You just never know when it’s going to happen or to whom. Comics lost a master of the form today in Steve Dillon. The exact cause of his death hasn’t been revealed yet, but he was only 54. While he was best known in the U.S. for collaborating with Garth Ennis on “Hellblazer,” “Preacher,” and “Punisher” starting in the 90’s, he was already a legend in the U.K. for his work on many titles there, particularly “2000 A.D.” the home of “Judge Dredd” and numerous other titles. Currently he was enjoying another victory lap on the Becky Cloonan-written “Punisher” series and providing the covers to Ennis’ latest “Sixpack & Dogwelder: Hard Travelin’ Heroz” miniseries.
For me, there was no one better at portraying convincing human emotion in comics. Dillon may not have had the most detailed linework, or make the supernatural look convincingly unreal, but his characters emoted on the page in a way that was always believable. Whether it was John Constantine’s disaffected cigarette-smoking face, Jesse Custer’s shit-eating grin, or Frank Castle’s ever-present scowl that let you know he was already over whatever was coming his way, Dillon knew how to sum up a character with his art. You could tell what kind of person they were just from the look he had put on their face, and even a little of what they were thinking too.
That was never more clear than in one of my all-time favorite comic panels. *Spoilers for “Preacher vol. 7: Alamo” follow, natch.* In the final volume of “Preacher,” Tulip finally comes face-to-face with Starr who charges at her while firing his gun only to run out of bullets. The entire sequence is a masterful bit of action and drama as we see Starr go completely over the edge in a way that we haven’t seen until now. Looking at it again, I also notice how Starr’s rampage even catches Tulip off-guard in a way that has her concerned that she’s not going to make it through this. It’s essentially written on her face, you see.
But the bit that always stuck with me is the one right after we see Starr run out of ammo. In that panel, Tulip gets this look of utter demonic glee on her face. It’s this look that says, “You’re an asshole who has done so much bad shit in his life, to me, my friends, and who knows how many other people. Now you’re out of ammo, and I’m going to enjoy making you pay for it.” Well, that’s what it said to me at least. That look Tulip had on her face has stuck with me ever since because I’d never seen such intense emotion crammed into one panel before or since.
For now, I’ve still got that upcoming volume of the latest “Punisher” series to look forward to when it comes to seeing his latest art. After that, then I’ll just have to look backward if I want more of his work in my library. Dillon collaborated a lot with Daniel Way at Marvel on “Wolverine: Origins” and “Thunderbolts” to an uneven extent. Then there’s his long history in the U.K. which I haven’t even scratched the surface of. Surprisingly, what appears to be a rather violent “Doctor Who” spinoff that he illustrated, “Abslom Daak,” has also been brought up in the retrospectives I’ve been reading. It’s not something I’d have considered giving a shot before, but with Dillon’s work as an artist now a finite resource I think I’ll give it a shot. Even if the writing and story are crap, I’m sure it’ll still look good with more emotional depth than its title would indicate. You could always count on these things from Dillon.