Bernard Albert Wrightson (October 27, 1948 – March 18, 2017), sometimes referred to as Bernie Wrightson, was an American artist known as one of the creators of Swamp Thing, as an illustrator of the novel Frankenstein, and as the author of other comics horror and illustrations featuring signature intricate pen and brush work.
Wrightson was born October 27, 1948 in Dundalk, Maryland. He got his art education by watching John Gnagy on TV, reading comics, especially EC comics, and taking a correspondence course at celebrity artists’ school. His artistic influences include Frank Frazetta, Al Williamson, Al Dorn, Graham Ingels, Jack Davis and Howard Pyle.
He published fan art containing a tombstone reading “Berni Wrightson, Dec. 15, 1965” on page 33 of Warren Publishing’s Creepy #9 (cover dated June 1966).
In 1966, Wrightson began working for The Baltimore Sun as an illustrator. The following year, after meeting artist Frank Frazetta at a comic book convention in New York, he was inspired to create his own stories. In 1968, he showed copies of his work to DC Comics editor Dick Giordano and received a freelance assignment.
In his professional writing, Wrightson began spelling his name “Bernie” to distinguish himself from an Olympic diver named Bernie Wrightson, but later reinstated the final “e” in his name.
In 1968 he drew his first professional comic book story, “The Man Who Killed Himself”, which appeared in House of Mystery #179 (cover dated March-April 1969). He went on to work on various mysteries and anthologies for both DC and, a few years later, its archrival, Marvel Comics. It was in Marvel’s “Chamber of Darkness” and “Tower of Shadows” editions that he was first encouraged to slightly simplify his intricate pen and ink drawing, and it was there that his luxuriant brushwork, which became the hallmark of his ink in 1970s comics, first emerged.
Like many artists of the 1970s and 1980s, Wrightson moved to New York City in hopes of finding work with comic book publishers such as DC Comics or Marvel Comics.
At one time Wrightson lived in the same house in Queens with artists Allen Milgrom, Howard Chaikin and Walter Simonson. Simonson recalls: “We would get together at 3:00 in the morning. They would come and we would eat popcorn and sit and talk about everything that 26, 27 and 20 year olds were talking about. Our art, television, whatever. At that time I practically knew: “Here they are, the good old days.”
With writer Len Vine, Wrightson created the Swamp Thing in House of Secrets #92 (July 1971) in a standalone horror story set in the Victorian era. Vine later recounted how Wrightson was drawn to the story: “Bernie Wrightson had just broken up with a girlfriend and we were sitting in my car and just talking about life – all the important things to do when you’re 19 and 20.
And I said, “You know, I just wrote a story that actually looks like how you feel right now.” I told him about the Swamp Thing and he said “I have to draw this””.
In the summer of 1972, he published Badtime Stories, an anthology of horror/science fiction comics, which included his own scripts and drawings (1970-1971), with each story drawn in a different medium (ink, tinted pencils, duoshad paper). , screen tones, for example, along with traditional pen and ink and brush work).
He and writer Marv Wolfman co-created Destiny in Weird Mystery Tales #1 (July-August 1972), a character that would later be used in Neil Gaiman’s work.
In the fall of 1972, Swamp Thing returned in a series of its own, set in the modern world and in general DC continuity. Wrightson drew the first ten issues of the series. Abigail Arcane, a major supporting character in the Swamp Thing mythology, was introduced in issue #3 (February-March 1973).
Wrightson originally asked DC to do art for the Shadow revival, but he left the project early on when he realized he couldn’t complete the required minimum number of pages in time, along with work on Swamp Thing. Michael Kaluta illustrated the series, but Wrightson contributed heavily to the third issue with both pencil and paint, and also drew the opening for issue #4.
Warren and studio
In January 1974, he left DC to work for Warren Publishing, for whose black-and-white magazines he created a series of original horror comics as well as adaptations of short stories. As with “BadTime Stories”, Wrightson experimented with different media in these black-and-white stories: Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” used intricate pen and ink work that contrasted sharply with his brush-dominated panels of “Swamp Thing”. . The script for “Jenifer”, written by Bruce Jones, was atmospherically drawn with gray markers.
“Pepper Lake Monster” is a synthesis of brush and pen and ink, while HP Lovecraft’s “Cool Air” was an attempt at duotone paper. “Night Sunset” was an exercise in ink wash. “Clarissa” was also drawn in pen, brush and ink, as well as using an ink wash.
In 1975, Wrightson teamed up with fellow artists Geoffrey Catherine Jones, Michael Kaluta and Barry Windsor-Smith to create The Studio, a collaborative Manhattan loft where the group explored outside of the confines of comic book commerce. Although Wrightson continued to create sequences, during this time he began to create illustrations for numerous posters, prints, calendars, and even a very detailed coloring book. He also drew sporadic comics and occasional illustrations for National Lampoon magazine from 1973 to 1983.
