Illustrations © Bernie Wrightson
Dark Horse Comics recently released this deluxe new oversized hardcover reprint of a book first published in 1983 by Marvel Comics in trade paperback form. It’s the complete text of the original novel by Mary Shelley with 42 full page illustrations by Bernie Wrightson and one two-page spread. And what magnificent illustrations they are! Wrightson dedicated the book to Roy Krenkel, a mentor, but the most obvious inspiration for the style used is illustrator Franklin Booth. Wrightson mimics, and surpasses the Booth style of black pen linework creating all shades and tones with patterns of usually parallel lines, as in the style of the wood or steel engravings once common in newspapers and books, now most often seen on currency. It is clearly one of Wrightson’s most important works, and wonderful to see it reproduced again in this book with the best quality materials and presentation.
I wish I could reproduce an entire picture on the blog, but it turns to mush at this size, so here’s a detail:
and a LINK to the full picture, which will take longer to load in your browser, but is well worth it. And even that scan doesn’t capture all the details of the original. There are a wealth of truly beautifully-drawn pictures, one every few pages, capturing all kinds of moods and atmospheres, from the pastoral to the horrific. If you’re a Wrightson fan and missed this the first time around, you’ll definitely love the new version.
Now, the story. I have the Marvel edition, which I pulled out to look at before writing this, and I found a bookmark around 20 pages in, which is as far as I got in reading it then, apparently. This time I read it all, and I’m glad I did, though I can’t say it’s an easy read. Mary Shelley’s novel is a landmark in the genres of both science fiction and horror, not to mention the inspiration for countless movies, but her prose style is dense, wordy, and at times hard to follow. Of course it’s a product of its time, and reflects that, moving at a leisurely pace, examining every inner thought and mood, and often digressing, but I also suspect that the author was trying to impress her reader with her own knowledge, intelligence and vocabulary, and that gets in the way at times of telling the story.
There are three narrators here: a ship’s captain, Victor Frankenstein, and the “monster” he creates. Of the three, the monster’s story is the most compelling. Victor may be the original mad scientist, but I found his character in the story to be unsympathetic. As a youth he’s spoiled and selfish. As a student he’s brilliant, but never thinks of the consequences of his research and creation until it comes to life, then flees from it in horror. The monster, left to find his way alone and completely ignorant of everything we take for granted, even the input of his own senses, miraculously proves resilient and intelligent enough to learn about the world and himself, but is never able to find a single ally or friend. No wonder he becomes malicious and takes his revenge on his creator. And while he is horribly ugly and very strong, this is no lumbering lummox: the monster is swift, agile and sensitive.
If you think you know Frankenstein and his monster from the movies, you’ll find this very different. You can see where the filmmakers got their story, but they only sampled bits of this book for the version we all have seen on screen. The moral questions here are much more complex, it’s often hard to know who to root for when both creation and creator make so many wrong moves, causing themselves and all around them much suffering.
A tough read, but a rewarding one if you stick with it. And a truly impressive set of illustrations, perhaps Wrightson’s masterwork. Recommended!