Bernie Wrightson, the iconic horror comic book artist, died on Sunday, March 19, 2017. On Wrightson’s website, his wife announced that he passed after a long battle with brain cancer. He was 68 years old.
Among his many credits, Wrightson is remembered for co-creating DC’s Swamp Thing with Len Wein in 1971. In addition to comics, the character starred in Wes Craven’s ’82 cult flick and a TV show in the early ’90s. He has worked on big name characters for DC and Marvel, such as Batman, Spider-Man, and the Punisher.
Wrightson was born on October 27, 1948 in Baltimore, MD. He learned about art through reading comics then in a correspondence course from the Famous Artists School. He started working as an illustrator for The Baltimore Sun newspaper in ’66, then after he met Frank Frazetta at a convention in New York City in ’67, he wanted to start creating his own stories.
In ’68 he showed some of his art to DC editor Dick Giordano and was given freelance work, with his first professional comic work in House of Mystery #179. He worked on many different titles for DC and Marvel, co-creating Swamp Thing, as well as Destiny.
In ’74 he moved on to Warren Publishing, producing original art and adaptations of stories by Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft in their black and white horror comics. A year later he, Jeff Jones, Michael Kaluta, and Barry Windsor-Smith formed “The Studio” in Manhattan to work on projects outside of comics.
During this period Wrightson created sequential art, along with art for posters, prints, calendars, and coloring books. He provided art for an edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, did the poster for Stephen King’s Creepshow film, and illustrated the comic adaption of the movie. He did more work for King, including the art for hardcovers of From a Buick 8 and Dark Tower V. He also worked on album cover art.
Wrightson has also served as a conceptual artist on films like Ghostbusters, Galaxy Quest, The Faculty, Land of the Dead, and The Mist.
“Bernie Wrightson as one of the masters of horror artwork in comics and his impact in that arena will be long remembered. From his four-color work on Swamp Thing to his black-and-white masterwork, Frankenstein, to a long list of other projects, his career was marked by a single watch word: excellence. He was a Baltimore boy, born in Dundalk, and his first job was illustrating for The Baltimore Sun, before he went onto great glories in the comics industry. Fans in his hometown have never forgotten him. My condolences to his wife, Liz Wrightson, his family, his friends, and his many fans,” said Steve Geppi, President and CEO of Diamond Comic Distributors.
“In the days and weeks to come, we'll rightly hear a lot about Bernie Wrightson and the impact of his wonderful artwork on the comic book world. But the passing of such a legend in our community also gives us pause to reflect, and in that reflection to find encouragement. Look at the caliber of the people who were his friends! Not only is a proverbial Who's Who of great comic artists, but also a Who's Who of some of the really good people in our business. What a testimony that is for this master of the comic arts,” said Melissa Bowersox, President of Geppi's Entertainment Museum.
“Bernie Wrightson has left us, after defining the visual look of horror for a generation of readers and artists. He was a smiling, sweet man who understood how to bring nightmares to life. His later years left him battling challenges that kept him from creating art as freely, and so kept us from gasping in awe at his incised and perfect lines, but never kept him from offering cheer to his old friends,” said Paul Levitz, writer, historian, and former President and Publisher of DC Comics.
“Bernie is a legend, and one of the sweetest, most selfless people I've ever had the honor to call friend. Rest peaceful, warrior, you've done your time in hell,” said writer-artist Billy Tucci.
“Bernie Wrightson has been a part of my life since I bought my first Swamp Thing comic when I was a kid. When in high school I got to meet Bernie at a gallery show in New York City, and he was so out of his way nice to me, it left an impression on me that made me rethink some of what I was planning to do in my future. When Joe Quesada and I put together Marvel Knights, Bernie was one of the first people we hired. I got to ink his breakdowns on 4 books and it was the hardest thing ever to do - but all I wanted to do was make him happy. We became friends over the years as well as with his beautiful wife Liz and every single time we got together we would catch up on each other’s lives. I got a chance to work some more over the years, but the greatest gift was the man himself. Kind, smart, funny and charming as hell...he was one of the good ones and so soon...another friend has been taken from me. The rest of the world gets to enjoy the art for many generations, but for me, it's his laugh and smile I will miss the most. Rest in Peace, brother. We love you,” said writer-artist Jimmy Palmiotti.
“The Master of the Macabre has passed. Across from my desk I have hanging an amazing double page splash from Frankenstein Alive! Alive! Even though it was drawn just a few years ago, it showcases what made Bernie’s art so special and memorable. His impeccable, painstaking attention to detail. His ability to evoke mood. His ability to dazzle the eye - are all second to none. As talented as he was, he was also a very nice man as well. The comic world is a sadder place with this loss,” Vincent Zurzolo, ComicConnect COO, said.
“I find it very sad to think that the immense talent that Berni Wrightson possessed is simply gone. No more nightmarish images to be created. No more stunning brushwork to be admired. I do take some solace that the world appreciated his greatness. And the world will always have the ability to enjoy and relish the images that this master comic book artist left behind,” ComicConnect CEO Stephen Fishler said.
“He spent a career creating monsters, ghouls, zombies and demons, but in truth, he was a man whose body of work belied the most gentle of souls. I cherish the times we spent together, and now lament the many missed opportunities. His passing still doesn’t seem real. I miss my friend,” artist Joe Jusko said.
“Bernie Wrightson will be remembered as one of the greatest natural talents ever to work in comics, but also as a person uniquely dedicated to his craft. In the horror genre especially, his work sets the bar for future artists extremely high,” James Halperin, co-chairman of the Board of Heritage Auctions, said.
“Bernie Wrightson was an incredibly talented artist. His comic book work, especially that within the horror genre and the co-creation of the Swamp Thing, will always be appreciated by readers, artists and hobbyists. His Frankenstein illustrations were transcendent. Truly, he was the ‘Master of the Macabre’ and his presence will be sorely missed,” Josh Nathanson, founder and President of ComicLink, said.