment, that causes concern and momentary questioning, that too is OK. I would never be so sure as to consider myself above criticism! I might not ultimately agree, but then again I might learn something. I might get better, and grow.

So please, however I may posit these musings, the intention is to explore; to reveal my working mind; to garner opinion; to inform; to grow.

Besides - what the hell else would I write about? :-)