by: Bill Burns
Bill Burns is back with the second part of his article "The 13 Most Ghastly Horror Comic Artists."
7. Mike Mignola
Perhaps the most important figure in contemporary horror comics, Mike Mignola has carried the flame proudly into the 21st century. Mignola started work at Marvel on superhero comics Daredevil, Power Man and Iron Fist, Alpha Flight, Incredible Hulk and Rocket Raccoon. It was when he went to work for DC that his first great horror influenced works were created: The Phantom Stranger limited series with P. Craig Russell and the Batman/Lovecraft crossover The Doom that Came to Gotham. After a comic adaptation of Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mignola began the legend that is Hellboy with Hellboy: Seed of Destruction (written by comics legend John Byrne) in 1994 for Dark Horse comics. From that demon seed grew the Hellboy Empire: a mythos that encompasses Nazi occultism, folk tales, government conspiracies, luchadores, and just about every monster and paranormal phenomenon that has ever been recorded. Mignola’s vision has created such characters as Abe Sapien, Lobster Johnson, the BPRD, Sir Edward Grey, the Amazing Screw-on Head, and Lord Baltimore just to name a few. Mignola’s distinctive style looks like Jack Kirby if he was influenced by Cubism and Salvador Dali. Mignola began his partnership with famed director Guillermo del Toro when he worked as a concept artist on del Toro’s Blade II. These kindred spirits collaborated on bringing Mignola’s comic creations to the big screen with Hellboy in 2004 and Hellboy II: The Golden Army in 2008. Mignola has also supervised two Hellboy direct to video animated films Sword of Storms (2006) and Blood and Iron (2007). Unfortunately, all these extracurricular activities have curtailed Mignola’s illustrating schedule as he only draws covers for his Hellboy family of comics. Here’s hoping he’ll return to full time illustrating sometime soon.
6. Esteban Maroto
The Spanish Invasion of artists from the Selleciones Illustarda studio centered in Madrid sent shockwaves through the horror comic field in the 1970’s. Along with the influx of Filipino artists, these foreign illustrators, usually with entirely different styles and sensibilities, caused American artists to raise their game. Foremost among these game changing Spaniards was Esteban Maroto. He began his career with the otherworldly sci-fi series Cinco por Infinito but it was with Wolff, a psychedelic post-apocalyptic sword and sorcery epic that people really started to take note. Maroto displayed his horror chops with 'The Viyi' a strip based on the same folklore that informed Mario Bava’s Wunderlak episode of Black Sabbath and Giorgio Ferroni’s Night of the Devils. He created fantastic imagery for Marvel’s black and white mags: the slinky Satana in Vampire Tales and Red Sonja’s metal bikini in The Savage Sword of Conan. His best work was for the Warren publications Eerie, Creepy, and Vampirella, where his serials Dax the Warrior and Tomb of the Gods ran. Maroto’s work resembles Aubrey Beardsley on a DMT freak out. Teaming with prolific comic scribe Roy Thomas, H. P. Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu gives us Maroto’s adaptations of “The Nameless City,” “The Festival,” and “The Call of Cthulhu.” Do I even need to say that this is a match made in R'lyeh?
5. Stephen R. Bissette
One of the most enthusiastic and insightful thinkers in the history of the horror genre, Stephen R. Bissette should be appointed the United Nations Ambassador of Terror. A lifelong horror-obsessed devotee, Bissette enrolled in the first class of the Joe Kubert Comic Art School, a curriculum which would produce some of the best comic artists of the 80’s, not to mention the horror comic artisans Rick Veitch and Tom Yeates as well.
