In Memoriam: Comic Artist Steve Dillon, A True Legend of Comics

Brett Ewins, Jamie Hewlett and Steve Dillon in the Deadline office in 1988. Photo courtesy Steve Cook / National Portrait Gallery
Brett Ewins, Jamie Hewlett and Steve Dillon in the Deadline office in 1988. Photo courtesy Steve Cook / National Portrait Gallery

We’re very sorry to report the passing of gifted and much-loved comic artist Steve Dillon, a renowned talent rightfully described by Jamie McElvie as “a true legend of comics“, perhaps best known internationally for his run on DC Comics Hellblazer and as co-creator of Preacher, both published by Vertigo Comics, but for British fans captured the hearts of many with his work on Hulk Weekly and Doctor Who Weekly in the 1970s and early 1980s.

His brother Glyn Dillon, author of the graphic novel Nao of Brown, broke the news of his “big brother and my hero” Steve’s death on Twitter earlier this weekend, to the dismay of fellow creators and his many fans worldwide.

He died in New York, aged just 54, some days after his last major public appearance, signing for fans at New York Comic Con.

A Doctor Who Magazine house ad for Marvel UK's Abslom Daak Dalek Killer book, featuring the cover art by Steve Dillon
A Doctor Who Magazine house ad for Marvel UK’s Abslom Daak Dalek Killer book, featuring the cover art by Steve Dillon

Although Steve was one of many comic creators that frequented the same London major comics events of the early 1980s as I did, our paths crossed only once professionally, when I coaxed him back to draw the cover of a Marvel UK collection of Abslom Daak, Dalek Killer and draw a black and white head shot of the grizzled antihero which was also used on a short run promotional t-shirt to promote the book for a signing. Having enjoyed the original strip, and Steve’s other work, for many years, it was a delight to have the chance to work with him. I wish there had been more opportunities; when Steve Moore pitched an Abslom Daak mini series to myself and Dan Abnett in the early 1990s, there was, of course, only one artist I had in mind to draw it.

As you’ll see below, many comic creators have much stronger and affectionate memories of Steve as both artist and friend, a man Rich Johnston describes over on Bleeding Cool as “the greatest English gentleman“, reporting further on his final public appearance and also providing a round up of creator memories of the man gathered from social media.

“I was called on by DC Comics publisher Dan DiDio to recommend a comic for someone who just hadn’t read comics before,” Rich writes. “I said Preacher, for Steve Dillon’s art, a master of crafted simplicity who could draw the eye from panel to panel. DiDio said that surprised him, but it’s the truth. Steve Dillon was one of the best comic book storytellers there was. It also happened that he was a true gent to match.”

NYCC 2016 - Steve Dillion
Steve Dillon, representing the UK with some Punisher for fans at New York Comic Con 2016. Photo: Tony Esmond

Among other incredible contributions to comics, not least of them co-creating Deadline, Steve’s work on Marvel UK’s HULK Weekly, 2000AD and Warrior remains influential to this day, both on readers and fellow artists, his comic career beginning aged at just 15 when he published his own stripzine, Ultimate Science Fiction, and contributed spot illos to various fanzines.

Steve's Ultimate Science Fiction, published in 1977 (with thanks to Lew Stringer)
Steve’s Ultimate Science Fiction, published in 1977 (with thanks to Lew Stringer)

Discovered by editor Richard Burton, his professional career began aged 16 in 1978 drawing “Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” for  Hulk Weekly, edited by Dez Skinn.

Steve's "Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." for Hulk Weekly, published by Marvel UK
Steve’s “Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.” for Hulk Weekly, published by Marvel UK

Dave Gibbons recalls spending four hours talking to Steve at the time, counseling whether he should go to art school or straight into comics. “Like his many other friends, I shall miss him greatly.”

“I’m still having difficulty taking it in,” says Dez Skinn. “The memory of Steve working for me as an amazingly original young artist remains so vivid.

“By accepting my contract, the downside was he did miss out on the university joys of discovering pubs, pool, and persons of the opposite sex – with him opting to begin his full time comics career aged a tender 16. But my faith in his ability was such that within his first six months I had him competing with artists three times his age, drawing ‘ The Incredible Hulk’, ‘Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., ‘Ant-Man’ and the cult anti-hero Abslom Daak for Doctor Who Weekly.

