2017-03-27 13:00:02
Bernie Wrightson, Artist and a Creator of Swamp Thing, Dies at 68

Bernie Wrightson, a widely admired comic book artist who was known for his lush, intricate, otherworldly visions of horror and who was one of the creators of the popular DC Comics character Swamp Thing, died on March 18 in Austin, Tex. He was 68.

His death, at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center, was announced by his wife, Liz Wrightson, on Mr. Wrightson’s website. The cause was brain cancer, which had been diagnosed in 2014.

Besides his comic book work, Mr. Wrightson did illustrations for horror magazines and novels, including Mary Shelley’s 1818 classic, “Frankenstein,” and several by Stephen King. He also contributed character designs for films, including creatures, aliens and ghouls for “The Mist,” “Galaxy Quest” and the original “Ghostbusters.”

But his most famous creation was Swamp Thing, who first appeared in an issue of House of Secrets in 1971. The character was a tragic figure: an early-20th-century man transformed by a chemical explosion, unable to communicate to his wife that her new suitor was a murderer.

Swamp Thing, created with the writer Len Wein, was promoted to his own series in 1972, which contemporized his origin, set up his home base as Louisiana and introduced his love interest, Abigail Arcane. The character reached new levels of acclaim in the 1980s under the authorship of Alan Moore.

One of Mr. Wrightson’s most personal works was an adaptation in 1983 of “Frankenstein” for Marvel Comics, a project to which he devoted seven years. “He considered his Frankenstein illustrations to be his magnum opus,” his wife said in an email.

The horror website Bloody Disgusting called Mr. Wrightson’s black-and-white “Frankenstein” illustrations an “exquisitely detailed and extravagant vision” rendered in “a beautifully distinguished period style of art.”

The drawings, which recall the precise pen-and-ink work of the early-20th-century artist Franklin Booth, are stunning in their obsessive attention to minutiae. In one double-page spread, the monster — with throbbing neck and muscled forearms — confronts his maker in a laboratory so bountiful with detailed paraphernalia that it could be a hoarder’s fantasia.

“They are amazing pieces of work,” said Louise Simonson, a veteran comic book writer and editor. “He was such a perfectionist. If something didn’t come out quite right, he’d just toss it aside and start a new page.”

Bernard Albert Wrightson was born in Dundalk, Md., on Oct. 27, 1948, and learned his craft from studying comics and from correspondence courses.

His talent seemed fully realized from the beginning, said Ms. Simonson, who met him in New York City around 1967. “He brought into town this really great short story, ‘Uncle Bill’s Barrel,’ ” she said. “You could just look at it and tell he was going somewhere.”

“The Man Who Murdered Himself,” his first published work, appeared in House of Mystery, from DC, in 1969. Two years later, Ms. Simonson served as a model for Mr. Wrightson for the cover of Swamp Thing’s first appearance. (She is the woman being spied on by the boggy creature.)

Since then, Swamp Thing has starred in feature films, in 1982 and 1989, and a USA Network television series, from 1990 to 1993. A less murky, more child-friendly version of the character is voiced by Mark Hamill in the animated series “Justice League Action,” which began last year. Swamp Thing appears in more familiar form in the R-rated “Justice League Dark,” a straight-to-video animated film from Warner Home Video that appeared on DVD and Blu-ray in February.

Mr. Wrightson’s formative years in comics were a time before Federal Express and the internet allowed artists to work globally. The comic book writer and artist Walter Simonson, Louise’s husband, who is perhaps best known for his work on Marvel’s Thor, said that one of the great joys of working then was running into fellow creators at the office.

During one encounter, Mr. Simonson recalled, he saw a full-page drawing of a werewolf by Mr. Wrightson, from Swamp Thing No. 4. “It was just an incredible shot,” he said. “You’d go back and juice yourself up and say ‘I have to get better,’ because Bernie was so far ahead of everyone else.”

In 1974, Mr. Wrightson began working at Warren Publishing, where his work, including original material and adaptations of stories by Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft, appeared in Creepy and Eerie magazines.

During this time, he experimented with different approaches to his black-and-white work: pen and ink, brush, ink wash and gray marker. The next year he formed a studio with fellow artists to pursue projects outside of comics, and he began producing prints, posters and calendars. He also created “The Monsters,” a coloring book.

Mr. Wrightson’s first marriage, to Michele Wrightson, ended in divorce. She died in 2015. In addition to Liz Wrightson, Mr. Wrightson is survived by two sons, John and Jeffrey, and a stepson, Thomas Adamson.

It might be easy to think that an artist who created such grim images would harbor a dark soul, but Mr. Wrightson has been remembered in tributes for his kindness. He was especially warm toward comic fans.

“Bernie loved attending conventions and seeing fans grow over the years, many eventually bringing their own children to meet him,” Ms. Wrightson wrote.

He was also known for his good humor, captured by the greeting on his Facebook page: “Welcome, and stay eerie!”