Well, 2016 continues to shove our noses in shit. Steve Dillon, a seminal influence to anyone who reads comics, but particularly to those of us immersed in 2000AD, has passed away at the ridiculous age of 54. And what do you even say after that? If you’re on this site, you hardly need me to run through his (lengthy and eclectic) CV, but anyone who’s made the planet-killer sized impact in the comics industry with his work on Dredd, The Punisher, and Hellblazer alone deserves to have it shouted from the rooftops over and over again. And that’s all before we even get to his most well- known work: as co-creator of Preacher for Vertigo.
I never got to meet Dillon, but I guess that doesn’t really matter with what I’m going to say. If you’re willing to look beyond simply reading a comic strip on a surface level and pore over the details and approach, it’s not hard to get some sense of the person behind the art. Art by it’s nature is an extension of a person’s spirit, and comic art particularly so, because executing it successfully involves so many unique choices, interpretations and decisions.
But let’s not mess around: Steve Dillon was an absolute beast of a comic artist. That’s the bottom line. If the likes of Bolland and McMahon and O’Neill were defined by their ornate styles and meticulously rendered inking, Dillon’s art was lean and mean. Telling the story was everything. No frills, no noodling, no bullshit, no distractions. His work was untouchably energetic, full of beautifully efficient compositions, a powerful cinematic style, a wondrous and clipped use of blacks and whites, all topped off with a grounded, lived-in, and functional sense of design. The world always looked a little grubbier, a little less gleaming, when Dillon envisioned it, and whatever story he was bringing to life with his art was always the better for it.
There are so many highlights to revisit. Seriously, where to begin? The man was a workhorse. For Dredd alone, he’s responsible for a glut of iconic moments: Our first sight of Orlok and farewell to Judge Giant in Block Mania, Dredd wandering a buried New York City in Cry Of The Werewolf, Trapper Hag handing Dredd his arse, Anderson and Dredd riding into the black of a devastated Mega City One to face Owen Krysler’s mutant future freak. I’m a huge fan of the early work he did for some Alan Moore-penned one-offs. Abelard Snazz and Red Planet Blues, beautifully enhanced by John Higgins, come to mind. Beyond The Wall was fantastic. That would be all well and good, but Dillon brought a consistent level of quality to whatever he was working on, which is more than could be said for some of the scripts he got saddled with. I loved his work on Mean Arena. He single-handedly salvaged a pretty lousy run of Rogue Trooper reshaped as an intergalactic hitman. Dillon moved on from 2000AD, and graced the pages of mostly Marvel and Vertigo titles from there although Preacher is probably the most well-known. Preacher is a dizzying exercise in disciplined storytelling, and if there were minor complaints his style was becoming a little too spartan, that does a huge disservice to the scale of the story he was telling, full of intimate complicated dialog exchanges and gigantic action set-pieces. And that’s without mentioning the grit it must have taken to illustrate sixty-six issues of a comic in a straight run.
On a personal level, Steve Dillon was the first of a new breed of artists in 2000AD to make me think actually working as an artist seemed somewhat attainable. Bolland and McMahon, Gibbons and O’Neill were golden gods as far as I was concerned. I held them in such high regard that they barely even registered as human (Tharg would have approved), but Dillon seemed like one of us. I could relate to the idea that here was another sixteen year old who simply loved drawing so much he willed his career into being. And that if he could do it…
Of course, the reason I say that was mainly down to this: Back in Ireland in the late 80’s and somehow, in the darkened days of pre-internet existence, Flint of this very website, got word that Steve Dillon was actually living near both of us in north Dublin. Such was his determination to meet Dillon, he actually tracked down the address and with balls as big as Belgium, went knocking on his front door. Probably better for everyone involved the Big Man wasn’t home at the time. Flint would’ve fucking moved in.
In any case: Here’s to you, Steve. Rest easy. From everyone here at ECBT2000AD, our hearts go out to your family and friends. 54 just seems like a cruel typo.
– Mick Cassidy