Monday, March 20, 2017

Bernie Wrightson

Bernie Wrightson, oen and ink Frankenstein illustrations, Horror comics, Batman, Swamp Thing

Bernie (Berni) Wrigntson was an American comics artist and illustrator known for his work on horror comics for DC Comics and Warren Publishing, on titles like Batman and, in particular, Swamp Thing.

Bernie Writghtson died on Saturday at the age of 68.

His work on Swamp Thing set new standards for horror comics art and was influential on other artists. Wrightson eventually left DC for Warren Publications, which was publishing black and white horror comics Creepy and Eerie that were printed larger than typical comic books, at magazine size.

Wrightson was a major figure in American comic book art, and at one point joined together with Jeffrey (Catherine) Jones, Barry Windsor-Smith and Michael Kaluta — like-minded artists who took inspiration from the great Golden Age illustrators — to share a joint space in New York called “The Studio”.

Wrightson was inspired by 1950’s horror comics from EC, and in particular the work of Graham Ingles and Frank Frazetta, but later in his career the influence of great pen and ink illustrators become more prominent, particularly the fantastic work of Franklin Booth. Those influences became evident in Wrightson’s acknowledged masterpiece, a series of elaborate and beautifully realized illustrations for Mary Shelly’s classic Frankenstein (images above, top two, with details).

This was not an assignment, Wrightson took on the project in his spare time out of love for the material. The illustrations were initially released as a limited edition portfolio. (A personal note: when I got divorced many many years ago, my ex-wife and I didn’t have any children or a house to argue over, but we wound up splitting joint custody, half and half, of the Frankenstein portfolio).

The drawings were later used in new editions of the Mary Shelly novel published accompanied by Wrightson’s illustrations.

Unfortunately, as far as I know, the book versions are out of print. Dark Horse still has a listing for their digital version, also for their collections of work from Creepy and Eerie that include some of Wrightson’s work. The print editions of Frankenstein may still be available used, though prices are likely to go up.

Wrightson and writer Steve Niles later followed with a comic book adaptation, Frankenstein Alive Alive! (images above, middle) which was published by IDW.

You may be able to find other Wrightson materials through used book sources, including reprints of some of his classic Swamp Thing issues.

The best currently in print source for his comics work is probably Creepy Presents Bernie Wrightson, a compendium of some of his work for Warren publishing, meant from the outset to be viewed in black and white, which is how I think his work is at its best.

Unfortunately, I don’t know of a good major online resource for viewing Wrightson’s work.

There is an official Bernie Wrightson website, with a bio and image galleries, unfortunately, the images in the galleries are maddeningly small and not well reproduced for the web, though they can still give you an overview of the range of Wrightson’s work.

There are a few original art pages still for sale directly from the family (as of this writing) through Comic Art Fans, as well as some from other sellers.

Otherwise, I’ll point to some obits and tribute pages that feature some examples of his art. You can also simply try a Google image search.

Included in my row of example images above, bottom, is a little gem from my own collection — a Bernie Wrightson convention sketch gifted to me by Galactic Geographic artist Karl Kofoed.

 
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