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Lee Sullivan Q&A

Here are Lee Sullivan's replies to your queries! Thank you all for such FAB questions!

Kelly Haycock
What's your favourite thing to draw and why? Love your work!!

Thank you very much! That should be an easy question, but it’s harder to answer than you’d think. When I started drawing as a kid, I drew for the fun of it, and the subjects would be the things I was obsessed with on TV or the comics I read, so drawing was a lovely escape from school and homework. One of the things I sometimes warn aspiring artists about is that if you choose to try to make a living from your hobby, you might have to get another hobby! Luckily, I’ve managed to work on almost all the things I was obsessed by: Doctor Who, Marvel heroes (mostly through cover work) and, of course, the Anderson universe. I loved creating my own visual world for the Rivers of London graphic novels, but probably the most exciting thing was to work as a concept artist more recently. Generating ideas and designs is just fantastic, and you don’t have to keep drawing people chatting in rooms – which a lot of what comics is really about. Oh, and a hobby I acquired when I became a professional artist - because I was obsessed by the band Roxy Music’s saxophonist Andy Mackay - led to me learning sax, playing in a Roxy tribute band for ten years, and which, in the last couple of years through an immensely peculiar set of coincidences, ended up with me designing the last two album artworks for Mackay. Which, even more bizarrely, led me to work with Jamie.

Geoff Tilley
Have you always worked as an artist or have you had to take on other things?

Nearly always, though - as with most freelancers I think - occasionally the work dries up, and as bills still have to be paid, sometimes you have to do what you can. I once worked in a call-centre as the world’s worst tele-salesman. That was horrible, and it makes me terribly sympathetic to everyone in that business. I also became a painter and decorator for a short time, which was rather nice; it was for some friends, and I liked the short hours in comparison with comics. But overall, I’ve been pretty lucky to stay in work for the last 40 years, though I would maybe have been better off financially in a steady job.

Have you ever attempted anything to do with Lavender Castle?

Haha – no, though one should never discount the possibility I suppose!


What can you tell us about the forthcoming 1967 Ron Embleton Poster Reprint?

Good grief, you guys know everything! Well, as you may know, it started off as the reverse side of the Captain Scarlet bubble-gum cards and was also released as a big poster back in the sixties. I was one of the kids who grew up at exactly the right time to follow the Anderson shows; as they matured and became more sophisticated, I was just at the right age to appreciate them as each new series came out. Alongside the shows was the wonderful comic TV21; Ron Embleton was one of the mainstays of the early editions, drawing Stingray and who then became the first artist on Scarlet. He of course also painted the wonderful end-title paintings for the TV show, so there was a real tie-in of his work and Scarlet and having him do that fabulous poster was a smart idea. Back then, I dutifully chewed my way through many sheets of bubblegum to collect all the cards, and then when the poster became available, I managed to twist my parents’ arms enough to get a copy when it became available. It hung on my wall for at least five years, before posters of pop bands replaced them. I can’t remember its end, but I began to get misty-eyed remembering it once I got to the age where nostalgia for one’s childhood starts to kick in. Every now and then I’d see a copy for sale on eBay and try to buy it, but I always missed out until fairly recently, when I was working on an artwork of the Spectrum Saloon car for the Big Chief Studios Captain Blue packaging. One came up, and I really felt a strong urge to get it, and luckily this time I managed it. It duly turned up, a little yellow with age and with dozens of drawing-pin holes in the corners, but it was fantastic to see it again.  I happened to mention this to Jamie, and he suggested that it would be nice to reprint it, and would I be interested in digitally retouching it, which I was very happy to do. I now feel I know it far better even than when it hung on my wall, as it ended up being quite a job, removing age spots and so on; I had to look at every inch at high magnification. I actually had the audacity to make a couple of slight changes, which correct a couple of things that had always bugged me about the original. Embleton was a master of his work, but even the best illustrator makes occasional errors, and often you only realise once the work is printed. I thought if I were in his place, and had the opportunity to revisit the work, I probably would have taken it, so having agreed the changes with Jamie, I fixed them! There’s nothing of me in the poster I hasten to add; I used what was already there, it’s still all Ron’s image and brushstrokes, and hopefully you’ll have fun finding the changes.

I find, in my own drawing, that the most difficult challenge is mastering depth and perspective. What do you find most challenging in your art?

Usually the deadlines! But you’re quite right, those things are terribly important. I was lucky to have been on an illustration course at college where perspective techniques were a part of the technical drawing disciplines we had to learn. I’m a bit of a hawk with spotting perspective issues in drawings; once you know how it works, that for example vanishing points end up on a common horizon line, when you see that not happening it really jars. The thing is, you never stop learning, and I’m still discovering things I don’t have solutions to every time I do a piece of work. I spend all my time hoping I’m getting away with it!

