Bernie Wrightson, one of the most influential horror comic book artists of all time, and one of the Longbox of Darkness’ personal favorite artists, left an indelible mark on the industry with his unique style, incredible attention to detail, and love for all things macabre. In this blog post, we pay tribute to the life and career of this legendary artist, exploring his humble beginnings, iconic work, and lasting impact on the world of horror comics.
Early Life and Inspiration
Born on October 27, 1948, in Dundalk, Maryland, Bernie Wrightson was fascinated with horror stories and art. His love for the genre was sparked by classic horror movies, EC Comics, and the work of legendary illustrators like Frank Frazetta and Graham Ingels.
Discovering a Passion for Art
Wrightson began drawing at a young age, honing his skills through countless hours of practice and self-study. As he grew older, his passion for art intensified, and he eventually enrolled in the Baltimore Institute of Art to further develop his talents.
Breaking into the Comic Book Industry
After leaving art school, Bernie Wrightson began his journey into the world of comic book illustration. This journey would ultimately lead him to become one of the most celebrated horror artists in the industry.
Early Career and House of Mystery
In 1968, Wrightson attended a comic book convention in New York, where he met Frank Frazetta and showed him samples of his work. The encounter led to an introduction to DC Comics editor Dick Giordano, who was impressed by Wrightson’s talent and offered him a job. Bernie’s first professional work was published in DC’s House of Mystery #179 (1969), marking the beginning of his illustrious career in horror comics.
The Birth of Swamp Thing
In 1971, Bernie Wrightson teamed up with writer Len Wein to create one of the most iconic horror characters in comic book history: Swamp Thing. First appearing in House of Secrets #92, Swamp Thing was an instant hit with readers, and the character’s popularity eventually led to an ongoing series in 1972. Wrightson illustrated the first ten issues of the series, showcasing his incredible talent for capturing the eerie atmosphere and intricate detail of the swamplands that served as the character’s backdrop.
Master of the Macabre – Wrightson’s Iconic Work
Bernie Wrightson produced a stunning array of work throughout his career, showcasing his unparalleled horror illustrator skill. From his time at DC and Marvel to his independent projects, Wrightson’s art left a lasting impression on fans and fellow creators alike.
Collaborations with Marvel Comics
While primarily known for his work at DC, Bernie Wrightson also illustrated several stories for Marvel Comics, including contributions to titles such as Chamber of Chills, Tower of Shadows, and The Incredible Hulk.
“Jenifer” and Warren Publishing’s Creepy Horror
Bernie Wrightson’s memorable collaboration with writer/artist Bruce Jones on the chilling story “Jenifer” was published in Warren Publishing’s Creepy #63 (1974). This haunting tale showcased Wrightson’s mastery of the horror genre and his incredible ability to bring terrifying stories to life through his artwork.
The Studio – A Creative Collective
In the mid-1970s, Bernie Wrightson joined forces with fellow artists Michael Kaluta, Jeff Jones, and Barry Windsor-Smith to form The Studio, which they ran out of a shared loft in Manhattan. This creative collective allowed the artists to work independently and explore their personal projects. While at The Studio, Wrightson produced some of his most memorable work, showcasing his mastery of intricate pen-and-ink techniques.
One of Bernie Wrightson’s most celebrated accomplishments is his breathtaking series of illustrations for Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein. This project, which began during his time at The Studio, took Wrightson nearly seven years to complete, reflecting his unwavering dedication and commitment to creating a truly exceptional work of art.
Capturing the Essence of Frankenstein
Wrightson’s Frankenstein illustrations showcase his deep understanding of the novel’s themes and his ability to capture the essence of Mary Shelley’s tragic tale. His incredibly detailed pen-and-ink drawings bring to life the haunting beauty and terror of the story, exploring the intricate relationship between creator and creation, the power of science, and the devastating consequences of playing God.
The Frankenstein Portfolio
In 1983, Wrightson released the Frankenstein Portfolio, a limited edition set featuring 25 stunning illustrations. This highly sought-after collection is a testament to Wrightson’s talent and passion for the project and a tribute to the enduring allure of Mary Shelley’s masterpiece. The portfolio received widespread acclaim from both fans and critics alike, solidifying Wrightson’s status as a master of the macabre and a true visionary in the world of horror illustration.
