London comic retailer Gosh! Comics is reporting that Kevin O’Neill, known for his work on the earliest issues of 2000AD as well as for being declared objectionable by the Comics Code Authority for his entire art style, has passed away. No cause of death was reported, but Gosh! did say O’Neill had been suffering from a “long illness.”
“We had worked a lot with Kevin over the past two decades and had the highest personal and professional regard for him, and of course the impact he has had on the comics landscape cannot be overstated,” their post reads.
O’Neill’s impact included the co-creation of several comics, including Nemesis the Warlock and Marshal Law, both with writer Pat Mills, as well as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen with Alan Moore. He’s won multiple Eisner and Harvey awards, as well as an Eagle Award and a Bram Stoker award.
O’Neill got his start in comics working for the British publishing company IPC, working on the humor and kids titles like Buster, Whizzer and Chips, and Monster Fun. He spoke to Multiversity Comics back in 2014 about the appeal of working in comics:
“… comics combine all my interests: animation, production design, special effects, sunt work and stage craft in one discipline,” O’Neill said. “The great thing being you can do it all with just pen and paper, making it in my youth a financially viable way of expressing myself. I did however have a phase making 8mm movies, but the sheer expense and frustration with my lack of resouces nipped that in the bud! Also, I went to a very strict Catholic school, and comics were slightly forbidden fruit which made them all the more appealing I guess. Slightly subversive, as well.
“And again, when I was quite young, someone in the school playground had a copy of a MAD Magazine paperback, one of the old Ballentine paperbacks. Seeing that made me really want to draw comics. I think it was the most incredible thing I’d seen in my entire life up to that point. I must’ve been about 9 or 10 years old?”
Growing tired of working on humor titles, he approached Pat Mills, who would become his frequent collaborator, about working on a new science fiction title Mills was looking to launch called 2000AD. O’Neill began by providing pin-ups and covers. He’s also credited with introducing creator credits to the anthology.
Together Mills and O’Neill worked on Ro-Busters together, O’Neill’s first major strip for 2000AD, and also a one-off story called Terror Tube that introduce the character Nemesis. The character proved popular enough to eventually warrant his own series, Nemesis the Warlock.
While working on Nemesis in the early 1980s, O’Neill began taking work from DC Comics, working on Omega Men and Tales from the Green Lantern Corp. It was a story for the GLC annual that the Comics Code Authority famously rejected.
“I actually love that, because it was originally a two-part story with tigers that Alan Moore had written for me,” O’Neill told Comic Book Resources. “It was gonna be in a regular Green Lantern book and Andy Helfer, the editor, rang me up and said, ‘There’s a problem with the Code.’ My first thought was, ‘Well, what have I got to change?’ and he said, ‘Nothing. They just don’t like the style. There’s nothing you can change.’ I thought that was ridiculous. So I rang Alan and he was green with envy. I thought it was pretty funny. I thought the Code was a funny idea even when I was a kid, I thought that was strange. And I’d heard all these stories about it’s just little old ladies in a room reviewing pages and stamping the back. I thought it was mental, isn’t it. It’s a really regressive way of producing comics.”
DC decided to print the comic without the Comics Code Authority stamp. And in 1986, they published the graphic novel Metalzoic by Mills and O’Neill, one of the first creator-owned projects they published. Speaking of which, Mills and O’Neill would continue their tour of American comics with Marshal Law, a creator-owned series published by Marvel’s Epic Comics. It ran for six issues and was followed by a special, but like DC, Marvel received complaints about the artwork. Mills and O’Neill took Marshal Law to Apocalypse Comics, a new publishing company they formed with John Wagner and Alan Grant, where they launched an anthology called Toxic! The company went bankrupt in 1991.
Dark Horse would later finish the Marshal Law story that started in the pages of Toxic!, and he’d return to Epic for a two-issue miniseries that pitted Law against Clive Barker’s Pinhead character.
It was in 1999 that O’Neill teamed with Moore to create League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for Wildstorm’s America’s Best Comics imprint. It brought together characters from Victorian literature like Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man and Mr. Hyde. The book didn’t escape controversy; the fifth issue of the second miniseries was recalled and “pulped” because it featured a fake ad for a “Marvel douche.” League had a rocky history, as it went from Wildstorm to DC when the latter bought the former, and let’s not forget the horrible movie released by 20th Century Fox that both O’Neill and Moore disowned and even sued them over. The final volumes and spin-off projects would be published by Top Shelf in the U.S.
“I prefer marching to the beat of my own drum,” O’Neill told Paul Gravett. “Most of the strips I’ve worked on have been off-beat, even when mainstream, like Lobo or Batmite. Sacrificing my creative freedom for reasons of commerce is at odds with my nature. I’m content with operating at the fringe of mainstream comics. The creator-owned option is the most important one to me. Hell, we fought on 2000AD for creator credits, return of artwork, royalties… Perhaps some of us rocked the boat more because the boat was small and leaking and doomed anyway. But rights taken for granted now were not easily come by, and I suspect on both sides of the Atlantic it was just a handful of people making a difference. Publishers of old behaved like stern adults and treated creators like difficult children. Mostly a clip around the ear and, if you were lucky, a boiled sweet and smile. The British publishers started losing prime creators to the USA – they contradicted every story they had told us about rights and royalties leading to their demise. In the end they hung themselves. Greed and poor management cost us our once thriving British comic industry.”
Many creators took to social media to remember O’Neill and the impact of his work:
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