Ian Sharman is the writer behind comics series including Alpha Gods (the government is attempting to control extra humans in 2086) and Noah (the biblical character). My favourite work of his is the British superhero comedy series Hero: 9 to 5 about Heroes for Zeroes the public superhero agency whose job it is to protect anyone without private hero cover.
Interview by David Jenkins
MM: Hi Ian thanks for taking the time to talk to me.
Ian: You’re very welcome!
MM: The first book of yours I read was Hero: 9 to 5 and the comedy in that book is amazing. Its the best superhero parody I’ve seen. It’s like the Human Torch, She Hulk and Mel Brooks all came together. What inspired you to create the series?
Ian: I think the genesis of the idea that became Hero: 9 to 5 was first formed when, as a teenager, I was gifted a copy of the book How To Be A Superhero by Mark Leigh and Mike Lepine. It’s a superbly silly book, and references to Tiffany and Paula Abdul have rather dated it, but that’s really where the idea for a parody super hero book came from. I guess the idea gestated in my mind over the following decades and, I think, became something more unique and interesting in the telling. My original plan for the first four issues was simply that the first issue would introduce the concept, the second would introduce sidekicks, the third would cover teams and the final issue would be part twelve of a thirty-five-part crossover and make absolutely no sense. But, of course, by the time I got to the fourth issue I felt I should really bring the story to a sensible, satisfying conclusion, rather than present people with twenty-two pages of absolute nonsense.
MM: Although I loved all books in the series, I felt book two- Quietus was more serious. What was behind the change in tone?
Ian: The book is created Marvel style, so I write a plot outline and then the artist, David Gray, draws it based on that plot and then I script over his art. It’s a wonderfully collaborative process, and so when it came to the second book I wanted to maintain that heightened level of collaboration, so discussed with David what direction we should take the book in. We both agreed that we didn’t want to just do more of the same and that the second book should have a darker tone. He brought the idea of a villain with virtually no motivation, someone who killed simply because he could, referencing the film American Psycho, which I’ve actually never seen. From that I decided that whereas the first book had satirised the excesses of modern comics, including how women were generally represented in comics at the time, the second book would satirise the grim n’ gritty movement of the eighties. That’s why there are some quite specific references to The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen in the second book.
MM: After the first two books it was over 5 years before the next in the series – Disposable Heroes. This book thankfully retained the humour, storylines and references to Marvel and DC that the series was famous for. Was it difficult coming back to Hero: 9 to 5 after such a long break or was it something you always had at the back of your head?
Ian: Well, there really was no break, we started working on Disposable Heroes as soon as we finished Quietus, it just takes us a long time to make these books! David Gray is a busy man, he’s an undertaker by day and by night he’s the drummer in a successful death metal band, so when he’s not burying people he’s off on tour or playing a huge rock festival somewhere in the world. He draws Hero: 9 to 5 in the very small downtime between those things. We’re already working on a follow up to Disposable Heroes, which will be the first Hero: 9 to 5 spin off – Justice Monkey. It’s a shorter book, so hopefully there won’t be such a long wait for that. After that, well, I’m currently working on the plot for the fourth Hero: 9 to 5 book, Age of Misrule.
MM: Politics features in several of your works whether it’s laws in Alpha Gods or British politics and the NHS in Hero: 9 to 5. Whereas some mainstream comics can go for years without touching on politics. Do you think comics should be just escapism?
Ian: Well, clearly not, as the great Skunk Anansie once sang, “Everything’s political.” Seriously, politics have always been there in the comics I’ve read. The X-Men represent an oppressed minority, fighting for a world that fears and hates them, that’s deeply political. I grew up reading Judge Dredd in the pages on 2000AD, which is a political satire, highlighting the absurdity of a fascist, authoritarian regime. Batman is about a billionaire who spends his nights brutalising working class criminals, that’s inherently political! And what’s more political than a man transformed into a super soldier by a government funded experiment who then wraps himself in his country’s flag and calls himself Captain America? I think when people talk about the comics they read as kids not being political, they just mean that they were too young at the time to understand that what they were reading had a political element. Look at some of the classics of the medium, such as Watchmen, V For Vendetta and MAUS, they’re all deeply political works. I honestly wouldn’t know how to write a story that wasn’t in some way political. Even attempting to do so would be a political act.
