Legendary artist Bernie Wrightson has passed away
Last night, the arts suffered a profound loss, the loss of a legend in the most pure sense of the word. Artist Bernie Wrightson lost his long battle with brain cancer and all the beautiful, wonderful monsters and horrible things in the shadows are now, sadly, much further away from us.
I, like many other artists, grew up in awe of Bernie Wrightson’s work. When I was a little kid collecting comics, I’d buy whatever looked the coolest to me. As I started to amass my fledgling comic book collection, it occurred to me that a lot of my favorite comics looked sort of similar. Then I realized the same guy was responsible for drawing them, some guy named Bernie. The old Warren magazines that I owned featured some of his best stuff. When it finally clicked with me who this guy was and that I could seek out more of his work, it became an obsession. Although I’d been following his work for a long time (for a kid) at this point, there was one graphic novel he’d illustrated for Marvel, called “The Big Change,” written by Jim Starlin, that really resonated with me. It featured The Hulk and The Thing and a host of Wrightson’s signature monsters. This book of his was one of my favorites. I would take it to school and practice drawing from it. This was a daily thing for me. I, like everyone else who loved his work, was in awe of his monsters and especially his “Swamp Thing” work, which was my favorite. It is still what he is best known for, even though it only ran for 10 short issues. Later, his work on a Batman book called “The Cult,” again with Jim Starlin, was to me, a real changing point in super hero comics. This was the first time we saw a broken Batman and Wrightson’s visceral art really gave us a bleak look into the world of The Dark Knight, that in my opinion, has never been matched to this day.
When you take in his amazing career as a whole, whether you look at his technically miraculous illustrative work on “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” or the brilliant concept art he provided for films like Ghostbusters and Resident Evil, it’s painfully clear there have been few better artists to ever take up brush or pen since we crawled out of the caves as a species. Some of his Frankenstein pieces demand hours of study just to really take in and fully appreciate the immaculate detail, while other pieces move your eye quickly across the page to tell a story and force you into whatever mood he demanded, with a few strokes of his brush. Whether is was a sense of wonder, mystery, dread or pure horror, he could take you there in an instant.
If you had the pleasure of meeting or knowing Bernie, you’re keenly aware there was no one more humble and appreciative of his fans. If he really was aware of the huge, imposing shadow of talent he cast on so many fans and fellow artists, he’d never let you know it. He would do his best to tolerate his fans calling him a legend, but it seemed like a hard pill for him to swallow. Most all professional artists I know, if you talk to them long enough, will eventually say something like, “Well, I’m no Frazetta or Wrightson, but I try!”
I own a dozen or so Wrightson paintings, pen-and-inks, pencil sketches, comic pages and film concept art pieces. They are hanging in my studio and after all these years they still inspire me daily. He is the singular reason I paint monsters and write about them for a living. And for that, I could never have thanked him enough.
Brian Steward is a renowned artist and pop culture journalist