Creepy presents Bernie Wrightson

Creepy presents Bernie Wrightson (250)Summary: Horror legend Bernie Wrightson’s Creepy and Eerie short stories, color illustrations, and frontispieces are finally collected in one deluxe hardcover! These classic tales from the 1970s and early 1980s include collaborations with fellow superstars and Warren Publishing alumni Bruce Jones, Carmine Infantino, Howard Chaykin, and others, as well as several adaptations and original stories written and drawn by Wrightson during one of the most fruitful periods of his career! The infamous “Jenifer” is included, as well as Wrightson’s full-color “Muck Monster” and adaptations of Poe and Lovecraft classics.

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Creepy presents Bernie Wrightson, by various author and Bernie Wrightson 8.0

‘Creepy presents Bernie Wrightson’ is a collection of all the work that legendary artist Bernie Wrightson did for Warren Publishing’s Creepy and Eerie magazines. It features a dozen stories (some of which he wrote or adapted) as well as all the frontispieces that he did for both. Despite its thoroughness, the book is only 140 pages long – Wrightson was also busy working with other publishers.

I honestly have no idea how I got a hold of this collection: Wrightson’s name was unfamiliar to me, as were Creepy and Eerie magazines, so I certainly didn’t request it from the library. However, it’s quite possible that one of the library clerks put it on there – we love to discuss graphic novels and one of them is always very eager to help me discover new things. Frankly, I couldn’t be more pleased with this assistance.

Anyway, all this to say that it magically dropped into my lap one day and I was immediately taken with the artwork. While it’s not always stellar, each tale has some fantastic panels that I spent an inordinate amount of time admiring: Wrightson was a multi-disciplinary artist and didn’t just pencil his art. He sometimes conjured up extremely detailed portraits with a series of lines that look like engravings; It’s impressive stuff.

But he’s not for all tastes: having learned his craft from reading horror comics, he has a penchant for the macabre, both in his choice of material and in his art: some of his finest work consists of creatures, cadavers, slime, blood, and all sorts of nasties. As for the rest, he’s quite good, but he’s clearly not as precise as he is with the scarier stuff: it’s not unusual to find skewed proportions or angles on his characters.

And while he is lauded by his colleagues (there is a fawning tribute to him by Bruce Jones, his first collaborator on Creepy), I don’t exactly know what makes him stand apart exactly; I’ve seen better art many times over. However, as Jones explains, Bernie had his own style at a time when there was tons of industry pressure to conform to the Jack Kirby or Neal Adams style. So his reputation certainly stems from his forge his own path.

Either way, I enjoyed his work. I most particularly liked when he worked on the art in solo and rather enjoyed his choice of material when he did a literary adaptation; I think that he proved a good judge both in the source material and in his way of tackling the work, truncating it down to just a few pages for the magazines – which were anthologies of short stories featuring various authors and artists.

First up are the stories published in Creepy:

1. The Black Cat is Wrightson’s first effort for Creepy, it’s a satisfying interpretation of the Edgar Allen Poe original. And while the art isn’t as good as it could be, it’s pretty accomplished considering that he did it when he was just 16. 8.0

2. Jenifer is the story of a man who finds a deformed girl in the woods and takes her in. The impact of this manifests itself professionally and personally. It’s got a nice twist to it and Wrightson’s work is quite good. Jenifer is a really creepy girl. Ugh… 8.0

3. Clarice is a second collaboration with Bruce Jones (after the aforementioned ‘Jenifer’) and it’s a drag. While I like the story, I hate that it’s told in prose. And while the art is decent, the paneling is mundane. 4.0

4. Country Pie has a simplistic premise, that of a psychic leading the police to a murderer, and the twist is easy to predict. But it was nonetheless satisfying. The artwork is more cartoony here, but cleaner, which gives it a nice look; it would be even better in colour. 7.5

5. Dick Swift and His Electric Power Ring is a fairly average tale about an ailing boy who aches to receive a mail-order power ring just like his favourite superhero has – he imagines that it will make him well again and then give him the chance to fight evil. The art is good, but not particularly notable – however it must be noted that Wrightson collaborated with another artists on this one. 6.0

 6. A Martian Saga is another story told in prose, and I could do without that; it limits the storytelling somewhat and it’s kind of clunky. However Wrightson’s art is quite appealing here. 6.0

7. The Laughing Man is a period piece about two adventurers out to seek their fortune, finding themselves face to face with intelligent apes in Africa. It’s eerie but pretty good. And Wrightson’s on top of his game here. 7.5

And then there are the Eerie stories:

1. The Pepper Lake Monster: I enjoyed this story of a man paid by a university to investigate a small town’s claims of a sea monster, and the obsession that comes over him. The story is simple and somewhat predictable, but there are some really fine moments (ex: the bottom panel on the first page, where Wrightson makes waves out of lines). It’s satisfying and I spent a lot of time staring at this one. 7.5

2. Nightfall: This is the darkly comic short about a boy who claims that there’s a monster in his room who wants to take him away. The art can be really good, especially in the close-ups, and I really loved the moment when his parents blame him for dragging his bed onto the window sill. Too funny! And the creatures are awesome-looking. 8.0

3. Cool Air: An excellent choice by Wrightson, he adapted this story from H.P. Lovecraft. It was weird, and appropriately eerie. The art was decent, but not astonishing until that last page, which is a masterpiece. 7.5

4. Reuben Youngblood, Private Eye: This is another artistic collaboration and it’s the worst art of them all; frankly, it get very sloppy. As does the lettering: there had been a few grammatical errors along the way in this book, but this one’s rife with them, as though there was no editor on hand at the time. The story, about some blood smugglers, is so-so. 4.0

5. The Muck Monster: Part ‘Swamp Thing’ (which Wrightson worked on at one point) and part Frankenstein (which Wrightson would later re-publish), this is told from the monster’s perspective, explaining why the scientist was failing and why it came back for him. The story humanized the creature perfectly and the art (the two central pages, in particular, showing the creature’s birth) was superb. I only has an issue with the colouring, which was sometimes off (the black sludge was orange, for instance). 8.0

I’ve since discovered that Bernie Wrightson was not entirely familiar to me. I had been exposed to his work in the Spider-man graphic novel ‘Hooky’, which I own. I also own the Batman mini-series called ‘The Cult’, which he also penciled. Both had left me unsettled enough at the time that I never forgot them, and I think that I will have to revisit them now. I will no doubt read them with a different perspective now.

‘Creepy presents Bernie Wrightson’ was a terrific way for me to (re)discover Bernie Wrightson. Bruce Jones’ introduction set the scene for his time at Warren Publishing and the anthology is an excellent example of the breadth of art. His skill is without question and I look forward to exploring his oeuvre more over time. If not for this collection, I likely would have overlooked this artist. And I don’t think anyone should.

Creepy, eerie, or not.

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