It's a long time ago now — 21 years as I write this — but here are my remembrances of painting the cover to Love and War. Somewhere in my attic, I'm fairly sure I have a file detailing the exchange of correspondence for this commission, but a recent cobwebby search failed to produce it, so I'm afraid I will have to rely on a sketchy memory of events for the most part. I can’t guarantee it’s wholly accurate, as even some of my most clear memories are disputed by the facts! But here goes:
In late 1991 I was asked by Virgin Books' New Adventures editor Peter Darvill-Evans to provide designs for the character of Bernice Summerfield, created by writer Paul Cornell. I suppose that Virgin already knew they would feature the character strongly in the rest of the NA series, certainly Doctor Who Magazine editor John Freeman also wanted a tie-in between the NAs, the show, and the comic strip. Benny was described to me by Paul as rather like actress Emma Thompson, who at that time was just coming to prominence in movies like The Tall Guy and Dead Again. I think the resemblance is fairly clear, though I think I didn’t actually reference Thompson, just used my memory of what she looked like and the impression she gave.
I produced some sketches in black and white and these would be used as the visual template for both her comic-strip and cover appearances for the next few years. I read somewhere that this was the point at which it was decided to give me the commission to paint the cover for Love and War.
Peter, Paul and I met at the Virgin offices and there was a fair amount of discussion about getting the look of the cover right. I have a feeling that there was a very loose rough presented to me to show what was required on the cover, and also a description which was very precise: that the monster, the planet, the arch, the pyramid, the TARDIS and Benny were pretty much to be shown as they eventually were. I knew that she wore jeans and a very bright jumper. All of the colours were to be as bright as possible, bar the sphere and monster, which I think was to contrast with the more somber look of the previous covers. There was certainly a colour rough produced, though I can’t find evidence of it presently.
I was thrilled to be asked to do what was my first book cover and everyone was terribly pleased with the art when it was delivered. It was the most technically accomplished piece of art I had ever created, and I hoped it would lead to other NA covers, at least. Then the book was reviewed somewhere and I still have (I think) a sharp memory of the opening line: 'If you can get past the awful cover by comics artist Lee Sullivan, this is a fine book.' I was never offered any further work for Virgin, and I think they probably decided they’d made a mistake with both it and by extension, me. So my first book-jacket illustration became my last, for some time at least.
I went away, nursed my wounds, and got back to comics, and tried not to blush with burning shame when I thought of the affair. Indeed I drew Benny a year or so later in the comic strip 'Emperor of the Daleks' [Doctor Who Magazine #197-202], also written by Paul Cornell, with her wearing one of the costumes we originally had in mind, based on uniforms used in the Doctor Who TV story Frontier in Space.
I watched from a distance over the years as Benny continued her journey through various adventures. I didn’t really like the redesigned look she acquired some years later, partly as I felt proprietorial about my design and partly that it didn’t match the character I saw in the first novel, or how Paul had described her to me, instead making her look like an X–Men character. Still, times and editorial decisions change.
I did revisit Benny for two covers of the Big Finish New Worlds prose titles, Collected Works and Nobody’s Children, which were comic-strip / graphic illustrations rather than traditional paintings. Ironically, I was standing in for another artist, and I had to draw Benny for one of them in her catsuit. But for some reason I got away with drawing her a little more like 'my' Benny for the second.
In 2012, searching for something else entirely, I found the Love and War original artwork in the aforementioned attic and decided it looked quite good — rather the reverse of the Dorian Gray scenario, this painting had become more attractive the longer it had been hidden — and decided I should auction it on eBay, only realizing as I let Paul know that I had, that it was exactly twenty years since Benny’s 'birth'. And I had a very pleasant surprise, because several people told me that it was one of their favourite covers, in one case 'ever', and that has somewhat redressed the balance for me about the whole incident. I scanned the art and it’s now available as a signed print direct from me. And then someone pointed me to this site, and that concludes the tale.
Or nearly. As often happens, when one stops looking for something, it turns up. Shortly after the first draft of this remembrance was posted, I found the envelope of Love and War material in my studio, where I had stored it when I discovered it with the artwork. Happily, it pretty much bears out this story, though it also points to my shorter-term memory being less reliable!