Ian D Sharman is a writer of comics. Sadly, you’ve probably not heard of his work – wow, don’t I feel like a hipster – but do check out the review of Hero: 9 to 5. Ian also happens to be a member of various fandoms in his own right. This unique perspective made him the PERFECT person for us to interview.
The most obvious question first – what was it that got you interested in entering the comics industry in the first place?
That’s actually pretty difficult to answer as I’ve wanted to work in comics longer than I can remember. Growing up reading Marvel UK books I always got a sense that there were some people somewhere having a lot of fun making these comics. The odd thing is that I’ve now worked with some of those people myself and made them feel very old by telling them that reading their work as a child made me want to write comics myself. My parents bought me a copy of How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way when I was young, and it just seemed like the obvious thing for me to do, really. There was never a time that I can remember when I wasn’t interested in entering the comics industry.
Another obvious one – who would you credit as your inspiration?
Oh, a lot of people have inspired me. Within comics writers like Chris Claremont, Louise Simonson and Warren Ellis have been a big inspiration. I’d also include Scott Lobdell, as much as he’s become persona non grata amongst a certain section of the comics fandom these days, I was chatting with him online a lot while he was writing X-Men in the 90s, and as a then aspiring writer in my early twenties it was really inspiring to be talking with someone who was doing the very job that I wanted to do myself. In much the same way Kieron Gillen is a big inspiration as he was just starting to emerge as a comic writer when I first started regularly doing the UK con circuit. Kieron’s always made a point of coming over, saying hi, and asking me about what I’m working on…and all the time he’s risen from writing a quirky Image book about music being magic to writing Uncanny X-Men, Journey Into Mystery, Iron Man and Young Avengers. It’s been very inspiring to watch someone rise out of the exact same comics scene that I’m working in and achieve so much, and remain such a humble, likeable and genuinely friendly and approachable person.
Outside of comics, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett and Robert Rankin have been a big inspiration, and have probably influenced my writing voice more than anyone writing in comics. George Lucas has also been a huge inspiration, but he’s inspired so many people, I think it’s easy to underestimate the effect his work has had on those of us writing genre fiction.
You’ve worked as both a for hire worker and created your own comics, which would you say is the most rewarding experience?
Financially, it’s the work for hire! I’ve actually been extremely lucky with a lot of the work for hire jobs I’ve done. I’ve got to ink the X-Men, Spider-Man and Iron Man for Marvel, I’ve got to letter Doctor Who for BBC Books and I’ve got to work with childhood heroes like Mike Collins. I’ve been able to walk into my local Waterstones and WH Smith and see my work on the shelves. Those experiences have all been extremely satisfying and very rewarding. Even on the less glamorous end of things, such as all the pre-press work I do for Markosia, I’m getting to make a direct and lasting contribution to the British comic book industry. On the other hand, creating my own comics has been a wonderful experience and I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some immensely talented people. There’s little more satisfying than having a fellow writer whose work you respect and admire admit to being a fan of your work. That’s something I pretty much never imagined. Having Mike Carey quote my own book to me? It doesn’t get much better than that.
Dream character to write for?
Well, I am currently most definitely not encouraging people who follow my blog to write to Marvel and ask for a new Excalibur series written by me. Definitely not. Don’t do that. That would be ridiculous. But, sure, I’d love to write Captain Britain, and Pete Wisdom too. That said, as much as I love certain characters, what’s more important is whether or not I think I have a story to tell about them. Now, don’t get me wrong, give me a weekend and my hardback copy of the complete Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe and I’m sure I can come up with an interesting story to tell about even the most obscure character (and, yes, clearly I naturally lean towards writing in the Marvel Universe, but I wouldn’t turn down work for DC or IDW or Dark Horse or anyone else!). However, right now I have a story buzzing around in my head that involves Wolverine and Rachel Summers that I’d love the opportunity to tell, and I have an interesting story idea for bringing Nightcrawler back too. I have a cool take on Ghost Rider in my head too…which I’ve pretty much stolen wholesale from David Wynne, so maybe we should co-write that one! Ha!
And you thought I was going to say Kitty Pryde!
In recent years, the bigger comic companies have come under a lot of fire for the way in which they have dealt with female characters, particularly in art and writing. You recently brought out Hypergirl, a story starring a young female who becomes a hero. In simple terms: why is it seemingly so hard for people to write or illustrate female characters in superhero media within the big companies?
In simple terms? The mainstream comics companies are firmly targeting the male aged 18-34 demographic. It’s as simple as that. Why? Because that demographic makes up the vast majority of comic book readers. Is that hugely short sighted of them? Of course. However, I think it says a lot that Diamond refused to distribute Hypergirl because they didn’t think it had an audience. It’s all become one big self-fulfilling prophecy.
