Year of the Artist, Day 35: Bernie Wrightson, Part 5 – Frankenstein Alive, Alive! #2
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Bernie Wrightson, and the issue is Frankenstein Alive, Alive! #2, which was published by IDW and is cover dated November 2012. Enjoy!
This is the most recent comic that Wrightson has drawn, and it has sadly only shipped two issues and none since late 2012. [Edit: Of course, in the latest issue of Previews, it's solicited and will apparently be shipping early in April. Yay!] Wrightson illustrated a version of the Mary Shelley book in the early 1980s, and this was billed as a “sequel” to the novel, and it’s painfully beautiful. In an interview with Steve Niles, the book’s writer, Wrightson mentioned that he broke his wrist in the early 1990s and the bones didn’t set right, causing him to alter his drawing style. He doesn’t use a pen anymore, but he does use brushes, and that’s where we get some of this stunning work on this comic.
This is a small example of the awesome (in the original sense) work Wrightson does on this comic. Dr. Ingles, the old scientist dude, is trying to prop up Frankenstein, who’s encased in stone. But look at that laboratory/museum. Wrightson uses all kinds of brush strokes – delicate ones for the jars on the shelves and their contents, more forceful ones for the house and furniture. We’ll get into more details in our next example.
My scanner isn’t big enough to accommodate both of these pages together, so you can enlarge both sides but not the entire thing. This is a stunning double-page spread, and it’s neat how Wrightson manages to get us there – the two panels in the upper left are simple but effective in moving us toward the amazing wide shot. Wrightson, presumably using only brushes to achieve this, packs every kind of detail into this spread. The lighting is superb, rising from off-panel and below to illuminate Frankenstein and Dr. Ingles and also the belly of the alligator, hovering like some kind of alien above them. Wrightson uses the shadows very effectively, highlighting certain items while hiding others, such as some of the weirder things above the cross beam at the top of the page. Let’s check out some of the details in this spread.
I’m not sure why Dr. Ingles has a mummy, but I’m even more curious as to why said mummy appears to be standing under a street lamp, perhaps yelling for Stella. That’s an odd pose.
This is an interesting set-up. Underneath the howling mask of unendurable pain, Wrightson puts a crucifix. Coincidence? Not only that, the crucifix is tilted because her draws a cutlass hanging from it. Man, the symbolism is pretty potent here.
Wrightson does a very nice job capturing the dead eyes of stuffed animals – the eyes always freak me out, and that’s hard to convey in a static medium like comics, because part of the freakiness of stuffed animals is that they never blink, and no one ever blinks in comics, either. But the lion and alligator look really cool, because Wrightson manages to imply their “deadness” even though we know that nobody in comics ever blinks.
Dr. Ingles has a lot of other freaky shit in his library/ossuary/torture chamber:
I mean, what the fuck is up with that skeleton in the third panel? That’s just weird.
When I started looking at Wrightson, I didn’t think I’d come full circle so neatly, but here we are, with another scene in a laboratory with a stereotypical “mad scientist” vibe, just like Wrightson did in Swamp Thing #1. As I wrote in that post, Swamp Thing is very “Frankensteinish” to a certain degree, and Wrightson must have known that when he drew the lab like a clichéd Universal movie set. Now, he’s actually drawing a Frankenstein story, so it’s not surprising that he puts this scene in the book. This is more intricate than the earlier one, which isn’t surprising. One thing you’ll notice is Wrightson’s use of gouache to create bubbles in the many glass vessels, adding to the liveliness of the scene. He also does a wonderful job with Frankenstein’s expression as he looks at the lab – Niles explains it in the narration, but he doesn’t necessarily need to, as Wrightson’s work on Frankenstein’s face evokes it very well. Readers know his history, so we can understand his apprehension even if Niles doesn’t explain it to us. Wrightson does a very good job humanizing the “monster” throughout these issues, and this is a wonderful drawing of a creature who knows what science can do and rightfully fears it. That comes out well in the expression.
Wrightson’s art is worth the price of the first two issues of this series, and it’s very cool to see how much he has changed over the years. Tomorrow we’ll check out a more contemporary artist (yes, Wrightson is still working, but his most famous work is in the past) who has changed his style quite a bit in different projects. I hope y’all come back to see who it is! Or you could find comfort in the archives!