Comic book creator John Paul Leon died yesterday, after being diagnosed with cancer, at the age of 49. I spoke with Michael Davis earlier this week about the man and his life, as he rose through Davis’ artist studio, as well as majoring in illustration at New York’s School of Visual Arts, studying under artists such as Will Eisner, Walter Simonson, and Jack Potter and gaining a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.
Beginning his comic career on Robocop for Dark Horse with John Arcudi, John Paul Leon followed that launching a comic that he would be associated with for the rest of his life, the Milestone comic Static with Dwayne McDuffie, which would become the cartoon Static Shock and also drew Shadow Cabinet for the publisher. He drew the Marvel series Earth X with Alex Ross and Jim Krueger, The Further Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix with Peter Milligan, co-created The Winter Men with Brett Lewis for WildStorm/DC Comics, Challengers Of The Unknown with Steven Grant as well as drawing the recent Batman: Creature of the Night, working with Kurt Busiek. His cover work also adorned the likes of DMZ, The Massive, Sheriff Of Babylon, and Hellblazer through their runs. Many comic creators, editors, and others have been offering their condolences and memories of the man. Here are a few.
Chris Conroy: Last night, we lost John Paul Leon, one of the greatest draftsmen in the history of comics, the kind of artist that EVERY artist revered. Those who loved him had some warning, but not enough.
Steven Grant: Very very saddened to hear of the death of my friend & erstwhile collaborator John Paul Leon. We’d talked for years about doing something else together but the opportunity never came up, & now it never will. A terrible loss, for all concerned.
Shannon Eric Denton: RIP John Paul Leon. What a stellar talent and kind voice within our industry. You will be missed by many. #johnpaulleon
Francesco Francavilla: I couldn’t believe it, but it seems to be confirmed. We lost a huge talent in the comics industry, one of those artists’ artists. JPL’s noir, heavy blacks aesthetics were near&dear to my heart. My heart goes to his family, friends, and fans. We’ll miss U, brother.
Joseph P. Illidge: John Paul Leon, the founding artist of Milestone’s STATIC, has passed beyond the mortal coil. Hopefully, he and Robert Washington the 3rd are collaborating on something new and pitching it to God. He’ll definitely greenlight it.
Kurt Busiek: I was so very sorry to hear last night that John Paul Leon has passed away, far too young, after years of fighting cancer. John Paul was an amazing talent, a wonderful collaborator, and a great guy. I was very lucky to be able to work with him on a big story like BATMAN: CREATURE OF THE NIGHT, sad we won’t get to do the little story we had in the works and devastated that he’s gone.
A heartbreaking loss for his family and friends and for the medium of comics. What he’s done will always be with us, though, and we can and will treasure that. RIP JPL.
Tom King: John Paul Leon was a comic book humanist. He grounded the inherent absurdity of conveying myth and story through inked panels by insisting the emotional struggle of our lived experience be in every line, every picture. And he was a joy of a man, kind and funny, to the end. RIP.
Tom also linked to a story he wrote that Leon drew. “Early in my career, I had the honor of working on a short story with the transcendent artist John Paul Leon who passed away last night. It was published in black and white and was nominated for an Eisner. The art is perfect. Here it is full.”
Chris Burnham: RIP John Paul Leon!!! An absolute all-time great.
Karl Kesel: Stunned— and deeply saddened— to hear of the passing of JOHN PAUL LEON.
When I was putting together SECTION ZERO back in 2018, I wanted an All-Star line-up of artists doing pin-ups— if not superstars, certainly my personal favorites. John Paul Leon was one of them, generously agreeing to draw the enigmatic CURIO. He delivered far more than he needed to or than I ever expected. Which, based on his work, is how he must have approached every job. I believe I worked with him once before that— inking a small Robocop story he penciled for Dark Horse. (I *think* it was him; that’s what that small voice in my head tells me.) It was one of his first professional assignments, and long before he “became” JPL. But you could still tell he was One to Watch. There was something to the work— something to the thinking *behind* the work— that stood out. We almost worked together on a CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN series— which I desperately wanted to write, and it would have been a DREAM to work with JPL on it— but I didn’t agree with the direction DC wanted the series to go in, so turned it down because I’m an idiot. Steven Grant was much wiser and took the job. One of the two or three biggest regrets of my career. There are many who knew John Paul Leon far better than I did and my condolences to them for this deep loss. I was just lucky enough to cross paths with him a couple of times.
Jamal Igle: John Paul Leon was the type of artist that made you want to up your game just so that you could be in the same league, let alone on the same playing field. He was a tremendous talent. I didn’t know him personally, but I was a fan.
Denys Cowan: Terrible news RIP John Paul Leon
Jeremy Haun: Just learned about the passing of John Paul Leon. Dammit, this one really hurts. Not only was JP one of the most inspiringly talented creators working in comics, he was just an incredibly kind and wonderful guy. Thanks for everything you brought to this industry JP. Rest well.
Dan Jurgens: So sorry to hear of John Paul Leon’s passing. Such a remarkably unique talent–brought so much to the industry and influenced so many. A great loss of a great artist.
