Interview With Lee Sullivan, Jan 2004
Lee Sullivan is best known in the Transformers community as one of the top three UK Artist that worked on the Generation 1 series (along with Andrew Wildman and Geoff Senoir) as well as more recently working on the short-lived UK Armada comic and Metrodomes DVD covers. Lee has been a special guest at several of the UK Transformer Conventions and is due to appear at Auto Assembly 2004 in April.
TF at The Moon: First of all we'd like to say thank you for agreeing to undergo this little interview for our site. As long time Transformer fans we feel very privileged to be able to produce this interview with yourself. We hope you had have a great Christmas and New Year.
Lee: Thank you, yes I had a fine time. Until I read that TFA (Transformers: Armada) comic was cancelled. As part of a question for this interview!
TF at The Moon: I guess first things first, can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got involved in the comic industry?
Lee: I'd been freelancing for about three years when I met John Higgins in my local art shop. He was looking for someone to assist with a strip he was producing; he liked what I did and took me to London to meet various publishers. One of those was Marvel UK, and the people I met were Ian Rimmer (then editor of TF) and his glamorous assistant, Simon Furman. They commissioned me to produce some covers and after about a year working on those I begged for and was given a trial strip to do - 'Altered Image' for an annual. That worked out okay and I was given a regular slot in the comic, which appeared before the annual one did. Thereafter I just did strips I was offered as they came along, and as I got more experienced.
TF at The Moon: You are well known for working on Transformers and Dr. Who, but what over venture's have you been involved in?
Lee: Big Bad Bill Shatner's TekWorld; RoboCop; 2000AD; Thundercats (ho!); odds and ends for Marvel US and Marvel UK; Thunderbirds for the last couple of years; PC magazine illustrations; kids publishing; advertising work etc.
TF at The Moon: One of our favourite pictures which you did was the one of Scorponok on the cover of the 1987 annual, in what we call his "Gimme" pose. The picture is actually used by Scorpys Transformers Website. This image was later used on the subscriptions page of the UK Transformers comic. Speaking of Transformer annuals the covers you produced for the Metrodome Series 2 DVD's were very reminiscent of those. Did you do them deliberately set out to give them that feel, or was it co-incidence?
Lee: Both. I draw TFs like that and I was also impressed with the reaction I got from fans at a TransForce convention when I showed some of the originals there. And then sold them :)
TF at The Moon: You seem to have work on various storylines which have either come from, or resulted in a movie (Dr. Who, Robocop, Transformers, Judge Dredd, Thunderbirds? Do you prefer to draw well established characters, such as these, or new characters (like Transformers, DeathsHead etc)?
Lee: Hrm. I don't really have any feelings one way or another. It's nice to draw stuff from out of one's imagination, but then again, it's also nice to draw existing characters. Very wishy-washy answer, that, but I suppose it's best summed up by saying 'I like to work'.
TF at The Moon: When you're asked to draw a character for the first time, how do you do about deciding what they will look like / how you will draw them?
Lee: If they're completely new, you look at the source - their written description or at least their dialogue or actions within a storyline. A few sketches usually sort them out in your mind's eye and there they are!
TF at The Moon: Your style of art is instantly recognisable, as is both Andy Wildman and Geoff Senior (the other two "big name" UK Transformer artists). What do you think of their style of art?
Lee: I can see that their art is recognisable, but I can't see it in my own stuff! I started on TF by aiming at GS's style, as I though it was ideal for the subject; very dynamic with great scale. Andrew and myself were more or less contemporaries, so I don't think there was the same influence on me. AW has a fantastic cartoonist's eye and line, which he probably has to fight to get realism into his work,: I have to fight my inclination for straightforward construction of form as opposed to dynamics; Geoff has to fight his incredible speed of execution which precludes more subtle shades. If you put the 3 of us together we'd make one hell of an artist :)
TF at The Moon: Do you feel that you had a peak during your stint on The Transformers comic, where you produced your best art? If so when would you say that was?
Lee: Time Wars, no doubt. I really got close to fluidity there; understood the characters.
TF at The Moon: As mentioned earlier you were involved with the Metrodome's DVD release of Transformers: Series 2, designing both the DVD covers, limited post-cards as well as various other bits. How did you get involved with that project?
Lee: Daz (The Transformers.net) recommended me to Jane Lawson (Metrodome). I had a really chatty conversation with her over the phone; we were on the same wavelength about the project, and that was it. I kept asking her for roughs or layouts, but she just wanted me to generate stuff they could work from and design around. Nice and easy. Daz vetted what I was doing and kept me on track detail-wise.
TF at The Moon: Darren Jamieson, of TheTransformers.net, has been a big supporter of yours, having commission worked by you for his site. How did you get involved with that?
