Whenever a great entertainer dies it comes with that particular twist that you’ll never be able to experience their great “art” again and all we’ll be able to do is look back at the achievements they’ve left behind for us. 2016 has been a year that has taught us that lesson over and over again. This year we’ve lost the legendary musicians Lemmy, David Bowie, and Prince. Now the world of comics will have to mourn one of its modern greats passing on. Steve Dillon, the artist behind modern industry landmarks Hellblazer, Preacher, and Marvel’s The Punisher, and other works, has passed away. As of this writing the cause of death is unknown.
It’s hard to measure “influence” in the comic book industry, but Dillon was no doubt up there. In comics, one of the badges of honor is having your intellectual property turned into a television show or movie. All three of those properties mentioned before have been turned into TV shows (Hellblazer and Preacher) or movies. The 2004 and 2008 Punisher films were directly influenced by the epic runs that Dillon had on that series.
But never mind that. The comics themselves are what made Dillon a standout, along with his frequent collaborator Garth Ennis. Preacher, on it’s own, is a cultural landmark. Brutally violent, funny, and unafraid to push beyond the limits of good taste, the series gleefully mocks religion while at the same time celebrating the magic of Americana. It’s dogma for any comic book writer and a textbook example of how to make “controversial” entertainment that still carries itself with amazing storytelling and characters. Much the way Watchmen was “the” defining comic of the 80’s then Preacher was the comic of the 90’s.
And of course, that comic was defined by Dillon’s art. Other artists contributed to the series along the way, but it was Dillon’s draftsmanship that shined through. In particular, his unique ability to convey emotions allowed the alternating moments of humor and the grotesque to shine throughout.
The synergy that the writer and artist had would make waves again when the team joined forces to bring the Punisher back from obscurity. The character was riding a wave of popularity in the 80’s and early 90’s, but towards the end of the decade he had slipped into mediocrity. In essence, no one at Marvel comics knew what to do with Punisher. That was until Ennis and Dillon hoped on board. Their work, which began in the year 2000, would be revolutionary. It took a character that was essentially out in the woods and created a whole new world for him, bringing a gritty realism and macabre humor to a normally fun-loving Marvel universe. It would carve a whole different method of storytelling that took characters meant for kids and allowed them to cover serious subjects with no regard for continuity and other baggage. It would lead to “special forces” mentality at Marvel comics that created a explosion of new takes on old characters that was the Ultimate universe. This wave of reinvention would be the prototype for how to bring Marvel characters to the big screen.
I know all this not because I did the research, but because I read issues after issue of this amazing run, and consider myself lucky to have been able to witness it. Of course Dillon worked on other projects, to great critical acclaim, but to know his work won’t grace comic book pages anymore is a great loss to the industry and legions of comic book fans everywhere.
What follows is a collection of images from Dillon’s many projects. Please enjoy, and help remember one of the greatest comic talents of the last couple decades.
Rest in peace, Steve Dillon. You will be missed.