Bernie Wrightson is to Frankenstein in comics what Boris Karloff was to the creator and his creature on film: Definitional. His 1983 edition, and his new sequel with Steve Niles, Frankenstein, Alive, Alive!, revisits the age of mystery and terror.
As the bridge between old EC and modern horror comics, Wrightson has had a miraculous career. As he explained yesterday in a Q&A at Wizard World Austin Comic-Con, he's spent 41 years consistently employed as a freelancer - a rare gift in the four-color industry. But throughout, he has found himself happily in the thrall of Mary Shelley's man made of science.
So what draws Wrightson back to the scene of Victor von Frankenstein's greatest success and most tragic failure? For him, Frankenstein's monster is "the ultimate abandoned child. It's just a great story of this monstrous orphan. You can't help but feel sorry for him."
There are strands of the morality (yeah, morality) of the old EC comics that shaped him as an artist in there. They were morality tales, where the supernatural wreaks havoc on the greedy, selfish, lustful and venal. He said, "The monster, as you go on, becomes less and less of a monster, and Victor becomes more and more monstrous, until by the end of the book he's absolutely insufferable, excusing himself and forgiving himself for all of his mistakes."
When approaching the original book, he said, "Forget everything you ever saw in the movies. As wonderful as they are, and I'm a huge fan of the Frankenstein movies, all of it is a total fabrication. The whole idea that the monster is the way he is because the hunchbacked assistant screwed up and got the wrong brain is totally wrong. The monster in the book, his brain is constructed to be as normal a human brain as possible. Everything that went wrong with the monster is completely Victor's fault."
For Wrightson, the monster is not evil. "Yes, he murdered people, but he didn't know any better. His creator never told that was not a good thing to do, and he was doing it to get his creator's attention."
Ultimately, he believes the the sins of the son should be visited on the father. He said, "Victor Frankenstein set out to create a man. What he did is that he created a child and he took absolutely no responsibility for it."
Wrightson isn't just an adapter: He has his own famous monster in his cellar. Along with Len Wein, he created DC's Swamp Thing. Like Frankenstein's creation, he was another shambling amalgam of nature and science. The collaboration with Wein didn't just come about because, as Wrightson put it, "it has a cool monster." In 1971, the pair were at a party, and both suffering a bad case of the blues. He said, "Len was all upset because he had just broken up with his girlfriend, and I was kind of in the same position myself. We left the party, went to Len's car, turned on the heater, and talked. Just kind of grousing and pouring our broken hearts out to each other. For me, it was just having a friend to talk to in a troubled time. Len later told me that, as a result of that conversation, he went home and that night or a couple of night's later he went home and wrote that script, just pouring all this heartbreak into the story. When I read the script, I thought, wow, this is great, it almost makes me cry."
And what about the way that Marvel published the eerily similar Man-Thing, created at almost exactly the same time as Swamp Thing emerged from the muck? Wrightson said, "Jerry Conway, who created Man-Thing, and Len Wein, who created Swamp Thing, were room mates. Do the math, as they say."
Wizard World Austin Comic-Con, Oct. 26-28, Austin Convention Center, 500 E. Cesar Chavez. www.wizardworld.com/home-tx.html
Bernie Wrightson will be at Booth 2123.
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