The world of comic books has lost another legend, as artist Bernie Wrightson, known primarily for his work on horror comics and being the co-creator of DC Comics‘ iconic horror hero Swamp Thing, has passed. The legendary artists lost his long battle with brain cancer on March 18, 2017, at the age of 68. His wife Liz Wrightson posted the news on Bernie’s official Facebook page. Aside from Swamp Thing, Bernie Wrightson was also well known for his work for Heavy Metal magazine, as well as his years-ahead-of-its-time illustrations of the Frankenstein monster.
Wrightson was born in Dundalk, Maryland in 1948, and was raised on a steady diet of EC horror comics. In 1966, Wrightson began working for The Baltimore Sun newspaper as an illustrator at the age of 18, and it was in the following year, after meeting artist Frank Frazetta at a comic-book convention in New York City, that he decided to create and illustrate his own stories. In 1968, he showed pages of his artwork to DC Comics editor Dick Giordano, and he was then given his first freelance assignment.
In 1968 he drew his first professional comic book story, “The Man Who Murdered Himself,” which appeared in House of Mystery No. 179 (March–April 1969). He then became the “go-to” illustrator for horror and mystery anthology comics for DC, which were very popular back in the early ’70s. He did contribute some work to Marvel books at this time as well, such as Chamber of Darkness and Tower of Shadows. Essentially, he was THE horror guy in comics at the time. It was in 1971 that Wrightson co-created Swamp Thing with writer Len Wein, a character that would go on to become a pillar of DC Comics publishing, and become the subject of one of the very first DC Comics films outside of Superman: The Movie.
In January 1974, he left DC to work at Warren Publishing, and in 1975 he would begin what many consider to be his greatest achievement, when he spent seven years drawing approximately 50 detailed pen-and-ink illustrations to accompany an edition of Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein. Wrightson’s take on the monster was unique and terrifying, and looked totally different that anything we’d seen before in movies or television. In the late ’80s, he returned to DC, where he drew the now-classic Batman mini-series The Cult.
In 1983 Bernie Wrightson began a long and fruitful collaboration with the modern master of horror Stephen King, when he illustrated the comic book adaptation of the King written horror film Creepshow. This ended up leading to many other collaborations with King, including illustrations for the novel Cycle of the Werewolf, which became the movie Silver Bullet, and the restored edition of King’s apocalyptic opus, The Stand. He also lent his talents to Wolves of the Calla, the fifth installment of King’s Dark Tower series.
In more recent years, Wrightson did production design for the Reavers in the 2005 Joss Whedon film Serenity, and illustrated many comics for publishers like Bongo, Image Comics, Dark Horse Comics, and Kitchen Sink Press. He ended up retiring from comics in January of 2017 following complications from brain surgery. In addition to his wife Liz, he is survived by two sons, John and Jeffrey, and one stepson, Thomas Adamson. You can read his full obituary on his official website by clicking here.
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Images: DC Comics / Warner Brothers / Bernie Wrightson