A trib­ute to artist Bernie Wright­son

Fans mourn the loss of the Swamp Thing and Franken­stein artist, whose il­lus­tra­tions made the grotesque beau­ti­ful

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Bernie Wright­son, the mas­ter of the macabre adored by comic read­ers and hor­ror afi­ciona­dos for his deftly in­tri­cate il­lus­tra­tions for Swamp Thing and Franken­stein, passed away on 18 March, aged 68. The cause of death was brain can­cer, which he’d been di­ag­nosed with in 2014.

Bernie be­gan his ca­reer as an il­lus­tra­tor for The Bal­ti­more Sun news­pa­per. But it was af­ter meet­ing Frank Frazetta in 1967 that he de­cided to cre­ate his own sto­ries. Two years later, his first il­lus­trated comic book story, The Man Who Mur­dered Him­self, ap­peared in House of Mys­tery no. 179 un­der the name ‘Berni’.

He then moved to New York and in 1971 co-cre­ated with writer Len Wein his most fa­mous char­ac­ter, Swamp Thing, for House of Se­crets is­sue 92. Fol­low­ing the suc­cess of the first short story, Swamp Thing re­turned in his own se­ries and gained a cult fol­low­ing.

Dur­ing this time, Bernie also worked on nu­mer­ous hor­ror-comic mag­a­zines and co-cre­ated Weird Mys­tery Tales with writer Marv Wolf­man. It was around this point he also started work on his adap­ta­tion of Mary Shel­ley’s 1818 Gothic hor­ror novel, Franken­stein.

Tak­ing seven years to com­plete, Bernie’s Franken­stein was a labour of love that he cre­ated in be­tween paid work. The adap­ta­tion, pub­lished in 1983, is seen as Bernie’s mas­ter­piece, with the il­lus­tra­tions show­cas­ing the mag­nif­i­cent line-work and neg­a­tive space that made his name.

Fol­low­ing the news of Bernie’s death, friends, artists and col­leagues took to so­cial me­dia to share their thoughts. Neil Gaiman, who fea­tured Bernie’s Des­tiny char­ac­ter in The Sand­man, said on Twit­ter: “Bernie Wright­son was the first comics artist whose work I loved. Oddly, I don’t mourn the artist. I mourn the lovely man who told bad jokes.”

“Bernie Wright­son was quite sim­ply one of the finest men I’ve ever known in comics,” adds Colleen Do­ran, who also worked on The Sand­man. “He was not only supremely tal­ented, but also kind and giv­ing. No other mod­ern il­lus­tra­tor could match his in­credi­ble ink ren­der­ing, and we will never see bet­ter Franken­stein il­lus­tra­tions.”

Film di­rec­tor Guillermo del Toro hon­oured Bernie’s me­mory by not post­ing on Twit­ter for 24 hours, but be­fore his si­lence he wrote, “As it comes to all of us, the end came for the great­est that ever lived: Bernie Wright­son. My North dark star of youth. A mas­ter.”

Mean­while, Stephen King, whose novel The Stand was il­lus­trated by Bernie, was tellingly straight­for­ward with his mes­sage: “RIP Bernie Wright­son, a good friend and a great col­lab­o­ra­tor. I will miss him.”

Bernie was quite sim­ply one of the finest men I’ve ever known in comics Colleen Do­ran

Bernie Wright­son, pic­tured at the Austin Wizard World Comic Con in late Oc­to­ber, 2012. Swamp Thing and Bernie’s il­lus­trated ver­sion of Mary Shel­ley’s Franken­stein guar­an­tee the artist a place in the an­nals of comic his­tory.

Swamp Thing’s suc­cess in House of Se­crets en­sured the char­ac­ter would get his own se­ries, launched in 1977.

Bernie co-cre­ated Weird Mys­tery Tales with Marv Wolf­man. The comic ran from 1972 to 1975.

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