Monday 26 August 2013

Bernie Wrightson - Master of the Macabre!

Hi !

Welcome to another of my "influential artists" blog posts. This time I'm highlighting the incredible work of Bernie Wrightson, with special focus on his now world famous illustrations for Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein".

Bernie Wrightson is an American artsist who works predominently in pen/brush and ink. Perhaps his first widely recognised success came when he co-created the character "Swamp Thing" for DC [comics] on the early 1970s.

DC's "Swamp Thing #9" comic cover, featuring Wrightson's character design in full awesome glory!

A pen and ink character sketch, below - a full colour illustration of "Swamp Thing".

Wrightson's style and love of classic horror illustration gave him a unique ability to transform a concept into a grimly fascinating and highly detailed reality making him an instant success with fans of the genre.

Wrightson's art credits over the years include countless illustrations for books and magazines, as well as more comic work on titles/characters including The Punisher and Spider-Man and Batman, amongst others:

His style has proved to be the perfect complimentary element for several Stephen King novels, illustrating 'Cycle of the Werewolf'. 'From a Buick 8', 'The Stand', 'The Dark Tower volume V: The Wolves of Calla' along with 'Creepshow'.

Although I pretty much love ALL his work and one day DREAM of owning an original piece to hug and love and gaze at adoringly *sigh*.... this post is about the influence his work had on me and my own art. For that, we have to look at his INCREDIBLE work illustrating "Frankenstein". Oh yeah... I know....awesome.....

Living in a little town in the years before everyone had t'interweb, the only way to find gems of new artwork was in books. Yeah - remember them? Well - fortune granted me the privilege of having a Saturday job in the ONE bookshop available. Guess what happened to my wages every week.....Yuh-huh - I did buyded many lots of books of awesomeness I so very did! ONE of them shone a spotlight on the new elite of the fantasy illustration world - the very same tome where I discovered the awesomeness of Charles Vess (read my blog post HERE). Within its beautiful pages there was a chapter which pretty much blew my mind - the work of Bernie Wrightson.  There, in astounding detail, were illustrations from "Frankenstein". I've LOVED horror stories and movies since I was a tiny wee girl (much to my mother's distress!) and here in front of me were images that opened up the world of Dr Frankenstein and his monster on a whole new level. I bought the book and was lost in those pages for HOURS. This is why:

Yeah. Oh yeah. Look closer -

To say there's a lot of detail is the epitomy of understatement! This is EXQUISITE work... In these illustrations, Wrightson uniquely fuses a classic concept and technique with a whole new way of thinking creating a hybrid style of his own: intricate work of breathtaking beauty breathing life into the dark and ghoulish, violent world of the horror genre.

 Looking at his work in these pages, I almost overlooked the horror of some of the studying the techniques and the effects of his work on the Monster himself I forgot, for a moment, so view him as a whole - to see the creature as an horrific creation, and in doing so I found a deeper understanding of the text of the book when I re-read it that week. It was an epiphany which not only inspired me to practise new techniques in my art, but also gave me a new appreciation of literature, a desire to look deeper into the layered sub-texts of the stories I read and it enhanced my enjoyment of these elements in my life more than I can effectively describe.

Look at the illustrations - forget the grisly subject matter for one moment and see it as a whole image. It's the gift of an illustrator to have a particularly exceptional eye for composition and these illustrations have an almost movie-like quality to them....a director's view, as it were. They're compelling from the outset.

Illustrators also seem to have an impeccable eye for minute detail - an almost anal retentiveness for the minutiae so work doesn't disappoint upon close inspection, rather tends to further delight. Wrightson's work - especially on THIS series of illustrations - is a perfect example of this.  This collection took Bernie Wrightson roughly seven years to complete and they have had worldwide acclaim, yet I read in interviews that when he looks at them now he can still pick out flaws and imperfections that he would correct if he could. Astounding.

Take a look at this picture above. Study how he uses a simple white void-space to indicate light to such effectively dramatic effect. There's no skimping on detail time-saving scribbles to fill in space in that straw. In comparison to his other illustrations, the are far fewer outlines or edges, he achieves definition by using mainly cross-hatching or varied thickness of shading lines instead.

***It's worth noting that a (complete idiot) tutor I once had the misfortune to have to study under informed her class that "cross-hatching was a poor man's shading method, out-dated and ugly". Oddly we didn't really get along. Bernie Wrightson = genius .... tutor = fad-obsessed moron. Moral: Never assume that an art course or degree will automatically ENLIGHTEN you or define and validate you as an artist. "Self-taught" is not a sweary phrase! ***

Summing up, Bernie Wrightson is pretty damn awesome and that's a fact. I know that some of the imagery or ideas behind his work might not be to everyone's tastes, but his skill and tremendous versatility within his chosen field is beyond impressive and LONG may he continue drawing monsters and zombies and superheroes FIGHTING monsters and zombies! I will forever be in his debt and forever be an admirer of his work.

You can see more of his work on "Frankenstein - or The Modern Prometheus: Illustrated Edition" HERE, and find his illustrations for MANY titles on ebay, Amazon or - best of all- IN YOUR LOCAL BOOK SHOP! Don't forget to check out your local comic shop for comics and prints and art books as well. Also, it's WELL worth knowing that Bernie Wrightson and Steve Niles have collaborated on a sequel called "Frankenstein Alive, Alive!" published by IDW comics. You can find an interview about it HERE.

I hope you've found this interesting. Please feel free to comment or contact me - I'll get back to you as quickly as I can I promise! Don't forget to check out the "Color This Quote" September challenge/prompt on Artists in Blogland - click the pic below

I shall leave you with a cool zombie pic, because you know you want one! Hugs from Shroo :)


  1. Your blogs/posts are very informative and interesting! Thank you for being so awesome! x

  2. OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMGGGGGGGGGGG! Firstly as someone who still looks longingly at art courses, even as recently as yesterday, this phrase: "Self-taught" is not a sweary phrase! speaks VOLUMES to me. So thank you for that!

    Next - so much beautimous jaw dropping amazing art in this post! Am going to find that book immediately after I drag myself away. I too am someone who laps up comic books and just last week decided to stop waiting for Little Miss to start liking the darker books and bought one for myself anyway.(Savage, illustrated by Dave McKean. I recently discovered him when a friend said something I did recently reminded her of him! What a compliment)

    Brilliant post.

    So. It seems I am going to have to raid your archives!

  3. Just came back to say - added Frankenstein to my wishlist. My birthday soon - you never know - my Dad shops that list :P You should see it, it's like a shopping list of your blog. I should just send him here!