Wrightson produced about 50 detailed pen and ink illustrations for an edition of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein over the course of seven years.
The “Captain Stern” segment of the animated film Heavy Metal is based on a character created by Wrightson (first appeared in the June 1980 issue of Heavy Metal magazine). Freakshow, a graphic novel written by Bruce Jones and illustrated (pen, brush and ink and watercolor) by Wrightson, was published in Spain in 1982 and serialized in Heavy Metal magazine in the early 1980s.
In 1983, Bernie Wrightson illustrated the comic book adaptation of the horror film Creepshow written by Stephen King. This led to several other collaborations with King, including illustrations for The Werewolf Cycle, a restored edition of King’s apocalyptic horror epic The Stand, and The Wolves of Calla, the fifth installment in King’s The Dark Tower series.
He later illustrated the cover for the April 26 – May 2, 1997 issue of TV Guide, illustrating King’s television mini-series The Shining.
During the filming of the 1984 film Ghostbusters, Wrightson was among the artists hired by assistant producer Michael K. Gross to create concept art for the ghosts and other psychic phenomena that the film’s characters encounter. Among the illustrations he submitted were images of “fugitives” from the ghost vault powered by electricity, who scatter after a power outage.
Jim Starlin and Wrightson produced Heroes for Hope, a 1985 one-part series to raise funds for famine relief and African reconstruction.
Published in the form of a “comic jam”, the book featured all the stars of comics, as well as several well-known authors outside the comics industry, such as Stephen King, George R.R. Martin, Harlan Ellison and Edward Bryant. In 1986, Wrightson and writer Susan K. Putney were working on the graphic novel Spider-Man: Hook Nose. That same year, Wrightson and Starlin released a second Heroes Against Hunger charity comic featuring Superman and Batman, which was published by DC and, like the previous Marvel project, included many of the top comic book creators.
In 1988, Starlin and Wrightson worked on two miniseries, Weird and Batman: Cult, as well as Marvel Graphic Novel #29 featuring the Hulk and Thing for Marvel.
He has illustrated cards for the Heresy collectible card game by Last Unicorn Games: Kingdom Come and has also done album covers for a number of bands including Meat Loaf.
Wrightson has done concept art for film and television, working on projects such as The Faculty, Galaxy Quest, Spider-Man, The Fog, Land of the Dead and Serenity.
In 2012, Wrightson collaborated with Steve Niles to create Frankenstein Alive, Alive!, published by IDW, for which he received the National Cartoonists Society Award.
Wrightson’s first wife Michelle Wrightson was involved in underground comics and wrote stories for publications such as It Ain’t Me, Babe, Wimmen’s Comix and Arcade. She died in 2015. Wrightson and Michelle had two sons together, John and Geoffrey.
Wrightson lived with his second wife Liz Wrightson and stepson Thomas Adamson in Austin, Texas.
In January 2017, Wrightson announced that he was retiring due to his battle with cancer. He died on March 18, 2017 at the age of 68. The next day, Liz Wrightson confirmed that his death followed a long battle with brain cancer. “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life”, the April 2, 2017 season 7 finale of The Walking Dead, was dedicated to Wrightson’s memory.
Wrightson’s death was met with a series of testimonials and thanks from colleagues and professional fans, including Joss Whedon, Neil Gaiman, Guillermo del Toro, Walter Simonson and Mike Mignola. Whedon called Wrightson “the star that other artists chart their course on”, and Gaiman stated that Wrightson was the first comic book artist whose work I fell in love with. Horror connoisseur del Toro took a 24-hour vow of silence in honor of Wrightson, writing: “Like all of us, the end has come for the greatest who ever lived: Bernie Wrightson. My northern dark star of youth. The Master.”
Hellboy creator Mike Mignola said of Wrightson: “He was a genius, and not just monsters. There was soul in everything Bernie did.”
Wrightson’s former neighbor Walter Simonson, who lived in the same house as Wrightson in the 1980s, recalled: “Even at an early age, we were all in awe of his work, it was so good.” Analyzing Wrightson’s skill, Simonson explained that in addition to being able to draw anything, Wrightson was a master of meaning, able to precisely control the depth and tones of colors and grays in his work, stating:
“In a drawing or painting, one of the things you control is the value, meaning light and dark. If you were to take your color TV and somehow turn off the color and get black and white and gray image, you would look at the meanings of those color images.”
Frankenstein is a complete masterpiece of value, it uses incredibly complex images, and yet you always see exactly what you need to see. It directs the eye exactly where it needs to.” Regarding the famous two-page Frankenstein Lab scene from this work, Simonson said of it: “It’s so complex, and yet he’s able to show you what he wants you to see. In a way [the lab scene is] the core of story. That’s where Frankenstein breaks the laws of God. I think people were just drawn to her because she’s so completely over the top and at the same time so completely controlled.” Comic book analyst and historian Scott McCloud called the image “a riot of detail”, saying:
“It may take a moment before you notice the corpse lying at the bottom of the composition on the left. It makes it look a little more like a treasure map. A little more ‘Where’s Waldo?'”
