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In Memoriam: Steve Dillon, 1962 – 2016

It was sad news this past weekend in which Glyn Dillon confirmed that his older brother, comic book artist Steve Dillon, passed away on Saturday, October 22, at the age 54. The ripple of loss across the industry is heartfelt and has been widespread. 

I was first introduced to Dillon’s work, as probably many were, via Vertigo’s Preacher, the 75-issue series that ran from 1995 – 2000. I had not read a comic since I was a pre-teen, so Preacher was my first foray into an adult comic series eleven years ago and I was blown away. The spectrum of themes Garth Ennis wrote about – questioning one’s faith, holding God accountable, addressing the shame of the Vietnam War, and the backlash towards homosexuality – were vast, and Dillon was there bringing to life the grit, the violence, the horror experienced by Jesse, Tulip, Cassidy, and myriad of colorful characters. Dillon’s line work did a lot of work for the colorists by using fine lines to shade, round, and define his characters. The facial expressions were telling and heightened the story. Dillon’s work always seemed judicious; from the characters to the backgrounds, he did not overwhelm the visual experience with clutter. He seemed to know when he had just enough detail. For example, the one-page panel of Jesse recounting the image of the angel and demon in the throes of copulation is an extraordinary composition. Without hesitation, this series is easily in my Top Five all-time favorite comic book series.

Dillon had an incredible career, highlighted by his collaboration with Ennis that began when they worked together at DC Comics on Hellblazer during the early 1990s after Dillon had worked on other DC titles that included Skreemer and Animal Man. By the mid-decade, they worked together on Preacher and then they resumed their partnership at Marvel Comics by creating a twelve-issue comic about mysterious vigilante Frank Castle in The Punisher, a series I would like to read. Dillon created and illustrated Wolverine: Origins and reunited once more with Ennis on Punisher War Zone, a six-issue mini-series that released in 2009.   

While that seems like a bright career in the American comic book industry, Dillon got his start in comics at the age of 16 in his native country, the UK, before migrating in the late 1980s to the US. His first project, Hulk Weekly, was with Marvel UK. He later worked on the Nick Fury strip. And while at Quality Communications, he worked on the anthology, Warrior, which was home to Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta and Marvelman. Dillon worked on the latter series as well as Laser Eraser and Pressbutton. All of this early work in anthologies that printed in black and white required that the artist be able to understand lighting and anatomy for muscle definition. In addition, there did not tend to be much room for background, so through necessity, Dillon needed to be able to convey the scene prudently.

The biggest boost for Dillon was joining up with 2000 AD in 1980. The anthology magazine regularly featured a handful of strips, so Dillon worked on Judge Dredd (I llove his two-panel “The Law Loves YOU” – notice all of the shading and sculpting that brings depth the characters?), Mean Arena, Doctor Who, Rogue Trooper, Tranny Rex, and Bad Company, just to name a few. While working at 2000 AD, Dillon met fellow artist Brett Ewins, and, together, they established the comics magazine, Deadline, which paralleled the anthology format of 2000 AD; however, in addition to the comic strips, the two included alternative music, which for the time (1988 – 1995) was a counterculture outlet. It must have been a fascinating magazine at the time. Not unlike the bigger 2000 AD, Deadline also had some fantastic titles and creators that worked with Ewins and Dillon: Phillip Bond on Wired World, Tank Girl which was created by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin, Planet Swerve by Glyn Dillon and Alan Martin, and Johnny Nemo by Peter Milligan.

At the time of Dillon’s death, he had come full circle. Having started with Marvel, it seems poignant that the last projects he was working on were with Becky Cloonan on a new Punisher series from Marvel and as Executive Producer on the AMC television series, Preacher, based on the comic book series that brought him much success and critical acclaim as an artist and creator.

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