Born Aug. 22, 1953 in southeast London to a working-class family, O'Neill's artistic dreams were first awakened by anthology comics like The Beano (home of Dennis the Menace, among other strips) and American imports of Mad Magazine.
"Those ink lines and squiggles represented to me a glimpse of worlds more real and powerful and desirable than the one I lived in," O'Neill told writer George Khoury in an interview for True Brit, a history of British comics.
Top Shelf Productions 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen' co-creator Kevin O'Neill has died at 69.
O'Neill started working in the comics industry at age 16, first as an office assistant for children's humor comic Buster. Eventually, he had enough of children's comics and went to work on the new sci-fi anthology 2000 AD. O'Neill filled both artistic and editorial roles in the early years of 2000 AD, which became popular with readers and endures to this day. Its most popular strips include Judge Dredd and Nemesis the Warlock, which O'Neill created with writer Pat Mills.
O'Neill's first collaboration with Moore came in 1986, when the two worked on an issue of DC's Tales of the Green Lantern Corps superhero comic. The Comics Code Authority objected to the issue and when DC inquired why, the organization, which had been responsible for rating mainstream comics since the moral panic of the early '50s, said they found O'Neill's art style objectionable. O'Neill, blacklisted from mainstream superhero comics, reunited with Mills for Marshal Law, a hyper-violent satire of classic superheroes and American culture that put O'Neill's bloody, vivid, grotesque art to perfect use.
"Never forget: Kevin O'Neill's whole style was considered objectionable by the Comics Code Authority. That's a real level of heroism," writer Kieron Gillen posted after news broke of O'Neill's death. "All his Nemesis and Torquemada work lives in my head, building gothic palaces."
Never forget: Kevin O'Neill's whole style was considered objectionable by the Comics Code Authority. That's a real level of heroism. All his Nemesis and Torquemada work lives in my head, building gothic palaces. pic.twitter.com/NLD63IzATD
— Kieron Gillen (@kierongillen) November 7, 2022
O'Neill's most famous comic arrived in 1999, when he and Moore first created The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Although it started as a Justice League-like team-up of Victorian pulp heroes like Captain Nemo and the Invisible Man, League evolved into an epic saga that ran for decades and incorporated almost every conceivable fictional character into its canon. Each installment was more ambitious than the last: The Black Dossier was a multi-format exploration of 20th century literature, while another story reimagined Harry Potter as the Antichrist of the new millennium.
O'Neill really got to shine in League spinoff The Nemo Trilogy, capturing both the cyberpunk cityscape of Fritz Lang's Metropolis and the monster-filled arctic wasteland of H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness. The Nemo Trilogy landed on EW's list of best comics of the last decade, where Darren Franich praised O'Neill's blending of "German cinematic expressionism and techno-futurism into an explosive wartime adventure."
Kevin O'Neill for Top Shelf/IDW Lincoln Island displays the treasures of multiple generations of Nemo's in 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest' by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen came to an end last year with its final volume, The Tempest, which both Moore and O'Neill presented as their farewell to the comics medium. On their way out they managed to rip James Bond to shreds and pen homages to the forgotten comic artists that influenced their childhoods.
In the final pages, Moore penned sarcastic, bittersweet goodbyes in both their voices. The author's note ends with this: "Fortunately, thanks to a large audience of clever people, they were able to spend 20 years working together on the best f---ing comic in the world, before being tragically devoured by pasty neoconservative androids along with everything else that was ever any good."