We’re sorry to report the passing of comic creator Kevin O’Neill, who died last week, after a long illness. Here, we highlight some of the key aspects of his long and distinguished career, including his work for 2000AD; and fellow comic creators, friends and fans, celebrate their memories of an extraordinary comic artist…
Kevin’s work is unmistakeable – once described by 2000AD‘s Michael Molcher as a “burst of feverish, even deranged imagination filled with monstrous aliens, mutants, robots and grotesque humans. Utterly unique in comics, his work has maintained an iconoclastic intensity that has no match.”
There is no doubt he has been a major influence on many other creators, initially establishing himself as an artist of note through his work for various fanzines in the 1970s, and beginning his professional comics career as an office boy for the weekly Fleetway comic, Buster, and working on 2000AD as both artist and in editorial roles.
He is probably best known for his work on “Nemesis The Warlock” and “ABC Warriors” for 2000AD, working with Pat Mills, the former ensuring his place as a British comic great. Other major credits include Metalzoic and Marshal Law, again with Pat Mills, and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, co-created with Alan Moore.
One of O’Neill’s earliest works for the US market was Tales of the Green Lantern Corps Annual #2, which he drew from a script by Alan Moore, a story that introduced concepts that later materialised as the Blackest Night storyline from Geoff Johns.
“Ironically, O’Neill’s work on the issue was briefly threatened when the Comics Code Authority refused to approve it,” notes Russ Burlingame for ComicBook, in a tribute to the artist. “When pressed, they reportedly said that it was O’Neill’s ‘entire style’ they objected to. Ultimately, in what was still a rarity in the 1980s, DC elected to publish the book without the Code’s approval.”
Kevin made no secret of his own influences. Interviewed for The Times in 2009 about The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, he noted he and Alan Moore were born in the same year – 1953.
“We both read the same comics as kids and we were both big fans of the Beano and The Dandy. They were full of detail and full of background in a way the modern versions are not. I also read Mad paperbacks. I went to a Catholic school and Mad was banned. It was seen as pernicious. Pretty much all comics were frowned upon but Mad was seen as the worst offender. But I laughed at Mad‘s stuff, even though I wasn’t aware that it was Jewish satirical humour. There was a richness, a depth to the jokes and I could kind of work out the Americanisms if I saw enough of them. Mad had great guys working for them – Bill Elder, Wallace Wally Wood – who would layer in so many other points of humour into the background, so many things that you could go back and read and reread. There was so much to soak up. You would want to try it yourself. Those early influences did play a part. I gives me pleasure including those details.
“When I look at the contemporary versions of the comics of my childhood, they all seem very bare and basic and uninvolving, which wasn’t so in the Fifties and Sixties,” he felt. “Back then there was a rich British comics industry, not just the humour stuff. There was a length and breadth of creative talent the like of which will probably never be seen again. It was really quite astonishing. Not that I’m comparing myself to those artists, but I would like to tap into the effect they had.”
Recent comic related projects have included working with Hibernia on collections of some of his lesser-known work, and on strips such as the “Kids Rule O.K.” story with Garth Ennis for this year’s Battle Action Special. His final comics work will feature in this year’s 2000AD Christmas Special, reviving Bonjo from Beyond the Stars, a story scripted by Garth.
“What happened really was Alan retired me early,” O’Neill joked with ComicBook.com’s Jamie Lovett earlier this year, when asked about the apparent end of his comics career. “Alan’s retirement from comics, it meant he was stopping writing comics. That was the end of it. I didn’t say I was retiring. I thought this might be the last comic I draw, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and I was very happy. We actually got to the ending and gave it a proper ending. That was very important to us to do that. But I was still up for doing comics, it just depended on what they were.
“I’ve illustrated two books of my own. They’re not comic strip books, they’re full-colour illustrated books, and I’ve done two of them, and I was very pleased with them, but in the middle of that, I got the request from Rebellion, ‘Would you be interested in the Garth story?’ And that’s perfect, and that was perfect for me, came just at the right moment. I really enjoyed it. I enjoy doing comics.”
Our sympathies to Kevin’s family and friends at this sad time.
The following tribute to Kevin O’Neill has been posted to the Official Alan Moore Facebook Page
Thus is the course of fable’s river run
To flood with jewels the delta of its end.
Here is the summit peak of let’s-pretend;
Now is the story of all stories done,
And we hail our imaginary friends
Before the curtain of the stars descends.
