Dredd Zone: the anarchic world of comic book artist Steve Dillon | Comics and graphic novels
Jhere are some artists who exemplify the anarchic, irreverent and anti-authoritarian British take on comics like Steve Dillon does. Born in London and raised in Luton, Dillon died in New York in 2016, aged 54, after suffering a ruptured appendix. What remains is a remarkable body of work that includes the acclaimed British comics magazine Deadline, which he co-founded; his artwork on fan-favorite Hellblazer series, the Alan Moore-created comic that follows British chaos magician John Constantine; and most notably, the critically acclaimed preacher, which he co-created with famed comic book writer Garth Ennis.
First published by American society DC in 1995, Preacher told the story of Jesse Custer, a small-town pastor who is accidentally possessed by the offspring of an angel and a demon, and goes on the road. with his ex-girlfriend and an Irish Vampire, looking for a solution to his problem. The comic ran for five years and was followed by a television series starring Dominic Cooper, which Dillon served as executive producer.
Dillon’s adopted town of Luton is currently hosting an exhibition at Hat House’s Basement Gallery, showcasing works from the artist’s early days through to his illustrations for the satirical dystopian judge Judge Dredd from the British weekly comic 2000AD. There are also pages from Preacher and Warrior, the magazine that launched the careers of a number of British comics luminaries in the 1980s.
“Steve has a special place in this city,” says Samuel Javid, Creative Director of Culture Trust Luton. “We have roads called Preacher Close and Cassidy Close, some of his ashes are buried here, and his local pub has a photo of him behind the bar, raising his middle finger…”
Ennis, who also collaborated with Dillon on Judge Dredd and Marvel’s weaponized anti-hero The Punisher, got to know the artist in the early 90s. “I remember sitting with him one night in the spring of 1990, long after everyone crashed, and killed a bottle of Jameson while we were talking about what we thought we could do in the comics,” Ennis says. “There was an almost audible click when we realized we would make a good creative partnership. Each of us simply trusted the other to do the job. I didn’t ask him for the impossible – no action-packed, dialogue-laden 10-panel pages – and he delivered perfect narration every time.
While Dillon is comfortable with the genre’s beloved over-the-top macho heroes (his portrayals of Judge Dredd and Punisher are bristling with guns and ultra-violence), he’s also brought a more popular individual look to his characters; he was renowned for drawing the type of people you might see in the pub. Moore once wrote that if you shaved the heads of all female Marvel characters, they would look almost identical. Dillon, however, paid as much attention to the expressions and appearance of his characters as he did to the dynamic, detailed panels of his stories.
“Steve’s passing was truly heartbreaking,” says Ennis. “He was doing one of the finest jobs of his career at that time. After his death there were some huge piss-ups, one in New York, one in Luton, and I had the same feeling in both cases: it’s a great celebration of the life of a fantastic guy , and he would love to see everyone like that, but tomorrow we have to go on with a huge void in our lives. I would give anything to have one more pint with him.
Werewolves of Luton: four other works in the exhibition
“One of the scripts towards the end of our run: Damnation’s Flame. Maybe a little overworked script-wise. Steve was doing a lot of heavy rendering. He’s calmed down to switch from Hellblazer to Preacher.
First works of art
“It demonstrates my point of view on his [Dillon’s] faces and emotion perfectly. The story was essential. The conversation scenes were no problem for him because he put so much emotion in the faces of his characters. He did a lot of storytelling just by capturing people’s expressions.
First draft for the preacher
“Early, but it’s all there, fully formed. I remember telling Steve that I always thought he drew Jesse as a highly idealized version of himself; he eventually drew a cover for a zine with him and Jesse sitting together in a bar. He was ruthlessly precise in his self-portrait and I had to admit: no, Jesse was not Steve.
Punisher and Wolverine
“We didn’t work on Wolverine together – he must have done that later. But our Punisher run was great fun; we both treated it like a palate cleanser after Preacher. None of us took it very seriously. Our Punisher was much lighter: armed polar bears and fun and games with multiple amputees.
Preacher, Punisher and Judge Dredd: the work of British comic legend Steve Dillon is at the Basement Gallery, Luton, at July 7.