The legendary Bernie Wrightson returned to Canada to talk to his many admirers at Fan Expo Canada on Friday, taking questions regarding his work on Swamp Thing, his thoughts on Batman and the state of the comic industry.
As Wrightson entered the room a couple minutes behind schedule, he made light of the situation. "I am the late Bernie Wrightson, as they say." When one of the fans asked about his involvement in "Swamp Thing: House of Secrets," he told a little known story about the creation of the character.
"The character was Len Wein's idea," Wrightson said. "We were both going through breakups with our respective girlfriends at the time, and I remember sitting with him in his car in New York. We started talking about our girlfriends and breaking up, like losing that big love of your life when you're young, you know that feeling? And we just sat in the car for a couple hours, just kind of crying to one another. And Len told me that he went home and the next day he wrote this story. And he said that this story came out of that conversation we had, and I'd really like you to draw it. And I read it, and I just thought it was so heartbreaking. I'll draw it, this will be fun. And that's how it started."
This led another fan to ask his feelings about Alan Moore's reinterpretation of the character. "I loved it. I thought the original Swamp Thing story had run its course. And then Alan Moore came along and essentially reinvented the character. I thought it was brilliant. It really did revive the franchise."
Asked what comic he's most proud of, Bernie couldn't give an answer. "That's like asking me to choose my favorite child... It's just not a good question, I'm sorry." And the audience laughed, and you could hear some start to discuss their favorite Wrightson comics.
Despite the Superman hat he was wearing, Wrightson admitted that he wasn't a huge fan of superheroes when asked about his work on "Batman: The Cult."
"I'm not a superhero artist, I hate superheroes," Wrightson said. "You heard it here first. I loved them as a kid, but when it came to drawing them, they were never real to me. People with all these powers and stuff, one can make fire, one can fly. The thing I liked about Batman was that, unlike all of the other superheroes, Batman was a real guy. He didn't have powers. What I liked about him was that ge was this self-appointed crime fighter. He liked to dress up in this outfit to help terrify people. He could be hurt, he could be killed, he was vulnerable. Just about anyone in this room could be Batman if they were crazy enough. And that was the appeal, I liked the humanity of it."
When one fan asked about Wrightson ever having any issues with censorship, he told a funny story about issue #5 of "Swamp Thing." "It had been almost a year since 'Swamp Thing' had come out, and my editor called me and notified me that he received an interesting call from the Comics Code Authority," Wrightson said. "They called and said, 'Do you realize that this character Swamp Thing is undraped?' Wait, say that again? Undraped? That's their word? He's a monster, why would he wear clothes? Do they want me to draw him with little purple pants, like the Hulk? And he said, 'Yes! That's exactly what they want!'"
Bernie gave a little bit of his opinion about the current state of comics, both on paper and in the media. "The world has changed, and so has the industry. Comics are more of a corporate business than it used to be. Big budget movies are being made about these characters that used to belong to us, just between the pages of these comic books. Some of the movies are good, most of them aren't."
At the end of the panel, the whole audience stood up and gave Bernie a long standing ovation. He stuck around post-panel to take pictures and answer questions from anyone who wanted to do so.
UPDATE 8/31/2014 12:20 PM PT: The original version of this article stated that Fan Expo 2014 was Bernie Wrightson's first appearance in Canada in 20 years. Wright appeared at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo in 2012.