10th May2021

A Memoriam In Four Colours: John Paul Leon

by Ian Wells

This past weekend we lost a well loved and well-respected member of the comics community. John Paul Leon has pulled his chair up to the great drawing board in the sky. Taken way too young at the age of 49 after a battle with cancer. As always with these memoriam pieces I do the out pouring of fellow pros on who knew John and bigger fans of his work can say things about him a million times better than me on social media. I can confess to not knowing a great deal of his career but I can tell he was a very talented guy, who was had a huge fan base and respect from his peers. As always in times like this the comics community shows its true colours on social media and it gives people like me a better understanding of the person and you do feel the lose just sharing in the social media posts. I do however have to personal stories regarding John Paul Leon’s work to start proceedings. First up I have two Wolverine related comics in my collection I can vouch for as exceptional, that show his evolution as an artist. First up is the Wolverine one shot Path of The Warlord from 1996. While the story is entertaining  don’t think it shows Leon off and his best and I personally feel that is more down to 90’s colouring than his own input. However the black and white cover is worth the price of admission alone. Next up is 2002’s Weapon X series. A series I have a lot of time for and #14 stands out the most. It is a tour de force, telling the the story of Mr Sinister in WWII and the origin of Scalphunter. Leon’s art is perfect for the macabre, sci-fi and horror undertones of the story. This issue makes the case that his art work is much more suited to a saturated colour palette. Both of these issues are easy and inexpensive to track down physically or digitally so go and educate yourselves in some John Paul Leon. The second story of my Leon knowledge takes me back to either my final days on Myspace or my early days on Twitter. Someone recommended to me the Wildstorm series The Winter men. The person had obviously done their research as this series does seem well up my street. For whatever reasons though I never got round to it. So now seems as good a time as any for me to seek it out and give it some appreciation.

John Paul Leon’s professional career began at the age of 16 in 1998 with work for the black and white magazine Dragon and Dungeon. He studied at the New York School of Visual Arts, majoring in illustration. As a young man he lived the life all young aspiring comic creators dream of. Whilst attending SVA he studied under industry legends Walt Simonson and Will Eisner. He also got his first professional comics jon with the Robocop mini series Prime Suspect in 1992. The following year was a major moment for his career. DC launched their Milestone imprint and Leon would pencil the first nine issues of Static. These nine issues would go on to be his course work for the first semester. How cool is that? The debut if Static was a stand out moment in comics history. The character means a whole lot to a whole lot of people. So at the time of its release and still through to today there were a lot of eyes on these issues. It is probably what went into Leon become such a fan favourite. Through the rest of the 90’s and the early 2000’s he would spend time producing a high standard of work for the Big Two, working on major characters like Superman, Batman and the X-Men. Most notable from his time at Marvel is the 12 issue series Earth X with Jim Krueger and Alex Ross. A tale of a future dystopian Marvel Universe that is still heralded as a classic over ten years after its release and a story still revisited within the pages of the comics today. Also at this stage of his career he spent a lot of his time at DC working within Warner Bros providing style guides for comic book movie adaptations like Green Lantern, Superman Returns and the first two Chris Nolan Batman movies. In 2008 he would receive his first of three colorectal cancer diagnosis. During all the chemo, radiation and surgery he would continue to produce an impressive body of work as a cover artist. He provided covers for all 12 issues of Sheriff of Babylon between 2016/17. He also teamed twice with Brian Wood on two modern day classics with DMZ and The Massive. Due to his cancer treatment his Batman magnum opus Creature of The Night along written by Kurt Busiek saw its final issue released in 2019. It is now available as a hardcover and is well worth seeking out. As recently as April this year he was announced to be pencilling the Batman/Catwoman one shot special to accompany the 12 issue series by Tom King. Here is hoping that the work was further along in the process before his untimely death. It will be a real treat to see it in some form or other. Hopefully bringing a new audience to the art of a modern day visionary. At this time my thoughts are with all his family and friends.

John Paul Leon April 26th 1972 – May 1st 2021
– RIP –

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