Back in the mid 1980s I tried out classes at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design for a semester. Currently at MCAD you can major in Comic Art, but back then comic art was not a thing. In fact it was generally frowned upon.
I was in a film class, and the assignment was to bring in something of interest to us and then talk about it while being filmed (something about getting comfortable in front of a camera I guess). I brought in the recently released Cycle of the Werewolf novella by Stephen King – with beautiful illustrations by the one and only Bernie Wrightson.
Wrightson’s magnum opus Frankenstein had been released just prior and he was (and still is) a god of illustration to me.
While I talked about my admiration for Wrightson’s work, fellow students off camera started talking within earshot. The gist of it was, a hack writer hired a hack comic book artist – and it’ll be an instant hit to the mindless masses – but it was far from ART.
Hearing this I started talking into the camera a little louder how great an artist Wrightson was and how he was not the “hack” some people thought.
This bias against comic book art was mirrored by the teachers in those years, and as the vibe at MCAD wasn’t right for me I left. Within a year I had found out about and enrolled at the Joe Kubert School, so a win-win for me. Suffice it to say most of my new classmates were big fans of Wrightson as well.
In my experience, animation and cartooning has always been looked down on by the fine arts community, or at best given a condescending pat on the back. To me, sequential art is the best way to tell a story – and the artists who excel in the field are Masters. With the rise in popularity of “graphic novels” here in the US there’s been more mainstream acceptance of sequential art, but for the rank and file in the arts community I don’t see that much has changed.
That said, I don’t care. I’ve been working in this field for over 30 years now and am surrounded by people that have the same love of cartooning/comics/anime/manga that I have. Ends up there’s no need to waste time banging heads with people who unfortunately are limited in their thinking of what constitutes Art.
And that’s my two cents.
That said… Here’s to Bernie Wrightson (1948-2017). A master of pen and ink who’s work still remains an inspiration to me. The gold standard to shoot for every time you pick up a Series 7 Winsor & Newton brush.
Here’s a quick video of Bernie Wrightson from 1987, with an intro by Harlan Ellison. Wrightson talks about his work on Swamp Thing and Frankenstein among other highlights – Enjoy!
Last but not least, a poignant tweet from Neil Gaiman from when Wrightson died…
Addendum: Bernie Wrightson’s work on Frankenstein has since toured Art museums across the country as part of the Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters exhibit. They are truly breathtaking to see in person.
To see so many different comic book artists on display in this show was just phenomenal. A shout out to Guillermo del Toro for providing a worthy showcase of these extraordinary masters of comic art – Vive la résistance!