Kevin O'Neill (b. South London, 1953) started work at IPC as an office boy on Buster at the age of 16. During the early seventies he worked as a colourist and "bodger" on IPC's children's humour titles like Monster Fun and Whizzer and Chips, including drawing the "Picture Yourself" feature for Cor!!. He also drew for fanzines like Unicorn, Fantasy Advertiser, Eureka and Interplanetary News. In 1974-5 he contributed to Worlds of Horror, and in 1975 he became the art editor, and later editor, of Dez Skinn's poster magazine Legend Horror Classics on a freelance basis. He drew his first professional comics for these titles, including adaptations of Dracula and Frankenstein in the first two issues of Legend Horror Classics, a shark story, "Killer Jaws", in the eighth, and "The Jokers" in the ninth. In 1976 he self-published Mek Memoirs, a twelve-page small press comic about a robot war, co-written by fellow IPC staffer Jack Adrian.
When 2000 AD was in production in 1976, O'Neill, tired of working on children's humour titles, approached originating editor Pat Mills and got himself transferred to the new title. In the early issues he drew occasional covers and pin-ups and the odd "Future Shock", and was responsible for introducing creator credits, designing "credit cards" naming script, art and lettering "robots" to be pasted onto the strips. He was offered the opportunity to become art editor of Starlord, a new science fiction title, in 1978, but declined, feeling the title wouldn't last. 2000 AD art editor Janet Shepherd was transferred to the new title, and O'Neill got her old job. However, he worked with Pat Mills on character designs for "Ro-Busters", a robot disaster squad Mills was writing for Starlord, and drew covers for it.
Starlord was merged into 2000 AD within the year, and "Ro-Busters" was one of the strips that carried over. O'Neill, now freelance, drew episodes of the Ro-Busters serials "Hammerstein's War Memoirs" (1978) and "The Fall and Rise of Ro-Jaws and Hammerstein" (1979). Management objected to one episode of the latter, a car-chase sequence through a futuristic travel tube network, but couldn't come up with any reason to censor it. He also designed characters for, and drew some of the episodes of, the "Ro-Busters" spin-off "ABC Warriors" (1979).
In 1980, Mills and O'Neill introduced a new feature, "Comic Rock", billed as short strips inspired by rock music. The first installment, "Terror Tube", was supposedly suggested by The Jam's "Going Underground" - but was in fact inspired by management's objections to the tube chase sequence in "Ro-Busters". "Terror Tube" featured a chase through an even more insane tube network, in which the hero, a freedom-fighter called Nemesis, of whom all that was seen was the outside of his car, the Blitzspear, escaped from the fanatical, conical-helmeted Torquemada, chief of the Tube Police. There was only one other "Comic Rock" strip, a two-parter called "Killer Watt", in which Torquemada chased Nemesis through a teleport system, before "Nemesis the Warlock" got his own series in 1981. Torquemada became ruler of earth, leading a campaign of genocide against aliens, and Nemesis was the leader of the alien resistance, and O'Neill's artwork, a fantastic combination of Wally Wood's penchant for cramming panels with background detail and Ken Reid's eye for the gruesome, really began to flower. In the mid-1980s he began taking work at DC Comics in America, and was replaced as the regular artist on "Nemesis" by Bryan Talbot, and later John Hicklenton, David Roach and Henry Flint, but continued to draw occasional storylines, and drew the final episode in 1999.
At DC he often worked with writer Alan Moore. One of their stories, a Green Lantern back-up story called "Tygers", was denied approval from the Comics Code Authority, and when the editor asked what could be changed to make it acceptable, he was told it was O'Neill's drawing style they found objectionable. DC chose to publish it in an annual in 1986, without Code approval. The same year at DC, he and Mills created Metalzoic, a bizarre science fiction graphic novel about a planet inhabited by living, evolving machines, which was later reprinted in serial form in 2000 AD.
In 1990 Mills and O'Neill created Marshall Law, a violent, satirical anti-superhero series. O'Neill's lurid, full-colour art was full of extreme imagery and crammed with background detail which drew the censor's ire. The first six-part series and and few one-offs were published by Marvel's Epic imprint in the USA, but the creators later took the character to UK publisher Apocalypse, where he was the star of a short-lived, full-colour weekly, Toxic!, in 1991. Further stories have been published by Dark Horse in the USA.
In the 1990s he drew an erotic strip, "Bitchcraft", for Penthouse, with writer Tony Skinner, and even managed to run into problems with censorship there. Since 1999 he has been working on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a Victorian fiction team-up book, with Alan Moore. It was originally part of the America's Best Comic Line at Wildstorm, a subsidiary of DC, but is now published by Knockabout in the UK. He also contributes to Moore's underground magazine Dodgem Logic.
References[edit | edit source]
- Lew Stringer, Kevin O'Neill, the Early Days, Blimey! It's Another Blog About Comics, 17 February 2009
- Douglas Wolk interviews Kevin O'Neill, The Comics Journal, 16 February 2010
- Steve Holland, Comic Firsts: Kev O'Neill, Bear Alley, 23 March 2008