IDW sent me the issue and if it weren’t for the credits listing that you worked on these pages, I couldn’t have guessed which you drew.
That’s what it was all about. It took me about a week to get into it. I’d not had that happen to me where I’d freeze. Luckily I was doing other things to keep going, but every day I’d find a reason not to do it. I knew the deadline was coming and because the job that takes longest is the one you don’t start, I just said, "OK, I’m doing it today." It just poured out. There was no second-guessing, there was just doing. Christmas Eve I was working, but I’m enjoying it. My wife walked in and I didn’t say anything, I just held up one of the pieces. She’s seen stuff but she’s not into comics, but she said, "Oh my god, that’s beautiful." She said, "Wherever he is, he’s going to love this." I said, well he’s right here with me. [Laughs] That man is in my heart. It was pretty odd when that last line was put down and it was shipped out, because there was no more. And I’ll never know what he would have thought.
I would imagine that, as we were talking earlier, you wanted to develop your own style and for this project, you had to think and work like someone else.
Well, there comes a time where all of this has to mean something. When I came across Swamp Thing #2, I never went to read the credits of a comic book before. I just never did. That was the first one where I went to look at the credits and it said Wein and Wrightson. They were such odd names to me. I mean, my last name is Jones. I hated it when I first saw it because it was so different and shocking, but two hours later I went back and reread it because it had stayed in my head. It was my favorite comic.
From that moment on, all my parents heard was Bernie Wrightson’s name. My kids, when they were very little they, thought he was an uncle they hadn’t met because I would mention him. I’m self-taught, but A Look Back was my textbook. It wasn’t just the drawings and the beautiful art, which it was replete with, but how he would think. He would say things like it’s not the first 90 percent of a drawing that matters, it’s how you finish. You have to finish stronger. That has stayed with me to this day. There are so many things in there that are wonderful moments that you only get in the solitude of drawing.
I said to him once, I’m guessing you were kind of depressed when Frankenstein came out. Because it was primarily just him in that world, and then you have to let it go. Once you put your artwork out there, other people own it. They’ll tell you -- in my experience -- why are his ears so long? Why is his cape so weird? Why is Deadman dead? You always hear those things, but while I was doing it, it was just me and that world. Everything is a diminishment after that.
Bernie just lit up when I said that. He was an emotional guy, and that was an emotional moment. It was the first time anyone had ever said that to him. He said, "Absolutely." The normal question is, why do it? It’s because for those hours of the day he was in Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory or wherever. I think the revelation that somebody else out there understood it really meant something to him. Not the drawing or the monsters. I was just saying, for me, before I did my goofy Batman I was pretty happy with everything. And even after people say, why are his ears so long? I’m still pretty happy with it. He was that way, too.
Working on them back to back like that must have been especially hard. I’m sure it took some time before you could move onto other projects. I know you’re always busy with a lot of projects.
I have a Batman miniseries that got delayed. DC has been giving me various Annuals and Specials to do. There’s other things I have going on. I’m glad I got to do it. It’s odd. I’m glad I was there to do this. I don’t want to say I was the only one who could have done it. That’s just not true. I can think of several. But that they both chose me, that part I’m proud of.
I didn’t ask for it. I don’t think I would have said yes if Bernie hadn’t personally asked that I finish Frankenstein for him. That would have been too presumptuous. But when he asked, then it was a different matter. Because Len said, I want you to do Swamp Thing, and I want it the way you do it. I want Bernie’s final book to be out there. I want it to be in one big book. I want people to be knocked out. I think one of the most moving pieces is the last double page spread of the book where Frankenstein is looking out over the ocean. That was a brutally tough day. Not physically drawing it, but that was so symbolic.
That last spread is just beautiful. Was that the last thing in the book you drew?
I typically always work in order. That’s something Wrightson and I talked about. I don’t really jump around. To do what I do, I like to build pacing and tension, and I think the only way I can do it is from page one to the next. He liked that. Bernie wouldn’t pontificate and say, this is how I do it and this is why I do it, but if he heard you say something that he did, then he would talk about it. We were talking for hours one night in some hotel lobby. He bought me a beer and I stole the beer glass and brought it home. [Laughs] I tipped very well so they got their money’s worth, but I stole the beer glass. He said, "How come I never met you before?" I said, you did. In 1985, I was just starting at Marvel and I came up to you and took off my badge and said I was a huge fan, and you signed books for me. But from that point on, I never saw you because I don’t do a lot of shows. It was only in the last few years of his life that we connected.
Steve Niles said, "Bernie wants to meet you, would you come to this show we’re doing? We’ll sit you next to each other." I was like, oh my god. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve met all the people that you should meet. I’ve worked with a lot of them. But Bernie was the one. He looked at me and before Steve could say, this is Kelley, Bernie came over and bearhugged me. He said, I have so wanted to meet you. I said, you do realize that you’re my art father, right? [Laughs] There’s my dad and then there’s my art dad. He laughed really hard at that. We had a great day. We sat next to each other and just talked. There were some great moments. Simon Bisley came over, and we both took some time off and sat on the ground and just looking through his stuff, and passing it back and forth. Simon looked at me and I looked at him and he said, Kelley, we’ll never be able to do this. Bernie knew I was coming and he had this limited edition print from the '70s, and he had one or two left and he gave me one and he signed it. It was unbelievable.
Bernie said, sometimes you feel like you’re forgotten, because he wasn’t seeing anyone working in that style. I said, John Lennon said he was upset that no one covered his music, but there’s only one guy who could do John Lennon and that’s John Lennon. I said, you’re kind of that way. This is lighting and textures and composition and it’s hard. How many Joe DiMaggios are there? Don’t worry about it.
He once asked me, "Do you get tired of people asking about stuff you did a long time ago?" I said, no because it’s going to be a long time ago no matter what. Shakespeare wrote for a few years, but we all know it 400 years later. Everything is a long time ago. There aren’t too many guys from that time you still want to reread, and I said, you’re one of those guys.
Frankenstein Alive, Alive! #4 is available now from IDW Publishing.