A Timeless Classic, Reimagined
Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein illustrations are not only an extraordinary tribute to Mary Shelley’s timeless classic but also a reimagining of the story through the eyes of a uniquely talented artist. His work on the project has been widely recognized as some of the finest horror illustrations ever created, perfectly capturing the original novel’s eerie atmosphere and emotional depth.
In 2008, Dark Horse Comics published Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein, a stunning hardcover edition of Mary Shelley’s novel, accompanied by Wrightson’s illustrations. This edition allowed a new generation of readers to experience the synergy between Shelley’s words and Wrightson’s art, creating an immersive and unforgettable journey into the world of Frankenstein.
Independent Work and Later Career
Throughout his career, Bernie Wrightson continued exploring independent projects and collaborations outside the mainstream comic book industry. Some of his most notable work during this period includes:
- Creepshow: In 1982, Wrightson teamed up with horror writer Stephen King to create the graphic novel adaptation of the anthology film Creepshow. The collaboration allowed Wrightson to showcase his incredible visual storytelling talent and affinity for horror.
- Cycle of the Werewolf: Another collaboration with Stephen King, this illustrated novella was published in 1983 and featured a series of haunting images that perfectly complement King’s chilling narrative.
- The Stand: Wrightson illustrated the uncut 1990 edition of Stephen King’s epic novel, The Stand. His artwork added an extra layer of depth and terror to the already gripping story.
- Batman: The Cult: In 1988, Wrightson worked with writer Jim Starlin on the four-issue miniseries Batman: The Cult. The storyline saw Batman facing off against a fanatical underground cult leader, with Wrightson’s artwork capturing the dark, gritty atmosphere of Gotham City.
The Legacy of Bernie Wrightson
Wrightson’s unique style and mastery of the macabre have inspired a new generation of horror comic artists, such as Kelley Jones, Mike Mignola, and Tim Bradstreet. These artists continue to push the boundaries of horror illustration, building upon the foundation of Wrightson and ensuring that the genre remains as captivating and terrifying as ever.
A Lasting Impact on Horror Comics
Bernie Wrightson’s work on titles like Swamp Thing, House of Mystery, and Creepshow helped to redefine the horror genre within the comic book medium. His commitment to storytelling, attention to detail, and innovative techniques have left a lasting impact on the industry, ensuring his work will be celebrated and admired for years to come.
Remembering Bernie – A Loss Felt Across the Comic Book World
On March 18, 2017, the comic book world lost one of its most cherished and talented artists with the passing of Bernie Wrightson. After a long battle with brain cancer, Bernie passed away at 68, leaving behind a legacy of extraordinary work and a profound impact on the horror genre in comics. His wife, Liz Wrightson, announced his passing on Bernie’s official website, sharing the heartbreaking news with his countless fans and admirers.
Bernie’s death was met with an outpouring of tributes and condolences from fellow artists, writers, and fans across the globe, all of whom had been touched by his incredible talent and passion for the medium. His remarkable body of work will continue to be celebrated, ensuring that his artistic legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of those who loved and admired his unique vision and mastery of the macabre.
Bernie Wrightson was a master of the macabre, a true legend in horror comics. From his early days at DC and Marvel to his independent projects and collaborations with iconic writers like Stephen King, Wrightson’s incredible talent and love for the horror genre have left a lasting impact on the comic book industry. As we pay tribute to his life and career, we celebrate the enduring legacy of this remarkable artist, whose work continues to inspire and captivate fans and creators alike. Bernie Wrightson’s dedication to the craft, innovative storytelling techniques, and ability to breathe life into the darkest corners of our imaginations have made him irreplaceable in horror comics.
As we remember Bernie Wrightson, we also celebrate his legacy, which will continue to influence and shape the horror genre for generations to come. His work is a testament to the power of art, the importance of passion, and the enduring appeal of the macabre. May his memory and his incredible body of work continue to haunt our dreams and fuel our love for the world of horror comics.