Tag Archives: Frankenstein

Bernie Wrightson – One Of The Masters

The world of comic books lost one incredible artist this past weekend. Bernie Wrightson, renown for his mastery of illustrating horror and the macabre, died too young at age 68 after a lengthy battle with brain cancer.

According to his obituary, he did take a correspondence course from the Famous Artists School, but otherwise he was largely self-taught through studying comic books. That astounds me. Well, some artists are just so good they don’t need that much in the way of formal training. I went to art school for three years and that made me a better artist, and I’m better today than I was right after my schooling, but I’d be flattering myself if I thought I could be a quarter as good an illustrator as Mr Wrightson.

Let’s look at some of his work.

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This witch illustration is the first image that comes to my mind when I think of Bernie Wrightson. He had a great sense of lighting in his work, which you can see here. He also could vary his inking technique to suggest different textures: flesh, hair, wood, the witch’s garment.

The next two examples show his brush technique in inking really well.

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I love the way the zombie’s tattered flesh, hair, and clothing flow downward into the ground as it emerges from its grave. And note how simply Wrightson renders the grave stones in the background and yet they still look so heavy.

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Probably Wrightson’s best known character, co-created with Len Wein, Swamp Thing is drawn here in such a way as to make him as much a part of nature as the tree behind him. He is a part of that swamp. Wrightson uses virtually the same texture when rendering Swamp Thing as he does with the tree.

Wrightson also worked in color. I’m including a piece from later in his career. It’s the cover for the third book of his Batman: The Cult series. The art within the books was good, but not quite at the same standard as his earlier work. However, the face of the bad guy being threatened by the Caped Crusader on this cover is fantastic!

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Finally, I’m including a piece from what must be considered Bernie Wrightson’s masterwork: his illustrated edition of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein. The artist worked on the 50 or so illustrations in this edition for about seven years. The quality is amazing. This one illustration demonstrates Wrightson’s brilliance with pen and ink. The textures and details he captures are incredible. There’s stone, wood, flesh, glass, cloth, water all in there and everything feels right.

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He masterfully directs the viewers’ eyes through that laboratory to the spot where Frankenstein’s creation demands to know why. Why did the doctor defy the will of God and bring him to life?

Bernie Wrightson was one of the masters and we can be thankful to have such a body of work to ponder and be humbled, amazed, and inspired by.

I’m feeling the itch to draw.

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

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It isn’t all about Marvel…

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Well, I’m doing it! I’m crossing over into DC Comics territory. I was a Marvel Comics kid who would rarely pick up a DC title back in the early days of my collecting. For some reason, Batman and Superman and all those other DC characters didn’t interest me. I took the motto “Make Mine Marvel” to heart in those days. But,as I got older and more serious about collecting, I worked my way into the DC Universe.

This was when I mainly bought comic books with exciting covers. But, I also liked the monster stories. And because I liked monsters so much, I laid down my hard-earned 20 cents and purchased this DC comic book, The Demon #13 (Oct. ’73).

The Demon was a series created, drawn, and written by the great Jack Kirby. Kirby was king. He was the major talent behind the creation of the language of comic book art. He was a pioneer. He is probably the most influential artist in comic book history and, for years, I thought he sucked.

That’s right. I couldn’t stand his stuff. In my formative years as a cartoonist, I couldn’t understand why he was the king. As I worked to improve my drawing skills, I kept looking at his work and thought it was crap. “He can’t draw!” I would think.

Kirby didn’t draw anatomy well. Look at the hands he’d draw. How many knuckles does a human finger have? How long is a thumb compared to the fingers? Who has squared off fingertips? And that’s just the hands!

I could go on, but I did eventually come to appreciate the greatness of Jack Kirby’s art. So let’s just move on, shall we?

The Demon #13 might have been the first DC Comics title I’d ever purchased. He’s been a favorite character of mine ever since.

This was long before the Demon started speaking in rhyme. That’s the one thing that annoyed me about the later incarnation of the Demon. I like the Hell aspect and that the Demon is kind of evil while still being a good guy. And I love his alter-ego’s name: Jason Blood. Such a cool name!

The art I’ve selected from this issue are all full page illustrations, with one exception. In fact, one is a two page spread!

The cover (see above) has an interesting use of color to help direct the eye. Your attention is drawn to the Demon and his two adversaries. The monsters are less significant, but still important. And the Demon’s declaration, “I’m unleashing every terrible thing your mind can think of! Can you take it?” makes one wonder if he talking to his adversaries or is he talking to us? Probably both.

The two page spread is chock full of Jack Kirby goodness. Some of his best work is this big drawing stuff. It’s big, spectacular! And Kirby was very good at making sure that the design didn’t leave the reader confused. The storyline continues to flow through the dramatic art.

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There’s also that black dotted cosmic fire thing the Kirby was so fond of using. I don’t know if he invented it, but it is a signature element of his art. And countless Kirby-influenced artists (myself included) have used the same effect.

So, the next page I’ve selected is the first page of chapter two. It introduces “the Monster”. A not so subtle take on the Frankenstein legend. Kirby’s version was created by Baron Von Evilstein.

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Baron Von Evilstein! That’s fantastic! With a name like that how could you not be evil? That name can’t help but pigeon-hole a fellow. Even if he wanted to be a philanthropist, how could he while named Evilstein?

The Monster is huge. He’s craggy and menacing. And I love the metal bars that protrude from him. Maybe not quite the same as the flat-headed creature that Boris Karloff brought to life, but the similarities are there.

There’s a single frame that I’ve included that has its focus on the creatures hands.The hands are stretched out imploringly to a woman he sees as a friend. It brings to mind Karloff’s so expressive use of his hands in his portrayal of the Monster. No other actor who played the Monster ever came close to Karloff. Part of the reason for that, I think, is due to the way Karloff used his hands.

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Let’s compare! Kirby’s monster…

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…Karloff’s monster. The images mirror each other.

Speaking of hands, this brings me to the final piece I’ll be including. It’s the first page of chapter three. Kirby sums up the action of the scene while deftly bringing in the Demon. That’s a pretty cool hand there. We’re in for some action!

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DC may not have held much interest for me back in the old days, but as you can see there was something good going on. I’ve remained a Marvel kid, but DC could also produce some pretty good stuff.

Hell. I’m a Marvel kid whose favorite character is Batman.

Go figure.

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