The comics community was dealt another tragedy this weekend when Steve Dillon, perhaps most famous for his work on Vertigo’s Preacher, died at the age of 54. This was first reported on Twitter by his brother Glyn on Saturday, October 23. He will be sorely missed.
Dillon was born in London on March 22, 1962, but moved to Luton, Bedfordshire while he was still a child. His professional comics work began when he was only sixteen years old, when he drew the title story for the first issue of Hulk Weekly for Marvel UK. He drew for a great number of magazines in the 1980s, including Doctor Who Magazine and 2000 AD. It was for the latter of these for which he created artwork for the cult favorite character of Judge Dredd.
By 1992, Dillon had been working for DC comics and had moved to the United States. It was in this year that he began working on Hellblazer with writer Garth Ennis, who arguably became his greatest collaborator. The two of them would go on to create the series Preacher and have a definitive run on Marvel’s Punisher.
Preacher, about a possessed lapsed pastor, his gun-toting girlfriend Tulip, and his Irish vampire best friend, was recently adapted as a television series for AMC. Dillon was credited as a co-executive producer for ten episodes. However, the above plot description does not begin to do it justice, in its subject matter or the impact it had on the comics industry and community at large. The strength of the reactions it provoked could be enough to warrant labeling it art.
Dillon will be remembered by everyone as a great artist. According to the New York Times's obituary, writer Warren Ellis described his work “as fluid as camerawork, as efficient and composed as theater.” Even more than this, though, Dillon will be remembered as a great person. “To say working with Steve was a pleasure doesn’t begin to describe his gentle nature, or his easygoing demeanor… His name…is practically synonymous with Preacher, but I know him as a lovable wisecracker who enjoyed New York, and could always be depended on to deliver a sly remark,” wrote Marie Javins, Group Editor for DC Entertainment.
Chase Magnett wrote for Comics Bulletin, “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.” Dillon’s legacy is in panel and page compositions that flow effortlessly, and in facial expressions that somehow encompass multiple human emotions and expressions with a liveliness that beggar belief. His legacy is in the artful blending of beauty and grotesque that could also be insanely funny. It remains in the heart of every person who stood in line for hours at a time for a sketch or an autograph and could still be greeted with a smile.