BY THE BEAR SLEUTH
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 till to the present day. 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.
For the first part of this interview check out part one which I put up last week here.
BS: Recently you have been working on the ‘Rivers of London’ comic book series for Titan Comics, could you tell our readers a little bit about that series?
LS: Well, ‘Rivers of London’ is my current project so of course I am wildly enthusiastic to talk about it. Rightly so because I’ve had a period away from comics and the opportunity came to me to do ‘Rivers of London’ and I was sort of a bit reluctant to go back to comics. It’s very hard work, long hours and if you are going to make a good job of it then you’ve got to pretty much throw the kitchen sink at it. However, ‘Rivers of London’ is irresistible to me because it’s built on a series of novels, it isn’t an adaptation but instead it sits alongside a series of currently five but soon to be six novels by Ben Aaronovitch. Ben has a Doctor Who connection because he wrote ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ and ‘Battlefield’ for Sylvester McCoy’s time. The book is then co-writen with Andrew Cartmel who was Ben’s script editor on the old series.
Interestingly, Andrew and I were supposed to work together way back for a project that Marvel UK wanted to run with, a mini-series called ‘The Two Doctors’. Andrew was going to write it and I was going to draw it, I did one picture but nothing more. The two Doctors in question are Doctor Seven, Sylvester McCoy, and Doctor Strange. That would have been a fantastic series and would now be a huge collector’s item. Sadly, Tom DeFalco who was in charge of the American end of Marvel, nixed it, saying ‘I can’t see what’s in it for Dr. Strange’. I guess Doctor Who wasn’t very big in the States then so it is forgivable but it’s a shame. It was two Doctors, two hero Doctors, one magical and one science and that would have been a really interesting pairing. My argument was just that it would make a good story, forget what it does for Doctor Strange, it wasn’t going to touch Doctor Strange. It wouldn’t have been noticed by most of his fans. I was a bit shook around by that.
So I finally got to work with Andrew Cartmel and we all get along like a house on fire. The series is set between books four and five. I’m not quite up to that in the novels yet so I’m catching up reading them. But I knew that the novels were successful and I knew that they were very well received so I thought ‘I can’t pass this up really’. Also, since I was coming back to comics and many of the comics I’ve done have been junior comics I wanted to do something a little more adult. I was looking for ego boosting really. Aren’t we all? So I took it on. It’s been really nice, particularly because of the subject matter.
The plot is set around a department within the metropolitan police of London which deals with super natural crime. It’s one guy, called Thomas Nightingale, and he takes on an apprentice, this young copper on the beat who suddenly realises he’s being spoken to by dead people, showing that he has some form of magical facility. Of course, all sorts of hilarity ensues. They are both grim and funny books which are impossible to put down. The nice thing really, is that Ben is writing them so that they are not just a spin off. They are not like Doctor Who comics, which can refer to the TV show but the TV show never refers to it. With this, Ben and Andrew are generating all the stories, even the one-page gags that we’ve done, so they are all ideas the team’s had that don’t necessarily fit into the confines of the novel. The first story refers to stuff from the novels but the second story, Night Witch, that will be referred to in Book Six as it is a prequel to Book Six in some respects. The story actually has proper cannon association with the series which is brilliant!
Ben’s actually having a great deal of fun. He said to me the other day ‘oh Lee I’m having the best I’ve ever had working in writing because I don’t have to write all that prose, I just say it’s set in a café and you have to draw the cafe’ and he right. So he’s having a good time and we’re all very happy with it.
Picture Source: http://zenoagency.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/RiversOfLondon-BodyWork-0203-Blog.jpg [Accessed: 27/05/2016]
BS: The final thing I would like to ask you about, in connection with ‘The Rivers of London’ series, is that many of the properties you have worked on have had an established visual style because they have been TV shows or films. Since ‘Rivers of London’ is coming to you only existing previously as a novel, do you feel like you are playing a role in establishing the series visual style?
LS: Oh yeah! That’s completely true! It’s inescapable as no one else has drawn the characters. There was a lot of fan art, which I deliberately stayed away from because I didn’t want to be accused of stealing someone’s idea and the majority are based on actors anyway. You can’t use an actor’s likeness without their permission and it’s a bit of a cop out anyway. So I developed my own impressions. I think sometimes the reaction is ‘well that’s not how they look’ and that’s fair enough in someone’s mind but I think they kind of forget that Ben and Andrew, particularly Ben as it’s his books, have actually approved every stage of this and if they didn’t like something it was changed. It is their property after all. Neither are shy to come forward if they don’t like something and either way I would get told off and sent back to the drawing board, literally.
It’s been great to create the style but you are actually fighting people’s, sometimes quite vague, notions of what the characters look like. There was a lovely moment where a guy went through some of the characters saying ‘well this one is alright’ and ‘that one is okay’ before saying ‘the way the artist draws Molly that’s just terrible’. I thought that was really funny because the character of Molly is one character who is properly described in the books, she wears a mob cap, an eighteenth or nineteenth century maids outfit and she’s vaguely vampiric looking with very long straight hair which hangs down to her waist. Blimey, there’s really only one way to draw her. I defy anybody to draw her looking different, but that was the one the guy picked on which I thought was very funny. I don’t care, its fine that people have their opinions. Happily, now that the readers are getting into it they are starting to be generally alright with the look and feel. I’ve done my work and I suppose if they really don’t like it they would stop buying it.
BS: Fantastic. Thank you so much for you time and thoughtful responses.
LS: My pleasure.
Picture Source: http://majorspoilers.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Rivers_-Of_London_1_Cover.jpg [Accessed: 27/05/2016]
Check back next week for another great 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 was this week’s BearSleuth British Comic Book Industry Spotlight!!! Check Back tomorrow for a new BearSleuth Opinion Piece!!!