Ram V: RIP, John Paul Leon <3 Collaborating w him was a highlight. We emailed a few times afterwards. Nothing but kindness and humility from an artist whose work defined my taste in comics. Treasure the fact that I got to work w him twice. <3 My condolences to his family and friends.
Aaron Campbell: RIP John Paul Leon. You remain one of my biggest influences. I will treasure this cover for the rest of my life.
Frank Quitely: RIP John Paul Leon. Thank you for your outstanding work.
Mike Norton: We had just put out an unused JPL Batman story in our Let Them Live series, and I kept saying to myself, “How is there an UNPUBLISHED John Paul Leon Batman story?”.
Rob Williams: RIP John Paul Leon. So tragic. One of the best we’ve ever had.
Greg Pak: Rest in peace, John Paul Leon, and deepest condolences to his friends and family.
Jody Houser: Absolutely gutted to hear about John Paul Leon’s passing. Possibly the very best artist I’ve ever worked with (and I doubt any other artists would be offended by my saying that). Didn’t know him well, but had been meaning to drop him a line.
Brent Schoonover: Life well lived to a master of his craft. You will be missed John Paul Leon.
Frank Tieri: Wow. Just heard the news about John Paul Leon. Truly heartbreaking. I was lucky enough to have worked with him on an issue of WEAPON X and always wished I would get the chance to work with him again. A true master taken way too young. RIP
Michael Avon Oeming: Truly one of the best. I’d study his black spotting, loose brush and pure mood of his work. In my influence box for sure. Thank you for the art
Pat Brosseau: R.I.P., the talented John Paul Leon. I lettered his first pro comic job, a short Robocop story for Dark Horse in 1992 while he was still a student at SVA. I met him later at a con in NYC and tried to buy some Winter Men pages from him, but he nicely declined. He will be missed. 🙁
David Marquez: Just learned that John Paul Leon has passed away. A transcendent talent who was a constant inspiration to every artist I know, myself included, he’s already missed. Deepest condolences to his family, friends, and fans.
Bill Rosemann: RIP John Paul Leon, a true artist whose every line revealed his depth, heart, and humanity. (Unlettered beautiful pages from Black Widow: Deadly Origin.)
Klaus Janson: Hard to say enough great things about John Paul Leon and his art. An example to follow for everyone who thinks they can draw or do comics. So sorry for his family and fans. Truly an enormous loss. My very heartfelt sympathies to all.
Cully Hamner: Literally the best of us, and I wish I’d known you better. Your art, your storytelling are so admired (definitely a favorite of mine), and your friends and peers think the world of you. Peace, John Paul Leon.
Tom Feister: Just heard about the passing of @johnpaulleon. He was a massive talent. Many years ago, I was buying his run on DC’a reboot of Challengers of the Unknown. Batman and Robin appeared for two issues. I remember at the time coming across the page I’m posting and being blown away. It’s not a bombastic fight scene. It’s not Batman racing through the streets of Gotham in his Batmobile. It’s a very quiet and methodical scene of “the world’s greatest detective,”detecting. You can hear the drawers open and close. You can hear the papers shifting. You can hear the rustle of his cape as he moves around the room until he finally finds what he was searching for. Years later, when I met @johnpaulleon at ComicCon I was shocked it was still in his stack of pages. I had to have it. It’s hung in my office ever since. Personally, I think it’s one of the very best Batman pages ever drawn, by one of the best to ever work in the medium.
Filip Sablik: Deeply saddened to learn that one of our industry’s most brilliant & distinctive artists, @johnpaulleon, has passed away. I had the pleasure of collaborating w/ him as an editor many years ago @TopCow & his talent was only eclipsed by his kindness, professionalism, & humility.
Brandon T. Snider: John Paul Leon was a master. I had the pleasure of working with him on a Superman Returns book where he created one of my favorite Superman images to date. His art was evocative and had depth. A true artist. May he rest in peace.
Van Jensen: RIP John Paul Leon. The artist I admired most and a kind person. If you have not, read his work in THE WINTER MEN, comics at its absolute best.
Declan Shalvey: I’m devastated. My art hero, John Paul Leon, has passed away. I was lucky enough to meet him a few times, and he was so sweet, so kind. Considerate in all the ways you’d imagine an artist of such skill and inspiration would be. My most sincere condolences to his family and friends
John McCrea: I met John Paul Leon once in Marie Javins’s office at Marvel, and was a bit starstruck. Static was out and so good, but he was humble and lovely…so sad to hear of his passing, he genuinely was one of the greats…
Alex Paknadel: I’ve just learned that the great John Paul Leon has died. My heartfelt sympathies to his friends and family. We have lost a true giant. Our medium – our art form – is vastly diminished by his passing.
Christos Gage: Oh, no. It seems the great artist and even better human being, John Paul Leon, has passed away, far too young. My deepest condolences to his family loved ones, friends, and fans. Working with him was a dream. I don’t even know how to process this. Rest well, my friend.
Peter Krause: I am beyond heartbroken. John Paul Leon was an artist I looked up to. One of the best of this generation, if not the best.
Gabriel Hardman: Devastating news. He was undoubtedly one of the all-time great comic book artists. RIP
Alex Sinclair: Such sad news. Really enjoyed working with John Paul Leon and admired his work immensely. Rest In Peace.
Eddy Choi: RIP John Paul Leon