Goth Chick News: Let Me Tell You a Story About Frankenstein
Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, illustrated by
Bernie Wrightson (Gallery Books, Illustrated edition, April 27, 2021)
Gather round horror fans, I have a dreadfully interesting tale to tell you.
We start in the year 1818, when Mary Shelley brought to life an iconic monster, touching upon many human failings and fears in the process. Frankenstein’s creation (we sometimes forget the monster did not have a name, although he does call himself, when speaking to his creator, Victor Frankenstein, the “Adam of your labors”) reminds us what can happen when we tamper with nature, and the horrors we are capable of creating. These themes have remained endlessly compelling, giving rise to roughly seventy-five Frankenstein-like movies, and more books and short stories than we can count.
Fast forward to 1983 when a 35-year-old artist named Bernie Wrightson, concluded a seven-year passion-project-tribute to his favorite monster. Originally published by Marvel Comics, Wrightson painstakingly created 50 detailed pen-and-ink illustrations to go alongside Shelley’s original Frankenstein novel. Wrightson (creator of Swamp Thing in 1971) often reminded fans that Frankenstein wasn’t a project he was being paid for, and that his illustrated version was a labor of love which he worked on in between paying gigs.
[Click the images for Frankenstein-scaled versions.]
Art by Bernie Wrightson
Wrightson’s drawings were truly unique, as unlike other tributes he was not influenced by the pop-culture interpretations of Shelley’s tale, made mainstream by Boris Karloff’s (1931) and Christopher Lee’s (1957) films. Instead Wrightson based his vision on the actual book’s descriptions of characters and objects. He also chose a period style for his illustrations, telling Comic Book Resources in 2008, “I wanted the book to look like an antique; to have the feeling of woodcuts or steel engravings, something of that era.”
Wrightson illustration from Frankenstein: original auctioned by Heritage Auctions in 2020
Around the same time Wrightson was starting to put pen to paper on Frankenstein, in Guadalajara, Mexico a 12-year-old Guillermo del Toro was also falling in love with Shelley’s creation. A self-professed horror fan from the start, del Toro would go on to be an award-winning filmmaker of dark tales such as Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Crimson Peak.
Guillermo del Toro
Though I couldn’t find definitive written confirmation, it appears del Toro and Wrightson first met in person sometime in 2008 when Dark Horse Comics reprinted Wrightson’s Frankenstein for its 25th anniversary edition. As a fan of all things Frankenstein, del Toro had long admired Wrightson’s work and told ComingSoon that he had been dreaming of doing a film adaptation of Frankenstein for years, using Wrightson’s illustrations as his visual inspiration.
Wrightson and del Toro remained close friends, and when Wrightson passed in early 2017 following a long battle with brain cancer, del Toro took a 24-hour pledge of silence in honor of Wrightson, writing on Twitter, “As it comes to all of us, the end came for the greatest that ever lived: Bernie Wrightson. My North dark star of youth. A master.”
In 2018 it looked like del Toro might finally get his wish to turn Wrightson’s vision into a Frankenstein film. Universal Studios engaged del Toro to begin pre-production, along with del Toro’s frequent creature collaborator Doug Jones who was teed up to play the monster. But alas, it was not to be. Although at the time, Jones couldn’t hard-confirm, his best guess at what killed del Toro’s Frankenstein was, unsurprisingly, Universal’s spectacular failure The Dark Universe. In a 2020 interview, Jones told Collider:
The idea came to do what Marvel is doing, where there’s an entire Universal Monsters Universe. Where they can interplay with each other and guest in each other’s movies, that sort of thing. That new era was going to start with the new Mummy movie that Tom Cruise was a part of (Insert muscle-pulling eyeroll here. What a mess that was – GC). My guess would be, and again, I have no authority to say this, but my guess would be Guillermo probably wanted to make a standalone movie that was just his piece of art, that would be an homage to the book and an homage to the original film. I have not heard hide nor hair of that ever since. But if offered, I would kill to…anything Guillermo does, he knows I’ll say yes to whatever, and I’ll find out the story later. He’s the one director I trust with whatever he offers me.
So, dear readers, here we are in March 2023, and following a journey that has spanned decades, it appears production is finally starting on del Toro’s Wrightson-inspired Frankenstein in June. Netflix optioned Frankenstein in March 2022 from Wrightson’s widow, Elizabeth S. Wrightson, turning the project over to del Toro following his work on Pinocchio and Cabinet of Curiosities for the network. Oscar Isaac (Dune, Moon Knight) is attached to star, with Deadline reporting that Mia Goth (Pearl, X) and Andrew Garfield (Spider-man) are also signed up, but so far, no word on who is playing what or if Jones will join the cast this time around.
I’d love to think this is actually going to happen. Wrightson’s illustrations are beautiful and with these as his inspiration, I can see del Toro creating a visually stunning adaptation. However, as famous as del Toro is for the movies he has made, he is nearly equally famous for the long list of movies he’s spoken about but which never saw the light of day. Here’s hoping it isn’t the case this time.
This does indeed sound exciting. I’ve loved Wrightson since I pulled his Swamp Thing issues off the spinner rack back in the 70’s, and I have that Marvel Frankenstein on one of my overstuffed shelves somewhere. (Wrightson also did some dynamite Poe adaptations for Warren’s Creepy Magazine back in those aforementioned 70’s. I’m tellin ya, those were the days, ya durned Tik-Tok watching whippersnappers…)
I hope Del Toro does get to make this.
TPark, you’ll be happy to know that depending on the edition, your original Marvel Frankenstein could be worth upwards of $200 (not that we’d ever sell). Believe it or not, I actually found mine at Half Price Books when the one near me first opened. It’s my favorite and I’m with you, I hope del Toro gets this one over the finish line.
I read Frankenstein in the Wrightson version. I heard all my life that the book was a snore. I found the opposite to be true. It’s not a perfect novel, but the story is really interesting.
M, so glad to hear you enjoyed it. Considering Shelley wrote it in 1818, Frankenstein truly was revolutionary.
Looking at the ropy musculature, pronounced veins, and shading in the cover illustration, I cannot *not* see Swamp Thing. Pretty brilliant.
Wrightson’s Frankenstein is a true high water mark for pen & ink illustrations. Even the works he chose to exclude were masterpieces. It’s also worth checking out his Frankenstein Alive, Alive! He was unable to complete it before passing, but the book is his final love letter to Shelley’s creation and while he explores the art with more of a mixed media approach it is just as frequently awe inspiring. Out of the hundreds of incredible artists I love and admire, Wrightson stands atop them all. I’m very excited to see what del Toro accomplishes with this foundation. He’s one of the few creators alive that I feel can be trusted do it justice.
I bought most of my comics (including back issues of Vampirella, Creepy et al) in the late Seventies. Bernie Wrightson was one of these guys I used to hear a lot about, but whose work I rarely saw. I think he was semi-retired by then and working on his magnum opus? I saw a few samples, nothing more – enough for me to put Wrightson in the same category as Frazetta, though.
I too have the Wrightson-illustrated Frankenstein edition (along with a dozen other editions) and it is truly a beautiful work. I was lucky enough to buy some Wrightson portfolios in the 1980s (not the signed and numbered editions which were already too expensive for me on release) and the plates look great framed. What a knock-out movie this would be if del Toro is allowed to deliver his vision of Shelley’s novel.