Chris Turner
Hi Lee, I love your work and I would be interested to know who has been your greatest influence? As a kid, one of the highlights of my week was when my copy of TV21 was delivered and I always turned to the strips by Frank Bellamy - that signature was so distinctive!  Has Frank's work influenced your own?

Thanks, and that was also one of my own highlights! The trinity of Bellamy, Embleton and Mike Noble, as well as all the other artists, was an incredible gathering of really high-quality talents, each at the top of their game. And all quite diverse styles too; Bellamy’s beautifully simple and elegant draughtsmanship and graphic design sensibility; Embleton’s solid drawing and great colour technique, and Noble’s amazing sense of dynamics and movement in his storytelling are all a rich source of influence for any budding artist. I absorbed a lot of that, but I’m not sure how much influence it had in my early professional career. I wanted to draw comic strips as a teenager, but by the time I had gone through further education I’d sort of put those thoughts to one side, and I got a job in the aerospace industry, producing workaday stuff relating to guided weapons, then grew bored and moved on to advertising as a freelancer.  I stumbled into comics by complete accident when I met a comics artist - John Higgins – who took me under his wing a bit and introduced me to the folks at Marvel UK. The Anderson stuff was a long way behind me by then, and I was looking around at contemporary comics artists for inspiration, like Dave Gibbons and John Romita Jr. But thinking about it, as I quickly moved into Doctor Who strips and in particular, Dalek strips, the old TV21 magic was starting to come back into my mind. I started to wish I’d managed to hold on to my long-lost copies, and I’ve managed to re-collect them over the last few years. The influences maybe have really turned up later in my own work; before I begin drawing figures now I nearly always browse through the Anderson collections for inspiration. Most often I look at Mike Noble’s work, partly because he’s just so good at dynamic action and partly because I was lucky enough to forge a friendship with him in his last few years, and we spent quite a long day once looking over dozens of loaned artworks from his run on Fireball, discussing various aspects of them. We collaborated on three artworks after he expressed an interest in seeing what my digital techniques would look like married to his traditional artwork, which we did, producing a Zero X print. It was a real career highlight for me, and it means that now I always strive to be good enough to have been in that company.

Emma Nicholls
Hi Lee, I really love your artwork, my question is what is the longest piece of artwork you ever done and how long did it take you to finish it?

Thanks. If you mean taken the longest, I suppose the Rivers of London series, pretty continual for 6 graphic novels and 3.5 years. I was pretty burned out after that. Or maybe the longest to finish would be the line-up of Doctors Who (referred to as ‘The Usual Suspects’ as it was based on the poster for the movie of that name) which started in 1999 for DWM with the first 7 Doctors and is ongoing, being revised as each new Doctor arrives. One recent one that took far too long was the Thunderbirds Jigsaw I just did for Jamie, which is probably the most complex colour digital painting I’ve ever done. No-one to blame but myself, as I just kept throwing more at it; in part because, having just worked on the remastering of the Scarlet poster, I saw it as an opportunity to try to do something as striking.

Button Moon
Hi Lee, I am an artist myself. I have not seen any TV21 comics growing up but I've seen your other artwork and they are great. I like to ask two questions. I've seen your early artwork for 'First Action Bureau' comic, would you like to do the same thing for a 'Firestorm' comic, when it comes? Second question, would you like to see your artwork come to life for a tv series?

Well, that slightly depends on how things work out. If I were not doing something else for Firestorm, then I certainly would. But if I’m honest, and in answer your second question, as I’ve been working as concept artist for the potential TV series, and in the same capacity on another TV project for Jamie, I rather hope I’ll be too busy doing that and seeing my work come to life! I really loved spending day after day turning out new ideas for virtually everything in that universe, and not having to draw sequential story art for a while. And some of the designs have been rendered into 3D models, which is a terrific buzz. It would be my ideal job.

James Pilson-Wood 
Love your work, Lee! I have a hand-drawn picture of myself as a Thunderbird from Leicester which I love and sits on my desk at home. What's the oddest request you have had for a drawing?

Haha, probably that ☺ Some things I get asked to do are pretty unrepeatable to people of a sensitive disposition like yourselves. The other day I found a scan of one I did which involved a statuesque lady (who commissioned it) dressed in the Fourth Doctor’s hat and scarf and little else. It can be a tough life, being an artist . . .