Friday, February 16, 2007

During a career that has spanned 40 years, monster lover and artist Bernie Wrightson has scared comic-book and movie fans around the world with his wild, macabre sense of design.

He co-created the DC Comics’ character Swamp Thing, adapted classic horror stories for Creepy and Eerie magazines, developed zombies for “Land of the Dead” and brought to visual life a full novelization of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” with black-and-white inked drawings.

His official return to comics is a bimonthly series, City of Others, that he and Steve Niles are doing for Dark Horse Comics, and it incorporates what he likes best — yes, more monsters.

The seasoned illustrator recently gave Zadzooks a piece of his mind in the 53rd chapter of an open-ended series that profiles the elite of the comic-book industry.

Why I am an artist: I think it is just compulsive behavior. All little kids draw, and it is a very magical thing, but most everybody grows out of it when they begin to read and go to school. I am one of those unfortunate kids who never grew out of it.

What I read growing up: I read all kinds of comics, but my favorites were EC Comics — Tales From the Crypt, Vault of Horror and Haunt of Fear.

What I love: Some people love poetry, some people love cars. I just love monsters. I like to draw all monsters. I cannot pick a favorite. It would be like trying to pick a favorite of my children.

Why I dropped out of comics: Money. Comics are notorious for not paying well. Everybody thinks about Todd McFarlane and how he made a million dollars drawing Spider-Man, but that is like winning the sweepstakes. Everybody I know who does comic books for a living does it because they love it. I could not pay my bills doing comics, so I dropped out.

My creature-design work for movies: It was every bit as fulfilling as comics. If I had an art or production director who left me alone, that was fine. Occasionally I would run into someone who had to have his hands in it all the time, and that was a little stifling.

Artist inspiration: Frank Frazetta, almost exclusively, and, of course, all of the artists from EC Comics.

What does the comics industry need? It needs a good horror comic. To be completely honest, I do not follow comics. My days are completely full, and I do not have the time for it.

The fans: They have always been great, and most of my fans are as old as I am, and they keep coming back. I now meet their children and even their great-grandchildren.

My co-creation of Swamp Thing: It was a whole lot less about making money back in those days. It was a whole lot more about doing something I could be proud of. When I was doing Swamp Thing, I thought, “Man, this is great. I am drawing exactly the kind of comic book I would like to read.” I feel exactly the same way about City of Others.

How I pick a project: It is about the story I want to tell and the characters I want a reader to follow. However, It is not about the reader. I am doing this for myself first. It has to captivate and engage me to even want to do it. Maybe it sounds egotistical, but I am reader number one. It has got to be as good for me as I can possible make it.

Current project: City of Others has monsters and horror and blood and gore and plenty of fun stuff.

The story about City of Others: I am not going to tell you too much else because it would just spoil the fun. I do not like the idea now of all of the stuff on the Internet. All the buzz and all of the spoilers. By the time a movie, book or comic comes out, everybody already knows everything about it. Steve and I just decided to clam up and let the reader discover this on his own.

Number of issues for City of Others: As many as we can do until we are sick of doing it or one or both of us dies. We originally talked about six books, but as Steve and I got into the story, we realized that we were collaborating with this like a novel, and we just thought, let’s just do it until the story is told.

Current trend of comic-book-based movies: Good movie material has its source in many different media. A good story can come from anywhere — great literature, a trashy novel, a comic book or a television show. It is really all in who is doing it and how they do it.

For example, “Road to Perdition.” Who would have thought that came from a comic book? Same thing with “Men in Black.” As far as the actual comic-book movies, it depends on the passion and vision of the people making the movie. Spider-Man could have been a disaster in somebody else’s hands, but Sam Raimi, and everybody else involved, just really believed in it, and they got it.

Work on the first “Spider-Man” film: I did designs on the Green Goblin, but no one really touched Spider-Man. I think early on, artists tried to fool around with his costume and give him a new look. The problem is, the more you change it, the less it looks like Spider-Man. They just kept going back to the comic-book source material. If the title of the movie is “Spider-Man,” it better be Spider-Man.

Should sequential art hang in the museum? It absolutely has a place, along with the works of Michelangelo and all the other great artists. It is all the same. Someone sat down with a blank piece of paper and created something on it. That is a pretty wonderful thing.

Just because it is a comic book and suffers from the stigma of being a comic book does not make it any less worthwhile. Museums and galleries would not hesitate to show the illustrations of a children’s book, but at the same time, they turn their nose up at a comic book. What is the difference?

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016; fax 202/269-1853; e-mail; or write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

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