Lawless 2022: The ‘Doctor Who’ Comic Book Panel

by Olly MacNamee

As well as reporting on the Brian Bolland panel, I was also able to attend the Sunday afternoon panel discussing Doctor Who with four artist who have previously worked on the good Doctor in comics and magazines. And while John Higgins (Watchmen) had to be initially prompted into remembering his time on the title, there was no doubt that all spoke with fond affection for a truly British institution loved as much by the guests as the audience.

Art by Mike Collins

Guests: John Higgins, David Roach, Mike Collins, Ben Willsher

Host: Stacey Whittle

All were initially asked as to how they got into Doctor Who at an early age?

Roach – Worked for over twenty years on Doctor Who magazine, having drawn all but William Hartnell

Collins – Also worked on the Doctor Who Magazine and storyboards Doctor Who TV show 

Willsher – Worked on the Doctor Who Magazine too, including comic book covers and promo art.

Higgins – funnily enough, he thought he hadn’t done anything with the property, but decided to stay anyway. “These guys always entertain me.” Or, at least that’s what he thought until be was promoted to remember his involvement. Apparently he drew Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor.

Art by Ben Willsher

The guests then started by talking about their love for the show and its fear factor. For Willsher, even the music frightened him, on coming out from behind the couch after the opening theme tune finished.

Collins – Very first memory of TV for him was Doctor Who? It was Pertwee – and the introduction of colour – that got him back into the show. 

Roach – ‘Terror of the Autons’ frightened him off Doctor Who, until he saw a comic strip based on the show in a UK comic, so started watching it again with the Sea Devils and John Pertwee too.

The guests shared an interesting insight into working on the various comic strip properties in the past: the problem with working on Doctor Who was that they often only got promo photos, with the actors looking their best. But, thanks to DVD sets, they can use these for a better emotional range. But some of the promo stuff was rather special. Collins remembers getting photos of Christopher Eccleston in a polo neck, before he settled on a v-neck jumper he wore.

Willsher – The only person he ever got a knock back from was Captain Harkness actor, John Barrowman (“My teeth are too big,” which Ben replied to, “But I drew this from an actual photo of you.”). All agreed that David Tennant was the hardest to draw for several reasons, with Collins only half-joking that Tennant, “was too pretty.”

Higgins –  remembered a cover he did once that Sylvester McCoy hated. 

Art by David Roach

Collins – Fairburn System of Visual References is set of books that had a face in it that Mike and others used the drawing Peter Davison. 

Whenever a new Doctor or assistant is cast, artists working on the strips and comics have to “audition” and draw a whole set of art for the actors to sign off on, with Ecclestone modestly saying at the time, “You’re not drawing me ugly enough,’ while Billie Piper jovially said, “Whoever gave me hips and tits, I like it!“

Art by John Higgins

Difference between drawing Doctor Who compared to create TV, which has budgetary constraints?

Collins – one Capaldi stripe included the Luftwaffe, aliens and tons of tanks. He wrote it and then cursed himself when he had to draw it too.

For Willsher, thanks to the CGI, there is more big moments, so the comic can reflect this better. 

All agreed, answering a question from the audience, that cliffhanger endings in the old Doctor Who are missed. Which, is as good a moment as any to end this write-up too. 

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