Gen13 by Steve Dillon header

8 Panels of Steve Dillon and Gen13

Gen13 Annual by Warren Ellis and Steve Dillon Steve Dillon draws a psychotic cop in New York City in the Gen13 Bootleg Annual

 

Earlier this year, I was working on a “Gen13” re-read project.  As asides to the regular J. Scott Campbell issues, I read other books that spun off from the main series.  There were lots of them, from creators like Mike Wieringo, Alan Davis, Adam Warren, Walter Simonsson, Peter David, Stuart Immonen, and so many more.  It was a treasure trove of interesting work to look back on and review.

WildStorm also published two Annuals that came out in successive years: the “Gen13 Annual” (1997) and the “Gen13 Bootleg Annual” (1998).  Warren Ellis wrote both books, while Steve Dillon put pencil and ink to the pages.  The two single issue stories were respectable, solid Gen13 stories with good hooks and a strong sense of British humor.

I started to write a review of the two books, but didn’t get too far when other more pressing topics came up.  Here’s what I had:

Warren Ellis and Steve Dillon Walk Into a London Bar…

A couple years later, Wildstorm released two Annuals, one for the main “Gen13” title, and a second for the “Gen13 Bootleg” series. Both were created by writer Warren Ellis and artist Steve Dillon. Ellis was a part of the Wildstorm family for his early work on StormWatch by that point. As usual with Ellis, neither story is your standard superhero fare.

In the first, Lynch brings the kids with him to visit his favorite pub.

The second book is set in New York City, where Roxy falls for a man she meets at a record shop, only to get swept up in a spot of trouble he’s in with a police office from hell hot on his trail.

Dillon’s art is a departure from J. Scott Campbell’s. Characters feels a little more normal human proportioned, more grounded in reality in both looks and movement. Ellis’ scripts still put them through their paces, though, from hellish interiors and trippy alternate worlds to tough London pubs and New York City record shops.

Honestly, I didn’t get back to it right away because I wasn’t sure what I had to say about the two comics.  I liked them, but didn’t have the urgency or interest in exploring them in depth.  I put it aside for a rainy day.

 

R.I.P. Steve Dillon

The comics world lost Steve Dillon this morning, far too soon.  Far.

As I flipped through those two Annuals today, I concentrated on the art.  What made it tick?  How does it draw you so deeply into the story and yet still get out of the way.  Dillon had a distinctly recognizable style. It’s not like his work would ever be so nondescript that the reader would only read the story and not see the artistic flourishes.

At the same time, his storytelling style meshed well with Ellis’ script.  Dillon was cast beautifully for these two comics.

Let me get my review of the two Annuals out of the way up front: They’re weird, they’re action-packed and humor-packed, and they’re well done.  They take characters you know and bring them to new places that are foreign for them — London and New York.  The results are in character and entertaining.

Since that’s done, let’s just look at Dillon’s art and appreciate what he could do for a book that I bet most people forgot about already.

 

“Gen13 Annual” #1 (1997)

The “Gen 13 Annual” was printed on dull paper, which soaked up much of the ink and rendered some of the more delicate coloring out to be a bit muddier than intended.  The color scheme from Joe Chiodo and Martin Jimenez is aggressive, but also without a great contrast in a given panel.  The scenes inside the bar were relentlessly red, for example:

 

Steve Dillons draws the boys in a bar in the Gen13 Annual (1997)

Grunge discovers he can order his own drink at the pub in England, where the drinking age is only 18. So he orders a Budweiser, and the bartender sternly denies him. (As he should.) Lynch doesn’t take kindly to this example of stupidity.

Dillon’s art works for the level of the scene.  It’s not over-the-top or cartoonish here, but it tells the story.  Lynch’s slap upside Grunge’s head is shown just after the fact, and Grunge lurches forward just a tad. The angle is straight on, at eye height to the characters.  It’s like you’re watching them from just across the bar, almost as if you were the bartender.  You’re close enough that they fill your vision and you can see everything they’re doing, but but forced by a dramatic angle or style shift.

Dillon didn’t go for an extreme angle, nor did he go full Kirby and try to show the characters’ strength by using their powers in the midst of a relatively small infraction.

Burnout is looking down and muttering.  He’s been scared by the clientele in the issue so far, and uncomfortable with his father ordering him a drink. It’s a great bit of comedic body language. Even without being able to see his eyes, that hunched over posture and those feeble hands tell the whole story.

 

Steve Dillon draws a pair of Gen13 character about to get drunk.

Burnout and Grunge are challenged to prove their manhood by an alien-looking creature at the bar.  At this point, they’ve had their first couple of drinks and are “relaxing” nicely.  Their male machismo is having none of the presumptions behind the challenge.  Let the drinking contest begin!  The gentle lift of an eyebrow here with the curls at the corners of the mouths are right on point.

