Whispering Gallery: Lee Sullivan

The man whose work you’re about to see, ladies and gents, is Doctor Who royalty! Our own Alasdair Shaw (of Doctor Who Reprint Society and In Print fame) recently conducted a Kasterborous interview with legendary comic artist Lee Sullivan. In conjunction with that, Lee has kindly agreed to prepare for us an exclusive Whispering Gallery exhibition!

Lee Sullivan Police Boxes

We’ve stayed mostly hands-off this time; Mr. Sullivan picked out all of the pieces and provided us with detailed behind-the-scenes revelations about each. If you’re a Whovian who hasn’t seen his work before, you’re wrong. In fact, we’d be willing to bet a fiver that if you’ve been a fan for at least a year, you’ll recognize the famous creation that we’ve conveniently placed at the top of this showcase.

Well-known police lineups are just the tip-of-the iceberg when it comes to Lee Sullivan. Over the past quarter century, this man has received commissions from the likes of Doctor Who Weekly/Monthly/Magazine, Marvel UK, Virgin’s New Adventures, Radio Times, BBCi, the Royal Mail, and The Minister of Chance.  He was an important voice in designing the original incarnation of Bernice Summerfield.  He’s met multiple Doctors and even had a beer with Sylvester McCoy. Those are just a few of many highlights in Lee Sullivan’s illustration career; we haven’t even mentioned the countless number of official gigs he’s received from non-Whovian franchises! Below you’ll find his well-known classics as well as some newer works you may not have seen, all in mostly-chronological order so that we can view the evolution of the artist.

So leave us your hat, grab a bite, and be our very special guest as we peruse a brand new Whispering Gallery chronicling the career and achievements of Lee Sullivan!

The Usual Suspects

The Usual Suspects, 1999
Pen, brush, watercolour & inks on CS2 board, A3 (approx.)
Private collection
Originally featured in Doctor Who Magazine

Lee Sullivan: This piece has taken on a life of its own. It’s based on the poster for the film of the same name which is in turn based upon the line spoken by Claude Rains in Casablanca: ‘Round up the usual suspects.’ Originally only the first seven Doctors featured – I added others including Peter Cushing, Rowan Atkinson and the Scream of the Shalka versions gradually for its new owner until we pretty much ran out of background, at which point I cut and stripped out the figures and pasted them into a new, longer background. For real, not digitally!

In 2011 the London Cartoon Museum had their exhibition celebrating Who in comics and they asked me if they could use it as a centerpiece blow-up minus all the non-canon Doctors, but keeping Peter Cushing as his version appeared comics too (one of which I did for DWM). I looked at the scans I’d got and realized I’d have to do so much retouching because of the splicing, it would be easier to redraw the whole thing and digitally colour it, and correct some of the heights of the Doctors, along the way. Unfortunately, the only art board I had available to me at the time I absolutely had to start it was A3 in size, which meant it was a very exacting job – the likenesses of the faces are only about 15mm high. I worked with a magnifying glass, and it was a relief when I finally got it into Photoshop and could start working digitally.

It was enlarged to around three metres in length, and made a very nice image for the exhibition; people posed by it for photos.

Minus Peter Cushing, the image is being used as an A3-ish poster for a Who 50th anniversary box set of artworks, along with another piece of mine.

The Usual Suspects Revisited, 2011

Untitled (Dalek), 1965Biro on yellow paper, 6.5 in × 8 in

Untitled (Dalek), 1965
Biro on yellow paper, 6.5 in × 8 in

LS: My lovely Dad saved this, one of about 4 surviving Who images out of what must have been hundreds I drew as a kid. This was when I was seven, according to the date (added later). I was heavily into both the show, and the TV Comic Hartnell strips, and even more by The Dalek Book and TV21 strip adventures of the ‘Outer Space Robot People’.

Planet of the Dead, 1988
Pen, brush & ink on CS10 paper, A3
Private collection
Sullivan’s first Doctor Who strip commission for Marvel UK

LS: I was initially slated to draw another story, but a likeness I supplied for a Transformers strip of Richard Branson propelled me into the 25th anniversary story featuring all seven Doctors plus many companions in what was my first strip featuring mostly ‘humans’. I tried not to think of all the great artists whose shoulders I was standing on, and enjoyed the idea I’d got at least one crack at joining my idols.