A panel from one of Steve Dillon's Blake's 7 strips for Marvel UK's Blake's 7 Monthly
A panel from one of Steve Dillon’s Blake’s 7 strips for Marvel UK’s Blake’s 7 Monthly

“And after Marvel, he was a mainstay at our Soho design studio (where we certainly did find time to socialise and I was able to help him make up for what he’d missed in his teenage years).

“And then while he was sharing my house, he became the first person I signed to work on Warrior (he drew various covers, including number one, the Daak-like psychotic cyborg Axel Pressbutton and even an episode of Marvelman)..

“Steve was a true original, a natural destined to bring pleasure to the world with his amazing work.”

Steve Dillon's cover for Warrior Issue One
Steve Dillon’s cover for Warrior Issue One

“Steve was a great guy and a terrific talent,” notes one of his fellow Hulk Weekly artists, David Lloyd. “One of those comic artists you could call a ‘ natural ‘. I am deeply saddened to hear the news.”

With writer Steve Moore, he was co-creator of Abslom Daak, Dalek Killer and the Cyberman with a soul, Kroton for Doctor Who Magazine (back when it was Doctor Who Weekly), and was responsible for visualizing some of the most memorable back-up strips in the early issues of the comic magazine. In 1982, he was one of the first artists to work on Warrior, drawing “Laser Eraser and Pressbutton” also providing the cover of the first issue, also working for 2000AD drawing various “Future Shocks” and “Judge Dredd”.

“I was so sad to hear about Steve Dillon,” says 2000AD creator Pat Mills. “I recall his ‘Dalek Killer’ with Steve Moore and I thought it was more powerful and emotional than my Doctor Who story in the same issues of the magazine. It was brilliant work. The same applies to the Diceman stories he did with me.

“He had such a feeling for film noir. He was one of the comic greats.”

“This is sad, sad news,” commented John Wagner. “I was looking through some old progs a couple of years ago and came across some of Steve’s early work. It knocked me sideways. I knew he was good but, to my shame, I never realised quite how good. One of the most brilliant artists ever to put pen to paper for 2000AD.

“And, although I never admitted it to him, he was a better pool player than me.”

In 1988, Steve co-founded the comics magazine Deadline with Brett Ewins – another much-admired achievement.

“All of these fine people have left us,” mourns photographer Steve Cook. “Tom Frame, Brett Ewins and now, Steve Dillon. I hope they’ve found a nice pub elsewhere. R.I.P.”

“Steve was an inspiration to us all, and a big brother to so many,” says Rufus Dayglo.”He and Brett Ewins inspired a whole generation of us to start making comic books.

“I have many memories of Steve and Tom Frame in Kentish Town at the pub. Running into Steve at pubs in New York, and Ireland. Even calling into pubs in Luton looking for him on a number of occasions!

“Every memory is framed by his kindness, graciousness, humility and humour.”

“This is truly terrible news,” says writer Simon Furman. “I can’t really take it in. My experience of Steve was always this consummate professional who never took it too seriously or wanted to blow his own trumpet.

“He drew my first pro job as a scriptwriter and showed how you really can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. What a lovely guy, what an immense talent – he will be sorely missed.”

Preacher by Steve Dillon
Preacher by Steve Dillon

Steve began working on DC/Vertigo’s Hellblazer in 1992 with Garth Ennis, then co-creating Preacher, which ended its run in 2000. From there he moved to Marvel’s The Punisher, a character many consider he made his own, working again with Daniel Way and, more recently, Becky Cloonan.

“It was an honour to work with such a legend,” says Becky. “Lost for words right now.”

Spider-Man and Punisher by Steve Dillon

Punisher vs Polar Bear by Steve Dillon
Punisher vs Polar Bear by Steve Dillon

On his own Twitter, started in December last year he commented on how much he had enjoyed working on another Marvel title, Scarlet Witch.