During a tour of his vast library of art and pop culture memorabilia in 2016, del Toro named Wrightson’s “Frankenstein” the hardest original to find, saying:
“They are very rare. The people who have them don’t let go of them. It took me years to get them. I have nine of the 13 favorite Frankenstein sheets that have ever been Bernie Wrightson did the other four: one of them no one knows where he is, and the other three, I would say, are very difficult to wrest from people who have them.
Wrightson won the Shazam Award for Best Pencil (Drama) in 1972 and 1973 for Swamp Thing, the Shazam Award for Best Individual Story (Drama) in 1972 for Swamp Thing #1 (together with Len Vine). He received additional nominations, including a Shazam Award for Best Inker in 1973 for Swamp Thing, and a Shazam Award for Best Individual Story that same year for “A Clockwork Horror” in Swamp Thing #6 ( with Len Wein).
Wrightson was the recipient of the Favorite Professional Artist Award in 1974. In 1973 he was a nominee for the same prize, then known as the “Goethe Prize”.
- Wrightson was one of the recipients of the 1986 Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award, along with Jim Starlin, for his work on Heroes of Hope. Wrightson received the Inkpot Award the following year.
- Wrightson received the H. P. Lovecraft Award (also known as the “Howie”) at the 2007 H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, Oregon.
- He received the 2012 National Cartoonists Society Comic Book Award for “Frankenstein Alive, Alive!”.
- In 2015, he was awarded the Inkwell Special Recognition Award for his 45+ years of work, including co-creating Swamp Thing and Frankenstein at DC Comic. In 2021, Wrightson was inducted into the Joe Sinnott Inkwell Awards Hall of Fame.
- Treehouse of Horror #11 “Squish Thing” segment parody of Swamp Thing (2005)
- Night Terrors #1 (2000)
- Nightmare Theater #1-4 (1997)
- So Dark the Rose #1 (1995)
- City of Others #1-4 (2007)
- Tarzan Le Monstre #11-12 (1998)
- Aquaman Annual #4 (cover) (1998)
- Batman #265, 400 (interiors); #241, 320, Annual #22 (covers) (1972-1998)
- Batman: Hidden Treasures #1 (2010)
- Batman: Nevermore (covers) #1-5 (2003)
- Batman: Cult #1-4 (1988)
- Detective Comics #425 (cover) (1972)
- Flinch #14 (2000)
- Green Lantern Annual #7 (cover) (1998)
- Heroes Against Hunger (two pages only) (1986)
- House of Mystery #179-181, 183, 186, 188, 191, 195, 204; (covers): #193-194, 207, 209, 211, 213-214, 217, 221, 229, 231, 236, 255-256 (1969-1978)
- House of Mystery vol. 2#9; (cover): #1 (2009)
- House of Secrets #92; (covers): #93-94, 96, 100, 103, 106-107, 135, 139 (1971-1976)
- JLA Annual #2 (cover) (1998)
- Jonah Hex #9 (cover) (1978)
- Kong the Untamed #1-2 (covers) (1975)
- Plop! #1, 5 (1973-1974)
- Secrets of Haunted House #5, 44 (covers) (1975-1982)
- The Shadow Vol. 2 #3, (1974)
- Showcase (Nightmaster) #83-84 (1969)
- Specter #9 (1969)
- Specter vol. 3 #58 (cover) (1997)
- Superman/Batman Annual #3 (cover) (2009)
- Swamp Thing #1-10 (1972-1974)
- Tales of the Unexpected #4 (cover) (2007)
- The Unexpected #116, 119, 128 (1970-1971)
- Toe Tags Featuring George Romero (cover) #1-6 (2004-2005)
- Welcome Back to the House of Mystery #1 (cover) (1998)
- The Weird #1-4 (1988)
- Weird Mystery Tales #1 (interiors); #21 (cover) (1972-1975)
- Wonder Woman Annual #7 (cover) (1998)
- Witching Hour #3, 5 (1969)
- Batman/Aliens Miniseries #1-2 (1997)
- Bernie Wrightson: Master of the Macabre #5 (1984)
- “Purple Pictography” Collection #1 (1991)
- The Reaper of Love and Other Stories #1 (1988)
- Dead, She Said #1-3 (with Steve Niles) (2008)
- Frankenstein Alive, Alive! #1-3 (2012-2014)
- Frankenstein Mobster #7 (2004)
- The Walking Dead
