This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on October 22, 2016.
I woke up this morning to a text telling me, “Steve Dillon is gone.”
My first response was “No.” My second response was “Fuck.” That second one is a word I learned to love for its versatility reading the comics Mr. Dillon drew.
Dillon was born in the town of Luton, England. Before he graduated school, he began drawing comics professionally with the debut of Hulk Weekly for Marvel UK. Over the next decade he contributed to Marvel UK, 2000 A.D., Warrior, and Doctor Who Magazine. In 1988, Dillon co-created the comics magazine Deadline with Brett Ewins. This early and prolific output established Dillon as a prodigy to many of his peers.
In 1992 Dillon encountered his most enduring collaborator, Garth Ennis. They began working together on Hellblazerbefore going on to create the series Preacher and provide an iconic run on The Punisher. It is this work that Dillon is best known for out of comics as it has been a constant source for adaptations. Characters and ideas of their creation have appeared in films like Constantine and The Punisher, and most recently they saw Preacher adapted to television at AMC.
Comics fans will know Dillon’s legacy goes far beyond his effects on other media though. The persistence of his work on all of these series with Ennis, along with recent output like his collaboration on The Punisher with writer Becky Cloonan at Marvel is based on his unique style and storytelling skills. Dillon’s ability to capture human expression was unparalleled in comics. A single, wordless panel was all he needed to reveal disgust or delight. Beyond that, he would add layers to these expressions discovering deeper layers of anger or surprise. Even the most cartoonish characters were instantly humanized by his pencils as their faces moved in ways only a real person’s could.
Dillon favored clarity in his storytelling. There’s not a page in all of Preacher that will confuse a reader. Layouts and compositions were there to inform readers and guide them on rollicking adventures and terrifying tragedies. You are always aware of exactly what sort of story you are reading in one of Dillon’s comic. But what is most impressive isn’t his clarity with tone, but his ability to blend two or more with confidence. Just consider the incredibly tense and hilarious line from Preacher: “Miss.”
Steve Dillon passed away this morning (October 22, 2016) in New York City, a city for which he never hid his love, at the age of 54. It was confirmed by Dillon’s brother Glyn Dillon on Twitter. As of right now the cause remains unknown.
I want to express my condolences to all of Mr. Dillon’s friends and family. The outpouring of love for him this morning from his peers and collaborators has already revealed how dearly he will be missed.
I also want to express condolences to the fans of his work as well. Dillon’s work was not limited to being excellent storytelling or deeply enjoyable, it often transcended into the realm of being life-changing. Speak to fans of his work on Preacher, and you will quickly learn how many readers discovered that comic at the moment in life when they needed it: as an adolescent questioning their faith or a young adult struggling with their family’s history. It provided a story of friendship, loyalty, and love capable of offering smile and understanding when you couldn’t speak to anyone else.
The faces Dillon drew were not just lifelike, they were capable of reminding us what life was like.
My friend Alison Baker and I met Mr. Dillon in Chicago this spring. The humanity found in his drawings clearly stemmed from the man himself. Sketching for fans he took his time with each person in line, listening to their stories and sharing genuine gratitude for reading his work. He never missed a beat over three hours of drawing, signing, and speaking.
Some of the stories shared with him at that table in front of a crowd tread toward the intensely personal. People spoke of how the comics he had created pulled them through a particularly tough time or provided them clarity in their lives.
It’s not a common thing to see your legacy before you leave this world, but that is exactly what Mr. Dillon was able to do. Many of his comics have not been out of print for decades and likely will not be in our lifetimes. Dillon is studied by modern artists and beloved by new generations of fans. The action of The Punisher, the tragedy of Hellblazer, and everything human about Preacher continue to send ripples out into the world.
We have lost a giant in comics today, someone who touched more lives than he ever met. While that’s a reason to mourn today, given time it will be cause to celebrate. Dillon is an example of a life well lived. He leaves a world filled with friends, fans, and comics that will carry his name and stories for a long time to come.
Dillon spent his last convention appearances tabling at the Heroes Initiative booth, raising funds for the charity that supports creators in ill health. Please consider making a donation to help other comics artists here.