Leo and Diane Dillon are/were among the most talented and versatile American illustrators of my childhood. They produced book covers, editorial illustrations, movie posters, album covers, and advertising featuring subject matter that ranged from the sweetest children’s literature, African folktales to Scandinavian epics, from fantasy to science fiction
Leo Dillon, of Trinidadian immigrant parentage, was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and Diane Sorber Dillon hails from the Greater Los Angeles Area. Born eleven days apart in 1933, they met, competed, and fell in love while attending Parsons School of Design in New York. Over the years, their competitive friendship evolved into a lasting marriage and artistic partnership. Realizing their strength was in collaboration the Dillons created a broad spectrum of art using whatever medium or technique that “worked”—including pastels, colored pencil, watercolor, acrylic, stencils, typography, woodcut, collage, and sculpture—for a broad cross-section of clients.
Their work has been an outstanding contribution to children of all races and cultures. Coming from a household of avid readers my parents made it a point to have a diverse collection of books in the home, including many that had characters that look like me and my siblings. My bedtime reading consisted of some of my favorite stories from books such as Why Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ears, Who's In Rabbits House, and folk tales from The People Who Could Fly. My all time favorite book was the sassy poems by Eloise Greenfield in Honey, I Love. I admired the fact that the little girls in the book had afro puffs and braids in their hair much like me, beautiful smiles and looked so happy.
The Dillon's also became famous in the science fiction community for their inventive series of paperback covers for the Ace Science Fiction Specials as well as for their numerous magazine illustrations and book covers for the works of Harlan Ellison. But outside the world of fantasy and science fiction, the Dillons unquestionably became best known for their numerous picture books for children. Celebrated for illustrating stories featuring all ethnicities and cultural heritages, they received unprecedented back-to-back accolades and awards.
The major message the Dillons wanted to convey was that all people, whatever their culture or race, experience the same things. "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." Also, since the beginning of history, people have expressed themselves in wonderful and unique ways. "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."
In the course of their careers, the Dillons taught at the School of Visual Arts and lectured at colleges around the country. Leo died in 2012 at the age of 79 of lung cancer. The obituary of Leo in The New York Times praised the Dillons jointly as "one of the world's pre-eminent illustrators for young people, producing artwork — praised for its vibrancy, ecumenicalism and sheer sumptuous beauty — that was a seamless amalgam of both their hands", also noting the ethnic diversity of characters in the Dillons' work in the 1970s, "until then, the smiling faces portrayed in picture books had been overwhelmingly white."