Lee: Um, I suppose he asked me! Things like this tend to arrive gradually and I'm always vague about how they came to be in retrospect. But I'm very pleased that he took me up, as the work for Metrodome was at his suggestion. It's flattering to have people who've liked your work in the past commission work from you. The highest compliment!
TF at The Moon: Speaking of Transformer website, how / when did you discover the large online presence that The Transformers have online, and did it surprise you, it did us when we first started?
Lee: I suppose when the first conventions came along - I'd not had to think about them since the day I finished work on them. But I always assumed they'd have a revival - young adults all go through an intense period of nostalgia for their earliest childhood passions, and when there's a lot of material as there is with TFs it's always going to attract a reappraisal and rekindle that old flame . . . .
TF at The Moon: You've attended a few Transformer conventions in the past, both at Paul Cannon's Transforce events. At both of these you solidified yourself as the "fan's favourite guest", especially at Transforce 2001 (the Hot Rod comment comes to mind). How do you feel about having this status?
Lee: Good Lord - have I? What did I say about HotRod? I really must be more careful . . . I suppose my whole approach to conventions and fans is this - let's have some fun with this and ourselves along the way. I'm not a 'fan' of Transformers, but I am about loads of other things and I know we all (well, most of us) realise it's a bit silly to be caught up in something relatively so unimportant, but that's why it's such fun: it's pure pleasure! For instance, I recently acquired a full-sized TARDIS replica; it has to be the most useless waste of money ever on the face of it, but I can't tell you what a thrill it is for me to see it in my garden. Every day!
TF at The Moon: Must have set you back a few bob that one. Are you scheduled to appear at any conventions this year? (2004)
Lee: Yes, In May in Birmingham, if memory serves.
TF at The Moon: So Auto Assembly 2004 in April then. We'll be there so we'll see you there.
On your site you describe that writing for a licensed product is like the letter W. Can you explain this briefly?
Lee: I was quoting someone else, but it applies to any drama. You start with a bang (the first high point of the letter 'W') then allow things to cool down before going for another high point, then another cooling off point and then back to a big finish. 'Pacing' or 'dynamics', as it's usually referred to in storytelling or music is necessary to maintain interest in a narrative. If everything moves at the same pace there's no relief or chance to catch breath.
TF at The Moon: When you are asked to draw a character which has never been seen before, how much information is given to the artist by the writer? Do they give you some idea of what they are after or leave the whole creation up to the artists?
Lee: Depends on the writer, for example Simon F is quite happy to let the artist come up with whatever they feel like - as long as it fits with what he's trying to achieve. Other writers are so into their world that they'll even give you sketches of characters. I prefer the former.
TF at The Moon: We read on your site that you like playing the Saxophone. Are you any good and can you play the Transformers theme on it yet?
Lee: I'm told I'm okay. I'm in two bands presently and we're semi-pro. I love playing - it's a late development for me and a huge contrast to the solitary, nit-picking world of the artist. I haven't tried the theme yet, but I'll have a go soon - the (much younger than me) singer in Rock Pirates is a fan of TF and wore Autobot & Decepticon logo t-shirts to our first gigs, in honour of my past misdemeanours :) You can hear one of the bands online at www.rockpirates.co.uk
TF at The Moon: On your website you have a picture of your self and William Shatner (due to your work on Tekwar). Could you tell us a little about how you got involved in that work, and what it was like meeting 'James.T.Kirk'?
Lee: Really enjoyable - I was always a Classic Trek/Kirk fan. He called me up a couple of times when he was preparing the TV series and each time I was out, so I came home to answering machine messages from him. We eventually hooked up, he invited me out to Canada and I saw some filming (he was directing and acting). He's a very complex man, I think, and was quite un-starry, which contrasts with what you read about him. He used to walk from his hotel to the studios each morning. A regular, hardworking guy with an extraordinary position as a 20th (or maybe 23rd) century icon. I remember sitting in a people-carrier - new to my eyes then and not unlike a shuttlecraft to look at - with him next to me and looking sideways at him, at that famous profile, and being unable to resist the thought that here was Captain Kirk. We traded Christmas cards for quite a few years.
TF at The Moon: You did an interview with the BBC's website regarding your Dr. Who work. How did that come about?
Lee: It's really about Shada - one of the webcasts I worked on for BBCi. I was asked to supply art for the first of them, I don't really know why specifically, just having a lot of Who comic-strip history and being in the right place at the right time. Really nice people to work with, and good to only have to supply individual artworks and separate character illustrations without the hard work of storytelling for a change - just concentrating on design and finish.
TF at The Moon: So, who should be the new Doctor?
Lee: For my money, Bill Nighy or Alan Rickman.
