Just in time for Halloween: This week, Dark Horse Books is releasing a new, 25th anniversary edition of Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein.
I am resisting the urge to post a ton of drawings from the book, but there is no monitor in existence large enough and sharp enough to accommodate the size and the fine details of Wrightson’s Frankenstein art. Images here are mere glimpses, very heavily cropped. You’ll have to seek out the book to fully appreciate the art.
Bernie Wrightson fell in love with Frankenstein, like most of us, through the magic of the Karloff movies. As a kid, he tried to read the novel, found it opaque, incomprehensible. As an illustrator and a comic book artist, Wrightson often drew Karloffian Frankensteins, and he would eventually contribute a memorable take on the character, the Patchwork Man, for the Swamp Thing comic he co-created with writer Len Wein. Then, one day, irresistibly drawn, Bernie Wrightson returned to the novel, to be captured, finally, by the depth and the sweep of it, and to make a momentous decision. He would illustrate the novel, faithfully, as written by Mary Shelley. A self-imposed challenge, a personal mission, the job would take seven years to complete.
The result, first published in 1983, is a masterpiece. There are no definitive illustrated versions of Frankenstein. Many artists have attempted the task, and all are interesting in their interpretations, but Wrightson’s version is magnificent by any standard and certainly stands with the best, up there with the genius of Lynd Ward’s woodcuts.
In large, panoramic, black and white drawings, engraved in busy pen and ink, Wrightson captures the scope, the scale of the story. It’s a wonderful tale to illustrate with its period costumes and majestic landscapes. Wrightson attacks it all in rigorous and dramatic detail. The action switches from Alpine glaciers to windswept fields, to fractured Arctic wastes. There’s a heavily rigged sea vessel plying under churning skies, a snowbound cemetery, a study stacked with an impossible number of books. There’s massive architecture, soaring windows with endless drapes and monumental doors 20 feet high.
Frankenstein’s primitive lab is literally bursting with hundreds of crowded bottles and retorts, strewn books and curled parchments spilling out of chests and off packing crates, baskets and nets full of instruments, discarded skulls, and the scientist’s grisly work lying on a rough slab under beams hung with pulleys and chains.
The detail is incredible, every scene rendered fully, down, it seems, to every blade of grass. And then there’s the true measure of the book: The interpretation of The Monster.
Wrightson follows Mary Shelley’s description to the letter. Here, personified, is the wretched giant whose skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing… his watery eyes… his shriveled complexion and straight black lips.
Wrightson’s death’s head Monster is perfectly realized, and then some: Wrightson is resolutely on script, accurate to Mary Shelley’s description, but there’s more here, there’s a clear connection to Wrightson’s original inspiration. Look closely; this Monster is “played” by Boris Karloff. The hooded eyes, that unmistakable lower lip. It’s Karloff all right. Wrightson, brilliantly, brings Karloff full circle, back to Mary Shelley.
Long out of print, hard and expensive to find, Bernie Wrightson’s Frankenstein is available again in a beautiful done hardcover from Dark Horse Press, with an introduction by Stephen King. Don’t miss this one.
The book arrives in comic shops on October 29 and it’s available right now through The Frankenstore.
A fan site with images.
Bernie Wrightson’s website.