Tag Archives: macabre

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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Tom Sutton & Werewolf By Night

Artist unknown.

Werewolf By Night #9 Artist unknown

When kicking around ideas for this blog with the fellas at the Nostalgia Zone, I mentioned I was considering writing about how much I didn’t like Jack Kirby’s comic book illustrations. Yeah, yeah, he’s the King. He practically invented the art form. He certainly made it possible for Marvel Comics to become the dominant (and best) comic book publisher in the world. His influence on comic book art is still being felt today. But, I just didn’t like his work.

You will note that I said I didn’t like it. Past tense. Sometime in my art school years (much farther in the distant past than I care to admit), I found something in his art that I hadn’t when I was younger. Yes, there were the squared fingers, the funky anatomy, the three styles of women’s faces (the heroine, the old lady, and the fat gal) that he always drew. But there was melodrama, composition, dynamic action, and those cool large black dots! His weird characters of the 70s: Kamandi, the Demon, and OMAC were way out there. And his monsters were awesome! I found that I suddenly quite liked his work.

The Demon #1 - Cool cover by Jack Kirby, but this isn't about the King.

The Demon #1 – Cool cover by Jack Kirby, but this isn’t about the King.

I guess it’s good to be the King.

But the boss said that Kirby has been written about to death. He suggested writing something about a lesser known artist. OK. How about…

Tom Sutton (1937 – 2002) had worked for Charlton and Marvel, as well as doing work for various horror magazines. He illustrated mostly horror genre stories starting in the 1960s on up to the 1990s. I must admit I don’t know a great deal about his body of work, but there are two comic books that stand out as among my most favored from my early days of collecting.

In 1973, for a two issue run, Sutton both penciled and inked Marvel’s ‘Werewolf By Night’. Since Sutton worked mainly in the macabre of comic bookdom, he was a rather nice fit with the Werewolf title. For the first seven issues of ‘Werewolf By Night’ the fantastic Mike Ploog was the penciler. Then, starting with issue number 8 and going through number 12, a series of guest artists took the helm, before Ploog returned for issue number 13.

Sutton was brought in to do issues 9 and 10.

As I said, Ploog was a fantastic artist, with his work heavily influenced by the great Will Eisner. Ploog’s werewolf was cool, if maybe a little bit cuddly. Sutton’s werewolf was much more sinister looking. Darker. More animalistic. I was far more frightened by Sutton’s werewolf than by Ploog’s or Gil Kane’s or Werner Roth’s or the dreadfully dull Don Perlin’s.

Here is a side by side comparison of Ploog’s and Sutton’s werewolves. Ploog’s shows more discipline is his drawing and would make a terrific poster. Sutton’s is wilder and is much more menacing.

werewolf comparison

Is it me or does the werewolf’s left leg look as though it’s backward in Ploog’s drawing?

I also find Sutton’s work to be more cinematic in his approach. Here are a few examples:

The opening page of number 9 is outstanding. It shows the werewolf running through a rainy night in Los Angeles. He runs over rooftops, through back alleys, then into traffic and, ultimately, gets seen full flash in the headlights of oncoming cars. I just love it!

WBN 9 Page 1

As the opening pages of the first part of this two issue story unfold, we see that the werewolf is being pursued. He’s followed by a ragman who can somehow track the werewolf from under the streets, through the sewers of LA. I’m not sure how that is accomplished, but no matter. It is in those pages that Sutton creates a great feeling of impending doom as one frame in particular demonstrates. Look at that shot drawn from a low angle focusing on the ragman surrounded by his ominous shadow. So good!

WBN 9 Page 2

Later in number 9 (page 14), we find a surprisingly nonchalant Jack Russell alone in his room. I would expect him to be a bit more on edge seeing as how he should expect to be changing into the werewolf any minute now. Still.

The muted colors are also effective if poorly printed.

The muted colors are also effective if poorly printed.

Outside we see more ragmen emerging from the sewers and stealthily approaching Jack’s house. I really like the way Sutton drew those frames. The house is done in simple shapes, while the ragmen appear to float across the ground. And the one ragman who looks back over his shoulder is quite chilling.

The werewolf is captured through the use of a high frequency whistle that causes severe pain in the creature. The werewolf quickly learns he must do the bidding of Sarnak, the masked leader of the ragmen. On the last page of issue 9, we can see just how painful the whistle is (see the detail below).

It's difficult to see in the image,but the werewolf's eyes were drawn as diagonal lines.

It’s difficult to see in the image, but the werewolf’s eyes were drawn as diagonal lines.

Issue 10 has a very good cover by Sutton, however I think the werewolf is in danger of being crushed by the falling blocks. They look awfully heavy. I can’t find out who illustrated the cover for number 9 (see above). It could have been Sutton, but I don’t think so.

Werewolf By Night #10

Werewolf By Night #10

From issue 10 I’ll include two examples of Sutton’s work from the end of the story. (Spoilers!) First we can see the twisted and gnarled faces of the ragmen, who were also under the control of Sarnak, as they begin to regain their senses. They realize they had been manipulated by Sarnak and determine they will make him pay.

WBN 10 Page 27

Sutton draws the ragmen converging on the villain, swirling around him, and, on the final page, Sarnak is unmasked and revealed to be just another surface dweller, clean and soft. Not one of them.

WBN 10 Page 28

Altogether, this was a fine two part story that showed Tom Sutton would have been an excellent choice as the regular artist for the series, but, after two more issues (11 & 12) brilliantly drawn by Gil Kane, Mike Ploog returned to draw three more, then the drawing was turned over to the very ordinary Don Perlin and the artwork was all downhill from there.

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