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Bernie Wrightson, Rest In Peace

Bernie Wrightson, the legendary comic book and horror illustrator, has passed away.  He was 68.

To say Wrightson was an influence is an understatement.  The man was proof of what passion for what you do can lead you to.  Wrightson had no formal art training, certainly not the way we think of it.  Born in 1948, Wrightson first started learning at the feet of Jon Gnagy, America's Television Art Teacher.  Gnagy hosted what was then the longest running show on television, Learn To Draw, and coupled with his art kits, demystified the art form and inspired millions.  Wrightson was one such person.  Wrightson was also on a steady diet of EC comics and artists like Graham Ingels and Frank Frazetta.  He eventually took up a correspondence course with the Famous Artists School, and in 1966, became an illustrator for the Baltimore Sun newspaper.

Wrightson was destined to be a great artist, and Fate decided to get involved.  In 1967, Wrightson went to a comic book convention to meet one of his heroes, Frank Frazetta.  Frazetta urged him to pursue working in comics, which is kind of like Stan Getz encouraging you to play guitar.  Wrightson got busy, and in 1968, showed his work to Dick Giordano at DC, who gave him a freelance assignment.  Wrightson's first officially published work, "The Man Who Murdered Himself," appeared in House Of Mystery #179.

While Wrightson's art was fantastic, he still needed one last push to become what he would.  Wrightson had become so sought after that he was working for DC rival Marvel Comics on their Chamber Of Darkness and Tower Of Shadows titles.  He was encouraged to simplify his pen and ink drawings, making him turn to a brush.  And thus, his mastery became cemented in art history.

My own familiarity with Wrightson is a bit backwards.  I didn't start getting into comics until I was in my late teens, and mainstream books didn't impress me.  But I loved indies.  And I remember checking out the comic Captain Sternn - Running Out Of Time, my first exposure to him.  I eventually learned that the character started in Heavy Metal and was part of a segment in the Heavy Metal movie, voiced by Eugene Levy (I soon acquired an uncut version of the movie, which, I note with pride, was not easy in those days).

If there was anything more legendary than Wrightson's artistic skill, it was his humanity.  Unlike other artists who let their success go to their heads, revelling in being the big fish in a small pond, Wrightson had none of that.  He was always generous, always approachable, always had time for anyone.  The number of comic pros expressing shock and grief on the Twitter accounts is overwhelming.  I haven't seen such a genuine outpouring of love and regret since John Michael Turner and Mike Werringo.

Wrightson was still going strong and probably would have drawn forever.  But Wrightson was facing a deadly foe, brain cancer.  Following surgery in January 2017, he capped his pens and ink for good.  And now, a scant two months later, he's no longer with us.

Rest well, Mister Wrightson.  You set the bar, as an artist and a human being.

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