Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Marvel stole Steve Dillon's mojo

Steve Dillon is a fantastic artist, but he really needs to step away from Marvel before the stagnation in his style settles in.

I’ve always liked Steve Dillon from the days of Mean Arena, back when he drew some of the most attractive women in comics. There was a real rawness to Steve’s early work, but he already had a stern grip on anatomy and an incredible eye for facial expressions. One early eighties Dredd remains a six-page classic as Dillon nails terrified desperation, fierce gun battles and complete shame with ease.

Then he showed how action was done in a surprisingly long run on Rogue Trooper in the late eighties, overcoming dire scripts to produce some lovely and lively art. He even made a rare scripting effort to wrap up the convoluted plot, giving Rogue an understated send-off that still managed a few good explosions.

Dillon’s line, right through his career to this point, remained strong and consistent, while the man’s style visibly changed. While some of his early work had more furious lines scratched into the page than any Image founder, he gradually simplified his work over an entire decade.

There was still time for some great noir work in the terribly silly Diceman series and he messed around with awful series like 2000ad’s revamped Harlem Heroes and good efforts like the sadly missed Deadline comic, but he was already getting noticed in America.

By the time he got to the US, he was still experimenting. The process was so slow and gradual that it was almost unnoticeable, but it’s certainly there. See his art change between the first and last issues of his relatively short Animal Man work, while the style visibly evolves during his first major Ennis collaboration on Hellblazer.

Six years of fun and games on Preacher and Dillon was on fire. With a vast canvas of violence and Americana to produce, Dillon pumped out the pages on a consistent schedule, never missing an issue and still finding time for the odd side-project.

The difference in style between that first issue of Preacher and the one where Jesse and Tulip rode into the sunset was still there. That monthly grind had polished Dillon’s art to a bright shine. As always, his skill at capturing facial expressions and intense action sequences remained undiminished, but there was a little less fine detail, a bit more of a broader stroke.

There was nothing wrong with this, it’s a natural part of Dillon’s progression as an artist. As well as the simplification, there is also a tendency to stretch out the character’s faces that increased as the Preacher saga wound on, but it’s all a natural progression as an artist. Dillon’s characters may not be as sexy as they once were, but they are still as full of life and vigour as they ever were.

And then he went to Marvel.

There is nothing seriously wrong with the work Dillon has produced on various Marvel titles over the past few years. His superheroes can sometimes look a little uncomfortable in Dillon’s version of spandex and leather, but his drafting and storytelling talents are as large as ever.

But at the same time, there hasn’t been a hell of a lot of progression during his time on Marvel. Looking his earliest work on the Punisher, made shortly after his move over from Preacher, and there isn’t a lot of difference between that and his most recent work.

There is a consistency in style right throughout Dillon’s Marvel comics. You can see it in Wolverine: Origins and in more mini-series about Bullseye than anybody really needed. It’s still there in the bits and pieces of Supreme Power he’s done and the recent return to Punisher with the War Zone mini series.

You can’t blame Steve for enjoying the opportunity to produce comics for the American market and make a little money off it. He has put in the hard work over three decades and deserves any success that comes his way. He has obviously found a comfortable level of artwork and appears content to leave the innovation aside for a while.

His next run on the Punisher, with stories by Jason Aaron, promises a return to darker territories for Dillon and while it remains well within his comfort zone, there is also the chance to make another little evolution.

I really hope this can spark up some more creative fire for the artist. He certainly hasn’t been hacking it out for Marvel, but the House of Ideas hasn’t fired him up either. Both sides seem quite happy to let him coast along on his inarguable skill, with no need to stretch out much further.

Dillon remains the model of consistent, well-produced work and he might be getting comfortable after 30 years of art, but he’s never too old to try something new, and it would be bloody nice to see some further evolution.

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