Nemesis of the Daleks, 1989
Pen, brush & ink on CS10 paper, A3
Private collection
Sullivan’s first Dalek strip commission for Marvel UK

LS: My second Who strip and by this time I am (along with writers Richard Starkings and John Tomlinson) ready to get my teeth into Daleks! I tried to visually link many aspects of Who & Dalek lore together, which is why they have movie bases and strip saucers, and my version of the Dalek hoverbout plus an amalgam of the ’60s strip Golden Emperor and the TV Davros version (itself inspired by the 60s strips). Plus of course the return of Abslom Daak, whom I was in complete ignorance of as I’d missed a few Who Weekly (or Monthly?) issues where he’d appeared.

Love & War book cover, 1992
Acrylics, brush & airbrush on CS10 board, A2 (approx.)
Private collection

LS: Virgin’s New Adventure novels were introducing a new character – Bernice Summerfield – created by Paul Cornell and editor Peter Darvil-Evans wanted a visual interpretation of the character as a style guide for the artists and subsequent writers to follow. Paul suggested up-and-coming actress Emma Thompson as a cue, and I produced some illustrations. As a result, I was commissioned to provide the book jacket for her first appearance, in Paul’s novel Love and War. A scathing review of my work followed its publication, and I was never commissioned again by Virgin, though I drew Benny for Emperor of the Daleks in DWM. 20 years later, I sold the art on eBay, and found out that it had quite a few fans, which redressed the balance to some extent. To read my more detailed account of the creation of this piece, please visit this page.

Emperor of the Daleks part 4, 1993
Pen, brush & ink on Marvel US heavy cartridge paper, A3 (approx.)
Private collection

LS: I suppose one of the things that spurs one on as a budding artist are what have become known as ‘iconic images’–ones that stick in the mind long after the details of the story have become fuzzy memories. I have many of these from my 1960s childhood: Brian Lewis’s wonderful Supercar annual drawings; Richard Jennings and Ron Turner’s gorgeous art in the Dalek annuals and TV21 comic; Mike Noble’s Fireball Xl5, Zero-X and Star Trek strips, also from TV21. My Emperor art shown here was one of the first Who images I drew that I knew had the same effect on a later generation. This was an amazingly productive period for me: for the six issues this ran I was also producing 23 pages for William Shatner’s TekWorld; making 30 pages of finished art per month for a six month period. I later met a young guy who was able to describe this double-page spread in great detail, with the same reverence that I would have used for Zeg’s bath in acid in the Dalek Chronicles

Radio Times Dreadnought, 1996
Pen, brush & ink on Bristol board, A4
Private collection

LS: Radio Times, the BBC UK TV and radio listings magazine, has had a long association with Doctor Who. Frank Bellamy had done lovely artworks in the 1970s for the publication, so it was with enormous pride that I accepted the commission to produce a regular comic strip for the title, based on the Paul McGann TV movie. Gary Russell scripted and Alan Craddock provided colours. It was a very exacting task: an average of 6 panels per week with a recap, story progression and cliffhanger all within a half-page format. I had to design the pages around the word balloons, so I created versions of them with an early desktop publishing program and worked images around the remaining spaces. It ran for 42 weeks; new editorial management took over and it was curtailed earlier than had been planned, not least because there would be no series based on the US movie, but it remains a high point in my career, both technically and from an audience-reach perspective; in those days each edition sold over 4 million copies per week.

Robot Doctor Who strip, 1998
Pen, brush & ink; watercolour, inks & airbrush on CS2 board, A2 (approx.)
Whereabouts unknown

“It disappeared from the Radio Times office before I could get it back. I suppose it’s a kind of compliment.” –Lee

LS: Matt Booker was the last editor I worked with at the Radio Times. He put a science fiction magazine dummy together – eventually named Robotfor potential publication by the BBC and aimed at an early- to mid-teen age group. It was to feature various features on things like X Files alongside SF strips – and Who was an obvious candidate. Doctor Who was in the wilderness years, and the TV Movie hadn’t succeeded in reviving interest in the show, which led to the idea of a future (penultimate) incarnation of the Doctor, initially with no memory of who he was, which would have freed it from continuity to some extent and given it a clean slate. I based the incarnation very slightly on Alan Rickman, and the Cybermen went back to cloth-faces but could run!

However, focus group testing of the target audience revealed no particular interest in either Who or comic strips. The time wasn’t right and so the few dummy copies are all that ever existed.

Death Comes to Time, 2001
Pen, brush, watercolour & ink on Bristol Board with Photoshop finishes, A3/A4
Webcast animation image for BBCi

LS: At an awards ceremony in early 2013 I had the weird experience of meeting both David Tennant and Troughton’s son David within a few minutes of each other, having earlier been bought a pint of beer by Sylvester McCoy. Such are the rewards of hanging around with Dan Freeman for a decade or so, who not only was BBC producer of Doctor Who during the Wilderness Years for this iconoclastic webcast (the first of its kind), which he also wrote and for which I provided images to be animated by James Goss, who at the time worked for BBC online. Drawing for animation made an interesting change from sequential comics work, as all the elements were drawn separately: figures, ‘props’, backgrounds etc. And I got to have lunch in the Blue Peter Garden, eating BBC sandwiches near the bust of Petra. I did two further webcasts, Real Time and a version of Shada which is available on the recent DVD.