Bissette brought an uninhabited, counter-culture aesthetic to his work for Heavy Metal, Sgt. Rock, Epic Illustrated, and Bizarre Adventures, but it was in conjunction with his Kubert School classmate John Totleben and a fresh-faced Brit writer named Alan Moore that the Swamp Thing phenomenon would revolutionize horror comics (and comics in general). From 1983-87, Bissette, Totleben, and Moore’s collaboration on Swamp Thing produced the premier work of horror in any genre during the 1980’s. Tired of the grind of a monthly series and wanting to stretch his artistic vistas, Bissette formed his own company Spiderbaby Grafix, publishing and editing the influential transgressive horror comic anthology Taboo with John Totleben in 1988. Taboo ran for nine genre challenging issues and introduced the world to Alan Moore’s greatest achievement, From Hell. Bissette’s finest work was displayed in his self-published series Tyrant, a paleo-perfect biography of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. His loose, frenetic illustrating style gives the reader the illusion of movement, especially important in a prehistoric world where speed and size can determine survival. Bissette’s contributions to the horror genre go beyond comics into film criticism, fiction writing, and lecturing. Of specific interest is his lecture Journey into Fear, a series of discussions on the history of horror comics. He teaches courses in Comic Art History, Drawing, and Film at the Center for Cartoon Studies in his home state of Vermont. Though not quite the Rare Book Room at Miskatonic University, the Stephen R. Bissette Collection at Henderson State University in Arkansas houses his works and memorabilia.
4. John Totleben
There must have been something dreadful in the water at the Joe Kubert School because that hallowed institution produced some of the best horror comic artists ever. Case in point: John Totleben, the unholy child of EC Comics and Dürer. His first professional art appeared in Heavy Metal in 1979, but it was his work as an inker for Stephen Bissette’s pencils on Saga of the Swamp Thing that brought him prominence. Though Moore is credited with revamping and revitalizing the Swamp Thing concept, Bissette and Totleben had established the postmodern horror aesthetic even before Moore joined the title. Undoubtedly one of the premier inkers in comics, Totleben also penciled and inked three issues of Swamp Thing, and they are among the most beautiful and most terrifying comic art ever produced. His heavily detailed use of hatching and shading gives a depth to his art that is rare to find in comics. Just as amazing are his painted covers for Swamp Thing; his brushwork invoking Edvard Munch and Henry Fuseli. And yet the apotheosis of his art is the run he produced for Alan Moore’s Miracleman. Illustrating the end of Moore’s tenure on the title, Totleben’s work runs the gamut from everyday verisimilitude to superhero god-like glory to alien weirdness. All the previous issues were just a warm-up for the infamous Miracleman #15, one of the most disturbing, mind-destroying comics ever produced. Totleben’s devastating depiction of the Twilight of the Gods, obliterating London, killing thousands in the most twisted ways, can make you lose all hope in superheroes. Like something out of a Greek tragedy, this superbly talented artist was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease called retinis pigmentosa. He’s legally blind, but nothing can stop his frightful muse; he still manages his exquisite renderings but, like anything worth waiting for, it takes time.
3. John Coulthart
Winner of the Artist of the Year (2012) from the World Fantasy Awards, John Coulthart is a fantastique jack of all trades: an illustrator, author, and graphic designer who has produced numerous book covers, album covers, and posters. But it is his work on horror comics that has established him as one of the premier interpreters of the bizarre and disquieting. He first came to eminence with his monstrous artwork for Savoy Books’s controversial Lord Horror series. If you can imagine Pasolini’s Salo recast as a futuristic Orwellian holocaust you might begin to approach the madness of Lord Horror. Coulthart’s work on Lord Horror transformed London into an amalgam of Metropolis and Auschwitz. As one can infer, the guardians of decency and taste did not look favorably on Lord Horror, causing Savoy Books no end of legal and distribution problems. He has forged a bond with two of the greatest horror writer of the 20th century: one psychically, the other one in reality. Coulthart has produced several outstanding works based upon the writings of H. P. Lovecraft, adapting "The Haunter of the Dark", "The Call of Cthulhu" and "The Dunwich Horror.” He has also entered into a fruitful collaboration with Alan Moore, creating Great Old One tarot cards with the mage, and poster and cover art for Moore’s spoken world albums. Coulthart’s ability to move between realism, abstract expressionism, collage, painting, and fine pen and ink work provides his art with an unpredictable magickal quality that never loses its ability to shock in its sublimity. He is also a favorite with esoteric musicians, designing promotional art, album covers, and packaging for Cradle of Filth, Hawkwind, and Steven Severin. Coulthart’s devotion to horror extends to film criticism as well; he contributed thirty film reviews and four essays to Horror: The Definitive Guide to the Cinema of Fear. Coulthart’s best work is still before him, and horror fans should thank Cthulhu for that.
