09 Jun Meet LEE SULLIVAN
We set Sophie a mission… introduce us to Lee Sullivan, the brilliant graphic artist responsible for our logo and character artwork (L.E.M.O.N. Featherheads and Rhinocerbiker). Our roving reporter seized the challenge with all the panache you’d expect from ‘Ace’!
So, over to Sophie….
I can’t remember when I first clapped eyes on Lee, but one thing’s for sure, as soon as I met him I got on really well with him. He’s just one of those lovely blokes who you can talk to about absolutely anything and he’s just so……. Nice! There’s a lot I could say about his drawing and how I love the way he brings me to life as Ace in Dr Who. However, I thought I would ask him a few questions as I realised I really knew very little about the man behind the drawings. And I love interviewing people cos I’m so nosy!
So first off, I was curious to find out how it all started.
SA: What is it about Spacey stuff that fires you up to draw; did inspiration strike at an early age and was there a particular artist/programme/comic that inspired you?
LS: I suppose like most of my generation – born in the late 1950s/early 1960s, spaceships and anything futuristic were terribly exciting; we all thought we would grow up to be astronauts and live in hermetically sealed pods with our flying cars parked – hovering – outside. I’m fairly sure that’s how you live Soph…
SA: Oh yes, and the silver cat suits of course…
LS: …but for most of us it didn’t come true. Nevertheless, back then it all seemed to be the coming world, and so much kids TV reflected that. I’ve always drawn since I was little (back then on paper, walls, bits of wood, you name it) and some of the earliest examples I have of my work are biro drawings of Fireball XL5, defacing the beautiful illustrations in a 1961 Rupert Bear annual. I was OBSESSED with Fireball, as I had been by the previous, and would be by subsequent, Gerry Anderson TV series.
SA: Maybe that’s why we get on so well. I absolutely loved all things Gerry Anderson too. When I was little I WAS Scott Tracey and my Mum made me a suit and a hat. I ran around rescuing imaginary people in perilous situations and battling the scary-eyed Hood. Then years later I did my dissertation for my drama degree on puppets on TV in particular Gerry Anderson.
LS: Doctor Who came along just after this, and my fate was sealed, I’d forever follow this stuff and things like it. One of the key things affecting my career was that all of these programmes had comic-strip counterparts, in titles like TV Comic, TV Tornado, Countdown/TV Action, and most significantly TV21 and Doctor Who Weekly (which became DWMonthly and is now DWMagazine). TV 21 had such amazing art and stories which not only reflected – in colour – their TV formats, but which expanded and sought to tie together the various Anderson shows in a unified world. One of my great pleasures is to have struck up a friendship recently with Mike Noble, one of the finest comic-strip artists of his generation (or ever, come to that) who worked on the Fireball, Zero X and Captain Scarlet strips for that publication; we’ve produced a joint artwork of Zero X and it was a true career highlight to do so. The appearance of Doctor Who Magazine really jolted me – I looked at the first issue and suddenly remembered my previous crude my-eyes-only comic strips and desire to work in that area. I’d trained as a commercial artist/illustrator and was working at British Aerospace at the time doing general graphics work and starting to freelance in advertising art, but when I saw Dave Gibbons’ work I thought ‘that’s MY job!’ And a mere 10 years later it was, and has been and in one form or another – intermittently – for the last 27 years, with the occasional detour – like five years drawing comic strips for Redan’s Thunderbirds Magazine.
SA: What advice about the world of comic art would you give to any of our younger (or even older!) listeners?
LS: Advice is always tricky. I often say that I don’t really know how to stay in comics, let alone get into it! I had very good luck and timing, none of which anyone can generate. But for what you CAN do, here are some basics: 1) draw till you get fed up with it and then carry on. That’s what the job is, so you better get used to it! 2) study – and yes, copy, your favourite artists’ work. All artists through history have done that so it’s not cheating, it’s learning from people who know what they are doing. 3) concentrate on figure drawing. But concentrate on backgrounds just as much! They sell the figures’ existence. Look at perspective tutorials on YouTube – there is a huge open resource these days for budding artists – take advantage of it! 4) expect kudos, but not much of anything else. You might earn a living, but only very few artists get rich. And it’s a very time-consuming career, so be careful what you wish for!
SA: What was the most difficult bit of the SiS logo? Are any of our faces more tricky than others?
LS: The SiS logo: what a nightmare! No, actually it was a really nice project and I was very flattered to be asked to do it, but the difficult bit was exactly how to tackle your faces, stylistically. I knew I’d (eventually) get the likenesses okay, but how cartoony should they be, and how much hair should the characters have (looking at YOU Simon). It was interesting because, although you are (of course) all virtually ego-free and modest, it’s one thing to independently draw someone’s likeness, but quite another to be commissioned BY those persons – there are sensitivities that one can only guess at as the artist, and you have to listen to what the feedback is from them. Fortunately, as I am also ego-free and modest, I was able to do that 🙂 Inevitably, it’s always the female faces which are the most difficult to get right, There is a very real problem with comic strip art in general: the more character lines and detail you put in to a drawing, the older that person will look. Which is fine for men, they get more rugged, but I find even the sparkiest of women have no particular fondness for that kind of look, so one has to put down the absolute minimum of detail for a female face, and yet keep adult maturity. Fortunately, you presented no problem as you haven’t aged a day since I met you back when you were actively Ace-ing!
SA: Bless you! The cheque’s in the post!
LS: The logo itself works pretty well as it turns out; particularly pleasing is that it does so at both very small and very large sizes, as well as the more traditional ‘beermat’ size it was designed for. Hey, there’s an idea!
Lee’s concept artwork for Episodes 1 & 2
produced as a quality art piece to raise funds for episodes
Execcer had a look through the photo archives and found a couple you might enjoy!
Lee’s first venture into graphic illustration:
He also created some beautiful artwork for The Minister of Chance podcast, Clare’s last producing venture. The series was nominated for a BBC Audio Award and here’s the team in best bib & tucker for the awards evening.
Julian Wadham, Kevin Baldwin, Lee, Beccy Freeman, Sylvester McCoy, Dan Freeman, Clare Eden, Abi Bunney & Lauren Crace.
Lee was lucky enough to encounter Moon Monkey in Norwich..
Lee The Saxophonist Richard James & Jamie Anderson turned Lee into Troughton
You can visit Lee’s own website to find out more on his work on Rivers of London, Doctor Who, Transformers, Robocop & The Minister of Chance – and if you hear he’s at a Convention do go and see him, you won’t regret it! www.leesullivanart.co.uk