Sad news in the comic book world Sunday night as news of artist John Paul Leon’s death circulated on social media.
The veteran illustrator was 49 years old and had struggled with cancer for several years, which delayed the full publication of his most recent project, the Batman: Creature of the Night mini-series. (The complete series was released in a collection last year and is now available in paperback.)
Leon’s editor on Creature of the Night, Chris Conroy, announced the passing on Twitter.
If asked to name my favorite comic book artists, I doubt Leon would be among the first to come to mind. I grew up loving George Perez, John Byrne, Frank Miller, John Romita Jr. Walt Simonson, and Alan Davis. (There are so many more.)
Yet I greatly admired Leon’s work as I renewed interest in comics in the late 1990s. Eventually, if I found out he was drawing something, I tried to check it out. His artwork always grabbed me from the comic shop rack. And if I saw a cover of his, I hoped he did the interior artwork as well.
Leon had worked in comics for nearly 30 years, doing a variety of projects for Marvel and DC. He might be best known for his art on Static, one of the titles for DC’s Milestone imprint which featured superheroes of color created by minority writers and artists.
But Leon worked on all of the big characters in comics, including Superman, Batman, and the X-Men. I first discovered his art on DC’s reboot of Challengers of the Unknown, following a group of people who survive a plane crash and decide to investigate paranormal occurrences with the “borrowed time” on which they’re living.
I was fascinated by Leon’s heavy use of shadows and how he managed to fit the fantastical with an environment that looked very real, best demonstrated on the Marvel series Earth X. His linework was anything but simple, but appeared so clean on the page. Even if the black ink obscured some of the images, everything was clear. Leon’s work resembled many other artists I admired, such as David Mazzucchelli, Lee Weeks, Michael Lark, and Jock.
Leon probably could’ve made a living in fine art or commercial illustration. But he loved comic books, he loved storytelling. If you followed his Twitter feed, he was a champion of the artform, supporting so many in the industry. He was loved and enormously popular among his colleagues.
DC Comics recently announced that and Leon and writer Tom King collaborated on a Batman/Catwoman special that will be released in July. I don’t know if that will be his last published work or not. If so, that book will be even more special than it already would’ve been otherwise.
What a loss. The idea that we won’t be getting any more work from John Paul Leon is deeply saddening. 49 years old is far too young to die.