For years, Bernie Wrightson has been an artist whose name is almost synonymous with the horror genre, from his work on the classic DC Comics anthologies "House of Secrets" and "House of Mystery," to "Swamp Thing" - which he co-created with Len Wein - and his work with Stephen King.
Wrightson has returned to comics with a bang this year, co-writing and illustrating the ongoing series "City of Others," published by Dark Horse Comics. CBR spoke with co-writer Steve Niles last year and just in time for the third issue, we sat down with Mr. Wrightson to talk about the book's origin, his process and what scares him.
"City of Others" #3, on sale June 27
So where did the idea for "City of Others" come from?
It basically came out of having nachos and beers with Niles while tossing ideas back and forth. Ever since we met, that's what we do. We get together for a few beers and something to eat and we're both coming up with story ideas.
Did it start with Blud?
It essentially started with Blud. It was an idea that I had been kind of kicking around for a few years. I hadn't ever done anything with it. I said to Steve, I've got this idea for a character who lives in this strange city that seems to be populated almost exclusively by monsters. But nobody knows it. It's all secret and underground. The guy is a stone cold killer, a contract killer who has absolutely no human emotion, no remorse. He falls in with these monsters and finds something very noble and almost human about them.
I pitched it to Steve as, do you there's anything in this? Could we do something with this character? And he picked up on it immediately and just started running with the idea. Two or three beers later we had the first four or five issues pretty much outlined.
The look of the book is very distinctive. You're penciling it and the pages are being colored directly from your pencils - at what point in the process were those choices made and why?
It was mostly for stylistic reasons. For the last couple of years I'd been doing a lot of pencil work and rediscovering the delight of just working in pencil without thinking ahead. Without thinking that I'm doing a drawing and I'm preparing it for inking or preparing it for painting or preparing it for something else. Just using the pencil as a medium.
It was also the question of time. I just thought, if I'm going to get back into comics again, I really have to do it fast and I can't really take the time to ink it. Inking is really the longest part of the process.
What do you think that stylistically it adds to the work that it would otherwise lack, or not have, I suppose is a better way to phrase it.
I think it gives it a very painted quality when it's colored. We have an insanely terrific colorist on this, Jose Villarrubia, who's created some beautiful work. I just like the look of it.
It's been a long time since your last comics project. Was there any particular reason for the hiatus?
Not really. I just wandered away trying out different things. I've been getting into book illustration and movie design work and a lot of more commercial work and it just worked out that way.
I would imagine you approach a comics page differently than an illustration. Was it a hard transition back into that form?
I wouldn't really say it was a hard transition. I was very rusty after all that time away. And it's really taken the first two issues to where I feel like I'm back up to speed with drawing for comics and the storytelling aspects.
You haven't done a lot of writing per se, but you're writing "City of Others" with Niles and I'm wondering how that experience has been and whether it's made the transition back to the language of comics easier?
First of all, writing in comics does not necessarily mean writing in words. Because so much of what the artist does is essentially telling the story in pictures. There are times where there are specific things happening in the dialogue that I would like to get in there and Steve doesn't have a problem with that. We work very well together and have a good back and forth.
He's very good about collaborating with me as a writer so I don't feel restricted by the script. I feel like there's a lot of flexibility. In fact it's a 26 page book but he only gives me 22 pages of script, so I've got room to play around with. I can change something into a double page or I can take a double page spread and stretch it out to three pages, or whatever feels right for the sequence.
Do you think that's one of Niles' strengths as writer, that he can fully script out an issue where he's playing to your strengths, but there's also room where you have that freedom?
It's great for me. I don't know that he does it with everybody. Well, I know that he doesn't do it with everybody, because not everybody likes to work that way. A lot of artists want everything there in the script. They follow the script like a blueprint. I've done that and I'm usually fine with that, but this is very different for me.
Why did you end up at Dark Horse? Was it Niles' relationship with people there?
The first people we approached were DC. I came up through DC and I just thought of them first. I'm good friends with Bob Schreck. So we pitched it to DC and they passed on it. We thought we certainly don't want to take it to Marvel, this just isn't what Marvel does. So the logical choice was Dark Horse.
What has your experience at Dark Horse, working with Shawna Gore and the people there been like?
It's been great. Shawna is one of the handful of great editors that I've ever worked with.
You mentioned coming up through DC and a lot of us are familiar with your work there on books like "Swamp Thing" and "House of Secrets" and other projects working with Len Wein and Joe Orlando and others, a lot of really exciting work. Can I shamelessly ask for a story about back then?
Boy, you know it's all so long ago; it's really hard to remember.
When we did "Swamp Thing," we would go into Joe Orlando's office, Len and I, and just close the door and we'd spend the day plotting out the next issue.
Len would pace back and forth, talking us through it page by page. I was on the couch with a pad and a pencil and I would sketch out thumbnails as he was talking. So I was doing pictorial stenography while Len was dictating the script and Joe was there pretty much overseeing the whole thing, throwing ideas out or asking questions, clarifying plot points. And by the end of the day we'd have a whole issue plotted out.
Yeah. And then I would take the thumbnails home and just start drawing the pages. We did it in the so-called "Marvel style" where I would draw the pages and give them back to Len and he would write the dialogue from the penciled pages.
Was that common back then? Not that working relationship, obviously, but working in the "Marvel style?"
Not really, no. That's how we did "Swamp Thing." Len was comfortable doing it that way and so was I, but mostly in those days it was done in full script.
Do you look back much? Look at your old work?
Not really. No. It's a body of work. But it's done. There's really no point. I like to look forward.
What is it that attracts you to the horror genre?
Who knows. I really have no idea. I don't know, maybe it was something when I was a kid. Reading Poe stories? A lot of what you end up doing comes from something that happened when you were like nine or ten years old.
You're associated with the horror genre, but do you think of yourself as horror artist?
You know, it's what I love best.
You've worked with some of the best writers in this genre and some of the best comics writers - Len Wein, Jim Starlin, Stephen King, how has working with Niles compared to others?
He's the best I've ever worked with.
What scares you?
What scares me? Everything scares me. [laughs]
That's very much an American at the dawn of the 21st century answer!
Yeah. I mean there's all of that, all the real stuff. I'm scared of the President. I'm scared of the direction our country seems to be taking. All that very real political/social stuff. But I'm also scared of the dark. I'm scared of strangers standing in the shadows on the streets. Drive-by shooters. All that stuff.
Living in Los Angeles certainly doesn't help those fears.
So where are you in terms of working on the series?
I'm working on the fourth issue and from what I understand after the fourth issue there's going to be a break of a couple months and then we're going to continue the series.
Do you have an ending planned or a set number of issues?
No, not really.
You're leaving it fairly open ended?
Yeah, we're just going to keep going and see what happens. We are going to resolve some story issues and plot lines, but at the same time we'll be introducing new ones.
And is the plan to continue bimonthly after the break