Paying tribute to Kevin, longtime co-conspirator, Pat Mills told downthetubes, “Talking the sad news over with writer Tony Skinner – who was very close to Kevin – Tony said, ‘Why can’t cool people live forever?’
“That’s so true. Kevin was the coolest.”
“Everyone at 2000AD is devastated to learn of the death of artist Kevin O’Neill,” notes a statement from the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic’s publisher, Rebellion.
“His death is a monumental loss for comics. Truly unique, truly a genius, O’Neill made art like no-one else could or will; we were richer for having known him, and poorer for having lost him.
“Words like ‘unique’ and ‘genius’ are not uncommon in the pantheon of 2000AD creators, but no-one deserves them more than O’Neill, whose innovative, iconoclastic, idiosyncratic, inventive, visionary, and provocative work still has the ability to shock and dazzle, even decades after its first publication.”
“Our very deepest condolences go out to his family, his friends, his colleagues, and all those who have been in some way touched by the magic of Kevin O’Neill.”
“I knew Kevin from way back when he was an office boy at Fleetway and I was hanging around there at lunchtimes trying to pick up freelance work,” recalls artist and writer Dave Gibbons. “I remember lettering a story he’d written and drawn for one of Dez Skinn’s early fanzines.
“We got to know each other quite well over the years and were part of a little gang (along with Mick McMahon, Brian Bolland, Nick Landau, Robin Smith and Richard Burton) that would go to conventions together and meet once a month for a boys night out in London.
“Kev was a hugely valuable part of 2000AD, originally as assistant art editor then as one of its most distinctive creators. He got my work in front of editor Pat Mills which led to me being onboard from the first issue. He was also responsible in having creator credits on stories, which was a giant leap forward from the established practice of anonymity.
“Kev was a modest yet outspoken man with a wicked sense of humour and a fund of great stories about the world of comics. He was influenced by the work of UK humour artists like Ken Reid and the American Jack Cole but brought to comics a style and excitement uniquely his own.”
“I’m so sad to hear the news about Kevin,” illustrator Colin Wyatt told downthetubes. “I began working with Kevin in the 2000AD office back in 1978, and took over from him as Art Editor, when he left to go freelance, soon after. As the years go by we have lost so many talented artists. Kevin’s artwork had a very distrinctive and creative style and like them he will be sadly missed.
“It was Kevin that was instrumental in my turning freelance myself,” Colin adds. “In early 1980 he was visiting a London-based company with a view to doing some artwork for them. It was for a planned children’s TV series and he didn’t think it was quite his style, so because my work was younger and because of my Disney connections, Kevin very generously recommended me to them. I was offered the job, but the company ran out of money before I could start and the job fell through. However, it gave me the push I needed to make the decision to branch out on my own, so I was grateful to Kevin I hadn’t seen him for some time, the last time was at a convention a few years ago, but I have fond memories of working with him and I will miss him.”
“I am very sad to hear of the death of Kevin O’Neill,” Kelvin Gosnell tells downthetubes. “Together with me, Jan Shepheard and Pat, Kev was one of the original 2000AD-four ‘staffers’ who were there before and during the launch of the magazine.
“He was an immensely creative guy to work with – challenging your ideas and coming up with more of his own. His style of art and creativity was powerful, witty and hit-you-in-the-face unique. This startling individuality re-wrote the book of comic-strip art and style.
“Above all, though, Kev was great fun to work with. We had some great times: howling with laughter over the latest entry on the 2000AD Excuseometer; driving out of Bray Studios dressed in costume from Space: 1999 in an American car the size of a battleship; and exploring the original Fortress of Solitude on the Bond sound-stage after interviewing FX supremo Derek Meddings and Thunderbirds‘ creator Gerry Anderson. It was never dull. Thanks for everything, Kev, you’ll be sorely missed.”
“Kevin was an extraordinary creative talent,” writes Forbidden Planet co-owner Nick Landau, Kevin O’Neill his editorial partner during his editorship of 2000AD. Nick first met him in the mid 1970s, when he was designing a magazine for one of the Interplanetary Societies.
“Not only did he have a unique vision as an artist, but he was a consummate designer and storyteller. We worked together on 2000AD, during possibly its most revolutionary period where we (he even more than I) oversaw the very first comic creator credits, the return of artwork (still patchy in our day) and, working with Pat Mills and John Wagner, the introduction of longer storylines like ‘The Cursed Earth’, which enabled more character development and inspired by our shared love of US comics.