- Captain Stern: Running Out of Time #1-5 (1993)
- Web of Terror #1-3 (1969-1970)
- Astonishing Tales #31 (ink on cover) (1975)
- Captain Marvel #41-42 (interiors); #43 (cover) (1975-1976)
- Chamber of Darkness #7 (interior); #8 (cover) (1970)
- Hellraiser #1 (1989) Clive Barker’s Hellraiser #1 (1989)
- Conan the Barbarian #12 (1971)
- Creatures at Large (King Kull) #10 (1971)
- Doctor Strange Special Edition #1 (cover) (1983)
- Dreadstar #6-7 (1983)
- Epic Illustrated #8, 10, 22, 25, 30, 34 (interiors); #30 (cover) (1981-1986)
- Gargoyle #1 (cover) (1985)
- Giant-Size Chillers #3 (cover) (1975)
- Heroes for Hope with X-Men #1 (three pages only) (1985)
- The Incredible Hulk #197 (cover) (1976)
- Marvel Graphic Novel #22 (Spider-Man: “Hooky”); #29 (The Hulk and the Thing: “The Big Change”) (1986-1987)
- Punisher P. O. V. #1-4 (1991)
- Punisher: Purgatory #1-4 (1998-1999)
- Savage Tales (King Kull) #2 (1973)
- Shadows & Light #1 (1998)
- Sub-Mariner #36 (inker) (1971)
- Dracula’s Tomb #43 (cover) (1976)
- Shadow Tower #8-9 (covers) (1971)
- Werewolf by Night #35 (cover) (1976)
- Creepshow paperback (1982)
- Bernie Wrightson: Master of the Macabre #1-4 (1983-1984)
- Twisted Tales #2 (1983)
As You Like It Publications
- Comic Profiles #2 (1998)
- Comic Book Marketplace #105 (2003)
Metal Mammoth, Inc.
- Heavy Metal Special Editions vol. 10, #1 (1996)
NL Communications, Inc.
- The National Lampoon Encyclopedia of Humor (1973)
- National Lampoon’s Very Large Book Of Comical Funnies (1975)
- National Lampoon various editions (1973-1980)
- Nightmare #9-10 (1972)
- Alter Ego vol. 3, #41 (2004)
- Back Issue! #6 (2004)
- Comic artist #4 (1999)
- Creepy #62-63, 77, 87, 95 (1974-1978), 83, 86 (ink over Carmine Infantino)
- Creepy #58, 60, 62, 68, 72 (c/Chaikin) (1974-1976)
- Vampirella (spare stories) #33 (with Geoffrey Catherine Jones), 34 (script only)
- The Art of Wrightson : A Pop-Up Portfolio, 1996, Sideshow, Incorporated, ISBN 1889164003
- Badtime Stories, 1972, Graphic Masters
- The Berni Wrightson Treasury, 1975, Omnibus Publishing
- Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein, 1983, Dodd, Mead & Company, ISBN 0396082777
- Berni Wrightson: Looking Back, 1991, Underwood Books, ISBN 0887331300
- Berni Wrightson: Back for More, 1978, Archival Press, Inc, ISBN 091582230X
- Grimoire of Conan by L. Sprague de Camp, 1972, Mirage Press
- The Conan Reader, by L. Sprague de Camp, 1968, Mirage Press
- Creepshow” by Stephen King, 1982, NAL
- The Werewolf Cycle, Stephen King, 1985, NAL, ISBN 0451822196
- The Dark Tower V: The Wolves of Calla, Stephen King, 2006, Pocket Books, ISBN 141651693X
- House of Secrets, Jack Olek, 1973, Warner Books
- The Lost Pages of Frankenstein, 1993, Apple Pr Inc, ISBN 0927203081
- The Monsters Color the Creature Book, 1974, Phil Seuling
- Mutants, 1980, Mother of Pearl, ISBN 093784800X
- The Reaper of Love and Other Stories, 1988, Fantagraphics Books, ISBN 093019361X
- The Stand-Complete and Uncut by Stephen King, 1990, Dbldy; BOMC edition
- The Studio (includes work by other artists), 1979, Dragons Dream, ISBN 9063325819
- Stuff Out’a My Head, by Joseph M. Monks, 2002, Chanting Monks Press, ISBN 0972660402
- Zombie Jam by David J. Schow, 2005, Subterranean Press, ISBN 1931081778
- Ghostbusters: The Ultimate Visual History by Daniel Wallace, 2015, Insight Editions. San Rafael, California. pp. 21 and 86. I SBN 978-1608875108.
- Meat Loaf: Dead Ringer, 1981, Epic Records
- Obituary: Back from the Dead, 1997, Roadrunner Records
Official website http://berniewrightson.com/
Bernie Wrightson at Find a Gravehttps://www.findagrave.com/memorial/177522328
Bernie Wrightson at Mike’s Amazing World of Comics http://www.mikesamazingworld.com/mikes/features/creator.php?creatorid=225