A Memorial to Bernie Wrightson
When my brother passed away, I inherited a crap-ton of fanboy stuff. Among these items was a well-worn copy of a Marvel Illustrated Novel: Frankenstein, or a Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. It’s not just Shelley’s best-known work, but more importantly, this edition is illustrated by Bernie Wrightson.
The other day I was sorting through the attic and rediscovered this book that my brother and I purchased in 1984. It filled me with reminiscences of back then. Leafing through the book, I remembered that Bernie Wrightson passed away in March. I didn’t know him, but as I stood in the attic mired in dust, I felt I did, because I vividly recalled the day we purchased that book.
We were comic book geeks, enthralled by scary stuff, imagining ourselves as creative people: Marc the artist and I the writer. I had just graduated high school and Marc was just about to. Our periodic weekend trips into Manhattan were always punctuated by stops at Strands bookstore and the Forbidden Planet comic shop across the street.
When we saw the Shelley book, we were instantly captivated by the gorgeously gothic full page spreads and detailed inks. Marc pulled the book off the shelf and gingerly turned the pages to that book as if he was holding a sacred tome.
The cover is a wraparound spread that is extremely well-known. It also lies somewhere near the end of the book, but when you open to it you can’t just help but gasp. The two-page spread is a picture of Frankenstein’s cluttered laboratory. One page is the sundry items that one might find in a laboratory. Cluttered shelves brimming with books and beakers, a corpse laying on a lab table. The other page has Frankenstein and his monster locked in confrontation. Staring at that page, my younger brother plopped himself down on the floor.
I was shocked that my brother would just sit on the floor in a comic shop. He was a bit of a germaphobe and so for him to react that way was uncharacteristic. “Look at the lines,” he said. “Do you understand the sheer scope of the work? It’s so busy that you can tell that Frankenstein is working at such a frenetic pace that he has no time to put stuff away. And yet the monster is angry at him. You don’t even need to know the story and you can see that. Do you see how these two pages are so cluttered and full, but your eyes are drawn to the action between Frankenstein and his monster?”
There we were in Forbidden Planet and my younger brother was not just educating me, but he was also educating another gentleman who was also interested in purchasing the Frankenstein book. “Can you see how there are no solid surface lines? Wrightson is demonstrating his mastery over light sources and shadow. Do you see that there are no solid blacks? He illustrates three dimensions by using the technique of hatching and cross-hatching.”
On and on, my brother droned; however, he was revealing what he believed Wrightson intended with each piece. Marc didn’t complete his diatribe that day, but by the time he finished communicating his Forbidden Planet lesson, there was a pretty fair crowd around him wanting to purchase that book. Luckily, there were more copies.
A couple of weeks later, I bought my own copy. And when I discovered a copy of Stephen King’s novella, Cycle of the Werewolf, I was thrilled to see that Bernie Wrightson was the illustrator. He was using a different technique there. I bought Creepshow and found back issues of Swamp Thing and House of Secrets and Creepy, always trying to recapture the lesson brought to me by my brother on the Forbidden Planet floor. Mr. Wrightson would adapt his work to the project he was undertaking. The comic books still are among my most revered. I think by looking at Bernie Wrightson’s work I got to know my brother better, and my brother helped me get to know Mr. Wrightson better.
Thank you, Bernie. I hope that both you and Marc have gone to a better place where you can discuss all manner of topics. I know my brother would love that.
Rest in peace.