My brother the superhero: how comic book legend Steve Dillon’s death inspired a creative awakening | Art

IIn the fall of 2017, graphic designer who became film costume designer Glyn Dillon took an unusual trip to New York. He checked into a particular hotel, asked for a specific room to sleep in, and spent his time in the city wandering around a select handful of streets. He hoped, he says, that he could bump into his older brother Steve, a famous cartoonist who had worked on stripes from Judge Dredd to Doctor Who. Steve was nine years older than Glyn and had been a mentor to him and introduced him to cartooning and Star Wars. This area of ​​New York was one of Steve’s favorite places, but it was unlikely that Glyn would bump into him: a year earlier, in the same room that Glyn lived in, Steve had died of a ruptured appendix.

“Of course I knew he was dead, but there was still a sense that I could see him,” Glyn says today. “It’s not logical, but … it’s there.”

Steve was a legend in the world of comics. He was perhaps best known for creating the Preacher strip together with author Garth Ennis (it later became a TV show) and for founding Deadline magazine, which nurtured new comic book artists such as Jamie Hewlett. Steve’s drinking and smoking had made him look much older than his 54 years, but at the doctor’s order he changed it. When he died, he had not touched a drink in a year. “The color had returned to his cheeks, and mentally he was in a good spot,” Glyn says. When Steve started having stomach pains one night at his hotel, he assumed it was food poisoning, and instead of taking his planned flight home, he decided to drive with it out to his room. “Had he just called an ambulance, he would have been fine,” Glyn says.

Steve’s death changed his younger brother’s life in every possible way. When that happened, Glyn worked at Pinewood Studios as a costume designer on the latest Star Wars movie. It was work he loved, but it also involved long, stressful hours, and it had gnawed at him that what he really wanted with his life, ever since he was a teenager, was paint. This family tragedy gave him the impetus to pursue his dreams.

“At first I thought of making a cartoon [about Steve’s death], but the feelings felt too great for that medium, ”he says. “I needed to do something different, more physical, get up, climb a ladder.”

We meet today in Glyn’s studio, squeezed into a building at the back of the Hoover building on the outskirts of London. It’s a cluttered little room filled with books, pop culture equipment (a signed Withnail picture that Glyn calls a “terrible pussy”) and about a dozen large oil paintings, all reflecting on his brother’s death. Becoming a painter has been a quick learning curve for Glyn, who had never used oils before, and he says he doubts he could recreate some of the works if he tried.

The Glyn Dillon painting follows a faint spot in the air down to the river bank
After a faint spot on the air down to the river bank. Photo: Glyn Dillon

The first one I spot when I arrive looks like an interrupted child’s attempt at a cartoon, but hanging on the main wall next to it is a realistic rendering of the lobby of the Wolcott Hotel where Steve, and then Glyn, had stayed sig. Why did he choose to paint this?

“It’s a waiting room,” he says. “The idea of ​​a liminal space of one thing leading to another.” This is a theme for many of Glyn’s paintings, the movement from one world to the next, with spiritual guides and river underworlds giving a cartoonish sense of atmosphere. Another painting shows Glyn fiddling with a locked door in his hotel room that seems to lead nowhere. The metaphor is not difficult to interpret, but it also shows the ultimate everyday life in his New York experience. “You have all these expectations for how it could be, but it’s not that poetic … it’s just a normal hotel room.”

There’s barely enough room to swing a cat in Glyn’s studio, let alone a painting, but he’s good at moving them around so I can see them all. There are recreated moments of panic from the natural disaster scenes that Glyn occupied watching on YouTube in the wake of Steve’s death. There are children trapped in car headlights and blown up pages from old comics. The style often changes: some are hazy or cinematic, others almost photorealistic, such as his corridor in Pinewood Studios, which one could almost walk down if it were not for distracting a strange stick figure engraved on the floor. This space-like motif appears in several of Glyn’s paintings. At first, he says, he did not understand what it was – the circular head reminded him of a space helmet and how he and his brother shared a fascination with the moon landings. Then he began reading about characters known as psychopompoms, who are said to guide deceased souls from Earth to the afterlife. “Just reading about it makes me think that it’s probably what it is. It feels like a kind of channel, which is useful to me. “

Steve Dillon
‘A really great big brother’… Steve Dillon

I spot this little figure on a painting of a bedroom ceiling. It’s a re-creation of the view from the bed Steve must have been dead in, where the creature appears to step out of a hole above. It may be the most intense of all the paintings, but to me the most touching are the first ones Glyn made: gigantic reproductions of Steve’s comic book pages. One is a Nick Fury strip that Steve drew for the Hulk Comic at the age of just 16. Glyn points to a panel containing an airplane that has his name and age written backwards: NYLG-7. Steve wanted to put these into his comics as a treat for his little brother. Another stripe from Judge Dredd shows a character wearing a Glyn name tag.

There is something incredibly sweet about Steve doing this for his little brother while he was still only a teenager himself. Glyn keeps vivid memories of the garage in their semi-detached house in Luton, where Steve drew – the smell of Indian ink, cluttered, reflecting his own studio. Recreating these brushstrokes yourself seems to have been a particularly soothing experience.

The last picture we look at together is the baby’s drawing, which I first spotted when I entered the room. It’s another recreation – this time of the Star Wars cartoon, Glyn drew himself at the same time as his brother started professionally. “This was where Luke sees Ben being killed by Darth Vader,” Glyn says of the screaming face. Below the panel is the “end”, which is then written in pencil (“I must have changed my mind”). What at first glance looked like a rough, interrupted painting is actually a rather moving dialogue between two extremely close siblings.

The painting Look behind you!  Remember you are a man!  Remember you will die!  by Glyn Dillon
Look behind you! Remember you are a man! Remember you will die! Photo: Glyn Dillon

‘He was a really excellent big brother. He gave me all the good stuff, ”says Glyn, pointing to an extremely good thumb copy of Stan Lee and John Buscema’s How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. He tells me a story about the first time he ever googled himself. “It said, ‘Glyn Dillon, Steve’s less talented brother.’ It burned a little, but it was also true because he was so talented early on. ”

Glyn remembers a birthday when his brother was sitting in his room working on a secret project. On the big day, Steve produced a hand-sewn Batsuit and Robin suit for Glyn’s Action Men. “So sweet a thing to do,” Glyn says. “It’s not like he was for sewing.” And it seems especially gripping now. Shortly after Steve’s death, Glyn was asked to design Batsuit for the latest film starring Robert Pattinson. He gave the culture icon a more cute, more utilitarian look that felt more entrenched in reality than some of the slimmer costumes of the past. It makes Glyn sad that Steve was not present to witness any of this, but Steve at least saw Glyn get his Star Wars break. “He was never overwhelmed by anything,” Glyn says. “But he was calmly happy about that. You could see in the way he smiled if he was for anything. “

The painting Styx, by Glyn Dillon
Styx. Photo: Glyn Dillon

For Glyn, these things are the highlights of a career that has involved drawing comics alongside Hewlett and publishing her own acclaimed graphic novel, The Nao of Brown. Still, painting may be the calling he is most comfortable with. When he started, there was never any intention that it was going to turn into a show. Now they are to be exhibited in London’s NoHo studios. The process has been “incredibly helpful” in helping him come to terms with Steve’s death. And even though he says it will be hard to get rid of one or two of them if they sell, he hopes they do so he can continue with this full time.

“It would be nice to get some of them out of this room,” he says, looking around with a smile. “Because it’s getting really cramped in here.”

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