26 March 2017
By TAD HERRIMAN. That’s the monicker you see signed to the Krazy Kat drawings. His first name is George, but the boys call him Garge, because that’s the way he pronounces it himself. Now I’m not going to sit here and chuck the swell about that guy, I’m going to tell the truth. Garge came from somewhere out west, we think it’s Los Angeles. He came here on a side door Pullman
I'm sad to hear about the passing of horror illustrator and concept artist Bernie Wrightson (1948-2017). He's at the center of this picture, which also includes Pete Von Sholly (far left) and Dave Merritt at Jonas' Studios in 1993.
It is with great sorrow I report the death of my friend, colleague and hero, Bernie Wrightson. Without going into Wrightson’s entire biography, please allow me to express some random bits about our relationship and why he and his work meant so much to me.
Bernie was one year older than me — which doesn’t seem like much now. A one-year difference seemed enormous in my youth, however. I followed his early fan and fanzine work (which included an formative piece of his that ran in the Creepy magazine letters section one issue), then celebrated when he finally trail-blazed into the Big League of DC comics. Bernie showed me it was possible to have that dream of being a young man and making a living drawing comics to be a distinct possibility.
Bernie will forever be linked with his impressive and groundbreaking DC Comics run of Swamp Thing (a character he co-created with writer Len Wein) and his celebrated Franklin Booth-ish Frankenstein illustrations, that brought him even more acclaim, as well as great notice from some heavy-hitting art collectors. I loved what Wrightson brought to Batman and Spiderman as well. Bernie just seemed to “get” things on every level — he recognized the “essence”. He understood that certain key elements of genres that inspired him just might inspire others, too — and he was right.
Bernie was a co-founder of The Studio, an east coast phenomenon that included Michael Kaluta, Jeffrey Jones and Barry Windsor Smith. This powerhouse of talent inspired me to help form a west coast version at my own spacious studio on La Brea Avenue that at times included Richard Hescox, Dave Stevens and Paul Chadwick.
Bernie picked up the brush-inking torch from Frank Frazetta. I looked at both of these great artists for inspiration and analyzed their remarkable technique with their weapon of choice, a Winsor-Newton brush. Frank and Bernie inspired other brush-men, including Dave Stevens, Mark Schultz and Frank Cho. I dubbed our loose group “The Last Brush-men of the Kalahari” (an artistic take on the Lost Bushmen of the Kalahari). I’m happy to report that a few up-and-coming young lads (and a couple of older guys) have since taken up the torch of brush inking, seemingly inspired by our endeavors.
If I had to describe Wrightson’s basic style at its very essence, I’d call it Frank Frazetta’s solid drawing and ability with a brush combined with the truly disturbing and demented visions of EC’s Graham Ingels. I looked at Bernie’s inking when I wanted to figure out how to depict veins on well-muscled arms. His take on dinosaurs — while not the last word in scientific accuracy — nevertheless seeded my imagination with his dramatic portrayals of these great beasts, helping me to see them anew with fresh, unblinking eyes.
I was the go-to creature designer for the movie biz until Wrightson came to town. My offers immediately shriveled and shifted (rightfully so) to Bernie. Bernie was THE master monster artist. His imagination in that arena seemed breathtakingly endless. I didn’t mind losing the work because it meant that I got to see more of Bernie’s amazing creations up on the movie screen — and I’d much rather gaze upon his fascinating creatures than my own.
Through moving in the same comic book convention circles I finally got to meet Bernie. He was as gracious in person as his art was solid and we became fast friends, especially connecting with our shared love of monsters, dinosaurs and EC comics.
I initially passed on seeing the movie The Texas Chainsaw Massacre until I read in an interview that Chainsaw was so scary it had made Bernie pee his pants. On that high recommendation I dashed to the World Theater to catch a three-movies-for-99¢ screening of this grindhouse wonder. I was not disappointed.
In 1984 the job of production designer for Return of the Living Dead came down to being between Bernie and me — with Bernie the director’s first choice. The producer gave me the gig because I had more experience in film than Bernie at the time — but I did manage to slip some Bernie-isms into some of my designs so that he might be there in spirit.
I tried to work with my pal whenever I could, but our work paths seldom crossed. When possible, we’d send each other jobs in The Biz. We mostly saw each other and hung out at conventions, though. I was delighted when he finally met the love of his life, Liz — a real sweetheart, as Al Williamson would say. Bernie’s other friends agreed with me that Liz was one of the best things that ever happened to Wrightson. I’ve watched Bernie’s talented sons grow and mature into fine young men. I feel very much like an uncle to them and share the pain of their dad’s passing.
I’ve lost a dear, dear friend — but the world at large has lost a truly great artist. Though his mortal form has passed into the land beyond beyond, his magnificent body of work will live on forever.
