© Bernie Wrightson / Christopher Enterprises
My last entry on this blog was epically long – well, I was epically pissed off when I wrote it – so I will keep this entry brief. Last month saw the death of the great American illustrator and comic-book artist Bernie Wrightson. He grew up during the 1950s and as a kid, inevitably, was exposed to the artwork in the pulpy and notoriously gruesome horror titles published at the time by EC Comics: Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror and The Haunt of Fear. In particular, Wrightson was influenced by the eldritch visuals of legendary EC Comics artist Graham Ingels, who rather than sign his own name on his work preferred to leave the nom de plume ‘Ghastly’.
You could see the Ingels / EC Comics influence on Wrightson’s most famous comic-book creation – Swamp Thing, drawn by him, written by Len Wein and unveiled in 1971. The titular thing was once a scientist working in a laboratory in the middle of a swamp, initially called Alex Olsen although later the character was reworked as Alec Holland. Thanks to human skulduggery, Olsen / Holland sees his lab destroyed and he gets contaminated with mysterious chemicals that cause him to be fused with the plant-life of the surrounding bayou. The resulting mutant creature resembles a cross between the Incredible Hulk and a piece of broccoli. Needless to say, as a weird kid who spent his time in the classroom drawing monsters on the covers of his school jotters – the more shambling, squishy and barnacled the better – rather than listening to the teacher, I thought Swamp Thing was the bees’ knees.
© DC Comics
© DC Comics
As well as working for DC Comics and Warren Publishing, Wrightson was involved in literary and cinematic projects. In 1976, for example, he produced the Edgar Allan Poe Portfolio, a series of beautiful prints depicting moments in some of Poe’s most famous stories. The prints capture the atmosphere of Poe’s work whilst giving the characters a comic-book intensity – if they haven’t already exploded into action, you get the impression that they’re simmering with fear or passion and are about to explode. Wrightson also collaborated with Stephen King. In 1983 he drew the comic-book adaptation of the King-scripted, George Romero-directed movie Creepshow, which was very obviously influenced by the old EC Comics too. And he provided illustrations for King’s books Cycle of the Werewolf (1983), the ‘complete and uncut edition’ of The Stand (1990) and Wolves of the Calla (2003).
As the co-creator of Swamp Thing, a story informed by the ‘lonely, misunderstood monster’ theme that makes Mary Shelley’s landmark gothic novel Frankenstein (1818) so powerful, it was fitting that Bernie Wrightson should contribute fifty illustrations to a new edition of Frankenstein published in 1983. These were clearly a labour of love – Wrightson said later that he’d spent seven years drawing them in his unpaid spare time. Unsurprising, his work on the 1983 Frankenstein is often cited as his finest hour. You only have to look at this picture of Frankenstein’s laboratory to see how the level of detail is mind-blowing.
© Plume (Penguin Books)