Interview by Matt Poslusny
Comic Book Profiles Magazine

January 1998
(Note: This Interview was an Add-On to a Large Profile on Berni Wrightson, Comic Book Illustrator)

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Comic Book Profiles:

How did you and Berni first meet?

Michael Wm. Kaluta:

Berni and I met in the Summer of 1967. I had gone to the SCARP Convention in New York City, riding a train into Penn Station with Steve Hickman. It was my first big convention, and Steve and I were meeting up with our pal Steve Harper, looking for an amazing time. Harper had given us the info about the con. Rich Hauser and Helmut Mueller from Chicago, publishers of Spa-Fon Fanzine would be in attendance.

Hickman, Harper and I’d been doing some of our first artwork for Spa-Fon and were looking forward to meeting “the boys”... it was also rumored that Frank Frazetta would be attending the convention, there for the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Dum-Dum meeting. This meeting of ERB fans was slated to honor Hal Foster (Prince Valiant and the first Tarzan Daily/Sunday strip artist).

Hickman, Harper and I got a room together and “did” the con, staring in amazement at all the neat stuff available. Mostly we hung around Phil Seuling’s table. It was there we met up with the Chicago Boys and others... and also where Harper pointed out Roy Krenkel across the room. High-Water Pants, even then looking like the inventor from Back To The Future. Man, were we gassed!

Then a real little kid came by the table hustling sketches. “This stuff is by Berni Wrightson... he’s here at the convention.” We all dropped our jaws looking at this stuff... who the hell WAS this Out-Of-The-Blue art guy. At that moment Berni was winning the Best New Talent award and meeting Jeff Jones, all taking place in another area. I can’t remember that exact first face-to-face with Berni, but I remember it came on a wave of his artwork and shy mannerisms. Hickman, Harper and I glued ourselves to Berni, opening doors and calling out: “Here comes the winner of the Best New Talent award”... we were very young and in very high spirits.

It was that day or the next that word came from Rich Hauser and The Chicago Boys that we were to meet Frank Frazetta up in his room... all four of us. After getting the room number, we ran up the nine flights to his room rather than wait for the elevator! I also remember, as we approached Frank’s door, looking to the side as we hustled past OUR door... right next to The Man! HAHAHA!

I recall now it HAD to be the second day, cuz when we entered Frank and Ellie’s room, Frank was on the floor, trying to plug in the TV so his kids could watch Saturday Morning Cartoons. There we stood, Berni, Steve Hickman, Steve Harper and I, all with our portfolios under our arms, like a Chinese Shooting Gallery (I’ve NO Idea where that expression comes from, but it fits... we were in “The Presence”) Frank looked at all our work, and I have to say that I only remember the art Berni showed him. Frank gave us all words of advice, all lost on the wind, but he was clearly enthused with Berni’s work. Berni gave Frank an original, and Frank unlimbered a stack of Johnny Comet Sunday Page originals and had Berni take his pick..... HAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!! Whew!

The rest of the Con was all of us hanging out together, walking the NYC streets and, at one time, visiting Jeff Jones’ Home/Studio up in the neighborhood we would all eventually call home.



What do you feel is Berni's strongest point as an artist?


The point of his brush or pen! There’s never been, to my knowledge, a Brush man that could hold a candle to what Berni’s laid down, and, though Berni used to complain that he couldn’t use a pen, I doubt there’s anyone alive today who could top the penwork Berni showed the world in his Frankenstein plates and his pen-oriented Comic Stories for Warren Publications (Creepy/Eerie).



Of the projects Berni has done do you have a favorite and if so, what is it and why?


My favorite Wrightson work falls into two categories: the stuff that has sentimental value and meaning (not always the strongest in drawing quality), and the Work we all know and love as Top Wrightson: The Frankenstein Plates, Swamp Thing, Creepy and Eerie Stories. One has to remember Berni and I were roommates/studiomates for a number of years, and I was watching over his shoulder as much of his terrific art was conceived and executed, so I have a mix of admiration and sense memory that swaths much of his work from 1968 to 1985. Perhaps the Absolute Best Wrightson Comic Art can be found in the story Berni did for Panic magazine (DC Comics). I can’t recall the title, but the story was about a gourmand who delighted in eating Frog Legs, and he eventually has to pay dearly for his appetite.



Over twenty years later, what are your thoughts on the time you were at The Studio with Bernie, Barry Windsor Smith, and Jeff Jones?


The Studio, in its time, reflected the personality of all four artists. We all did a lot of growing as artists and the proximity of sharing the space affected all of us in very subtle ways. A reflective observation may shed light into the interaction of all the Studio mates:

The Studio was the idea of Barry Windsor-Smith, and he got Berni and Jeff interested right away, while I had to be courted away from my little apartment. I moved into the studio, sleeping on the floor most nights, and over time bringing almost my entire apartment into my studio space. It was the only way I found I could get work done. And that work was accomplished mostly from 5PM until 8-9 AM. At about 7-8AM, Jeffrey Jones would arrive to work until about 8PM, when he’d leave for home. Berni generally arrived around 10AM and always put in a full day’s work, leaving between 7PM and midnight. Barry was wont to arrive just past noon, sometimes as late as 2PM. His work day would generally last from lunchtime through dinner and then he’d work until midnight at the least. All times approximate, the three years of the Studio were adjusted by the workload and inspiration of the artists. Only I got time alone in the Studio... time I needed to think, goof off, nap or actually work. Each of the artists produced at least ONE terrific piece or series during the Studio days, as is reflected in the book, The Studio. The art was generally done without comment from the other artists, except when one got into a bind and needed a fresh outlook. Often that outlook served as a balance for a completely different idea to be born. The two real group art efforts in The Studio were the Slide Presentations, assembled for conventions when all the artists’ new work was presented, one after another in a scripted show, and, of course, the assembling of The Studio Book.

As opposed to seeing The Studio as a whole, my best memories of The Studio are of the separate artist’s efforts: there were times when each man would be “into” his work, deeply involved, and the rest of The Studio walked softly, so as not to disturb the event. Again, being the only guy there all night, I was able to see the accomplished work as it lay on the various drawing boards. Looking back at those quiet nights and pieces of art that would soon win the admiration of many future fans is one of my most priceless memories of The Studio days.

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