Recognizing that formal art schools often only take students so far, Mark English joined with a group of the country's star artists in the late 1970s to form The Illustrators Workshop. Its impact was immediate and immense and the good it did influenced others to create similar educational experiences over the years.
Now they've launched an exciting new charitable arts program for women artists outside of the United States. Here's their idea:
"We recently invited a young Iraqi woman named Nahrain to attend one of our online workshops. Only hours from a war zone, in an environment barren of art education, this individual strives to advance her abilities as a comic book artist. Despite societal, institutional, and frankly criminal barriers, she was still able to connect and learn from professional illustrators through our online platform. This moment embodied the profound and empowering ingenuity online education can unlock. It reminded us how interconnected our world has become and yet how unbalanced our liberties remain.
"As a small organization, we are fortunate to be part of an international community of profoundly talented artists. We are hoping that you can help us deliver art education to aspiring women artists from regions of the world that discourage or prohibit the progress of women in the visual arts. We believe this is a global issue, but we hope to focus our mission on regions and communities that are in critical need.
"We firmly believe everyone deserves the right to pursue their dreams. We are in a unique situation where we have the ability to empower individuals who have been stripped of that right. We are calling this project Draw Without Borders."
The Illustration Academy's plan is to offer free online instruction to artists living in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Jordan, Iran and Turkey. Uninterrupted internet access might be a challenge overseas, but who wouldn't want free instruction from Gary Kelley or George Pratt? The arts can be as controversial and divisive a topic as any these days, but it can also build bridges and promote understanding and compassion. The arts can open doors for communication that politics often close and bolt.
I've lectured at the school; I've poked my head in during various summer workshops and have always come away amazed by the passion of the students and instructors alike. "Draw Without Borders" is an extension of what the Illustration Academy has always tried to do and a sincere effort to offer something positive to those without.
You can hit this link to the the Academy's website to learn more.
Sadly, Bernie Wrightson passed away this weekend due to brain cancer. There are many people more suited to describing what an astounding man we was than I. But suffice it to say, he was incredibly influential to an entire generation of comic book artists and illustrators alike. He will be sorely missed.
I thought it would be a nice time to reflect on some of his work. Here are some stellar examples from his masterpiece, 'Frankenstein'.
Bernie (Berni) Wrigntson was an American comics artist and illustrator known for his work on horror comics for DC Comics and Warren Publishing, on titles like Batman and, in particular, Swamp Thing.
Bernie Writghtson died on Saturday at the age of 68.
His work on Swamp Thing set new standards for horror comics art and was influential on other artists. Wrightson eventually left DC for Warren Publications, which was publishing black and white horror comics Creepy and Eerie that were printed larger than typical comic books, at magazine size.
Wrightson was a major figure in American comic book art, and at one point joined together with Jeffrey (Catherine) Jones, Barry Windsor-Smith and Michael Kaluta — like-minded artists who took inspiration from the great Golden Age illustrators — to share a joint space in New York called “The Studio”.
Wrightson was inspired by 1950’s horror comics from EC, and in particular the work of Graham Ingles and Frank Frazetta, but later in his career the influence of great pen and ink illustrators become more prominent, particularly the fantastic work of Franklin Booth. Those influences became evident in Wrightson’s acknowledged masterpiece, a series of elaborate and beautifully realized illustrations for Mary Shelly’s classic Frankenstein (images above, top two, with details).
This was not an assignment, Wrightson took on the project in his spare time out of love for the material. The illustrations were initially released as a limited edition portfolio. (A personal note: when I got divorced many many years ago, my ex-wife and I didn’t have any children or a house to argue over, but we wound up splitting joint custody, half and half, of the Frankenstein portfolio).
The drawings were later used in new editions of the Mary Shelly novel published accompanied by Wrightson’s illustrations.
Unfortunately, as far as I know, the book versions are out of print. Dark Horse still has a listing for their digital version, also for their collections of work from Creepy and Eerie that include some of Wrightson’s work. The print editions of Frankenstein may still be available used, though prices are likely to go up.
Wrightson and writer Steve Niles later followed with a comic book adaptation, Frankenstein Alive Alive! (images above, middle) which was published by IDW.
You may be able to find other Wrightson materials through used book sources, including reprints of some of his classic Swamp Thing issues.
The best currently in print source for his comics work is probably Creepy Presents Bernie Wrightson, a compendium of some of his work for Warren publishing, meant from the outset to be viewed in black and white, which is how I think his work is at its best.
Unfortunately, I don’t know of a good major online resource for viewing Wrightson’s work.
There is an official Bernie Wrightson website, with a bio and image galleries, unfortunately, the images in the galleries are maddeningly small and not well reproduced for the web, though they can still give you an overview of the range of Wrightson’s work.
Otherwise, I’ll point to some obits and tribute pages that feature some examples of his art. You can also simply try a Google image search.