Yesterday we were all hit with the terrible news that Steve Dillon, acclaimed artist of Preacher, Hellblazer, and The Punisher (amongst many others) died at the age of 54.
Dillon holds a singular honour amongst comic-book artists for me – he drew some of my all-time favourite comics, and his visions of certain characters and stories are exactly what I visualize when I thing of them. When I think of the Fight at the Alamo, I think of Steve Dillon’s work; when I think of John Constantine’s fortieth birthday, I think of Steve Dillon’s work; when I think of Frank Castle punching a polar bear, I think of Steve Dillon’s work.
He is most notably the man behind Jessie Custer, Tulip O’Hare, and Cassidy (I’m not giving away the other part of his name in case you haven’t read Preacher – and if you haven’t, get to it!), but his drawings of John Constantine define, for me, his wry looks, downcast eyes, and subtle twists of the mouth that define everyone’s favourite magical bastard. Dillon’s work on The Punisher also includes some of the funniest storylines ever told about the character (I’d feel sorry for Ma Gnucci if she wasn’t such an awful human being and the storyline so damn funny).
I’ve heard some criticisms that Dillon was known as two-face Dillon, i.e., that his characters often shared the same face. There’s some truth to this (when you look at some panels, Jessie Custer looks like John Constantine with black hair and a perm), but I’d argue that there are far more than two faces, and, more importantly, Dillon’s subtlety with faces is, for me, unmatched in comic books. He used very simple lines, but in those lines captured the full range of human emotion. If you ever want to see what the man could do in this regard, I implore you to look at the Hellblazer special Heartland, which is a Hellblazer story without John Constantine. And then, of course, there’s Arseface.
There are other more hyperrealistic artists in the field, and some may argue more technically proficient ones, but for the stories that Dillon told in pictures, I feel he was unmatched. There was simplicity but an unbelievable attention to detail, subtleness, and nuance in his work. With a single panel he could bring you to tears.
But more than often these were tears of laughter.