It deeply saddens me to hear of Steve Dillon’s untimely death. At the age of 54 he has left us far too soon. But he leaves behind an amazing legacy and and I just wanted to thank him for his influence on me on my journey as a comic writer.
I was 20 at the time and still in University studying literature. It was the summer and I should have been reading the likes of Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida and Jean Baudrillard for the upcoming literary theory class which would kick my ass intellectually. But I wasn’t, I was reading Preacher.
Indeed I had swapped the great French thinkers for a pair of messed up Brits in Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. Yet what might be deemed as an intellectual gulf between the creators of “post-structuralism” etc. and the creators of Preacher was bridged by the influence the latter would have on me.
I was still riding high on The Sandman which I had discovered at the beginning of the summer and was not quite ready to leave the medium behind. So, trawling through the graphic novel section of my local library I pulled out a trade paperback purely because of the Vertigo imprint which for me remains to this day a seal of quality. Straight away the art grabbed me. Dillon’s style hooked me from page 1 and has never let go.
Two weeks and nine paperbacks later I had to sit for a moment and just bask. I had never experienced anything like it. Graphic novels like 300, Watchmen and The Sandman were not without moments of extreme visuals and taboo subject matter (and were the only comics I had read up until that point) but those moments were presented within the frame of the story that made them necessary. With Preacher however, the violence and the taboo subject matter was constant, unrelenting and forever one-upping itself in terms of those moments. At the end of it all I felt as if I had been drenched in a vat of blood, beaten within an inch of my life and violated repeatedly. Yet I couldn’t help but laugh.
I remember when my parents left me home alone for the weekend when I was 16 and I binge-watched their collection of Quentin Tarantino films, revelling in the foul language, drugs and violence that I was being denied until the appropriate age. By 20, I had read and watched some of most controversial books and films ever created and I felt that I was beyond the “shock factor”.
But nothing in the comic world had reached that level yet. So when Preacher came along it showed me that comics, that medium so many still think is for kids, could go one further than its more popular artistic mediums. It was like that feeling when 16 year old me watched Butch (played by Bruce Willis) reluctantly return to help Marsellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction all over again. Just as I knew I was witnessing a new depth of humanity’s depravity, nothing prepared me for what Odin Quincannon was doing in that shed.
But Preacher did more than that for me. After reading The Sandman I knew I wanted to write comics but thanks to Jesse Custer, Tulip O’Hare and Cassidy the Vampire, the chains that held the boundaries of the medium were cut completely. I will probably never write anything that comes close to them in terms of controversy, but knowing that I can if I so choose has been one of the best gifts comics have ever given me.
So thank you Steve Dillon. You will be sorely missed by those you have freed around the world.