Bernie Wrightson · Connections · Frank Frazetta · Illustration Art · Look Here

Connections: Frazetta and Wrightson

Flipping through the second issue of the E.C. fanzine, Squa Tront, I came across a profile of Bernie Wrightson that made me chuckle. Published in September 1968 — the same year that, according to his official Web site, Wrightson “turned pro” — the profile includes a short biographical and artistic statement as well as three full-page reproductions of Wrightson’s work. In the statement, the man formerly known as “Bernard Albert Wrightson” explains why he has decided to go by the name “Berni” instead of “Bernie” (a decision he later reversed); he forthrightly acknowledges his longstanding fascination with and admiration for the work of Frank Frazetta; and he vigorously defends himself from the charge that his own work is overly indebted to that same artist: “He’s [Frazetta has] probably inspired me more than anyone else and to this day, I hear so much about my copying or ‘swiping’ from him. Well, I have never had a piece of Frazettart [sic] on the board while working. This is just my natural way of drawing, as I was drawing like this long before I ever laid eyes on his work. It’s just my misfortune (?) that our work appears similar.” Trouble is, Wrightson, who was only about 20 years old at the time, says right in his statement that he “became interested in art at about age twelve and when I was fifteen, ‘discovered Frazetta.'” Now, I don’t know what kind of prodigy Wrightson was, but if he was drawing like Frazetta long before he ever laid eyes on Frazetta’s work, then clearly he would have had to have been doing so between the ages of 12 and 15… which, to my mind, definitely does not pass the… uhm… uh… anyway, from Squa Tront #2 (September 1968), here’s “Profile: Bernie Wrightson,” along with an illustration by Frazetta, originally published in the Canaveral Press edition of E.R.B.’s Tarzan and the Castaways (1965), that did NOT appear in Squa Tront but, in light of Wrightson’s statement, holds a certain interest, I think.

Do you see now why “Profile: Berni Wrightson” made me chuckle? Ah, the impetuousness of youth!

Of course, Wrightson would eventually synthesize his influences to produce some of the best horror comics and illustrations of the 1970s and beyond. But he clearly hadn’t done so in 1968. And from all the work I’ve seen, I’d argue that he didn’t do so for a few more years after that. Which, btw, is a perfectly normal path of development for an artist, right down to the denials…

2 thoughts on “Connections: Frazetta and Wrightson

  1. Wrightson’s signature from 1965-69 appears Frazetta-influenced as well. It was in ’69 that he switched to the rounded letters in brushwork that came to be his trademark moniker.

    Berni’s path as an artist is quite interesting, too: in ’68 he began at DC with a somewhat brittle, grotesque pen-and-ink approach that was the closest to Graham Ingels’ E.C. work that editor Joe Orlando had come across. After two years of interior stories for DC, (Berni’s only professional cover art had been a painting for Major Magazines’ WEB OF HORROR #3) he went to Marvel where he was permitted to not only write and draw his own stories—“Gargoyle Every Night” and a Robert E. Howard adaptation “The Skull of Silence”—but to also draw covers for CHAMBER OF DARKNESS #7 and 8, and for TOWER OF SHADOWS #8 and 9.

    In BERNI WRIGHTSON: A LOOK BACK he recalls how Stan Lee wanted him to use bolder, simpler brushwork for Marvel and to make his characters emote more, as in silent movies. Berni’s transition from pure pen-and-ink to more extensive use of the brush, in my opinion, is what precipitated his full flowering as an artist. DC obviously saw his Marvel cover work, and once back he did the same for them (beginning with HOUSE OF SECRETS #92 and HOUSE OF MYSTERY #193 in 1971), and brought the new signature and brushwork along with him. Then came SWAMP THING, and the rest is history.

    Ironically, in early 1974 Berni felt his brushwork had become too formulaic, and with SWAMP THING #10 he moved back to more pen-and-ink, followed by his adaptation of Poe’s “The Black Cat” for Warren’s CREEPY #62 and for the 1975 short story “The Muck Monster” featuring his first all-out Franklin Booth-inspired art (itself a dry run for the FRANKENSTEIN illustrations of 1977-1980).

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