And now Steve Dillon is gone, too. One of the finest comic artists of the past 30 years, a man whose skills may have seemed a bit low-key on the surface – particularly in the mid-90s when style was valued so much more than substance – till you noticed his real strengths, which were legion. Garth Ennis, the Irish writer who teamed up with him on Hellblazer and The Punisher, and created Preacher alongside him, talked about how he didn’t write thought balloons for his characters, because you could read their thoughts from the expressions Steve put their faces. That was a pretty fucking revolutionary idea 25 years ago. Steve and Garth weren’t by any means the only creative team to do such a thing, but they certainly led the way.
The Hellblazer run is often overlooked, but it was incredibly powerful. So violent, so dark, but with moments of such grace, light, and clarity that they would break your heart (disclaimer: my heart breaks pretty easily, so I might not be the most reliable arbiter of such matters. But still). Two issues in particular really touched me – the first was John Constantine’s 40th birthday party, a flawless piece of storytelling that captured everything there is to capture about a transcendent night of what Steinbeck would call “heroic” drinking, and a pivotal moment in a man’s troubled life (much as it pains me to admit it, I was in my 30s when that issue came out, and now I’m actually older than the man of the hour). The other was a spinoff one-shot called Heartland, which dealt in absolutely unflinching terms with infidelity, abuse, war, and nasty family politics, using Northern Ireland as its titular heart and soul.
What Steve and Garth did on Preacher built on that, at least partially because it was a purely creator-owned book, with very little editorial influence. What they created in the span of a few years remains to this day my alltime favourite comic series ever, although Hellblazer has some moments so powerful they’ll change your whole life.
Steve Dillon was a legend.