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Too Soon?

I recently received a letter from a fan (let’s call him “Tom”) who was disturbed and offended by a painting I had created. I’d like to share my response and open this subject up for some (hopefully) civilized discussion.

Here’s the e-mail:

Hello Mr. Stout,

I am a great admirer and long time fan of your incredible artwork.

However, in perusing your website recently I came across your “Happy Easter” print. I found this image disturbing and out of turn with the rest of your body of work. This depiction of Jesus Christ is, in my opinion, in poor taste and disgusting on a multitude of levels, not the “fun” kind of disgusting.

I’m all for artistic expression but I have to ask, what is the motivation behind this image? I’m truly curious what set of beliefs, feelings and experiences leads one to be compelled to create such an image?

Here’s my response:

Hi “Tom”,

Thank you for your interest in my work. I’m happy to explain one of my favorite pieces, as a few people have had your same reaction. Most of my friends, upon seeing it for the first time, laughed out loud and then told me I was going to burn in Hell. It is one of my most popular prints, by the way. Of course, explaining humor is the quickest way to make something funny become unfunny — but I’ll try, nevertheless.

First off, if you haven’t noticed over time, I can have a very dark and subversive sense of humor. For the most part, this has been expressed in my underground comix work, where no subject is off limits (Thank you, Robert Crumb). I have loved the dark humor of cartoonists Gahan Wilson, Charles Addams, Rodrigues and Sam Gross for all of my life.

I am also known for designing zombies (I was the production designer for the cult classic Return of the Living Dead). Years ago, I was commissioned to create a one-man show of zombie paintings for a prestigious gallery here in Los Angeles. For this show I decided to come up with a number of fresh takes on zombies and use them to parody popular culture. I created a zombie version of Grant Wood’s famous painting “American Gothic”, for example:

While ruminating on possible subjects for this show it occurred to me that, technically, Jesus was the first zombie, i. e., he was the first person we know of to die and then be brought back to life. Since parody was on my mind, I also included the Easter Bunny, a religious icon that actually pre-dates Christ (Christianity absorbed a lot of other religious cultures to make Christianity more appealing to the folks they were converting. The rabbit — and eggs — symbolized Spring fertility to the pagans. Since the pagans’ celebration took place roughly the same time as Christ’s resurrection, rabbits and eggs became part of the Easter celebration. The Christmas yule log and Christmas tree are other examples. Many fundamentalist Christians have strictly banned the Easter Bunny, Easter eggs, Christmas trees and all other forms of paganism from their Easter celebrations).

One of the trademarks of the zombies that I design is that they’re all happy. My zombie Jesus is no exception; by that big smile on his face it seems that he’s glad to be back.

There is currently an ongoing public debate about “crossing the line”, humor-wise. I agree with nearly all of the professional comedians who feel that there is no line, that every subject is up for grabs and nothing should be taboo. That flies in the face of devout Muslims, for example, who hold that any depiction of the prophet Mohammad is disrespectful and forbidden. Many feel that such disrespect should be punished with death. My friends at Charlie Hebdo paid that terrible price, even though they were expressing themselves in what most Europeans consider a free society.

Many of the comedians agreed that the Holocaust is off limits for humor — right before telling some very funny Holocaust jokes (A German officer is trying to sell Jews on boarding the train to Auschwitz by singing the praises of how wonderful it is: “Auschwitz? They should have named it ‘WOWshwitz!”).

One of my favorite Hitler jokes was told to me by one of my closest Jewish friends:

Hitler was famously a vegetarian and a tee-totaler (this is true).

Q: Why did Adolph Hitler never drink?

A: It made him mean.

I got into the most trouble for an album cover I created back in 1981 for Rhino Records. The LP was entitled BeatleSongs. It did not contain any songs written by the Beatles; it was a collection of songs about the Beatles. I decided the cover should be a cross section of Beatles fans at a Beatlemania convention. I felt it would be incomplete if I didn’t include the fan who actually “collected” one of the Beatles, so standing far left is Mark David Chapman, John Lennon’s assassin.

You might have missed this other visual Christmas/crucifixion joke of mine. Here it is. You can be choose to be offended or you can laugh.

I hope you laugh.


Friends, fans — What do you think?

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Bernie Wrightson 1948–2017

It is with great sorrow I report the death of my friend, colleague and hero, Bernie Wrightson. Without going into Wrightson’s entire biography, please allow me to express some random bits about our relationship and why he and his work meant so much to me.

