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What went wrong? It was all going so well!

There are as many answers to that as you can find people to answer it. Everyone has their own take. There's a bitter taste in the mouths of a few, a touch of sadness for others. For me, I'd rather not dwell on the bad days, the gradual slide back into obscurity. For a moment there, Marvel UK was carving its own trench though the comics landscape, and making quite a noise about it. And I was there for the best of it.

Whatever Paul Neary was to anybody else, there are few people I personally have to thank more for getting my career off the ground. Before meeting Paul I had assisted the legendary Don Lawrence for a year and worked on some Judge Dredd stories for 2000ad. My knowledge of the US market was mainly based on childhood memories and the breakout titles of the 80s that you HAD to get; Watchmen, Dark Knight, etc. The mainstream superhero titles were not something I really followed at the time as I'd really harboured a hope to make it in Europe doing "Arzach" type stream of consciousness sci-fi/fantasy art. Paul took me under his wing, invited me to do a redesign of Deaths Head, and introduced me to the new wave of mainstream US talent like Jim Lee, Wilce Portacio and Todd McFarlane. Jim Lee in particular caught my eye, and I found myself devouring his work, just eating it up. It had scale, dynamics, and it was attractive. Sleek. I couldnt recall seeing anything as appealing in the mass market for years, other than the odd rare Barry Smith piece. Jim Lee showed me a new possibility through his work, and this new house style owed as much to the inking as anything else. You could do an approximation if you understood it. And I GOT it. It excited me.
It now seems like a very short time between my meeting Paul, and there being a shiny new design for Deaths Head in a Jim Lee-esque style in the pages of "Sales to Astonish". And the orders for a new Deaths Head title jumped from 30,000 to 300,000 almost over night.

The day those figures came in remains one of the all-time highs of my life. A few of us enjoyed a long, euphoric night in the Devereaux Inn, and we almost certainly had a curry at the end of it!

In fact, though, it had been a long year getting there. Paul was gearing everything up, and initially had nothing to offer me art-wise though he was determined to use me for something. He had me do a bunch of covers and promotional pieces. I did a Deathlok cover for Havoc that Bernie Jay coloured up, and some interior bits and bobs, but eventually work on Deaths Head II started. That in itself was not an easy situation as the creators of the original had had their noses not unsurprisingly put out by there being a new team brought in. Dan Abnett, who had formerly been an editor at Marvel UK, was to write it. I was to pencil, and Andy Lanning my old friend and partner in crime with whom Id shared a studio in Islington a couple of years earlier was to ink. Paul gave me some studio space in the old Marvel building in Temple, right at the top of the building overlooking the Thames and the South Bank. I could see St. Pauls Cathedral and the Houses Of Parliament from there, it was extraordinary. So together we set about creating this new character out of the old.

Marvel UK was like a family at this time. I loved being there. We worked hard and we played hard, and often I would stay in the building over the weekends to get my work done. Geoff Senior and I certainly had our share of all-nighters up there usually after wed cut ourselves a bit of slack and dropped into a nearby pub for one too many beers.
Indeed every night was a drink-up. Id either be with Harry Papodoplis, Chris Klar and Helen Carter, or Steve White, Helen Stone, John Freeman, Bambos, Stuart Bartlet, Louise Cassell, my wife-to-be Christina McCormack or any number of combinations of the afore mentioned, plus friends. Or Id be shooting the breeze over far too much wine or Port with Paul. These were happy days some of my very happiest. I learned so much about the industry, and I made some life-long friends. Indeed, in Christina, I found what would later become my ACTUAL family, and the mother of my children.

Time travel is a complex thing to start trying to tell simple stories about. In around ten months I had almost drawn the entire first issue of Deaths Head II twice before we were happy enough to move on to the next issue. It was clear by then it was going to be pretty big, so it had to be right. But just HOW big we could never have anticipated.

Deaths Head II came out, sold out, and went to fifth ink special reprints on both issues one and two. Suddenly I found myself a bit of a star. Wizard had me at number three in their hot new creators section. We were making waves in the US market. We were being taken seriously! I was even flown out to San Diego as a paid-for guest. Nothing in my life so far had prepared me for this, and I was swept up by it. Intoxicated.

