The news that comic artist Steve Dillon had died hit social media Saturday morning. Dillon, popularly known as the co-creator of the comic series and AMC television show Preacher was a beloved icon in the comic book industry. You would be hard pressed to find any one working in comics today who would have labeled the man anything other than “a great guy.” The cause of death is currently unknown, but Dillon was working up until his passing: he was the artist on the current run of The Punisher at Marvel Comics and doing some of the best work of his career.
Steve Dillon’s impact on comic books can not be understated. Along with writer and frequent collaborator Garth Ennis, Dillon changed the comic book medium for the better. With runs on The Punisher, Hellblazer, and Preacher, he helped usher in the modern era of comics. In an era of bombastic, over the top art, Dillon was calm, smooth, and precise. He was a storyteller, through and through.
Personally, Steve Dillon is one of my favorite comic book artists. I grew up reading comic books in the ’90s, in the era of excess when comics were insane and chaotic, often times difficult to read and poorly structured in favor of explosive styling. Many of my favorite comics had erratic shipping schedules, at best. Then, I discovered a comic book called Preacher and everything changed. Dillon’s art was perfectly structured and helped lead the reader through the book. Reading Preacher was like coming up for air, and it showed me what a well-crafted comic book should look like. It was also the first “mature” comic I ever read and helped shape my tastes for years to come.
Aside from his brilliant work on Preacher, Dillon is widely known for helping to reinvent The Punisher. When Ennis and Dillon took over the character, they stripped him down and turned the book into a bleak and violent epic. They injected humor and wit into the Punisher’s world, but ramped up the action and brutality. Their run helped save Marvel Comics in a time when it was on the verge of collapse. Dillon’s art helped birth a whole new world of comic books and quite literally changed the medium.
I’ve only ever purchased one high-end statue based on a comic book character: it’s a rendering of Dillon’s Punisher. I spent a small fortune on it. For my birthday one year, my friend gave me a Zippo lighter with the words “Fuck Communism” etched into it, a reference any Preacher fan understands instantly. In other words, Steve Dillon meant a lot to me. In many ways, his work taught me what comic books should look like. His work on Preacher and Punisher changed me from a comic book collector into a comic book reader. To a whole generation of readers, he is the standard we measure other creators against.
The world of comic books won’t be the same without Steve Dillon. He was one of the greats, no doubt about it.
What did Steve Dillon mean to you? We’d love to hear your thoughts in comments.
Images: Vertigo Comics