If you only produce comics aimed at men aged 18-34, then those are the only people who are going to buy comics, so when you try to put out something that appeals to a broader demographic then people will argue that there’s no audience for it… because that audience has effectively been excluded from comics for years. The response that Hypergirl has received at conventions has blown that idea out of the water…but at conventions we’ve seen an increasingly diverse audience over the last few years. So many women have picked the book up and almost been angry with us for not having been making it when they were kids.
I have to give the big companies some props though, they’re starting to reach out to get it, we’re seeing more female led books, and more importantly more female creators on books, particularly female writers. That’s what we need. When I was a kid I was reading books by the likes of Louise Simonson and Bobbie Chase… I know that female writers can write books that appeal to men just as much as they do to women.
I’m also hugely encouraged by the likes of Jamie McKelvie’s redesign of the Ms/Captain Marvel uniform. No heels! No gratuitous exposed flesh! Her costume looks just like any of the male hero’s costumes, but it’s being worn by a woman. As I’ve said on my blog many times, there’s nothing wrong with women in comics looking sexy, the problem comes when they are always sexy, and people question why a female character doesn’t look sexy. That’s when you have a problem, when the sexualisation of female characters has become so normalized that it seems odd when they’re not being sexualised. We hit a point a few years ago, things are changing slowly now, where the way women are represented in comics was simply accepted as “the way it is.” Artists drew women in skimpy costumes and standing in ridiculous “boobs and butt” poses because that was the way women were drawn in comics, and they simply didn’t question it. Thankfully people are questioning it now and things are starting to change.
Continuing on from that question, would you have a comment on the opinion that its somehow easier to be a comics fan in this day and age, considering the popularity of movies made from them?
Was it ever hard to be a comics fan? Read comics, love comics, you’re a fan. Easy. I know that a certain other well-known British comic book writer has created this mythology around himself which involves being beaten up in the playground for reading comics but, really, that’s nonsense. Kids read comics, even now in the UK we still have a healthy newsstand market for comics, kids are still reading comics. In my tween to teen years the Tim Burton Batman movie hit, and that was followed by the huge boom in comics that saw comic shops springing up all over the UK, including one in the Virgin Megastore in London. I actually got into collecting US comics in Forbidden Planet in Glasgow in the late eighties because I’d regularly go up to Glasgow to visit my grandparents. There was never any real stigma attached to it, and while I may be a couple of years younger than that aforementioned well-known British writer I doubt things were much different for him. But it makes for an interesting personal narrative, doesn’t it? Place yourself in an oppressed minority despite being a straight, white man, and then rise to a position of prominence and power and lord it over your former “oppressors.” You know what it’s hard to be? It’s hard to be a gay kid who’s worried about coming out to his friends and family, it’s hard to be the only black kid at an all-white school, it’s hard to realize that you were born the wrong gender and be terrified that nobody will understand when you try to open up to them. It’s not hard to be a comics fan and it never has been.
You’re currently working on Alpha Gods: Betrayal [trailer above]. Can you tell us anything about what started the idea of the Alpha Gods in your head, and any surprises we can expect from this upcoming arc?
What started the idea? I read Gen 13 in my late teens and thought, “Hey, I want to do a comic that is exactly like this.” I found some of my notes for the series from back then recently and they’re honestly embarrassing…I’m so glad I let the concept percolate for another decade before actually starting to write it!
Can you expect any surprises from Betrayal? Yes, yes you can…the title should give you some hints there! I’m not going to give anything away though; you’ll have to read it. I finally finished the scripts for the final two issues of the series recently, and it felt so good to get down on paper the big scenes that have been in my head for years now. I’m really looking forward to getting this book out. In many ways Alpha Gods has been the book I’ve cut my teeth on. It’s where I’ve made my mistakes and learned my lessons. It’s going to be very satisfying to finally have the story that I imagined many years ago completed. Things that were set up and hinted at in the original graphic novel will pay off at last, and I’m really looking forward to how people react to it.
I do have plans for another Alpha Gods book, provisionally titled Alpha Gods: Consequence, which will probably be a four issue arc. If it happens it’s likely to be very, very dark in tone, and will round off the Alpha Gods saga for good. Maybe. Or maybe I’ll do an Impact solo book after that…
Following on from that, what can you tell us about the various different works you’ve created? Do any stand out as a personal favourite?
