Like a lot of North American comics enthusiasts, my introduction to Steve Dillon’s art was in the pages of DC’s Hellblazer in the mid 1990s. I had just finished with my post-secondary education, and I was emerging into full adulthood. Relocation, independence and a burgeoning career. A real paycheque meant my love for comics could be indulged further. I remained (and still do) a fan of super-hero comics, but my eyes had already been opened to more mature fare exploring other genres. I’d discovered Neil Gaiman’s Sandman during my university years. I think it was in 1994 that someone at the comic shop I was frequenting at the time insisted that I look at Hellblazer. I wasn’t all that familiar with or enthralled by John Constantine, as I hadn’t been a reader of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, which introduced the character.
I don’t specifically recall if it was the first Garth Ennis/Dillon issue I read or not, but the memory that sticks with me to this day was Constantine’s journey through a nightmarish American purgatory, guided by the grotesque, post-assassination form of John F. Kennedy. (A quick web search reveals it was the “Damnation’s Flame” storyline from Hellblazer #s 72-75). Though I’m not an American, I immediately recognized that the use of Kennedy, open head wound and all, as a key figure in the storyline would be practically blasphemous to my neighbors to the south. I was struck by the daring of it, by the sheer gall and bravery of the storytelling choice.