A tribute to the late, great master of horror illustration.
Karl Stock remembers the fan favourite with a taste for the dark and macabre, never entirely at home in the superhero-dominated mainstream
Each time I finished a drawing, I remember feeling a bit let down,” Bernie Wrightson told writer Steve Niles in 2012, talking about his illustrations for Marvel’s 1983 edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. “If I’d only worked a little harder I could nail it exactly. Several times I’d start a new version of an already finished piece, or even an incomplete one, trying and trying again to get it just right.”
Seven years in the making, the book stands as testimony to Wrightson’s painstaking detail work and his lifelong love of horror. The artist died in March at the age of 68. He had retired just two months earlier from creating art and touring the convention circuit following complications from surgery for a brain tumour.
His reputation was high and his achievements many. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, inspired by a meeting with his hero Frank Frazetta, Wrightson became a prolific contributor to the horror lines of Marvel, DC and Warren Publishing; in 1971, with writer Len Wein, he co-created Swamp Thing for DC Comics. In 1975, he and a group of fellow comic artists set up the Manhattanbased illustration collective The Studio; in 1983 he illustrated a comics adaptation of Stephen King’s Creepshow, leading to a number of other collaborations with King.
In 1985, Wrightson and writer Jim Starlin created
Heroes For Hope for Marvel, and its DC follow-up Heroes
Against Hunger – one-shot, Band Aid era charity jams to raise funds for African famine relief, with contributions from top creators of the day. He returned to Shelley’s character for IDW’s Frankenstein Alive,
Alive! in 2012, for which he won a National Cartoonist’s Society Award.
Born on 27 October 1948 in the working-class Baltimore suburb of Dundalk, Wrightson grew up in a family of comic readers, although he felt forced to read his beloved EC comics at the newsstand or hide them under the mattress and away from his mother; at the time the line was at the heart of a national moral panic inspired by Dr. Fredric Wertham’s anticomics tract Seduction Of The
Innocent. At Catholic school (which he disliked strongly) he was always in trouble for drawing EC or Universal monsters on his textbooks.
Between 1964 and 1966 Ballantine books published five collections of old EC comics, while at the same time Warren began publishing
Below: Besides his affection for horror, Wrightson’s Frankenstein projects amply demonstrate his skill with pen and ink.
Opposite page: A breathtaking example of the sheer painstaking detail that went into what many regard as Wrightson’s masterpiece, Frankenstein.
Right: The artist was a popular regular on the convention circuit until ill health forced him to curtail his appearances.