Bernard "Bernie" Wrightson was born in Baltimore Maryland in 1948. While he grew up in a household where even his parents read comics, his secret love was the EC horror titles that were then being reprinted when he was a child. Wrightson recollects hiding his ECs from his mother under his mattress, and reading them until their covers fell off. He started drawing at an early age, accordingly monsters, zombies, what have you, and while he is mostly self taught, he did take the illustration correspondence course that was founded by Albert Dorne, Robert Fawcett and Norman Rockwell. Wrightson entered comics fandom while he was still a teenager, becoming fast friends with Jeff Jones and Mike Kaluta when they attended NYC Comic Con, ostensibly because Frank Frazetta was attending. Wrightson announced his retirement in January of 2017, and passed away at his home in Austin Texas on March 18th, 2017 after a long battle with brain cancer.
Wrightson started work as a cartoonist for The Baltimore Sun in 1967, but quit soon after, citing petty jealousies and office politics as the impetus for his decision. During this time Wrightson was drawing covers and pinups for the burgeoning fanzines of the time. Along with a large group of other artists that were heavily influenced by both Frazetta and the 1950s EC horror comics, (Jeff Jones, Mike Kaluta, Bruce Jones, Richard Corben, Frank Brunner, et. al.) his work appeared in issues of Abyss, Amra, Heritage Flash Gordon, Squa Tront, Prism, Spa Fon and many others. Wrightson's first published comics work became House of Mystery #179 in 1969, after Dick Giordano and Joe Orlando recruited his talents for DC. With Carmine Infantino and Joe Orlando mentoring him, Wrightson began his comics career in earnest at DC. He found that his drawing pace was more suited towards covers and short stories, however an eight page story written by Len Wein, illustrated by Wrightson, and published in DC's House of Secrets #92 in 1971, would change that for a time. Swamp Thing #1 debuted in 1972 with both Wein and Wrightson at the helm. Together they revamped the muck monster's origin, updating the story from his House of Secrets debut for a more modern feel. Wein and Wrightson lasted a mere eleven issues on Swamp Thing before the grind of a monthly book put Wrightson so far behind that he had to give it up, however the craftsmanship for these books set a standard of excellence that would inform Alan Moore's further reworking of the character in the early 1980s.
Wrightson continued freelancing at DC and Marvel until the mid 1970s when he took a job at Warren. Jim Warren's company not only reproduced Wrightson's art in his preferred black and white, they also paid higher page rates, and gave him his original art back, something that was mostly unheard of at Marvel and DC at the time. Most of Wrightson's work for Warren appeared as short stories, page illustrations and covers for their twin series Creepy and Eerie. During this time he began his own side project, that would eventually turn into a meticulously and gorgeously rendered illustrated version of Mary Shelly's classic Gothic horror novel Frankenstein. With illustrated pen and ink plates that resembled closely 19th century era steel point engravings, the book was a revelation. Wrightson would eventually release Frankenstein in 1983 through Marvel Comics as a deluxe softbound book, however Marvel really had no clue how to market it, and his masterpiece didn't really receive its due until Dark Horse Comics re-released it as a hardcover novel in 2008. Dark Horse has kept it in print to this day.
From 1975 to 1979 Wrightson was part of an atrists' group collectively known as The Studio. Wrightson shared studio space with his friends: Jeff Jones, Michael William Kaluta and Barry Windsor-Smith, and together they astronomically raised the bar for graphic art and commercial illustration. The breakup of The Studio was cemented by the publication of a book, ironically celebrating The Studio's works. Published by Dragon's Dream in 1979, the book was a gorgeously packaged showcase of the four artists' works, but as Wrightson explains, "constant arguments about the layout of the book and how it was to be written and whose work was going to be on the cover." The book survived until publication, sadly The Studio did not.
Wrightson continued his freelance comics work through the 1980s, notably expanding his Captain Sternn characters into a series of stories for Heavy Metal Magazine, as well as illustrating the excellent Spider-Man graphic novel Hooky. He teamed with his friend Jim Starlin several times during the 1980s and 1990s for The Punisher P.O.V. miniseries and The Incredible Hulk and The Thing: The Big Change graphic novel at Marvel, and The Weird and Batman: The Cult miniseries' at DC. In 1985 Starlin and Wrightson produced the Heroes For Hope and Heroes Against Hunger projects for Marvel and DC respectively. The books were completed as a jam with many many artists and writers donating their talents to fight famine in Africa.
Wrightson's comics work from the late 1990s through the late 2000s was sporadic as he concentrated more on his film and creature design work for Hollywood. However in 2007 after meeting horror scribe Steve Niles, the two decided to collaborate and together they put out the 4 issue mini-series City of Others for Dark Horse. Several more mini-series followed this time for IDW including; Dead, She Said! in 2008, Ghoul in 2009, Doc Macabre in 2011 and most recently, Frankenstein Alive, Alive! in 2012. The IDW series excepting Frankenstein Alive, Alive! were compiled by IDW and published in a deluxe hardcover called The Monstrous Collection in 2011.
Wrightson's first dust jacket design was for The Conan Reader by L. Sprague de Camp in 1968. He followed up with another cover for its sequel, The Conan Grimoire in 1972. In addition to his nonpareil illustrated edition of Mary Shelly's Frankenstien, the Modern Prometheus, Wrightson has worked with Stephen King on several projects including; the Creepshow graphic novel, cover and interior illustrations for both The Stand limited edition and The Dark Tower part V, Wolves of the Calla, and a series of interior paintings for Cycle of the Werewolf. Wrightson has painted covers for Stuff Out'a My Head by Joseph M. Monks, Zombie Jam by David J. Schow, and he also drew a nifty pen and ink illustration for R.L. Stein's The Nightmare Hour.
Most notably Wrightson painted the cover to the album Dead Ringers by Meat Loaf in 1981.
Wrightson started working with Hollywood after the creators of the 1981 Heavy Metal Movie adapted his Captain Sternn stories into one of the animated segments. In 1982 his work was used as the comic book style interstitial sequences in Stephen King and George Romero's Creepshow project. His next movie was Ghostbusters in 1984. Wrightson worked as a creature design consultant, designing the final movie versions of The Librarian and The Cabbie, as well as giving a bit of polish to the final version of the Terror Dogs. He has worked on many motion pictures since, including:
Space Truckers (1996) Concept artist.
The Faculty (1998) Creature Designer.
Galaxy Quest (1999) Creature Designer.
Thir13en Ghosts (2001) Conceptual Artist.
Land of the Dead (2005) Makeup Effects Illustrator.
Serenity (2005) Reaver Design.
The Mist (2007) Creature Designer.
Dark Country (2009) Visual Consultant.
Collectible Card Games
In 1995 Wrightson did a series of original paintings for the Heresy: Kingdom Come collectible card game. Produced by Last Unicorn Games in 1995, it debuted with a series of 374 cards featuring a wide variety of fantasy and comic book artists. L.U.G. had a 90 card expansion set advertised to debut the following year, but the game's lukewarm reception scuttled plans for future card sequences.