Its hard to capture in this limited space just quite how much of an impact this time had on me, and Id be lying if I didnt admit to missing it. For me the Marvel UK offices are still there. The editors, as I remember them, are all in their offices. Theres the old Darlek in the reception. I could, if I wanted, jump into the archaic elevator to the top floor. Go and see whos working in my old studio space. At lunchtime a bunch of us might go and get an enormous burger at the American diner an incongruous silver caravan installed between two Victorian buildings just behind Fleet St.
The studio space had grown by the end. There was a full bullpen. Rodney Ramos, the inker, would come over from the US periodically, and the guitars would come out. He could sing La Bamba properly, being Puertorican after all, and myself and Bryan Hitch could belt out a chord or two. Edmund (Periman) Bagwell, our very dear friend whom I shared a flat with in Richmond, would be there with his marvellously sculpted miniature heads. (He liked to make them for reference.) The amazing Richard Dolan would be there at his easel. Completely colour blind, he would have to read the tubes to know what colour he was painting. Tim Gula, Andy Curry and so many more.

By the time Deaths Head II got to be an ongoing series sales were really peaking. Issue one launched with figures just shy of 500,000. It was a UK phenomenon. To this day, I believe, no other UK export to the US ever did so well. Stan Lee said to me three times in San Diego that year "Oh, you're the guy that did the cyborg! I love that Deaths Head guy!"
Jim Lee asked me to go and join him and his new company Image in La Hola - which I sadly declined. I honestly thought Deaths Head II would continue to grow and retain that level of success. Also I felt a strong loyalty to Paul, and was very much wanting to remain with Christina, who was not in a position to move out there at that time. We still hardly knew each other, but I was smitten.
So that was the year I hired a powerboat and took Christina out into the San Diego lagoon. We hung out with actors in LA, I was a Sheraton Hotel club member barely 23 years old. It was insane, wonderful, and unforgettable. In these much more modest times it feels good to recall having had at least a brief glorious taste of the good life.

Theres so much more to tell. "Bloodseed", my dream project that was meant to hark back to the old Warren comics. Getting to draw a couple of issues of the XMen. The politics and powerplays. The demands from Marvel US to produce more titles than we were able to realistically deliver. But I'll leave that for others. Paul Neary was an inspiration and a dear friend. Marvel UK gave me a base from which to grow.

1991 - 1993 was Marvel UKs Golden Age and don't let anybody tell you different!
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:iconlexikimble:
LexiKimble Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2008  Professional Digital Artist
I know it's late, but I just found it.


I was a rabid fan of Marvel UK in its heyday. My favorite titles were Dark Angel and DH2. I still have all those issues.
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:iconliamsharp:
LiamSharp Featured By Owner Nov 10, 2008  Professional General Artist
Hi! Thank you for the comments! Fond memories. :)

Take care!

Liam.
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:icondragonscythe:
DragonScythe Featured By Owner Nov 23, 2007
-So it was You, Liam, who created the initial look of DH II?!:wow: That's a truly awesome achievement!:thumbsup::nod:

-I still have the few issues that was translated & re-published in Sweden, but that was only 6-10 issues... DAMN, how I wish I could read the whole series, at least once!:hmm:
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:iconliamsharp:
LiamSharp Featured By Owner Nov 26, 2007  Professional General Artist
LOL! Yes, I'm afraid it was - and I made myself the mortal enemy of all DH1 fans by doing it...
The debate as to which was greater still rages!

Thanks so much for the comment. :)

All my very best,

Liam.
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:icondragonscythe:
DragonScythe Featured By Owner Nov 26, 2007
Ok...? So what is the major difference between I & II?!:confused: -sorry for asking (and by asking, also seem pretty stupid...:roll:), but I've not read that much about DH I, the only thing I remember is that Strucker & "original" DH, once merged into "Charnel"... or am I wrong?

-btw, you don't happen to know of some online-source on these comics/characters?
And thank you for answering my comment! // Richard
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:iconliamsharp:
LiamSharp Featured By Owner Nov 27, 2007  Professional General Artist
You'll find most of your answers here: [link] :)

Enjoy!

L.
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:icondragonscythe:
DragonScythe Featured By Owner Nov 27, 2007
Holy SHEIT!!:omg: -that's a *v e r y* info-rich page... Thanks for sharing!:aww:
I owe you big time, man!:lol:
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:iconstaticgirl:
staticgirl Featured By Owner Nov 10, 2007  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I loved Marvel UK - it was truly original in style. My fave was Dragonsclaws. Geoff Senior was/is ace. :)

I loved yr work on ABC warriors back in the day btw...
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:iconliamsharp:
LiamSharp Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2007  Professional General Artist
Hi Staticgirl.

Thanks for the kind words - ABCWarriors was a lot of fun. Those guys are iconic.
And yeah, Geoff's great. So solid and yet full of energy! Good days.