“It was the best of days and I’ll be forever grateful that we were able to share those fun and intense times together…”
“Working as a staffer with Kevin at Fleetway was a joy,” agrees former 2000AD editor and comics writer Steve MacManus. “Often, one would hear his inimitable chuckle at some latest example of human folly to have caught his disbelieving eye. And then, soon after, when he went freelance, the opportunity to admire at first hand his unique art style, soon to delight the wider world of comicdom.”
“When I started designing 2000AD, I remember finding Kevin O’Neill’s original logo designs for ‘ABC Warriors’, ‘Ro-Busters’ and ‘Nemesis’, designer and photographer Steve Cook tells us, “and realising that I had a lot to live up to. Kev was an incredibly innovative artist and designer, with a graphic sensibility that will never be matched or replicated. He left us far too soon.”
“Dreadful news, such a loss,” author and former 2000AD editor David Bishop comments. “Kevin O’Neill was a true comics original – innovative, mischievous, iconoclastic, inventive, and a consummate professional. That’s not a combination you find very often. Every 2000AD creator can thank Kevin for smuggling credits into the comic.
“I was lucky enough to commission Kev to draw the last ever ‘Nemesis’, for Prog 2000. Kev was such a pro, he redrew one page after handing in the job because he wasn’t happy with it!”
“There was a time in the early 1980s at 2000AD when it felt as if Kevin O’Neill and Mick McMahon were pushing each other to ever great heights of brilliance and insanity” notes artist and comics archivist David Roach. “My first art job for 2000AD was drawing ‘Nemesis’ so I owe Kevin an enormous debt of thanks for creating this incredible visual universe to play around with.”
“I interviewed Kev for my fanzine Fantasy Express in 1982, for which he also drew a stunning wraparound cover featuring Nemesis,” recalls comic artist and writer Lew Stringer. “We soon became friends, meeting up at the regular Westminster Comic Marts, and the nearby Westminster Arms, along with the rest of the 2000AD crew of the time.
“We collaborated on comics a few times too. Kev drew a two page chapter of my Brickman comic in 1986, “Brickman goes to Hell” and illustrated a story I wrote for the first Oink! Annual, “The Truth About Santa”. Both strips in the early part of my career and Kev was always encouraging which gave me a good boost.
“Kevin drifted away from comics conventions around the late 1990s as I recall, but in recent years he’d got back in touch and we’d exchanged texts and had several long phone conversations, often recalling the heyday of the 1980s.
“The very last message I had from Kev, in July, he was talking about how saddened he was that ‘our old guard’ were passing away (eg: Garry Leach and Alan Grant). I don’t think either of us knew then that he’d be next. We’d intended to meet up again, but I had no idea how ill he was.
“The news of his passing came as a total shock. It’s very hard to imagine he’s gone but what I’ll always remember though, apart from Kev’s incredible artwork, is his sharp acid wit and the laughs we all had at London marts and conventions in the 1980s/90s. The best of times with the best people.”
“There’s sure to be many a yarn within these tributes weaving tales of Kevin’s younger; wilder days,” reminisces Josh Palmano at Knockabout Comics. “Though our paths crossed from the late 1970s onwards, my friendship with Kevin flourished in the last 12 years of his life. He and I were drawn closer together when Alan and Kevin put the publication of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen into the hands of Knockabout Comics and Top Shelf Productions.
“From then on, I had the honour and delight of scanning each exquisite, freshly inked page of Kevin’s ‘League’ work. Each visit, when Kevin would drop off those emaculate, precision finished yet anarchic pages, brought its own thrill.
“The scans I would then pass on to Todd Klein in the United States for layout and lettering, he would in turn make them available to Ben Dimagmaliw in Japan, to colour. They would then fall back in my lap, to present to Kevin for review.
“Though spanning three continents, there was such a closeness, warmth and respect between those involved in the creation of the books; Alan, Kevin, Todd and Ben. It was a pleasure for me to play some small part in facilitating their creative process.
“Out of Kevin’s and my working relationship, a friendship grew.
“Though a very private person, and not one to freely express his vulnerabilities, Kevin proved remarkably supportive to me during a rough patch in my life some years back. It was during that period that Kevin truly wrote himself into my life.
An outstanding professional, a master craftsman, a man with no small touch of a wild side, and a dear friend. I miss him deeply.”
“I met Kevin in-person only once but he had treated me as an old friend, and despite his obvious industry standing, also as a professional peer,” recalls The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen colourist Ben Dimagmaliw for downthetubes.
