In Memoriam: Bernie Wrightson

The Golden Age of comic horror illustration (i.e. 1950s-70s) has just recently lost another monster of the pen, Bernie Wrightson, at the age of 68. Most famously known for creating Swamp Thing with writer Len Wein, his career just passed the fifty year mark and includes work for comics, books, magazines, and newspapers. He has worked for both Marvel and DC including a solid line-up with most major companies of the present and past. While his death may mark the passing of a man, his iconic artwork will remember him as a creator and an artist.

Wrightson was born in 1948 and learned to draw through a mix of comic books, television and correspondents’ classes through Famous Artists Schools. First working at the Baltimore Sun doing illustrations in 1967, a chance meeting with Frank Frazetta at a NYC comic con in 1977 inspired the young creative to pursue more original work. His first professional work was titled “The Man Who Murdered Himself,” which appeared in House of Mystery #179. Thanks to the success of the work, he spent the next few years contributing to various horror and mystery anthology and eventually jumping ship from DC to Marvel, where he developed his iconic style of heavy shadows and fatty ink brushing.

 In 1971, Wrightson developed Swamp Thing for the DC Comics anthology House of Secrets. Originally only intended to be a onetime monster, Swamp Thing snatched up his own series in 1972 of which Wrightson illustrated the first 10 issues. Also in 1972, he and writer Marv Wolfman created the character Destiny for Weird Mystery Tales #1, who was later be used by Neil Gaiman in the Sandman. In 1974, Wrightson joined horror comic company Warren Publishing, where he spent the next few years drawing original and novel-adaptive comic work while experimenting with different illustration styles.

Having established himself as a titan of ink and pencil, Wrightson spent the next 40 years basically doing whatever he wanted. He contributed to album covers, worked on production designs for movies, did a comic adaptation of Stephen King’s Creepshow, illustrated cards for a card game, and covers and illustration for Marvel/DC. His last known work was a collaboration with Steve Niles in 2012 for a comic titled Frankenstein Alive, Alive!, a sequel to Wrightson’s 1983 adaption of Frankenstein. He had officially retired in January 2016.

Though the name Bernie Wrightson may not carry the same weight as Frank Frazetta, Richard Corben, or Moebius, his style and creativity have added him to the ranks of the great horror and fantasy masters. The fact alone that he managed to continue working into his 60s shows the tenacity and dedication that helped launch him still ran in his veins many years later. His work will live on forever printed in the graphic box we call comic books and in the creative hearts of those who knew him best.