May 29 2012 11:15am

Leo Dillon 1933-2012

Illustration has lost another giant. Leo Dillon, husband and life-long collaborator of Diane Dillon, passed away on May 26th. Together they created a remarkable array children’s books and book covers. 

While their style could change to meet the needs of any project, you can always recognize a Leo and Diane Dillon painting by its exquisite sense of design and decorative qualities, and the joy of celebrating all races and cultures. They have stated, “We all have a lot in common. It is our beliefs that divide us. We have little control over what life brings us but we can change our thoughts.”

They have won Caldecott medals, Coretta Scott King Awards, Society of Illustrators medals, and countless other recognitions for picture books. They may, however, be better known to Tor.com readers for having put a face to the New Wave of sf/f fiction in the 60s and 70s. The Dillons created many covers for Harlan Ellison and for the Ace Specials under Terry Carr. Their association with science fiction remained strong throughout their career and garnered them both a Hugo and a Spectrum Grand Masters medal.

Our thoughts are with Diane Dillon and their family and friends. Leo and Diane once stated, “Art in its many forms has survived to inform us of lives long gone. Art inspires, lifts our spirits, and brings beauty to our lives. We wish to pay homage to it and the people who created it.” The Dillons have, unquestionably lifted the spirits and inspired generations of people, and will continue to do so for generations to come. 

(Samples of the Dillons’s work below....)

Irene Gallo’s gateway to sf/f was hunting down the Dillon covers to Harlan Ellison books. She will always remember her brief meeting with them at the Spectrum Exhibition.

Tristan Elwell
1. Elwell
Thanks, Irene. And more importantly, thank you, Leo.
Cat York
2. Cat York
Beautiful. Thank you for sharing, Irene.
Irene Gallo
3. Irene
Indeed, thank you Leo!

I'm kicking myself for not talking to them more at that first Spectrum Exhibition but I'm glad I at least had a brief opportunity to tell them how much their work means to me. He seemed a delight.

Greg Manchess went over to their house to pick up artwork once (the first time they had ever met.) Leo was fasicnated by an old cistern he had just dug up in the basement. He took Greg down to invesitage. I kinda love the idea of this titan of illustration being so curious about something so mundane. The way Greg tells it, it sounded like two 10-yr-old's on an adventure.
T S Davis
4. tee+D
Thank you, Leo, indeed. So sad to lose another fab illustrator.

I was introduced to this couple with an interview at the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=2226) blog - their artwork is incredible. I very much appreciate the emphasis on the art of SFF. Thank you for sharing this.
Bruce Jensen
5. Bruce_Jensen
I'm sad to learn that Leo has passed on. I've always been inspired by the Dillon's work. The book collecticting some of their work " The Art of Leo and Diane Dillon" is far too thin, but it's a favorite of mine. The versatility of approach, and sensibility in their work is awe inspiring.
Cat York
6. firstgentrekkie
A terrible loss for us, but what an amazing body of work he us left for our infinite delight.
Bruce Cohen
7. SpeakerToManagers
This is very sad news. I only met Leo and Diane once, but we got to sit down and talk for about half an hour or 45 minutes. That gave me a chance to talk to them about their work and chat about our lives and hopes after I'd told them how much I loved their work (basically by squeeing until I ran out of breath).

I feel lucky that I've known about them for a long time now, and have gotten a chance to watch over time how they've developed and pushed both the sensibility and technique of the art of illustration. Their work gave me the sense, even more than most artists, that they were exploring a new world of color and form that gave them great joy, and bringing back their discoveries to enchant the rest of us.

My heart and my thoughts go out to Diane and all of Leo's family and friends. I know that this must be an exceptionally hard blow for Diane, to lose someone who was a partner in so many different ways.
Cat York
8. Janeyolen
Oh God, no.

I don't think I have Diane's email, Irene. If you wouldn't mind.