Well, first off there was Eleventh Hour, which was the anthology book that we launched Orang Utan Comics with. We put out two issues, got nominated for an Eagle Award and the book got picked up by Markosia and we did an 80-page anthology collection with them. Probably the story I wrote for that which I’m most proud of is Ghost Boy, which is a very personal tale written entirely in iambic pentameter (and, yes, I know how horrifically pretentious that sounds!). Orang Utan’s second anthology book, FTL, also includes some of my short stories. Other than that the big three are Alpha Gods, Hero: 9 to 5 and Hypergirl. I think Hero: 9 to 5 is a real personal favourite for several reasons. As I’ve said, with Alpha Gods I was very much learning the ropes, and it’s taken a long time to get it done and out, Hypergirl is very much a co-creation with David Wynne and while I love it to bits it’s a shared vision, but Hero: 9 to 5 was very much my idea. I have some wonderful collaborators in the book, David Gray and Yel Zamor, and they both bring a huge amount to the work and it would not be what it is without them. But Hero: 9 to 5 is still my baby and the work that has the most of me in it. That said, I have a couple of books in the works at the moment that are likely to overtake it, I suspect.
Since we are a fandom based webzine, what fandoms do you participate in? Do you partake in any fannish behaviour – cosplay, fic, collecting, etc?
What fandoms don’t I participate in? I guess my longest and largest association is with the Marvel Comics fandom. For a while in the 90s I ran an X-Men fanzine which was what led me to initially get online and become quite a vocal presence in the online X-Men fandom at the time. I’ve been involved in several other fandoms though, to a varying degree, including Star Wars, The Transformers and Doctor Who. As for cosplay…I might have sported a set of claws and a tuxedo to the last convention I attended. My best friend is one of the UK’s leading cosplayers, so it’s kinda’ hard not to get sucked into it at times. I have generally avoided fanfic, partly because of my love of canonical works. I’ll tend to avoid a comic if it’s not actually canon, so I’m hardly likely to read fic (although I should add that one of the things I love about Doctor Who is that it has no canon, which I find very liberating, and a quick and easy way to end arguments). As for collecting…I need a bigger house. I am a collector. I have hundreds of comics, graphic novels, Star Wars books, Transformers, Marvel Universe figures, statues, and so on and so on and so on… I have tried to break the link between collecting and comic book reading though, in that I increasingly try to only buy comics that I want to read, rather than ones that I “need” so that my collection will be complete. If you ever find yourself grumbling that you’re being forced to buy something that you don’t want then it’s time to take a step back and assess your collecting habit.
What is your general feel on fandoms? Have you interacted with your own fans via social media?
Fandoms are great, but stay away from the Sherlock fandom, they will eat your soul. Likewise the Supernatural fandom will start shipping you with close relatives and write fic about it. But, seriously, fandoms are great, however with anything in life sometimes people go a little too far. There is a side of fandom that starts loving things to death. The classic example of this is the section of the Star Wars fandom that hates everything that Lucasfilm have released since Return of the Jedi (and wasn’t too keen on the Ewoks anyway) and yet buys it anyway, complains loudly and vociferously about it, and then says ridiculously offensive things like, “George Lucas raped my childhood.” If you find yourself hitting those levels of hate then maybe find something else to obsess about? It gets to a point where the accepted truth is that the Prequels were awful and all Star Wars fans hate them, and nothing could be further from the truth. It wasn’t until I started talking about it on my blog that I discovered a huge amount of younger people who’d grown up with the Prequels and loved them in just the same way that my generation loved the Original Trilogy.
As for interacting with my own fans? Don’t be silly, I don’t have fans! Well, I have one fan, a German fan of Alpha Gods who goes to Bristol every year and buys extra copies to give to all of his friends.
And we’ll say – to round us out – what are your future plans regarding your own works?
Well, early next year we should see Hero: 9 to 5 – Quietus, which is the sequel to Hero: 9 to 5. We’re still satirizing mainstream comics, but with more of a focus on the grim and gritty movement that began in the eighties with writers like Alan Moore and Frank Millar. As such the book is a lot darker in tone, but I hope that people who read the first book will enjoy it just as much. It would have been easy to repeat the rom-com formula of the first book, but everyone involved wanted to go in a different direction and do something a little unexpected with it. As such, the focus is not on Flame-O and Frostica this time, we’ve told their story.
I’m also aiming to get the trade paperback of Alpha Gods: Betrayal out early next year. It’s been a long time coming and it’ll be good to finally get the book out there. Individual issues of that series are currently only available digitally or via print on demand online, so I’m looking forward to seeing it all in print.
I’ve got a couple of projects on the go with David Wynne. A Hypergirl sequel is in the works, and he’ll also be illustrating a space opera I’ve co-written with Pete Rogers called The Intergalactic Adventures of Zakk Ridley. Both books should be out from Markosia, hopefully over the next year.
Finally, I’m writing a new series of graphic novels for Markosia that I actually can’t talk too much about just yet, but watch this space!
Ian D Sharman was talking to Z McAspurren.