Recently I was invited to attend Manchester Film and Comic Con where I was given the opportunity to interview some of the best and brightest of the British comic book industry. This is the first interview from that convention with Titan Comics superstar artist Lee Sullivan. Over the last thirty years Lee has worked on several major film and television properties including the Transformers and Robocop. Lee is perhaps most well-known for his work on Doctor Who, he contributed artwork in one form or another since the late eighties to the present. Lee took a brief departure from comic books but now he is back working with Ben Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel on the Rivers of London comic book series. The series’ first volume, Body Work, has already seen many positive reviews as it is becoming essential reading for any fans of Aaronovitch’s work. Going into the interview I wanted to explore how an artist such as Lee is able to work on pre-existing properties and the effect that has upon his art as well as discussing Lee’s recent work on the Rivers of London.
BS: Over the years you have worked on several iconic film and TV properties, including Transformers, Robocop and Doctor Who. When working on these types of projects and properties, how much of your style do you feel you can put into your work?
LS: The style is in built I think. You can vary it slightly but it depends. If you are doing very closely licensed products, for children particularly, the companies are very hot on getting artists to follow a style guide. I know they did that on Transformers, but they did that much more for the United States artists. This is going back to the nineteen eighties and they had to work very closely to the style guides. Whereas the British Transformers, who frankly Hasbro probably didn’t take too much notice of, got away with murder. We did a lot of stuff which let Geoff Senior, Dan Reed, Andrew Wildman, Will Simpson and myself all put our own kind of style in the work and we could bend the Transformers around our style. I think that’s how we did it.
But other things, for example Robocop, that was just left up to me. It’s never really bothered me, as long as the thing was accurate I think, but that was in a different era. This goes back to a time before the internet or before anything was really available. My earliest reference on Robocop was a hundred millimetre tall white metal figure. It was the only thing I had which had the armour and all the little details on it. I used to sit there with a magnifying glass to find every detail. The style was left to me. In fact, I don’t think I have ever been told to work in a particular style, except perhaps on ‘The Amulet of Samarkand’, which is a graphic novel I did. That had to be a little different from my normal style because it needed to be a little cartoonier. But really, I’ve never had any trouble with that sort of thing.
Picture Source: http://www.leesullivanart.co.uk/www.leesullivan.co.uk/DoctorWho/DoctorWho.html [Accessed: 27/05/2016]
BS: One of the biggest series you worked on was Doctor Who, which in the TV show has a lot of characters in costumes. When you move a property like that across to graphic fiction do you try to stick to the realism of what the show is trying to depict or the realism of the monsters being actors in costumes, for example with stitching and seams?
LS: Wow that’s an interesting question! See that’s the thing I like about interviews, is that they make you think about things you have never thought of. Then they make you give instant analysis of your own work! I haven’t a clue. I guess you’re right. One of the first jobs I ever did was the seven Doctors in one go and that was interesting. You have a situation where the first three Doctors wear ordinary period clothes from a different period, and then the fourth Doctor halfway through starts to have a costume, and then they all have costumes, one way or another, after that until recently. I suppose when I drew it, it didn’t look so much like a costume anyway because you could forgive some of the textures. Honestly I don’t know and I have had no thoughts in my life about that until this very moment.
BS: When you’re working with different generations of a character, for example Doctor Who, will you choose specific versions of props, such as the TARDIS, that you like or enjoy drawing or will you be told the particulars?
LS: If I’m working on a Doctor Who strip, I’ll always select the TARDIS that went with that Doctor. I’m fairly anally retentive about that. One of my favourite posters is a question mark built from twelve Doctor’s faces. It was a great idea but it left a lot of space, so I filled it up with various TARDISes and those are the major props used throughout the series. I am that kind of a guy really. I have a Yardley-Jones box in my back garden, although it’s starting to mutate. It’s a full sized TARDIS and I’ve just changed the window frames to white, which is very controversial, and it’s also got a St.John’s Ambulance plaque on it. Those things are from the original William Hartnell TARDIS so I’m happy to have them come back. It at least has the right bloody proportions of a police box, unlike the thing they have been using for the last ten years. Bloody garden shed of a thing!
Picture Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/220113500511677429 [Accessed: 27/05/2016]
That concludes part one of my interview with Lee Sullivan. Check back next week for the second part of the interview and if you want to check out more of Lee’s fantastic work go to www.leesullivanart.co.uk or try Rivers of London: Body Work.
Unsourced photography by William Shacklady
…That’s this week’s BearSleuth British Comic Book Industry Spotlight!!! Check back next Sunday for part two of my interview with Lee!!!