Dan now writes and produces the wonderful off-shoot Minister of Chance crowd-funded audio series, which I again provide occasional images for, and which features many of the Who principles.

Battles in Time Cybermen story page 1, 2006
Pen, brush & ink on Bristol board with digital finishing, A3
Colours by Alan Craddock
Created for the Doctor Who Battles in Time magazine

LS: This was aimed at a younger age group than my previous Who work; I’d recently finished working on Redan’s Thunderbirds Magazine which was also aimed ‘young’ so I adapted to it okay. Originally I was supposed to be doing art for the Trading cards that accompanied (and were the point of) the title, but photo images won out with the trial groups and I was given the strip instead. Until recently I’ve been slightly embarrassed by the simplicity of it and some of the work generally. I realized it didn’t require as much input from me, and I was still recovering from the after-effects of my parents’ deaths. That had completely de-focused me; I had virtually no interest in my career and wasn’t really trying very hard in the middle of the run on Battles in Time. I managed to pull myself around by the end; looking at it recently I’m much happier with it now than at any point since I did it. I was surprised to find that I quite liked some of the images.

Royal Mail Doctor Who strip, 2012-2013
Pen & ink on Bristol board with Photoshop colouring & Illustrator lettering, smaller than A4:
“Printed as a tiny thing indeed.” -Lee
Created for Royal Mail Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Stamps issue

LS: This was originally going to be on the back of the ‘mini-sheet’ set of 5 stamps. However, due to some issues regarding which companion should be in the strip, it was only included in the Prestige Stamp Book, though happily still backing the mini-sheet design and stamps, and to my great delight, next to a Neville Main picture of the First Doctor from his first comic strip.

Another very exacting pushed-for-space job, it also marks my debut as co-scripter (if you can refer to this slight story as ‘scripted’) and letterer. The co-ordinates on the image of the invitation card are the reverse of Gallifrey’s.

IDW Prisoners of Time 2nd Doctor strip, 2012-2013
Digital via Photoshop and Manga Studio

LS: I hadn’t done very much strip art since The Amulet of Samarkand graphic novel for Disney a couple of years previously, so when I was asked to do this for the 50th Anniversary series I was pretty nervous – could I still remember how to do sequential art? Could I hit the right kind of look for a ‘retro’ story which wouldn’t alienate the modern Who audience? Could I do all that in the time allotted? You, dear reader, will be the judge as to whether I answered the first two questions. As for the latter… earlier in the year, I had succumbed to every geek artist’s dream – a Wacom Cintiq 24 inch graphics ‘tablet’. Essentially, you draw directly onto a screen with a stylus. Combining hand-drawing skills with the flexibility of image-manipulation in one program, I love it so much that if I were not already happily married, I would ask it out on a date.

Anyway, there are lots of in-jokes both in the script and the visuals to appeal to long-term fans; I got to draw my fill of Police Boxes; most of the characters in the first Who annual; the glorious Zoe; and of course, every right-thinking person’s favourite Doctor, Patrick Troughton. Its publication to tie in with the Doctor’s Golden Anniversary was a lovely way to celebrate my own Silver Anniversary as a professional Doctor Who artist.

One of the things I managed to chat to Mr Tennant about – as I have said to all of the [Doctors I’ve met] – was how pleased I was to have earned some part of my living by working with his image. Tennant joked that perhaps we shared some kind of odd bond, and I think everyone who has become associated in one way or another with the show feels the same; as Hartnell once said; “I think that if I live to be ninety, a little of the magic of Doctor Who will still cling to me.” Who better to have the last word?

For lots more from Lee, explore the links below:

Named for the 2009 IDW comic, The Whispering Gallery is a semi-regular feature here at Kasterborous that seeks to showcase the careers of unique, distinguished, and talented Whovian artists in a museum-style format.  Miss a previous exhibition?  No problem!  Just strap our pre-programmed vortex manipulator to your arm and have a glimpse at past Whispering Galleries…

Know of a great Whovian artist you’d like to suggest for a future exhibition?  Tweet or email us!

Patrick Riley


Patrick has just been murdered and is currently seated on the edge of a lawn chair wondering when this Missy person will stop demanding his autograph. He probably can't tweet from the grave, but you should follow him anyway @10PatrickRiley.

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