The Wrightson Stuff
♦Tripwire senior editor ANDREW COLMAN casts his expert eye over IDW’s Bernie Wrightson Artefact Edition, out now in lavish slipcased hardcover…
Bernie Wrightson Artefact Edition
Writer: Len Wein
Artist: Bernie Wrightson
This won’t be the first time that I have thrown superlatives at either IDW’s deluxe Artefact series, or the star of this particular volume, Berni Wrightson. One of the master’s contemporaries, Mike Kaluta, averred in the book’s foreword that this king-size tome was like an immersive banquet. And on the book’s back page, one of his acolytes, Kelley Jones, hailed his hero’s work as something that the artist himself was immersed in, creating these preternaturally noirish worlds not for his fan base but for himself, to the extent that it affected the young Jones on a physical level.
Which is certainly fair enough. Both highly respected artists recognized genius when they first laid eyes on it, and its visceral beauty would always elicit such a reaction – not least from myself, the Swamp Thing series being my gateway drug into my addiction to four colour comics from across the pond. Wrightson’s work was the first time I had ever come across American Gothic, which is fitting enough considering that he is the genre’s definitive artist, one who suffused his work with the spirit and influence of not just his forebears (Ingels, Frazetta, Craig, Davis, Krigstein, Feldstein, Baily, etc.) but of Poe, Lovecraft and Hawthorne. And I might not be alone, considering the extensive and well-known list of contributors to this edition.
The first half of the book focuses entirely on Wrightson’s Swamp Thing work. Leafing through these high quality reproductions is a very different experience to reading the regular four colour pamphlets – the fine lines and attention to detail, especially in the protagonists’ delineation, are meant to be treated as individual pieces that stand completely outside their original purpose, and to be savoured – and they succeed quite easily in that regard. Most of the key covers and splashes are there, the absence of colour generating an extra level of immediacy and depth rather than detracting from the page. Every issue has pages featured, along with most of the covers (including those for issue 1 and House of Secrets 92), as well as colour guides and layout sketches.
The latter half of the book contains many more treasures, all for the most part in the gothic mould, with pages and covers from his earlier work in DC’s classic “mystery” titles such as House of Mystery, House of Secrets, Witching Hour, and The Unexpected. There’s even a complete story (Molded in Evil) about a French gargoyle sculptor who meets his mandatory sticky end (O’ Henry type tales were heavily favoured in DC’s horror stable) that for some reason ended up in the humour title Plop. Also included is Wrightson’s first ever effort for DC, in the Spectre – the style that would reach its apotheosis in Swamp Thing already apparent in the pages of a dry and witty little tale about two grifters called Abraca-Doom!
The final pages of the book offer some unseen and unpublished illustrations, sketches, poster art and other curios, including house ads, and commissioned work, mainly centring on Swamp Thing but also later work from Detective Comics and the Batman graphic novel The Cult. Also lurking throughout the tome are sumptuous double-size foldouts which herald the cover art to the Original Swamp Thing Saga reprints, amongst others.
In all this is the definitive artists’ edition of the definitive gothic horror artist – a collection that will remain unsurpassed, and the endcap to our initial discovery of his tremendous work. There couldn’t be a better place for another reappraisal of the immersive and dark locale that is Wrightson’s world. An essential purchase.