Practitioners 19: Steve Dillon

Steve Dillon is a British comic book artist from Luton, England. He has worked on a number of titles. He was penciller for some seminal works including the ‘Satanic Verses’ of Vertigo – Preacher, written by his consistent creative partner Garth Ennis (Preacher, Hellblazer, Punisher). Finding information on him is nigh on impossible as he seems to be as mysterious as The Saint of Killers, the iconic and legendary hunter of men designed by Dillon for the previously mentioned Preacher.

Dillon realised his potential as a serious comics artist during the production of a school comic book called ‘Sci Fi Adventures’ with school friends Neil Bailey and Paul Mahon in 1975. Dillon’s first strip in this comic was the brilliantly named ‘The Space Vampire’. This was followed by ‘Escape from Planet of the Apes’ which was drawn to a standard well beyond his years. In the late seventies Dillon wrote and illustrated a strip ‘Pi’ ina fanzine produced with Bailey called ‘Ultimate Science Fiction’.

To illustrate how far in advance of his age his drawing was Dillon secured his first professional gig in the first issue of Hulk Weekly for Marvel UK at the age of 16. He later worked on the Nick Fury. In the 1980s he also drew for Warrior and Doctor Who magazine, where he created the character Absolom Daak, Dalek Killer, a convicted killer given a reprieve for the death penalty in exchange for battling the bread bins from space. His concepts were significantly sharper and more broad than the children’s story of Doctor Who required but Dillon was going to get to sharpen his pencil for significantly darker story lines later on.

His work for 2000AD was prolific, from 1980 in Ro-Jaws’ Robo Tales: Final Solution with Alan Moore, through to a prominent position alongside Judge Dredd legends such as McMahon, Bolland and Ezquerra from 1981 to his last in 1987 and taking in Ro-Busters, Rogue Trooper, ABC Warriors and Bad Company and one shots and short runs like Hap Hazard (Prog 561 & 567, 1988) and Tyranny Rex (Prog 566-568, 1988).

In this time he completed initial redesigns for DC’s The Wanderers (a super hero team introduced in Legion of Superheroes – killed conveniently (redesigned) by Clonus, their Controller mentor and restored to a 13 issue story in the late 80s. These designs were abandoned and replaced by Robert Campanella. The series itself was drawn by Dave Hoover and Robert Campanella. Although frustrations occurred in the early days this shows signs DC were interested in the man himself as part of the British Invasion that was taking place at the time.

Along with Brett Ewins, Dillon started the comic magazine Deadline in 1988, which continued on for another seven years. Deadline was incredibly representative of the popular music/ comic book culture of the time and was to be the most successful of the 2000AD spin-offs of the period. It introduced the world to Jamie Hewlett and Tank Girl and championed the Brit Pop era that ultimately killed it off. However, by this time Dillon was working on US titles.

Finishing up with 2000AD with Harlem Heroes: Series 2 (Progs #671-676, 683-699 & 701-703, 1990) the move to the US happened with a shift over to Animal Man (now made popular by Grant Morrison’s 26 issue run) working alongside Tom Veitch for 18 issues.

Following this, Dillon worked on the gritty supernatural thriller Hellblazer, following down trodden semi-twat John Constantine through the dark confines of the supernatural underworld. Although incredibly popular and with a significant following and a feature film this was effectively a training ground for what came next. The critically acclaimed Preacher, following Jesse Custer ,disillusioned pastor struck by the supernatural power of Genesis and sent on a pilgrimage with his briefly estranged girlfriend Tulip O’ Hare and Irish Vampire Cassidy to find God and answer as to what he thought he was playing at.

In this series, Dillon brought his distinctive and clear cut artwork to life. It was written by Ennis with Dillon in mind and the majority of the action takes place in wide empty landscapes and run down detailess motels of middle America (and France). Dillon’s unambiguous artwork matched perfectly the unflinching content of Ennis’ writing: taking in sadism, masochism, buggery, a bulimic cardinal, a constantly physically humiliated villain, and the effects of an unkillable gunman from the depths of the earth facing off against an unwilling platoon of guardsmen. And thats just the beginning. I didn’t even mention the man with a face of an Arse.

Indeed, Arseface is potentially one of Dillon’s best designs, simultaneously massively deformed (everyone spontaneously vomits at the sight of him) and tragically, sensitively gallant. It makes the creation at once sympathetic and hilarious. Hard to explain, I encourage you to take a look for yourself.

Preacher ran for 66 glorious, sweary issues before concluding in 2000. It represents still a master work of irreverant character design and spacious, effective graphic story telling – at once representing romantic and traditional ideals with graphic and appalling violence and criminal scale debauchery.

From this (aside from an Atom special for DC) Dillon has continued to work with Marvel (and Ennis in part) beginning with transferring the mindless violence of Preacher to the pages of Punisher for Marvel Knights. This worked to great effect, with Dillon’s light touch and cinematic compositions offering an alternative version of the Punisher that had been prevalent since John Romita Jr’s run on Punisher: War Journal in the early 90s. Concentrating on Marvels MAX imprint Dillon drew for Straczynski’s Supreme Power spin off : Nighthawk and then to the 5 issue mini-series Bullseye: Greatest Hits (2005) – mixing it up almost immediately after with Punisher Vs Bullseye 5 issue mini series from 2005-2006).

Dillon went A-list with Marvel when offered a run with Wolverine: Origins 1-25. While his unfussy panels reduced the gravity and roughness of the central character, the violence and brutality of the title was understandably well realised.

Then it was back to Punisher with Garth Ennis in 2009 for a 6 issue series of Punisher: War Zone and Punisher MAX with Jason Aaron, an ongoing series still running now.

The high point of his career was perhaps Preacher as it utilised his skills most keenly with landscape, composition, content and characterisation but Dillon is a commercial artist hard to beat – offering accessible, enjoyable and clearly depicted panels that allow the writer’s story to flow through. This is often underestimated but as a storyteller Dillon is an exceptional practitioner. Who else can show you a Vampire getting his nuts blown off and raise a smile?

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