Sunday, March 19, 2017
Bernie Wrightson, 1948-2017
This morning I saw the sad news that the world of comics and illustration has lost one of the great ones -- Bernie Wrightson has passed away.
Way back in the early to mid-1970's, I -- as a comic book geek and aspiring comic book creator -- had the good fortune to be hired by the late, great Norman Witty of Northampton, MA, to work in his used book and comic book store, Omega Books, and even go to a few comic conventions with him as well (my first experiences with such). I got my first original Jack Kirby page at one of these shows, a cool Vince Colletta-inked page from "The Mighty Thor", a piece I still have, and treasure.
I learned a lot about comics and comic art from Norman during those years, and and although many details of my life back then are a bit fuzzy, one thing I remember very distinctly was his pointing out the artwork of Bernie Wrightson in one of the first issues of "Swamp Thing" from DC Comics, a book which was getting "hot" at that point in time among collectors, with the first issue being a real collectors' item, in large part because of the uniqueness and high quality of Wrightson's artwork. Norman directed my attention to a number of small panels on one page, expressing his opinion that these small panels were lovely pieces of storytelling art in and of themselves, showing more care and artistry in a few square inches than many other comic book artists would put into whole pages.
And he was right!
I was blown away by the care Bernie put into his drawing, and especially his inking, which was lush and precise. I became a big fan of his work, and followed it pretty avidly through most of my subsequent comics-buying years. I was even lucky enough to find (if I am remembering correctly, with the help of TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman) and purchase a beautiful full-color piece of his work featuring my favorite dinosaur, Triceratops. It now hangs in my studio.
As fans of his art know, Bernie went on to do a lot more amazing work. His illustrations for "Frankenstein" probably represent a high point in his career -- imaginative, amazingly detailed and almost superhumanly inked with a fluid precision which still boggles my mind.
He will be missed. -- PL
P.S. The illustration I chose for this post is my hand-drawn copy of one of Bernie Wrightson's wonderful drawings from his run on "Swamp Thing", one of a number of such pieces that I did on wood back in the 1970's. I would pick favorite artwork from comics and do my best to carefully reproduce them by hand in pencil, ink and color on 3/4 inch pine boards. Then, using the tools at the UMass wood shop, I would carefully cut out the figures with, typically, a combination of band saw and jigsaw, then cover the edges and back with black ink, finishing with several coats of protective polyurethane.
This particular example, created circa 1975, was actually owned by the aforementioned Norman WItty, who was a great admirer of the work of Bernie Wrightson. I'm not sure if I sold it to him or gave it to him, but apparently he liked it enough to keep it in his collection until he passed away a few years ago.
(The photo here comes from an eBay listing for the piece from 2014.)