A tribute to artist Bernie Wrightson
Fans mourn the loss of the Swamp Thing and Frankenstein artist, whose illustrations made the grotesque beautiful
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.