By Luke Williams
There’s never been an artist like Kevin O’Neill. His characters are comic, grotesque, macabre, horrifying and hilarious all at once. His pages can be disturbing and contain boundless energy, marrying extreme violence with slapstick humour, his characters are horrifying and hilarious. His art is jagged, surreal, anarchic and euphorically visceral with an anarchic edge. His outlandish designs reveal a vivid and extraordinary imagination.
Kevin started as a junior on the IPC humour titles, describing himself as a “bodger”, whiting out artists names, cleaning up pages etc. He found a dream job as assistant art editor on 2000AD. It was here that he really started to spread his wings under the tutelage of art editor Jan Shepheard, later replacing her as art editor.
Heavily influenced by British humour comic great Ken Reid, and Mad magazine, it was Kev’ who was responsible for the adverts for “Flesh” and humour in the editorial illustrations in the early Progs of 2000AD. Famously he introduced creator credits early on in the Prog, a huge leap for comic creator recognition and creator rights in the UK.
He was also responsible for designing many early characters including Judge Dredd “Robot Wars” antagonist, Call Me Kenneth, and co-creating Starlord’s “Ro Busters”, along with humour strips “Bonjo Beyond The Stars”, “Dash Decent” one off story “Shok” (which later famously inspired the 90s sci fi film “Hardware”), a hand in the “ABC Warriors”
and a strip he and Pat Mills originally began working on to let their hair down “Comic Rock”, which metamorphosised into the gothic majesty of “Nemesis the Warlock”.
Moving to work in the US market and wider audience, no one could ever accuse O’Neill of toning his work down and comprising his style. Notoriously, he is the only artist ever to have his work rejected by the industry regulator the Comics Code Authority.
In the States he co created Marshal Law, producing savagely beautifully painted pages, the bizarre Metalzoic which allowed his robot design creativity to go wild, with Alan Grant he produced work on DC’s Lobo and a revival of post Crisis ignored Bat-Mite, collaboration with Pat Mills and Tony Skinner on a comic continuation of Roger Corman’s Death Race.
But perhaps most enduring and well known is his collaboration with Alan Moore The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, where he interpreted classic literary and more recent popular culture characters in his own inimitable fashion.
He did return to the Prog; most notably on covers (check out Prog 492), two memorable Judge Dredd strips, the infamous Prog 500, the occasional anniversary issue, a reprint of Metalzoic and to dip in and out of contributing to co creation “Nemesis the Warlock”, and drawing its capstone.
Most recently, despite rumours of his retirement he returned to British comics with a revival of the “Kids Rule OK” strip written by Garth Ennis and an upcoming “Bonjo Beyond the Stars”.
An idiosyncratic talent, he exemplified the early iconoclastic punk attitude of 2000AD in short, a genius. Rest in peace Mr. O’Neill, thanks for everything.