Cat York
9. Tom Whitmore
Leo was a truly kind and interesting man, and my heart is heavy for Diane. They were one of the best examples of a truly collaborative couple: neither one of them could say what part of a painting they'd done when it was finished. I treasure each of the times I got to meet them (and, like Jane, I'd appreciate an address for Diane if it's reasonable to send it).
N. Swain
10. Jabberwocky
This is sad news. I think the first book I read that I knew was illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon was Wise Child by Monica Furlong. I picked up the book because of the cover. And several other books illustrated by them since then.
Cat York
11. firstgentrekkie
Can someone give us a mailing address or agent's address where we could send cards and condolences?
Cat York
12. Valerie Lewis
Leo Dillon was warm, elegant and a gifted artist. His work with Diane was unlike any collaboration I've seen. They were three parts: Leo, Diane and the third artist who was a combination of them both. I will miss waiting in anticipation for their newest book. With her consent, I too would like a current address for Diane as the one I have for the Dillons is years old.
Cat York
13. A Fenner
I think it was Harlan Ellison who wrote about visiting the Dillons one time; as the night wore on and a deadline loomed, he watched Leo fall asleep at his easel after a particularly long day. Diane came into the studio, roused him enough to usher him to bed, then sat down, picked up the brush, and continued painting from the precise point that Leo had left off, as if he had never stopped. The same line, the same sureness, the same vision. The same heart.

Our community have all benefitted from the Dillons' warmth, their wit, their intellect, and of course their unforgettable art. Needless to say, Leo will be deeply missed. My sincerest condolences to Diane, their son Lee, to all their family and to their many friends.

Thanks for sharing this with us, Irene.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
14. tnh
I'm so sorry to hear that Leo Dillon is dead.

He and his wife Diane Dillon changed my life. Back in the 60s and early 70s, I noticed and bought a striking new line of paperbacks that all had the Dillons' beautiful, intelligent, dignified covers. After a while I realized that all the books with their covers were good, and then noticed that they were all edited by Terry Carr. That was how I found out that there's such a thing as a science fiction book editor.

It's a nontrivial thing to create book covers that make people want to pick up books and read them.

The Ace Specials weren't the only books I've bought because Leo Dillon was one of the cover artists. I've acquired a number of them over the years. It's a sure thing: they do tend to be good books, and the cover is worth the price all by itself.

For many years now I've coveted a poster in David Hartwell's basement which Leo and Diane Dillon produced for the opening of an avant-garde NYC coffee house. It's still the only piece of luminously serene urban post-apocalyptic art I've ever seen.

Words are never sufficient, but his art is still with us. If you're not familiar with it, go have a look.


A few more favorites:

endpaper art, Ashanti to Zulu
cover art, The Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain
cover art, John Brunner's The Traveler in Black
wraparound cover art, Harlan Ellison's Deathbird Stories
cover, Avram Davidson's The Phoenix in the Mirror
cover, John T. Sladek's Mechasm
Pamela Adams
15. PamAdams
Thank you, Leo and Diane, for all of your beautiful work. Time to go pull The People Could Fly off the shelf.
Michael Walsh
16. MichaelWalsh
Much like TNH above, the covers they did for the Ace SF Specials were what drew me to the books.

When I reprinted Keith Roberts' "Pavane" there was no question as to what the cover art would be.
Cat York
17. Randy Reichardt
.: Thank you for this lovely tribute to Leo. I have been friends with the Dillons since 1989, when we invited them to Edmonton as Artist GoH in June that year. Subsequently, I visited them in Brooklyn at least 20 times, right through to last fall. I am heartbroken at this news in many ways. My office and home are covered in encapsulated and framed Dillon prints and covers. I already miss him deeply.
Cat York
18. Wendy Popp
The third artist that emerged from the inspiration of these two beautiful minds has always been able to celebrate the light and the open mind, encouraging audiences to focus on their own common humanity.

The ability to do this as a union has so much to do with their innate and empathetic knowledge, and their generosity as independent thinkers.

Both Diane and Leo have expressed this consistantly in their life work, opening many portals, parting many clouds. I trust that death too is a veil and I expect that Leo will succeed in lifting that one as well to receive the fullest embrace of the light.

