I first remember seeing the work of Bernie Wrightson in Swamp Thing #7 which guest-starred Batman, but this wasn’t a Batman I was used to seeing as a kid. He wasn’t the heroic, though still dark, figure of creators like Neal Adams. No, he was dark, mysterious and scary looking, which in a comic that was essentially a comic about a scary monster with aspirations of humanity provided an interesting contrast. From there on I became a fan of Wrightson’s strange, creepy, and glorious art. Sadly Bernie Wrightson passed away on the 19th March.
Wrightson is one of those artists influenced by the great art in EC Comics, especially that of Graham Ingels who in many was set the template for Wrightson’s initial style though throughout his career his style developed it always retained that dripping creepiness that dripped off the page. Starting out in comics drawing horror shorts in Marvel and DC’s various horror anthology titles in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s Wrightson quickly developed himself as a fan favourite. In 1971 Wrightson drew a story in House of Secrets #92 written by Len Wein that introduced us to Swamp Thing. This was followed up in 1972 with a Swamp Thing ongoing series by Wein and Wrightson which cemented Wrightson’s reputation as part of a small group of Superstar Creators who emerged into greatness in the first part of the 70’s.
Wrightson only drew ten issues of Swamp Thing but those issues are considered classics, and indeed, until the Alan Moore run over a decade later, it was the seminal run on the character. After DC Wrightson drew a series of stories for Warren’s black and white EC inspired horror titles such as Creepy, and in black and white his art soared. One story, Jenifer, was adapted decades later for the Masters of Horror series by Dario Argento. During this time Wrightson also illustrated Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in what is probably my favourite of Wrightson’s work.
In the 80’s he moved into film work, more illustration work, only drifting back into mainstream comics with a few projects for Marvel and DC in the latter part of the 80’s. His Spider-Man graphic novel, Hooky, is just superb, but recently Wrightson has suffered ill health and announced his retirement from drawing.
Wrightson’s legacy is extraordinary. Co-creating Swamp Thing and his illustrated Frankenstein alone would cement his name as one of the finest illustrators of the modern era. As someone influenced by the giants of EC Comics, he himself influenced a new generation of artists as diverse as Steve Bissette through to Jim Lee and I imagine generations to come as they discover his work and the genius of a man who could do extraordinary work with pen, ink and pencil.