Scarlet Witch by Steve Dillon
Scarlet Witch by Steve Dillon

“I was so pleased for him when his co-created Preacher title become such a brilliant TV series,” notes Dez Skinn. “At least he got to see it happen.”

“Steve Dillon will be missed by us all here at DC and Vertigo,” commented a Vertigo Comics spokesperson on Twitter, describing his passing as the loss of “a giant among creators and artists.”

Commenting on Steve’s artistic legacy, artist David Roach, shocked by the news as are so many in the comics community, is full of praise.

“We both drew for the same comic – 2000AD – and were often in the same issue together, although strangely, I never actually met him. For me, his high points as an artist were his first few Judge Dredd strips, such as this from Prog 205 and the legendary ‘Block Mania’ storyline.

2000AD Prog 205 - Judge Dredd by Steve Dillon

“Incredibly, he was only 19 when he drew this page but had already been a professional for some three or four years before this. Incredible. In those days, drawing Dredd was considered a real honour and you usually had to draw for the comic for several years before beig given a shot at it.

“It took me five years – Steve waltzed into it almost straight away. He really was that good.”

Judge Dredd - Block Mania art by Steve Dillon

His views were echoed on Twitter by Staz Johnson, who says he is absolutely devastated by the news.

“When I was 16, I took the train to London and blagged my way into the Marvel UK offices in Kentish town. I showed them my amateurish scribblings, only for the editor I met to pull out a bunch of pages which were massive, full of power and drama. He looked at me and said, the guy who drew these is only 18. My jaw hit the floor with a ‘thud’.

“Those pages were Steve Dillon’s Abslom Daak. I couldn’t get my head around how someone so young could be that good. I can’t believe he’s gone.”

Art from Doctor Who - "Abslom Daak, Dalek Killer Episode 1" for Doctor Who, written by Steve Moore, art by Steve Dillon
Art from Doctor Who – “Abslom Daak, Dalek Killer Episode 1” for Doctor Who, written by Steve Moore, art by Steve Dillon

“Steve’s work at Marvel UK and on Doctor Who Weekly was a huge influence on me and that love continues on,” notes Adrian Salmon, who helped bring Kroton back to Doctor Who Magazine. “I loved how he used a brush and tried hard to emulate him that made think I could do this. I wasn’t of course, ready, but Steve and a few others pointed me in the direction I took into the business.”

“It’s the start of a new day, the sun’s not up yet and it’s dark out there,” commented John Higgins earlier this weekend, I think, summing up a lot of what people online have said about this great artist – and man.

“I have read many wonderful and touching tributes and personal memories about Steve Dillon. Seeing him in old photos with other friends no longer with us is breaking my heart.

“He was larger in life in so many ways and he is rightly being remember by everyone differently. He was a gifted artist, brilliant raconteur, loving dad, the best Guinness drinking buddy I have ever had.

“The sun’s now up, Steve has gone and it is still a dark day out there.

“We love you Steve”.

• Steve’s family has asked that memorial donations be made to Hero Initiative. You can do so at this link

Rich Johnston pays tribute to Steve here

Lew Stringer has a tribute to Steve here

My thanks to Steve Cook for the use of his Deadline photographs and all the other creators whio have kindly given permission to feature their memories of Steve in this item.

• If you can find a copy, Vworp Vworp! Issue Two ran an extensive interview with Steve which is comics gold. “Everything you could ever want to know about drawing comics for a living is in there,” says Adrian Salmon. “No pretence – just rock solid advice.”

All art featured above © respective publishers or creators as applicable. Steve Cook photographs © Steve Cook. Tony Esmond’s NYCC photograph © Tony Esmond

 

John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a “freelance comics operative”, currently working as a freelance editor for TITAN COMICS, as Creative Consultant on the new DAN DARE audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL and LANCASTER COMICS DAY.

John has worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years, starting out at Marvel UK, where he edited a number of the Genesis 1992 books with Paul Neary. His numerous credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines, where he was Managing Editor.

He also edited STRIP Magazine and worked as an editor on several audio comics for ROK Comics, including TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. and THE BEATLES STORY.

Most recently he is writing CRUCIBLE as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and DEATH DUTY and SKOW DOGS with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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