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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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