Multiple sources are reporting that artist John Paul Leon, whose work included Static, The Winter Men, Earth X, Batman: Creature of the Night and the upcoming Batman/Catwoman Special, has passed away. He was 49 when he died.
According to a press release from his family, Leon had battled cancer for 14 years. He is survived by his wife, his daughter and an older brother. Artist Tommy Lee Edwards has set up a Gofundme page in honor of Leon, with proceeds to go to Leon’s daughter’s future education.
DC Black Label editor Chris Conroy shared the news on Twitter. “It seems the news is out. Last night we lost John Paul Leon, one of the greatest draftsmen in the history of comics, the kind of artist that EVERY artist revered,” Conroy wrote. “Those who loved him had some warning, but not enough.”
Leon’s career began back in the early 1990s, while attending The School of Visual Arts in New York City. After drawing Robocop for Dark Horse, Leon began working for the fledgling Milestone Media, helping to bring Static to life on the comics page with Dwayne McDuffie and Robert Washington III — both of whom also died way too young.
Leon graduated from SVA in 1994, and went on to work on titles like The Further Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix, Logan: Path of the Warlord and Earth X, the re-imagining of the Marvel Universe by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger and Leon.
He also drew The Winter Men, the well-regarded Wildstorm miniseries written by Brett Lewis. In fact, you could probably put the words “well-regarded” in front of just about anything Leon drew, whether it was his interior art or his covers for comics like DMZ. More recently, he worked with Kurt Busiek on Batman: Creature of the Night, and his collaboration with Tom King, a Batman/Catwoman Special, was just announced a few weeks ago for July.
Our condolences to Leon’s family, friends and fans, many of whom have taken to social media to remember one of their favorite artists:
#JohnPaulLeon Toward the end of Walter Simonson’s first year teaching at #SVA, he invited me to come speak to his class. I marched proudly in to my old Alma Mater, a successful, working alumnus. Mr. Guest Speaker.
My ego deflated like a balloon tire blowing out, when I reviewed the kids’ work. Over half the class were already of professional ability, and several were more talented than me. The king of them all was a genius, whose work made me look like a rank amateur.
#JohnPaulLeon had all the genius of #AlexToth, #MiltonCaniff and #DavidMazuchelli combined. His visual storytelling was ingenious and sophisticated, but also clear and lively. At 20, he was already one of the greatest masters of chiaroscuro Impressionism who ever lived.
JPL expressed more in complex compositions of silhouettes than the most fanatically detailed draftsmen. Even as just a kid, he was uncanny in his ability to communicate a maximum of information with a minimum of precisely placed, exquisitely chosen blots of ink and a few lines.
His mastery of how to distill any image to the most elegant minimalist arrangement of black took seminal geniuses Toth, Caniff and Sickles a lifetime to achieve. As a child of 20, John Paul Leon already had all the legendary masters beaten.
It was a big bite of humble pie for me to swallow, that day at SVA. I could only gawk in humility. I was wonderstruck.
To make matters worse, this genius kid John Paul Leon didn’t even have the common decency to be an asshole.
His clear superiority would have been easier to take if he’d been a cranky curmudgeon like Toth–but JPL was a gentle, humble sweetheart of a man!
In my darker moments after hearing of JPL’s death, I’ve been hit by waves of depressing rage. Why do great prodigies like Mozart, Keith Ledger and John Paul Leon have to die so young?? How could JPL die, yet genuinely evil fucks like Dick Cheney and Mitch McConnel still live??
The injustice put me in a much worse state of mind than the lesson in humility I got that day in Walter’s class at SVA.
JPL was a bona fide genius who raised the bar for every comics artist. He was as humbling and awe-inspiring a person as her was on paper. It really sucks that he’s dead.
Note: this story has been updated with additional details from the press release issued by the Leon family, along with additional remembrances.