Very best,

Liam.
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:iconnexusdx:
NexusDX Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2007
One of the earliest comics I bought was the Death's Head II mini, (from a Toys R Us no less, in a full set) and was a fan instantly. The cover of issue 1 sold me on the character, and the story that followed forced me to purchase issues of the original Death's Head from the late 80s as well as other Marvel UK series.

It's interesting to hear about the history of Marvel UK from someone who was a part of it. From the outside, Marvel UK felt like it started off well, but then broke down to too many mini-series going on at the same time, too many characters and even more varying timelines. It became quite comfusing towards mid 1993 for me, to the point where I moved on to other series (eventually dropping comics altogether until 4 years ago).

I still fondly remember Marvel UK, it being a big part of me becoming an artist. I saw your art on DH II before I saw Jim Lee's work. It was something I strived to immitate for many years, perhaps I still do (although now I might be leaning more towards your run on Man-Thing than Death's Head today).

This was a very interesting to read about the early history of Marvel UK. Thanks.
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:iconliamsharp:
LiamSharp Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2007  Professional General Artist
Thank you so much for the kind words. Hugely appreciated! I'm very much revisiting that Death's Head work with my new series "Lord Havok and the Extremists" - you may have seen some of the pages in my gallery. A lot of fun to do, but you know, it's not the same as doing the REAL DHII... ;)

Take care, and thanks again,

Liam.
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:iconnexusdx:
NexusDX Featured By Owner Nov 10, 2007
I was noting some characters looked heavily influenced by the old DHII and friends designs in the pages posted. It's good some of those elements being recycled
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:iconjhames34:
jhames34 Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2007  Professional Traditional Artist
Typo alert: "whilce" not "wilce"


"Jim Lee showed me a new possibility through his work, and this new house style owed as much to the inking as anything else."
That's a very important fact. Jim Lee was only JIM LEE when Scott Williams inked his work. I think half of the Jim Lee "apes" were actually aping what Scott Williams was doing with Jim's pencils.

I find your articles very informative and I'd love to read anything else you happen to write about comics. I knew nothing about Marvel UK before reading this, and I find myself wanting to know a lot more...maybe you could write an article on the entire history of Marvel UK? That might be a ridiculous request, considering I know nothing about it =p
Anyways, thanks again for sharing!
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:iconliamsharp:
LiamSharp Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2007  Professional General Artist
Thank you. :)

You can read loads more of my musings in my blog here:

[link]

Very best,

Liam.
Reply
:iconliamsharp:
LiamSharp Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2007  Professional General Artist
I think it was a number of factors, and certainly something to do with computer games and investors - for a short while comics were the worlds third best investment after diamonds! Nuts eh? Every company was trying to produce new issue 1s, issue 0s, variant cover - anything that might add value and attract investors, and for a while it worked. But then the whole industry crashed just as Marvel UK were given the unenviable task of trying to produce more titles than they had creators for. The cross-overs got silly, and the quality fell as a kind of desperation set in. We all thought those days of big sales were here for good. Little did we know!

Don't worry though, I was asked to write the above a couple of years back for a Marvel UK book that I don't think ever happened... It was nice to remember! But I'm not bitter.

Much! ;)

Take care, and by the way - I used to share a studio with Andy Lanning, and was there at the conception and birth of the Sleeze Brothers! :)

Best,

Liam.
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:iconterminalcondition:
terminalcondition Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2007
You're certainly in a reflective mood. Just remember to keep only one eye in the past.

As a teenager I never even knew what 'Golden Age' meant - but in retrospect you're right. It was most Marvel UK stuff that introduced me to some of the US characters. In fact I remember Deathlok very clearly now you have reminded me and it was Havoc I remember getting. There was a four issue mini that was beautifully rendered if I remember rightly.

Every wednesday morning just before Woodlands sent us all to Lancaster Sports centre for PE, I'd wander down to the Guild Hall news agents and buy whatever titles were out. I had been robbed of Battle finishing and needed something new. So I began absorbing the british reprints of Aliens and Aliens vs Predator along with piss takes such as The Sleaze Brothers as much as possible - that was a great series. This was also where I came across Havoc.

The only original US titles I began reading were The Punisher and X-Men. As soon as In-Tango opened down Black Smith's yard I was devouring a shed load.

I collected Deaths Head II up till #13 - no idea why I didn't end up getting them up till #16. But I do remember not being able to find issue 3 of the mini series, EVER. It just never arrived in my standing order.

As US titles became more accessible with comic shops opening, do you think this was a contributing factor to the decline of Marvel UK?
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