2. Bernie Wrightson
The rightful heir to the EC tradition, Bernie Wrightson grew from a monster kid to a monster artist to a monster icon. A fateful meeting with Frank Frazetta at a comic book convention in 1967 encouraged Wrightson to become a professional comic book artist. In 1968, he submitted his first professional comics work, which was published in DC’s House of Mystery #179. He worked on the DC horror anthologies and the Marvel horror anthologies like Chamber of Darkness and Tower of Shadows. Seeking to break free of the Comics Code, Wrightson contributed to the independent horror anthology Web of Horror, an experiment that only lasted three issues. His first significant contribution to the horror comic genre was his co-creation of Swamp Thing with writer Len Wein, drawing the first ten issues of the initial Swamp Thing series. In 1974, he left the majors to work for Warren horror magazines, perfecting his art through Poe and Lovecraft adaptations as well as his own creations like the Muck Monster and the Pepper Lake Monster. The zenith of his Warren work was “Jenifer,” an atmospheric tale of love and death written by Bruce Jones. In 1975, he joined with four of the most talented comic artists ever, Jeff Jones, Michael Kaluta, and Barry Windsor-Smith, to form The Studio, a communal enterprise created to help each other and be free of the narrow commercialism of the comic industry. Wrightson worked for seven years drawing his unbelievably detailed illustrations to accompany Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. His intricate style of pen, ink, and brushwork recalls the beauty of Franklin Booth, the dynamism of Hal Forester, and the gruesomeness of Jack Davis. Wrightson has also lent his immeasurable talents to the film industry starting with his Captain Sternn segment in the Heavy Metal movie, his post-production work on Stephen King and George Romero’s Creepshow, and his design work on the Reavers for the film Serenity. Bringing the old and new schools together, Wrightson and Steve Niles collaborated on Frankenstein Alive! in 2012. You can’t keep a good ghoul down.
1. Graham Ingels
Anyone with the nickname “Ghastly” has to be doing something right in terms of horror art. Graham Ingels started out at EC Comics drawing for its western, crime, and romance titles. Many felt his work was uninspired and disappointing, with some at the comic company requesting he be let go. The visionary William Gaines saw something in this young artist and kept him on just as EC was moving towards the spectacular horror line-up that would make them infamous. Ingels seemed to have found his niche as his unnervingly creepy work appeared in Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Evil, Shock SuspenStories, and, in particular, The Haunt of Fear. As each title had its own horror host, Ingels created the Old Witch for The Haunt of Fear, and never a more antediluvian decrepit, sinister witch has appeared in comics. Ingels specialized in a unique form of modern Gothic, with atmospheric, crumbling settings, rotting corpses shambling down country roads, and grotesque exaggerated characters, their mouths twisted, running towards open, awaiting, well-deserved graves. His style was reminiscent of N.C. Wyeth mixed with the madness of Alfred Kubin. Something this good couldn’t last and as congressional hearings on juvenile delinquency fingered horror comics, EC was forced to cancel its horror titles. Ingels drew for EC’s failed New Direction line (His work for Piracy rivaled Howard Pyle) and there was a slight return to horror for the blink and you missed it Picto-Fiction line. Ingels found little work after EC ceased publication in the mid 1950’s, and he was besieged with professional, personal, and family problems.
He became an art instructor in Florida and refused to acknowledge his work for EC, even threatening legal action against fans and historians seeking him out. It was only a few years before he died that he started to open up a bit about his work for EC, and even did a few private commissions of the Old Witch for some lucky patrons. These paintings proved that he still had it, and it had even gotten better as he matured. Hopefully, somewhere in the Great Beyond, Ingels has found some peace and can enjoy the well- deserved kudos that his work still receives.