Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Late Great Bernie Wrightson

Bernie Wrightson, the legendary comic book artist known for his work on various horror titles and for co-creating Swamp Thing with writer Len Wein, died on March 18 2017 at the age of 68 after a long battle with brain cancer.

Bernie Wrightson was born on October 27 1948 in Dundalk, Maryland. He took an interest in art and comic books while very young. He was a fan of E.C. Comics. He studied art through correspondence courses from he Famous Artists School. In 1965 he had fan art published in Warren Publishing's  Creepy #9 (June 1965). It was a drawing of a tombstone inscribed n "Berni Wrightson, Dec. 15, 1965." In 1966 he went to work for the Baltimore Sun as an illustrator.

Bernie Wrightson's first professional work in comic books appeared in DC Comics' House of Mystery #179 (March/April 1969) in the story "The Man Who Murdered Himself" and in The Spectre (March/April 1969) in the story "You Have Failed, Spectre". For the remainder of 1969 Mr. Wrightson did a good deal of freelance work for DC Comics, with stories published in such titles as Showcase, The Witching Hour, House of Mystery, and The Unexpected. He continued to do a good deal of work for DC Comics in 1970, while at the same time publishing work in Major Publications' Web of Horror, Marvel Comics' Chamber of Darkness and Tower of Shadows.

In 1971 Bernie Wrightson continued to do a lot of work for both DC Comics and Marvel Comics, as well as work on such titles as Imagination (published by Imagination Publishing). In House of Secrets No. 92 (July 1971) saw the first appearance of Swamp Thing in the story "Swamp Thing" written by Len Wein and drawn by Bernie Wrightson. Set in the Victorian Era, the story centred around a scientist who is transformed into a monster made of muck and vegetable matter. The story proved so successful that Swamp Thing was given his own title, although it was updated to modern times. Bernie Wrightson drew the first ten issues of Swamp Thing. It ran for 24 issues from 1972 to 1974. In 1972 he published the single issue anthology Badtime Stories.

From 1972 to 1974 Bernie Wrightson did most of his work for DC Comics. In addition to Swamp Thing, he worked on such titles as House of Secrets, Batman, House of Mystery, Weird Western Tales, Weird Mystery Tales, Weird Worlds, Sword of Sorcery, Plop!, Superman, and The Shadow. In 1974 he began working for Warren Publishing. He worked on their titles Creepy, Vampirella, and Eerie. In the late Seventies, while continuing to work for Warren Publishing, he did work for both DC Comics (House of Mystery, Batman, Jonah Hex) and Marvel (Kull and the Barbarians, The Incredible Hulk, Tomb of Dracula). He also contributed work to the magazine Heavy Metal, including stories featuring Captain Sternn, who would later appear in the feature film Heavy Metal (1981).  In 1975 he, Jeffrey Catherine Jones, Michael Kaluta, and Barry Windsor-Smith formed The Studio, in which they sought commercial work beyond comic books. Mr. Wrightson also did work for posters, calendars, prints, and so on.

The Eighties saw Bernie Wrightson continue to work for Warren Publishing, as well as contributing to Heavy Metal. He also continued to provide work for DC Comics and Marvel Comics. He illustrated editions of Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and provided work for the graphic anthology      
Stephen King's Creepshow. He provided artwork for the magazine 1984.

In the Nineties Bernie Wrightson continued to provide work for both DC Comics and Marvel Comics, as well as work for Apple Comics' Big Bad Blood of Dracula and programme books for various conventions. The Naughts saw Mr. Wrightson continue providing work for DC Comics, as well as providing work for Dark Horse Comics, IDW Publishing, and TwoMorrows Publishing. He continued to provide work for IDW Publishing in the Teens, as well as some work for DC Comics. He retired in January 2017.

Bernie Wrighston also did work for various motion pictures in his career.  He was a creature design consultant on Ghostbusters (1984). He did design work on such films as Thir13en Ghosts (2001), The Mist (2007), and Riding the Bullet (2004).

I have been a fan of Bernie Wrightson for nearly my whole life. As a lad I read a number of DC Comics' mystery titles (a euphemism for horror comic books in the days of the Comics Code), including House of Mystery, House of Secrets, and House of Mystery. When I was older I was exposed to his work with Warren Publishing and Heavy Metal. What struck me about Bernie Wrightson's style is that, not only was it very realistic, but it was also very detailed. His Swamp Thing was a sinewy mass of vines, vegetable matter, and muck. His artwork was intricate, and no one matched his line work. He excelled in the horror genre. If anyone was born to illustrate Edgar Allan Poe's stories, it was Bernie Wrightson.

Of course, Bernie Wrightson was also versatile. He not only co-created Swamp Thing, but Captain Sternn. While his work for Swamp Thing was fairly realistic, his work on Captain Sternn owed more to Warner Bros. cartoons and caricatures. If one did not know better, he or she would have a hard time believing that the same artist did both. Bernie Wrightson was one of the best comic book artists to emerge from the Seventies, combining an attention to detail with versatility.

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