TF at The Moon: With the Panini UK Transformers comic ending so suddenly the only place fans can see your Transformers artwork is on the cover of the Titan Graphic novels. Can you tell us if you have been commissioned to produce any more work for Titan?
Lee: I'm not sure what there is left to publish, and I've just done the one so far, though there was talk of more when I did the first.
TF at The Moon: If you were asked, would you like to work on a comic for Dreamwave's Transformers licence, and if so do you have any preferred title?
Lee: To my shame, I haven't seen a single thing to do with any of it! I've no idea if my style would fit at all. I'll work on anything, if asked :)
TF at The Moon: Speaking of comics in general. Are you a comic fan and do you buy any at the moment?
Lee: Not really. I loved comics as a young person, but my interest is much more in film and television. I've never felt any great desire to read comics since Watchman and Dark Night in the 80s. I think that they were as high as the art form allows, really, and beyond that, film satisfies me much more as a consumer. It might sound like heresy to a comics buff, but I think it's quite healthy to keep a distance between what you do and what you consume. I gave up comics conventions a long while ago as they were all too depressing - assembled 'pros' (me included) moaning about the state of the industry. I even find looking at other artists' work depressing as I always wonder how I can possibly compete with them.
TF at The Moon: Did you ever read the Transformers comics which you were not working on?
Lee: To find out what was going on with the characters I was working with, but never otherwise, except to steal ideas visually :).
TF at The Moon: Can you remember any memorable / funny moments from your time working on the Transformers comic?
Lee: I remember finding out that Simon F had been nearly wiped out by a large crane falling into Marvel Towers, and incorporated that into my first strip. Mostly my memory of that time was of going to the Valiant Trooper pub just off Goodge Street in London once a month for a great booze-up with all the other regular guys, (in no particular order) Simon Furman, Geoff Senior, Barry Kitson, John Higgins, John Freeman, John Tomlinson, Steve White, Kev Hopgood, Helen Stone, Dan Reed, Jeff Anderson, Donna Wickers (who until recently I was working for on 'Thunderbirds'), Rebecca Owen, Richard Starkings, Andy Wildman, Dougie Braithwaite; Dave Hine, Andy Lanning, John Carnell et al. A lot of laughs there!
TF at The Moon: Do you stay in touch with any old colleagues form the old Marvel UK days?
Lee: Simon and Richard, but it tends to be when there's a work or convention thing happening. Simon and I have been going to hook up socially for so long that he's moved away in disgust! Rich is in LA, so we don't exactly hit the streets together much. Relationships with work colleagues are like that - you have an intense period together and you enjoy each other when you meet up, but life's always moving onward.
TF at The Moon: What work are you currently involved in?
Lee: Thunderbirds for Redan; (until this interview, TFA) and some child education publishing illustration. I want to stretch some of my atrophied artistic muscles soon with more grown-up stuff in 2000AD or DWM, but that's a wish-list at the moment.
TF at The Moon: Is there anything else that you would like to share with our site's readers?
Lee: Don't listen to advice from me. Including this.
Once again we would like to thank Lee for taking the time to answer our question and we hope that you have enjoyed reading this interview. We now encourage you to check out Lee's own website www.leesullivan.co.uk and also the BBC Doctor Who as well as both of his bands websites www.rockpirates.co.uk and www.bryanferrytribute.com.
Lee Sullivan trained as a wildlife and technical illustrator at Barnfield College, then spent five years as a graphic artist for British Aerospace in Stevenage, England.
He freelanced for a further five years, providing art for the advertising and magazine publishing industries; then in 1988 he was introduced to the comics world by art
* Doctor Who Magazine (since 1989 and currently),
* RoboCop (US),
* William Shatner's TekWorld (US),
* 2000AD (Judge Dredd; Mercy Heights; Blacklight; Futureshocks; Vector 13, Megazine),
* Radio Times Doctor Who strip,
* Marvel UK reprint covers,
* Action Man,
* Thunderbirds Magazine (currently).
He regularly produces work for educational and magazine publications and has supplied storyboard art for the BBC and development designs for animation companies.
Some of his most recent work is BBC Cult's successful series of online Doctor Who webcasts: 'Death Comes to Time'; 'Real Time'; and the forthcoming 'Shada' which was written by the late Douglas Adams.
In what he laughingly refers to as his 'spare time', Lee continues to frighten his wife, cat and neighbours with an increasingly noisy saxophone fetish, though these days this is increasingly spilling out to venues around the land - see: www.rockpirates.co.uk and bryanferrytribute.com
After bumping into his long-time sax hero Andy Mackay of Roxy Music on holiday, Lee started collecting and learning to play saxophones. After a mere 19 years, he dared to step out of the bedroom and into the Rock Pirates, for whom he also provides graphics.