When I was working at FantaCo, owner Tom Skulan had Bernie Wrightson do the covers for the FantaCon comic conventions in 1980 and 1981. (The artist was going as Berni at the time to distinguish himself from another person.) He was a guest at three shows, at least.
FantaCo also published a comic called Deja Vu in 1982, featuring a front cover by Bernie Wrightson and two 1971 stories, The Last Hunters and King of the Mountain, Man, plus works by others in the artistic pantheon, Michael Wm. Kaluta and Jeff Jones. That was edited by Mitch Cohn, so my dealing with Bernie was usually a hello before passing the phone on to Mitch, who felt as though he were in heaven.
But I’ve been even current comic professionals have expressed the same sensation. As my friend, illustrator Fred Hembeck put it:
“I found myself invited to the already annual Wrightson Halloween party in a nearby town. I’ll admit to being a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of rubbing elbows with Bernie and a passel of his highly accomplished peers–after all, I was just a guy who drew squiggles on character’s knees, and he was, well, he was Bernie Wrightson. But my nerves were soon soothed, as Bernie was such a nice guy that he made me feel totally relaxed, even as he stood holding a butcher’s knife while wearing a blood-spattered apron as we pleasantly chatted (it was a Halloween party, remember).
“Over the next decade or so, there were plenty more Wrightson shindigs, holiday-centric or not, as well as a weekly volleyball game attended by Bernie and a host of other local cartooning notables. After awhile, I almost got used to Bernie just being that nice guy I was trying to set up at the front of the net in hopes of scoring on a Wrightson spike. Almost. But I never quite shook the awe I had–and continue to have–for the work he did that so inspired me during key years when I was ramping up my own attempts to get published.”
EVERYONE I read online, including Elaine Lee and Wendy Pini, spoke about how nice Bernie Wrightson was. Some DID complain about his limited danceable music collection: “A little Blues Brothers can go a long way,” someone wrote, and made him mixed tapes.But even in my limited contact, I always knew him to be a sweet guy.
And generous, famous for encouraging younger talent, both artists and writers. Steve Bissette revealed that when “DC in its benevolence sent Bernie a bonus check out of the blue, Bernie would split that bonus check up and mail checks to Alan Moore, John Totleben, Rick Veitch, and me, and when asked what for, he laughed, saying ‘I didn’t earn this, I know this bonus was because of what you guys did on the character, but don’t tell anyone about this because you don’t want DC to have a reason not to send another check!'”
His artistry on Swamp Thing and the stuff at Warren Publications was legendary. Tom Skulan referred to him as “the greatest horror comic artist ever.” A fellow artist said, “That might be Wrightson’s greatest gift to us: no matter how terrible the image he portrayed, it was always captivatingly beautiful.” That’s why I was happy to do my part to keep Creepshow selling when its publisher had given up on it.
Chuck Berry was 90 when he died, and I was filled with all sorts of contradictory feelings. On one hand, he is, to my mind, THE single person who had the greatest impact on creating rock and roll. He took the blues that wasn’t, in his words, blue enough, added some country chops, and voila. He was a charter member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The legendary duck walk, developed when he fell on stage and was getting up, was amazing. His music is literally in space.
He was an obvious influence on scores of artists, such as the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones, with the former two as subjects of lawsuits by Berry. Here are
20 of his essential songs, and it doesn’t include his only #1 pop hit, 1972’s My Ding-a-Ling.
But he had his demons, which are touched upon in this article. There was the stuff with a 14-year-old girl back in the 1950s, though the use of the Mann Act to prosecute him, usually applied to high profile cases from boxer Jack Johnson to former governor Eliot Spitzer, was troubling. Much later, there were the bathroom cameras.
The article mentions, among other things, the 1987 concert movie about him, Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll, which I saw in the cinema at the time, and I found the musician, to my surprise, rather unlikable. He seemed glib in giving honorifics to almost everyone, he botched Robert Cray’s name, he made Julian Lennon look bad, he practically drooled over Linda Ronstadt.
He was to be kind, complicated.
I was living in New York City during the summer of the Son of Sam killings, so of course I was reading Jimmy Breslin, from then and for probably a decade or more. But his most famous piece was much earlier: Digging JFK grave was his honor.