 

Steve Dillon draws the boys of Gen13 getting drunk.

Grunge is so drunk here that he’s starting to look like a Frank Quitely drawing.  I like how Burnout is leaning back over his chair in that first panel, too. I included the second panel just because the reversal cracked me up.  Lynch’s small aside in the second balloon made me giggle.

I mentioned the “camera” angles before, and this is another example of how consistent Dillon stays in this story.  The issue is divided mostly into two parts.  The first part is with Grunge and Burnout, entirely inside the bar. Except for a couple of slightly overhead angles that act as establishing shots, every angle in the comic at that location is at eye level.  The reader is sitting across the table from the characters at all times, equal to them.  It may look “boring” at first glance, but that consistency and intimacy helps sell the funnier parts of the story.

The other half of the issue has the girls running around through multiple “dimensions”, chasing after a purse thief. (No, I’m not kidding.)  Dillon changes things up a lot more there, with plenty of higher and lower angle shots.  He gets that action even more strongly by contrasting it with the relatively sedate and straight-on scenes in the bar.

 

Steve Dillon draws an angry Caitlin Fairchild in Gen13 Annual

After many frustrations during the aforementioned purse thief chase, Fairchild reaches her limit near the end of the issue. The innocent and somewhat naive Fairchild who normally pulls her punches looks ready to kick some butt.  She gets ugly.

Dillon normally draws her simply.  She’s a blank slate, never getting more emotional than to lift an eyebrow at something.  Look through the issue and you’ll see how “bored” she looks for the most part.  She looked more interested during the chase, but this panel really drives home the emotions she’s capable of when pushed far enough.

It’s like Dillon’s been drawing Fairchild fairly plainly for the whole issue just to get to this point where he can go perhaps too far in the other direction to get the effect he wants.  And it works.

The page after this panel is a full page splash with Freefall and Rainmaker beating lots of things up.  It’s a great one-two punch.  You need that kind of pay-off for this bit of dialogue to truly work.

 

Gen13 Bootleg Annual (1998)

The second book, “Gen13 Bootleg Annual” got the upgrade to brighter paper that didn’t eat up the colors as much.  The colors in the issue, though, weren’t as aggressive as the previous Annual, so the paper upgrade feels a little wasted.  The art still shows up better, but the colors are mostly straightforward realistic light.  There’s no color keying or fancier effects like the previous one had.  Just when the paper could handle it, they didn’t use it.  Frustrating.

Still, there are great panels to learn from in the book:

Steve Dillon draws a psychotic cop in New York City in the Gen13 Bootleg Annual

Dillon knew how to draw a psycho. We saw that in a lot of books he drew.  This is a very simple example, in contrast to your typical “Punisher” issue, for example.  But look at that face, and tell me you can’t read what’s going on behind it.  That little sneer, the crazed look in his eyes.  We learn later in the issue that it’s more of a hellish demonic type of things, but at this point in the story, the psychotic look is what works best.

Steve Dillon draws a surprised and shocked Roxy in the Gen13 Bootleg Annual for WildStorm.

This is the panel near the end of the issue where Roxanne realizes what’s going on and it rocks her to the core.  Again, Dillon didn’t go over the top with that face.  He could have gone far more cartoony to sell the shock and surprise.  Instead, he went more to the subtle. That face (again) says it all. It’s not just the shock, but also the sadness and how upset she is by what she’s learning.  Dillon gets all of that in that quiet panel.  Having the “boyfriend” looking down in shame just behind her is a great bit of staging, too.

Was Steve Dillon an influence on Gary Frank?

One thing I noticed from looking at this issue is how much of an influence Dillon must have been on Gary Frank.  Frank’s style went off in its own direction, but there are definitely similarities here.  This panel reminded me the most of Frank’s stuff.  Maybe it’s the thin black lines under the eyes and around the shadow areas? Or do they both share a common ancestor, stylistically, that came out of the British comics world?

Looking Back

Steve Dillon obviously drew a lot more than these two Annuals and will, in fact, likely be best known for “Preacher,” when all is said and done.  If there’s a second place finisher in that contest, it’ll be for his work with Garth Ennis (also) on “The Punisher.”   If I had that book close at hand, I just might have done this piece based on those issues (“Welcome Back, Frank”, primarily), instead.

The good news is, there is plenty of Dillon’s work to look back on this weekend and enjoy all over again. No, really, you can tire out the scroll wheel on your mouse on ComicBookDB.com with his bibliography.

Just from looking at these two issues again for this piece, though, I’ve gained a new appreciation for his style, and will be happy to apply that to his other works.  It’s sad that we won’t see more new stuff, but there’s a genuinely large body of work to look back on and enjoy, at least.

 

Steve Dillon on Gen13 quote card for Pinterest

 

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