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Biographies of the Stars

Berni Wrightson

Bernard Wrightson was born on October 27, 1948 in Baltimore, Maryland.

At an early age he was an avid comic reader, becoming a big fan of EC and in particular, artist Graham Ingels. In 1954 he began watching a TV show with art teacher John Nagy, and this formed his early education in art, and it was his art training before he drew his first comic book in 1954. According to Bernie it was a twenty page book. A remarkable feat for a six year old.

He later took the Famous Artists Course, which was a correspondence course through the mail that many would remember from the ad with Norman Rockwell saying "We're looking for people who like to draw".

In 1966, Bernie got his first art job painting signs in a Baltimore sign shop. Then he got a position at the Baltimore Sun where he pretty much drew whatever they asked for from spot illustrations to photo retouching.

Then in 1967, the 23 year old artist went to a comic book convention in New York where he met future studio mates Mike Kaluta and Jeff Jones, as well as the man many, including Wrightson, attribute as their greatest influence - Frank Frazetta.

By this time he had become a big fan of the Warren magazines, Creepy and Eerie, largely because of their similarity to EC. As a matter of fact he had a small "fan" illustration published in Creepy #9, and when he returned home from his trip to New York, Bernie began to draw comics again, doing a story called "Uncle Bill's Barrel" which was published in a comics fanzine.

In July 1968 Bernie went back to New York to attend the first Phil Seuling Comic Art Convention at the Statler Hilton hotel, where he met DC editor Dick Giordano. He showed Giordano copies of Uncle Bill's Barrel and got a job at DC.

His first professional comic work appeared in House of Mystery #179 in April 1968. He did a few more mystery stories and then was given the task of illustrating the second and third Nightmaster stories in Showcase Comics #83 & 84. It wasn't long before Bernie had a following (I myself found him in HoM #179, I thought he was great!) and he continued working on the mystery books at DC which began to take on more of a horror element than it had previously.

By 1970 he had attracted attention at Marvel, where he had been trying to get work for some time, and he did several horror jobs there over the next few years.

In 1971 DC writer Len Wein brought a script to Bernie. It was just another horror job and Bernie handled it that way. But after publication, the story proved a big hit. The story appeared in House of Secrets #92 and it resulted in the central character getting his own book. It would be Bernie's book.

The Swamp Thing. That was the name of the book. It featured a character who had been transformed from a man into a giant Hulk-like mass of swamp muck. It was quite simply put, a runaway smash hit, and Bernie had hit the big time.

He did just ten issues, but these ten books are acknowledged as some of the most revolutionary comics of all time. By this time Bernie's art had fully developed into what became the quintessential look of horror comic art at the time. The slim lines and finely detailed panels were reminiscent particularly of Graham Ingels EC work, but also infused with influence by Frank Frazetta, Wally Wood, Jack Kirby and the cinematic design of Milton Caniff. Bernie was on his way to becoming an icon on his own.

By 1974 Bernie had secured work at Warren, where he was to do a series of horror stories of such high quality that being printed in black and white may have been a benefit to printing the artwork. He did a few Edgar Allan Poe adaptations and some H.P. Lovecraft adaptations as well as a few original stories. Actually he did quite a number of them.

Then he did a number of inside cover pieces featuring Cousin Eerie & Uncle Creepy. This artwork was of superior quality also and the pieces are highly sought after by collectors. All during this period he was also doing art for publication as posters and art prints, calendars and coloring books. he did a number of artist's portfolios and paintings.

Many of these pieces were done for Christopher Zavisa "Christopher Enterprises". Zavisa became very closely associated with Wrightson, and over the course of the three years of their relationship, Bernie did many of his best pieces. During the next phase in his career he was to work for several years on a project that had always been close to his heart. Bernie had read Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" as a teen and loved the story. He had drawn images of the monster for years. Some of them exist on the backs of comic pages.

He began in earnest on illustrating the legendary novel for Christopher Enterprises, but Zavisa sold his interest in the company to his partner in 1978, and within a few months the company was run down and forced into bankruptcy, putting the project on hold until Bernie could find someone else to publish the book.

It was Bernie's intention to do the art in the style most associated with illustrated books of the nineteenth century, the style of artists Heinrich Kley, Gustave Dore, Rockwell Kent, Howard Pyle and N.C. Wyeth.

He had begun the work in 1975, completing many illustrations, so many as a matter of fact that only a portion of them were used in the actual book. Many of course were reworkings of plates that Bernie felt were incorrect or not entirely to his liking. Dozens of these plates were first published in Xavisa's epic tome on Wrightson called "A Look Back", a marvelously produced book in 1979.

Frankenstein itself was published in 1983 by Dodd-Mead. It had 44 incredible plates, and it earned Bernie praise world wide. The foreword was written by Stephen King, who had long been a fan of Bernie's. He worked also at Heavy Metal, doing stories and covers for them and he also did the poster for the movie "Creep Show". He did some record album covers including one for the band Meatloaf.

Another project published in 1983 was Stephen King's "Cycle of the Werewolf" (published by Zavisa) for which Wrightson drew a number of color plates. He did a number of projects in Hollywood including designing many conceptuals for the Ghostbusters movie, from the devil dogs to the gates of hell.

In more recent years, Bernie has done so much work it is difficult to recount it all. Comic books, graphic novels, gum card sets, posters, and on and on. Bernie Wrightson is without question one of the very top artists of his generation, having developed into possibly one of the best illustrators of the latter part of the twentieth century. He has influenced many of today's current artists of which Simon Bisley and Kelley Jones are two of the most successful emulators.

This writer for one has always been a big fan of his and can't wait to see what he does next..

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