Creators of Horror: Bernie Wrightson

“Gutter of Horror” is a Brazilian column from Dinamo Studio website about horror comics.
This is a translated version of the articles.

In march 18, 2015 we lost Bernie Wrightson (sometimes written Berni Wrightson), one of the most celebrated artists in comics in general and horror comics in particular. With an unmistakable and dynamic style, Wrightson worked at several publishers and with classic characters, from superheroes to monsters, and was also responsible for helping creating the character that would become one of the most classic of the horror genre in DC Comics. Let’s know a little more about him.

The early years

Wrightson was born in 1948 and it was practically a self-taught artist. He learn about the craft through the TV show “Are You an Artist?”, hosted by Jon Gnagy, by reading comics and with a course via mail (which were, for those who are younger, an analog version of an online course). His influences from the start were horror comics from E.C. and artists Frank Frazetta, which I think needs no introduction, and Graham Ingels, known for his work in The Haunt of Fear and Tales from the Crypt.

Wrightson’s career began in 1966, working as an illustrator for a Baltimore newspaper. But it would not take long for him to jump to comics. A year later he met one of his idols, Frank Frazetta, in a comic convention. This encounter inspired him to work on his own comics. While living in New York, Wrightson shared an apartment in Queens with artists Al Milgrom, Howard Chaykin and Walter Simonson. At the beginning, Wrightson started to write his name as “Berni” instead of “Bernie” to avoid confusion with an Olympic swimmer with the same name. It was just years later that he get back to sign his original name – that’s why there’s two different ways of writing his name.

As soon as 1968, he started to draw comics professionally. His first story was published in issue #170 of DC Comics’ House of Mystery. From there, he never stop doing comics. Wrightson created, along with Marv Wolfman, the character Destiny, which appeared in Weird Mystery Tales #1 and would be later rebooted by Neil Gaiman in his Sandman Universe.

Swamp Thing

Along with writer Len Wein, Wrightson is responsible for the creation of Swamp Thing, one of the most important DC Comics Characters and one of those responsible for the creation of the Vertigo Imprint. Wein told that he was talking to Wrightson about the story when the artist had just broken up with his girlfriend. So Wein said that he had an idea for a story that seems to reflect what Wrightson was going through. After hear the story, Wein told, Wrightson wanted to draw it so badly.

The  story, published in House of secrets #92, was a short standalone story that took place in the early 20th century about a man who was betrayed by his best friend and returns as a swamp creature, just to see himself unable to go back to his lover. The story was a big success and DC decided to give the character his own title, where his origins were retold to take place in the present (the 1970s). Wrightson drew the first 10 Swamp Thing stories (more on the character in a future article).

The Warren Years and his own studio

In 1974, Bernie Wrightson left DC to work at Warren Publishing, making original stories and adaptations. He adapt, among other things, H.P. Lovecraft’s “Cool Air” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat”.  Among the original stories was “Jenifer”, written by Bruce Jones; the story would be adapted decadeslater to a segment from “Masters of Horror” anthology, directed by Dario Argento.

A year later, Wrightson join fellow artists artists Jeffrey Catherine Jones, Michael Kaluta e Barry Windsor-Smith to found "The Studio", which was basically a shared loft in Manhattan where they make art outside the restrictions of the most mainstream comics. For The Studio, Wrightson made posters, prints, calendars and even a coloring book; besides, of course, comics and illustrations for National Lampoon between 1973 and 1983.

Other works

His original character, Captain Stern, published by Heavy Metal in 1980, was adapted to the animation based on the magazine. In 1982, Wrightson would join Bruce Jones again to illustrate Freakshow, graphic novel published in Spain and later release in serialized form on Heavy Metal. In 1983, Wrightson would published one of his most known works: the illustrated version of Frankenstein, published by Marvel Comics. Inspired by the works of Gustave Doré in Paradise Lost, Wrightson made incredible illustrations that is arguably his most outstanding work.

Note: His first wife, Michelle, also contributed with stories for Underground Comix, satirical magazine that launch several underground artists like  Robert Crumb and might be considered the initial step to popularized alternative comics. Michelle also past away in 2015.
Wrightson also drew the comic adaptation of Creepshow, horror anthology from Stephen King inspired by E.C. Comics and other classic horror comics from the 1950s, which King grew up reading. King liked the partnership and put Wrightson to illustrated some of his books, like Cycle of the Werewolf, a restored version of The Stand and the fifth book from The Dark Tower series, Wolves of the Calla. He also made an illustration for TV Guide about The Shinning TV miniseries.

Still in the 1980s, Wrightson join Jim Starlin to make 2 charity comics: Heroes for Hope for Marvel, in 1985, which raise money to hunger in Africa and had also several other authors (Stephen King and George R. R. Martin among them); and Heroes Against Hunger, for DC, in 1986, featuring Superman and Batman.

Starlin e Wrightson also collaborated in “The Weird”, character created by Jim Starlin for DC Comics; the classic story Batman: Cult and Marvel Graphic Novel #29 that united The Hulk and The Thing – and all this in 1988. For Marvel, Wrightson also would illustrated several years later a Punisher story arc in which he turns into an “angel of death” (be happy if you don’t known about this arc).

In most recent years, Wrightson did the production design for the characters of Joss Whedon’s Serenity, a 2005 film based on Firefly TV series,and also collaborated with Steve Niles in “Frankenstein Alive, Alive” for IDW in 2012.

Bernie Wrightson influenced many artists and authors (me included) and was always faithful to comics, even when reached out to other medium. He only stop working in January 2017, 2 months before his passing, when he retired to be treated of cancer. He passed away in March 18, leaving the entire comic industry in mourning, but with a legacy that will never be forgotten.

Rafael Algures is a Bachelor of Philosophy specialized in Neurosciences of Language. He is also a copywriter, content and science writer, and a comic book creator. His latest work, “Gutter of Horror: Transition” is available at Amazon – digital and paperback.
Further reading: Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley and Berni Wrightson
                             Creepy PresentsBernie Wrightson (Creepy Archives), by Bernie Wrightson and others