We spoke to the creators of X-O MANOWAR UNCONQUERED!

We’ve managed to grab hold of writers Becky Cloonan, Michael W. Conrad and artist Liam Sharp. The super-team behind the upcoming comic book X-O Manowar Unconquered! We posed them some probing questions to get an insight into the process and how it came about…

Question 1:
X-O MANOWAR UNCONQUERED is a gripping sci-fi in which the main character, despite wielding the most powerful armor in the universe, is not protected from having old wounds ripped open. Being led into uncharted territory due to this can be relatable to some people. What was the inspiration for the story?

Liam: This is really a question for the writers – and Michael’s answer definitely chimes! When I was a kid I was pretty shy – what we’d characterize as social anxiety I think now – and I’ve struggled with that all my life. Back then I dreamed of being Conan, and being fearless, and I think that’s what these stories do for some of us – they fortify us against the world via drip-feed wish fulfilment! But aside from that, I think it’s just a rollicking adventure yarn with a hero forged in fire from a meagre background. These are the kinds of tales that heat the blood and make us dare. I blame  Homer!

Becky: I love to dig around in a character’s past to see what we can bring to their present, and Aric of Dacia has a past and depth that not many other characters have! We dredge it all up and cast it into a new light– it is a story very much about history repeating, and facing your demons–something we all go through at one point or another.

Michael: Some of the most powerful people I have had the pleasure of spending time with were the folks I provided services to during my many years working in the mental health field. Things like PTSD, depression, and the like can certainly pose challenges, but for many it leads to a discovery of their own strength. While we may not have to battle space tyrants, this can provide a symbol of the hardships we all face.

Question 2:
Was there a point where you looked at the project and thought it should go in a different direction?

Liam: For me there was! Initially I was going to do it in a traditional inked style, but then I read the script and thought – oh man, I have to paint this, so I can truly go epic. It was daunting, and it’s been a ton of work, but I think it’s paying off!

Becky: I knew this project was special because ideas began coming from the jump, and they all seemed to lead us down the right path. There was some nuance here and there that got tweaked during the outlining process, but our vision for the project was clear from day one. It’s a good sign when you don’t second guess yourself! Also having Liam on the book was a huge get right off the bat, and helped us visualize what the book would look like. His art definitely has an impact on how we tell the story—once we knew the doctor himself was illustrating it, we started writing it specifically for him.

Michael: Part of what’s so cool about X-O is there are so many ways one can approach the character. Over the past 30 years we’ve seen Aric suited up, stripped down, far flung, and completely grounded. From the jump we knew we wanted to tell a story of epic proportions, but much of what we’re doing in Unconquered became revealed during the process of refining the goals of the story. We landed where we have because X-O fans deserve something big and brutal, without losing the philosophical elements that can enrich the experience.

Question 3:
We’d love to give some insights for aspiring creators reading this. How did you start getting into the industry? What was your inspiration and drive to keep going?

Liam: I think everything Michael said sums this up, but as an artist I can relate to what Becky said too! Ultimately I was going to write and draw, whether it was illustrated books, like the amazing Roger Dean Dragon’s Dream/ Paper Tiger imprints that inspired me so much in my youth – or comics. And then, weell, you just have to keep going, and keep believing in yourself, which can be tough as most of us are acutely aware of our shortcomings! For me it was meeting Don Lawrence, assisting him, then going solo in 2000ad when I was still just 18. A lot of comic people don’t go to college. It’s a learn-by-doing kind of industry…

Becky: I’ve known that I was going to draw comics since I was like 11 (which probably bummed out my parents wicked bad, haha). I was stubborn enough to keep drawing, even when I felt rejected and wasn’t sure where my work fit in. I’ve always tried to surround myself with people that inspire and motivate me, and I love to learn new things. Oh, and one piece of advice that was given to me, that I now impart on all of you: start small. I did hundreds of one page comics, then dozens of five and ten page comics before someone took a chance and asked me to collaborate on something bigger. You hear this line all the time, “Don’t be afraid to fail.” …Ugh, it’s so cheesy but like, it’s also annoyingly true. Be fearless, be stubborn, be kind. 🙏

Michael: I never waited for permission to make comics, and I think that’s the key here. If you wish to be a comic creator, the only criteria is to make comics. I’ve been lucky enough to work on characters that people know and love, but if that was to end tomorrow I would simply continue working on my own stuff. I have to believe that this is the key to longevity and the possibility of “success” in any creative venture. As for inspiration, I just love stories, I love art, I love the various ways we can approach the craft and often my enthusiasm for the work of others feeds into my desire to contribute to the medium.

Question 4: Liam, your art style is based on strong colours and contrasts resulting in very expressive images that portray emotions perfectly. Was there anything you struggled with when illustrating the story?

Liam: Ha ha! ALL of it!!!! Comic art is tough, and getting this much work out full-colour is the Everest of extreme arting! But I love a challenge, and I’m always striving to improve. That’s what keeps you fresh I think. I made a passing comment to the team that I felt like I was finally hitting my stride on #3, which elicited some mirth! But it’s true. You eventually get to a point on any title where the world-building bit feels solid, and you kind of know where you are, and know the characters. It’s when it becomes the most fun, and then it’s a marathon right through to the end! Doing justice to Becky and Michaels epic, intense script is my main goal here though.

Thank you to Liam, Becky and Michael for taking the time to answer our questions, and we can’t wait to get our hands on X-O Manowar Unconquered #1

X-O Manowar Unconquered is on Sale: March 29, 2023

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