Last night I was getting up and turning things off to go to bed when I looked at my phone and saw a Facebook update from Steve Niles saying that the Bernie Wrightson had passed away. I sat back down and spent most of the next two hours watching as the comics creator community, fans and friends posted about how devastated they were. Watched as my entire time line on all social media formats turned into nothing but images from Bernie’s amazing and incomparable career. With the obvious exception of why it was happening, it was the most beautiful thing.
I’ve talked at length many times about what Bernie Wrightson’s work has meant to me. I’m not the kind of person that get’s super upset when celebrities or people I wasn’t close to die. I generally grumble about the idea of social media posts where it feels like people are mostly talking about themselves when they mourn the passing of a celebrity or a hero. Bernie is different for me. There were actual tears in my eyes. Bernie Wrightson has been a part of my life and an enormous influence since I first bought a reprint of Swamp Thing #1 when I was a tiny lad.
I had been into comics since I was 7 or 8 maybe. Probably even younger. People would buy me comics at the grocery store or the occasional trip to a comic shop (which was like a Toys ‘R Us to me at that point being in a small town). They were primarily Spider-Man, Daredevil, X-Men, etc. I was also always into monsters and horror stuff. One day I was out with parent types and looking at comics and saw a Swamp Thing #1. If I remember right, it primarily caught my eye because I loved the movie. I picked it up and immediately thought “this looks creepy!” which was weird to me because the movie was anything but creepy. I don’t remember exactly how old I was but that day changed a lot. I wore that comic out! Loved every single page and panel. The biggest thing though.. it was the first comic where I thought “who did this!?” A switch went off where, for the first time, I actually realized that someone, a person, drew this stuff! From there it became “I want to draw this stuff!”
From there I started looking for things with Wrightson’s name on it. Which led me to CREEPY and EERIE (and it’s partially for this reason that getting to work on both of these titles years later means so much to me) and the like. I also started to realize I had been familiar with some of his work and never realized it. I remember the first time I was at a store and picked up Cycle of the Werewolf. Started flipping through and was just in fucking awe at the illustrations. Bernie Wrightson was my first favorite artist. I loved other artists but Bernie’s work meant something to me.
No one will ever come close to being able to do what Bernie does. His ability to convey dark and foreboding with beauty and even a sense of humor that doesn’t seem out of place. He could walk those lines like a god. Producing illustrations of such detail and beauty and then turning around and doing the same but while plunging you into fear and horror. Then he could just as easily do the same but with a much more humorous hand. I still love his Captain Stern stuff for this reason.
The man is a true master. Not just in the comics medium but as a modern artist in general.
One of the biggest regrets of my life now will always be that while I was at a couple different shows with Bernie Wrightson and had multiple opportunities to talk to and gush at him.. I didn’t. I’m not the biggest “fanboy” type. I don’t like to be nerdy all over people. Part of that is because I’m very socially awkward and nervous. Just being in the same room with him made me nervous. This was my hero. He was with me through most of my life. I just didn’t know what to say to him. This is ridiculous of course, by ALL accounts Bernie is the sweetest, most amazing person.
I can give you this story though:
I think it was my first or second year doing HEROES CON and I was getting the feel for how the auction crowd went and the showboating smoking jacket scene. Apparently if you have something that sells for a ridiculous amount of money there is some ridiculous club where you wear these things and strut around the auction. Christian Sager and I were grumbling about how ridiculous that shit is. The night of the auction we were leaving the bar and heading up to our room when the elevator door opened and out came Bernie Wrightson. With his ever present smile. He was wearing one of these smoking jackets. We looked at each other and said “Well, no.. that’s fine. Bernie Wrightson should be wearing that.”
I believe it was the next morning (or the next year possibly… I don’t know) we were at the hotel restaurant eating breakfast and Bernie and crew came and sat down right next to us. I was so nervous! Looking back it’s almost embarrassing how nervous I was.
This man was my hero.
Bernie Wrightson is the reason I draw comic books. I’m so sad that he’s gone but we are all so fortunate to have been able to experience and witness this modern master in our lifetime. No one could replace him and no one should.
My most sincere sympathies to his family and friends.