MM: Your most recent work is the Noah series about the biblical figure. It’s a big departure from your previous work. How did the project come about?
Ian: Several years ago, someone approached Markosia about producing some adaptations of Bible stories. Having previously been an Evangelical Christian and having had a very bad experience with religion that led to me leaving the church, I said to the publisher at Markosia, Harry Markos, that if we were going to do this then I would have to insist on writing them myself, ensuring that they were approached like adaptations of any other myth or legend, with absolutely no proselytising or evangelical intent. Eventually the person who’d approached us about producing the books dropped the project, but by then I’d already started work on Noah and it seemed a shame to let that work go to waste, so I decided to finish it.
MM: Noah is one of the more well-known biblical characters but as a child I can’t remember the Nephilim among other aspects of the story. In fact the only way I’d heard of Nephilim was from Alpha Gods and an AFI song. How much of the Noah series is based on the bible and how much is your ideas?
Ian: No Nephilim in the story of Noah? That entirely depends on the translation you read. Pick up the NIV and they’re right there in Genesis chapter six, verse four, “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.” Of course, the King James bible, the translation people are more familiar with, translates that as, “There were giants in the earth in those days…” The Biblical account of Noah is actually incredibly short and doesn’t include enough material to fill four issues of a comic book, so I had to look to extra-Biblical texts for inspiration, most notably the ancient Hebrew apocalyptic text, The Book of Enoch. I also drew inspiration from David Rohl’s The Lost Testament, which is a retelling of the story of the Old Testament with the benefit of modern archaeological discoveries. Finally, as is the case with a lot of my work, I drew inspiration from Graham Hancock’s investigations into the possibility of an ancient lost civilisation and a lost chapter in human history, which is why I ultimately chose to set Noah in this forgotten age.
MM: Apart from writing and lettering comics you are the Editor in Chief of Markosia. How much work is it being the Editor on your own comics compared to ones you didn’t write?
Ian: Well, in the world of indie comics, the editorial role of a writer is essentially akin to a project manager. So, on the books I write, I’m also co-ordinating the art team, which mostly involves chasing up artists and colourists and making sure they haven’t dropped off the face of the planet entirely. Everyone working at this level of the industry is working a day job as well, and it can be very hard to actually get a book done when you’re also trying to juggle work and family life. When it comes to my work as Editor In Chief, it’s less directly hands on with books, and more reviewing submissions and determining whether they’re of an appropriate level of quality for us to consider publishing and giving feedback and advice when they might fall slightly short but with a few tweaks can be brought up to the right standard. Many of the books Markosia publishes are people’s first published work, so creators often need some guidance when it comes to the more technical aspects of working for print. But, apart from that, Markosia is a very small company, so I also do all of our pre-press work, run a lot of our social media accounts and also directly manage our account on DriveThruComics, which keeps me busy!
MM: Lastly, as a result of Covid 19 a lot of industries have been decimated. With lockdown closing shops and large gatherings such as comic cons months off, if not longer, how will the comics industry especially indie companies like Markosia adapt?
Ian: Markosia have been very fortunate as the virus has had little or no effect on how we work. We were all working from home already anyway, Markosia doesn’t have a head office, and we’re also not distributed by Diamond and our books are not generally stocked in comic shops, but are available online from sites like Amazon, Book Depository and Barnes & Noble, and digitally on pretty much every digital comics platform, including ComiXology and DriveThruComics. So, the lockdown hasn’t prevented people from obtaining our books in the same ways they always have. If anything, it’s resulted in us being more productive. As I said previously, most people working on our books also work a day job and so often struggle to find the time to complete their projects. Well, guess what? Suddenly they’ve got plenty of time to work on comics! We’re probably in a better position than most to weather the storm, so to speak, because we’re not dependent on Diamond and comic shops to sell our books. That’s one of the things we’ve been trying to communicate during this crisis, we’re very much still open for business, and if people are missing their weekly comics fix then Markosia have got a whole wealth of books to satisfy their comics cravings.
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