“Over the two decades we collaborated on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, we came to know one another, discovering that his career aligned with my own consumption of British books, movies, and television. I knew many of the references and characters he put into his pages and hearing his personal insights regarding them was always a joy. The experience of working with Kevin was a high point of my career, but befriending Kevin remains to this day a high point of my life. Rest in peace. And thank you.”
“We had worked a lot with Kevin over the past two decades, and had the highest personal and professional regard for him, and of course the impact he has had on the comics landscape cannot be overstated,” say the GOSH Comics shop team in a statement.
“Kevin was a regular sight here at Gosh, whether popping by to sign plates or prints, or just coming to meet Josh for a coffee or lunch. It’s always unusual when someone whom you have revered from afar becomes a familiar, friendly face, and so it was for us Gosh old-timers and Kev. A friendly face who happened to be one of the greatest comics artists the UK has ever produced, whose influential shadow looms large and yet whose work is so personal and unique that it is impossible to imitate.”
“Kev O’Neill was one of the most unique artists in British comics history and the very least we can do in his memory today is share his art to those who may not have ever seen it,” commented artist and colourist Owen Watts.
“These ‘pin up’ images [featured below] appear in some of earliest issues of 2000AD and I genuinely think about them all the time. These bizarre epic alien artefacts with their own little mythologies. They weren’t connected to anything else but they were breathtakingly drawn and fired the imagination more than whole stories could.
“His art was at once totally alien and completely accessible. There are many that try, but there are none that can match him.”
“Big robots, machine tracks, oil cans with straws and tax disks – Kevin O’Neill was the robot artist,” notes David McDonald of Hibernia Comics, one of the publisher’s who worked most recently with Kevin. “Glorious colour double page spreads from the ‘ABC Warriors’ and the amazing Starlord covers, I lapped up any of his art, Saturday mornings spent taking in every detail. I followed his art throughout the eighties like most, his turn on ‘Nemesis the Warlock’, Book One was astonishing. His art on that book was particularly unsettling. It slips from cartoon to grotesque with ease, in particular the sequence with the very lucky ‘Nosedrip’!
“Marshal Law was another groundbreaking series as was his opus, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. But, with the pull of Robots, Metalzoic is by far my favourite of his art. John Pain was the latest of his work that I discovered (through him suggesting that Hibernia reprint it). The short ‘Kingdom of Ziturk’ in Monster Massacre was also a new discovery for me.
“His work as an art editor, his brilliant designs and logos are often overlooked. The covers to 2000AD prog 63, 112, and 167 in particular, as well as his logos to ‘Death Planet’, ‘Diceman’ and TOXIC show his design nous.”
Hibernia’s first Kevin O’Neill collection, in conjunction with Rebellion, was Cosmic Comics, a collection of Kevin’s short run and lesser known stories and covers from 2000AD, Tornado, Lion, Starlord and Oink.
“It had long been an ambition of mine to bring his brilliant MAD-inspired Captain Klep back into print,” David tells downthetubes, “and Cosmic Comics was the place to do it.
“A while after publication Kevin got in touch through Gosh Comics to ask if we would like to reprint Cosmic Comics and add some pages from his private collection. Needless to say, Richard Pearce and I jumped at the opportunity to work with one of the giants of the comics industry.
“What resulted was a second edition of Cosmic Comics, with an added ‘cut out and keep’ section called ‘Kev’s Own’. Designed and edited by Kevin with Richard Pearce and featuring rare art and designs from Kevin’s own collection. I can easily say that this is my favourite Hibernia collection and it was a privilege to be involved in.
“Since the publication of that second edition, I was lucky enough to be in contact with Kevin. The conversations usually revolved around IPC, designs, editors and other trivia from the seventies. For example, this snippet gives such an insight:
“Back in the early 1970s I was transferred from Buster/Valiant art dept to the new colour dept run by the charming Gina Hart. Great training ground. Did a lot of four colour and two colour work spread across Whizzer and Chips, Lion, Jinty and others. At one point, our small department (five people, tops) shared office space with Gina’s sister June, who was Jack LeGrand’s secretary. Gina, a few years later provided the ‘Rosette of Sirius’ jewellery for our Tharg mask and June donated the false pony tail. Small world, eh?”
David did suggest Kevin should write his memoir. “It would have been great,” David notes, ruefully.
“I can’t claim to have known him well, but Kevin couldn’t have been more generous with his time and expertise. An amazing and unique artist and designer, sincere condolences to his family and friends.”
“My first encounter with Kevin O’Neill’s art was the early ‘ABC Warriors’ tale, ‘The Order of Knights Martial’, adds Hibernia’s Richard Pearce.
