London’s Gosh! Comics store reports that award-winning British comic book artist Kevin O’Neill died last week, following what was only described as “a long illness.” O’Neill, who was 69, was best known for creating “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” with writer Alan Moore, as well as (along with Pat Mills) the 2000 AD character Nemesis the Warlock, and the satirical superhero Marshal Law.
O’Neill got his start in comics aged only 16, working on children’s humor comics for eventual “2000 AD” publisher IPC around 1969. He was there from the legendary sci-fi magazine’s start in 1977, illustrating Tharg the Mighty stories and other humorous strips, before he and Mills created Nemesis in 1980. The dark, violent strip followed a demonic alien as he battled against the genocidal Torquemada, Grand Master of the Terran Empire, and led O’Neill to become of 2000 AD’s most popular artists.
It was during the early 1980s that O’Neill also started to freelance with DC Comics, where he collaborated with Moore on 1986’s “Tales of the Green Lantern Corps Annual” #2 story ‘Tygers,’ for a story about Hal Jordan’s predecessor Abin Sur, that would pave the way for the introduction of the Red Lantern Atrocitus. The Comics Code Authority objected to O’Neill’s terrifying artwork, filled with bizarre and sinister aliens, leading DC to release the comic without their seal of approval. Regardless, the CCA blacklisted O’Neill from mainstream American superhero comics as a result.
He reunited with Mills on the 2000 AD graphic novel “Metalzoic,” and at Marvel’s adult-aimed Epic Comics imprint in 1987, for “Marshal Law,” the Judge Dredd-esque tale of a government sanctioned-superhero, filled with graphic violence and nudity. The pair founded their own company, Apocalypse Comics, with John Wagner and Alan Grant, where the character was published for a while until Apocalypse went bankrupt. Subsequent Marshal Law series were then released by Dark Horse.
O’Neill and Moore launched “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” at the writer’s America’s Best Comics imprint at WildStorm in 1999. The series, which initially began as the story of Mina Harker’s search to bring together other public domain characters to protect the British Empire, ran for four volumes until 2019, and spawned several spin-offs, including a three-part Captain Nemo series. A drastically toned down film version starring Sean Connery, in his last live-action role, was released in 2003: a critical and commercial failure, both O’Neill and Moore disowned the final product.
During his lifetime, O’Neill was honored with three Harvey Awards, two Eisners, the 1999 National Comics Award for Best New Comic (International), and the 2000 Bram Stoker Award for Best Illustrated Narrative. Kieron Gillen, Al Ewing, Tom King, and Andy Diggle are among those who have paid tribute to him online, with Gillen commenting, “Only met [him] once, and he was as charming as the edifices of ornate gleeful horror he produced were berserk. I love all his periods, but the frenzy of the 1980s stuff was something else.”
Gosh! states, “Kevin was a regular sight here at Gosh, whether popping by to sign plates or prints, or just coming to meet [founder/owner] Josh [Palmano] for a coffee or lunch. It’s always unusual when someone whom you have revered from afar becomes a familiar, friendly face, and so it was for us Gosh old-timers and Kev. A friendly face who happened to be one of the greatest comics artists the UK has ever produced, whose influential shadow looms large and yet whose work is so personal and unique that it is impossible to imitate. Our deepest condolences go out to Kevin’s friends and family, and to the many, many fans around the world for whom this will be a tough loss. Rest in peace, Kevin, we’ll miss you a lot.”