If you do not know the work of these two individuals, you should.
Cat York
19. Andi Shechter
I always hoped to meet the Dillons. Their work has filled my head and heart for so long. More than once, I bought a book with a Dillon cover, with the sense it would be worth reading. They introduced me to Garth Nix, for example, and a story by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Their art fills my bookshelves and the walls of our home here in Seattle. I feel like I knew them, knowing their work and knowing we had lots of friends in common. Just yesterday, at a bookshop, I spoke of them for quite a while with the cool store clerk. I am bereft, feeling that I've lost a friend. I am so so so grateful he was alive and shared his brilliance with us. If someone can tell us how to send messages to Diane, please share that? I am bereft, and so very very sad.
Cat York
20. Lela
I was sad to her about Leo Dillion. His illustrations and paintings were one for the ages. The beauty of his work will live on forever in our hearts. I met Mr. Dillion and his wife Diane at Brooklyn Public Library Staff Day years ago. I grateful to have met them both and appreciated they work since. May he Rest In Peace.
Cat York
21. JohnnyMac
We have lost a great artist. I hope that the Dillons' beautiful and distinctive work will be collected and published in a good quality hardback. I would pay serious money for such a collection (are you listening publishers?).
Cat York
22. Andrew-Porter
How ironic that I bought a piece by Leo and Diane at Fusion Designs Gallery just last week. They have always been among my favorite artists and the opportunity to finally acquire a small but perfect original by them trumped my budgetary considerations. They were neighbors, living 15 minutes away, and I'm glad I knew them down through the decades, and was able to express my admiration for them and their artwork, before Leo passed beyond the veil.
Cat York
23. Tom Whitmore
JohnnyMac: The Ballantines published a nice selection back in 1981 (The Art of Leo and Diane Dillon) in both hardback and trade paper; and there's a blogspot archive devoted to their work at http://leo-and-diane-dillon.blogspot.com/. Check it out. A complete hardback collection would be very, very large, given all their books for children.
Cat York
24. Paul Ullrich
Leo and Diane Dillon were my instructors at SVA in the early 70's. Thier atristic philosophy was to experiment with different techniques, and have fun doing it. It was a great class, which had a lasting influence on me and all students fortunate to have taken their courses.
Cat York
25. Chuck Lukacs
Thank you so much for all these stories.!! Brilliant celebration of such a wildly inspirational being.. They both have taught me so many things over the years, but more than most; to stay true to one's stylization.. Rest in Peace, Maestro Dillon..
Cat York
26. Esme Raji Codell
Crushed to hear of the passing of Leo Dillon. What stunning artwork he and Diane created together, truly masters of a second Golden Age of Children's Literature in the late 20th century, of which Sendak was a part. I have a debt of gratitude; I know I am among many librarians inspired to pursue our professional path because of the opportunity to share the creations of such magnificent illustrators with young audiences. I think of Leo and Diane like the Fred and Ginger of children's book illustration. Though this is such an incredibly sad time, I hope Diane can find it within herself to keep dancing through her brush, or through whatever gives her hope and allows her to feel our love. Sincere condolences.
Cat York
27. JohnnyMac
Tom Whitmore @23: Thank you for the tip. I shall have to look that up on Amazon. I do still hope that some intelligent publisher will put together a collection surveying the Dillons' lifetime of amazing work.
Cat York
28. Lisa Falkenstern
I met the Dillons briefly when I went into Books of Wonder to have them sign their book, Pish Posh, said Hieronymus Bosch. There was no one there at the time, and I used the fact that they knew my husband, Milton Charles, to talk to them. They were very nice to me. Mr. Dillon's work is some of the best I have ever seen.
Cat York
29. Merikay Noah
RIP Leo. Thank you for sharing your amazing talent with all of us. Your book covers drew me in and caused me to find great reads I might never have discovered otherwise. Your illustrations brought an added dimension that took my breath away at times. You will be greatly missed!
Cat York
30. Duncan Long
Irene: Thank you for taking the time to recognize book cover illustrators like
Leo Dillon and for displaying his artwork. With most of our media today talentless folks from "reality shows" seem to garner way too much media attention, while talented artists like Dillon get little or no mention. Your efforts are the exception to that rule, and are a ray of bright light in an otherwise dark landscape. Thanks so much.
Darren James
31. b8amack
So many great artists, these last twelve months.
Cat York
32. Patricia Lee Gauch
This is an infinitely sad moment for me, to lose Leo to this world. I am sure that one by one the people who loved the Dillons work individually and the Dillons themselves feel this way. I was fortunate enough to work with them, and felt the entire journey, a miracle. I sat at their table, and over a home-made cup of soup, heard Leo's dreams, wishes, wonderful comments on life. He wanted to discover the authentic African tale that would finally reveal the rich and heroic heart and moment of this people. I think he was always looking for it. When I visited a Nubian village this winter, I knew I had to tell Leo. I felt as if I might have discovered, in this ancient people and their history, what he was looking for. The loss of Leo can not be measured.
Cat York
33. Kaytee
If you can, I HIGHLY suggest purchasing a used copy (or new) of THE ART OF LEO AND DIANE DILLON. Very, very much worth it.

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