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John Paul Leon, the artist best known as the original penciller for the Milestone Comics title Static and for his work on acclaimed titles like Earth X and The Winter Men, died Sunday at the age of 49 after battling cancer for more than a decade. Immediately following his death, tributes from fans and fellows comics creators began pouring in, showing the full scope of Leon's impact on the comics world as an artist and a person.
"To some extent, he was an example of the old Thomas Edison aphorism, 'Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.' Except that in John Paul’s case, I’m pretty sure it was more like 50/50. Maybe 60/40," Legendary artist Walt Simonson, who taught Leon at the School of Visual Arts in the 1990s, wrote on his Facebook page.
Leon was just a teenager when he began landing pencilling gigs on magazines like Dragon and Dungeon, and comics work on titles like RoboCop soon followed in the early 1990s. His real breakthrough came, as Simonson recalled, when he landed the gig drawing Static for the just-launched Milestone Comics while he was still a student at the School of Visual Arts. Because of the workload of drawing a monthly comic while also going to school, he asked if his work pencilling the new superhero could count as credit on his class assignments, and Simonson agreed.
Leon graduated from the School of Visual Arts with a bachelors degree in 1994 and never looked back, becoming one of the most celebrated artists in modern comics over the course of the next 25 years. Among his best known work was the ambitious Marvel Comics reinvention Earth X, the DC Comics limited series Batman: Creatue of the Night, the Wildstorm Comics miniseries The Winter Men, and the Eisner-nominated short story "Black Death in America," which his co-creator Tom King posted on Twitter in its entirety Sunday. In addition to his comics work, Leon also contributed styles guides to film productions like Superman Returns and Batman Begins, spreading his creative influence to the big screen.
Below are just a few of the tributes to Leon from his friends and colleagues.
"John Paul Leon passed away yesterday at the way too early age of 49. One of the greatest artists of our generation, he was also one of the nicest & most talented creators one could be lucky enough to have met. So young & still creating the very best work of his career." -Jim Lee.
"The last time I spoke with John Paul Leon was a few short months ago. I think that last line will haunt me forever. Hopefully as a reminder to stay in touch with those who have touched my soul. JP mentions he was a whiskey fan before the chemo. Well tonight I raise one for him." -Mitch Gerads
In accordance with Leon's wishes, a GoFundMe page has been set up by his studio mates and friends, Tommy Lee Edwards and Bernard Chang, to set up a trust that will help fund his daughter's education and help his family as they deal with his loss. Our thoughts are with Leon's family, friends, and colleagues.