“I hadn’t read any of the other ‘ABC Warriors’ stories, and coming to 2000AD from DC Thomson comics like The Beano and The Dandy, Pat Mills’ robot warriors were a real culture shock.
“Then, on top of all that, came Kev’s art – angular, sinister and unlike anything else I’d ever seen. I was hooked, and I devoured his work on ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ and ‘Metalzoic’ in 2000AD, and then later on Marshal Law. It was his work on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen that was perhaps his greatest achievement though.
“I’d missed the hype and pre-release talk about Alan Moore’s ABC imprint and the League, and it was only after the first series had been completed that I started to track down the individual issues. Each was a design joy, from the themed covers to the illustrated period adverts and pulp adventure tale, but Kevin’s art was just remarkable.
“The series gave him chance to shine at the monstrous, grotesque, comic and mechanical, but it also gave him a showcase for his skill at character work, which I think was often under appreciated. When the second volume released in 2002, I was living in Tasmania and visiting New Zealand, and I have vivid memories of trying to hunt down each new issue as it released, first from a comic shop in Hobart, then in cities around New Zealand as my family and I toured the country in a camper van.
“I pored over each new issue as we travelled, always finding something new to enjoy in Kevin’s art as it took readers from the canyons of Mars to railway sidings in rural England. As a fan of his work it was an absolute pleasure to present his early work in Cosmic Comics, and an even greater thrill to have Kevin contribute directly to the second edition. He was enthusiastic, generous with his time and far too modest about his own art. It was a joy to have him working with us and one of the highlights of my time contributing to Hibernia’s books, and I’m very sad to hear of his passing.”
“How do you sum up Kevin O’Neill?” says Garth Ennis. “A wonderful bloke, great company, very funny. A brilliant artist, easily the most subversive of his generation, with something splendidly dubious in almost every line he put on the page. His contribution to 2000AD as art editor was obviously crucial, not the least of his achievements being the creator credits he sneaked onto the strips. The stories he created and drew were simply legendary: ‘Ro-Busters’, ‘ABC Warriors’, Metalzoic, Marshall Law, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and – reigning supreme – the mind-melting splendour of ‘Nemesis the Warlock’.
“Kevin only drew a couple of things for me, but he was a pleasure to work with and a total professional (it’s not lost on me that his last work to see print will be bloody ‘Bonjo From Beyond The Stars’, but knowing his fondness for the character I think he’d have found that darkly amusing). All in all the man was a titan, so you don’t even try to sum him up. You just say – thank you, Kev.“
Kevin O’Neill, 22nd August 1953 – November 2022
Our thanks to everyone who responded to our appeal for their memories of Kevin; I’m sure the fact that this tribute turned into a bit of a beast will amuse him, where ever he is! There are many more individual tributes on social media and on various web sites.
Our thanks in particular to David McDonald, for providing a huge amout of rare art created by Kevin
• 2000AD: Kevin O’Neill 1953 – 2022
• ComicBook tribute by Russ Burlingame
• R.I.P. Kevin O’Neill – a tribute by Michael Carroll
• Kevin O’Neill – A Pictorial Tribute by Steve Cook
• FA – The Comiczine – Kevin O’Neill – a tribute by Tony Keen
• Gosh! Comics – November 2022
• Kevin O’Neill Remembered, by Pat Mills
• Kevin O’Neill, RIP, by Nick Landau
• RIP Kevin O’Neill Veteran British Comic Artist – a Tripwire tribute by Joel Meadows
• The Comics Journal – Kevin O’Neill – An Appreciation by David Roach
• Lew Stringer
• Kevin O’Neill – His work for Oink – a tribute by Philip Boyce
Credits, Books and Art
• Mek Memoirs Facsimile Edition – available from Dark and Golden Books
• Kevin O’Neill art on Art Droids
• Kevin O’Neill art on ComicArtFans
• Kevin O’Neill – 2000AD Creator Credits
• Kevin O’Neill – Grand Comic Database Chronological Credits
• 2001: Barbelith Webzine (Wayback Archive)
• 2002: Pop Matters (Wayback Archive)
• 2009: The Times (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen focused)
• 2010: The Comics Journal (Wayback Archive)
• 2021: The 2000AD Thrill-Cast Lockdown Tapes – Kevin O’Neill, Part One
• 2021: The 2000AD Thrill-Cast Lockdown Tapes – Kevin O’Neill, Part Two
All art featured © respective creators or publishers
This item was updated on 22nd November 2022 to add in a tribute from artist Colin Wyatt