Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Golden Bookshelf:

The Reaper of Love and Other Stories

Before his groundbreaking work on Swamp Thing, Bernie Wrightson was one of the rising stars in a new generation of artists that emerged in the late 1960s.

Before his groundbreaking work on Swamp Thing, Bernie (or as he originally spelled it, “Berni”) Wrightson was one of the rising stars in a new generation of artists that emerged in the late 1960s. This group, which also included Jeff Jones, Mike Kaluta, Bruce Jones, Richard Corben and Frank Brunner, were influenced by the high-quality work of the EC Comics of the early 1950s and by the reigning dean of fantasy art, Frank Frazetta. This group all arrived on the scene around the same time, originally working in fanzines, Warren’s EC-like horror magazines, and for Joe Orlando’s mystery-suspense books (House of Mystery, House of Secrets) at DC.

The obsessive attention to detail in Wrightson’s art won him enormous acclaim. His “Swamp Thing” stories for DC and his illustrations for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein have all been widely reprinted. The Reaper of Love and Other Stories, issued by Fantagraphics in 1988, collects much earlier and more obscure work in an attractive 140-page trade paperback. While not as deluxe as the earlier, full-color Don’t Look Back collection, Reaper is a handy treasure-trove for those interested in tracing the evolution of Wrightson’s style.

From the beginning, Wrightson distinguished himself from his peers by a stronger emphasis on horror than fantasy, science fiction or sex. His point of departure was Graham “Ghastly” Ingles, the most baroque and gory of the EC hands, with a shot of Jack Davis as a chaser. Usually in fanzine-quality EC-influenced work, the stylistic references tend to crowd out the artist’s own approach. But even in the most derivative early stories in this collection, Wrightson’s facility with gesture, composition, expression and humor shine through.

The stories in Reaper won’t win any prizes for literary quality, though they are mostly readable and entertaining bits of horror and fantasy. Still, they evoke a particular moment in comics history when the very first group of kids raised on comics were beginning to enter the ranks of professionals. Wrightson has carried the basic stylistic and thematic influences of this early work into a career that has been going strong for over 35 years now. Reaper is a great introduction to his first flush of youthful talent.

 

 

The Reaper of Love and Other Stories

Fantagraphics, 1988

140 pages, softcover TBP, black and white with color cover

Original price $11.95

Art by Berni Wrightson, stories by Wrightson, Bruce Jones and others

Introduction by Marv Wolfman

 

 

 


Rob Salkowitz is a Seattle-based writer and authority on all manner of aging newsprint. You can e-mail your comments and queries to Rob at rob_comics@yahoo.com. Use "ComicBase" as the subject line.

The Golden Bookshelf Archives