Bernie was one year older than me — which doesn’t seem like much now. A one-year difference seemed enormous in my youth, however. I followed his early fan and fanzine work (which included an formative piece of his that ran in the Creepy magazine letters section one issue), then celebrated when he finally trail-blazed into the Big League of DC comics. Bernie showed me it was possible to have that dream of being a young man and making a living drawing comics to be a distinct possibility.

Bernie will forever be linked with his impressive and groundbreaking DC Comics run of Swamp Thing (a character he co-created with writer Len Wein) and his celebrated Franklin Booth-ish Frankenstein illustrations, that brought him even more acclaim, as well as great notice from some heavy-hitting art collectors. I loved what Wrightson brought to Batman and Spiderman as well. Bernie just seemed to “get” things on every level — he recognized the “essence”. He understood that certain key elements of genres that inspired him just might inspire others, too — and he was right.

Bernie was a co-founder of The Studio, an east coast phenomenon that included Michael Kaluta, Jeffrey Jones and Barry Windsor Smith. This powerhouse of talent inspired me to help form a west coast version at my own spacious studio on La Brea Avenue that at times included Richard Hescox, Dave Stevens and Paul Chadwick.

Bernie picked up the brush-inking torch from Frank Frazetta. I looked at both of these great artists for inspiration and analyzed their remarkable technique with their weapon of choice, a Winsor-Newton brush. Frank and Bernie inspired other brush-men, including Dave Stevens, Mark Schultz and Frank Cho. I dubbed our loose group “The Last Brush-men of the Kalahari” (an artistic take on the Lost Bushmen of the Kalahari). I’m happy to report that a few up-and-coming young lads (and a couple of older guys) have since taken up the torch of brush inking, seemingly inspired by our endeavors.

If I had to describe Wrightson’s basic style at its very essence, I’d call it Frank Frazetta’s solid drawing and ability with a brush combined with the truly disturbing and demented visions of EC’s Graham Ingels. I looked at Bernie’s inking when I wanted to figure out how to depict veins on well-muscled arms. His take on dinosaurs — while not the last word in scientific accuracy — nevertheless seeded my imagination with his dramatic portrayals of these great beasts, helping me to see them anew with fresh, unblinking eyes.

I was the go-to creature designer for the movie biz until Wrightson came to town. My offers immediately shriveled and shifted (rightfully so) to Bernie. Bernie was THE master monster artist. His imagination in that arena seemed breathtakingly endless. I didn’t mind losing the work because it meant that I got to see more of Bernie’s amazing creations up on the movie screen — and I’d much rather gaze upon his fascinating creatures than my own.

Through moving in the same comic book convention circles I finally got to meet Bernie. He was as gracious in person as his art was solid and we became fast friends, especially connecting with our shared love of monsters, dinosaurs and EC comics.

I initially passed on seeing the movie The Texas Chainsaw Massacre until I read in an interview that Chainsaw was so scary it had made Bernie pee his pants. On that high recommendation I dashed to the World Theater to catch a three-movies-for-99¢ screening of this grindhouse wonder. I was not disappointed.

In 1984 the job of production designer for Return of the Living Dead came down to being between Bernie and me — with Bernie the director’s first choice. The producer gave me the gig because I had more experience in film than Bernie at the time — but I did manage to slip some Bernie-isms into some of my designs so that he might be there in spirit.

I tried to work with my pal whenever I could, but our work paths seldom crossed. When possible, we’d send each other jobs in The Biz. We mostly saw each other and hung out at conventions, though. I was delighted when he finally met the love of his life, Liz — a real sweetheart, as Al Williamson would say. Bernie’s other friends agreed with me that Liz was one of the best things that ever happened to Wrightson. I’ve watched Bernie’s talented sons grow and mature into fine young men. I feel very much like an uncle to them and share the pain of their dad’s passing.

I’ve lost a dear, dear friend — but the world at large has lost a truly great artist. Though his mortal form has passed into the land beyond beyond, his magnificent body of work will live on forever.

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King Kong — TOMORROW!


Hey, Kong fans! Tomorrow evening (Saturday, from 6:00 PM until 9:00 PM) come see the Greatest Show on Earth: a Fifty Artist tribute to the Eighth Wonder of the World, the legendary King Kong!

I’ll have loads of Kong originals and books for sale, as will the other fifty artists.


It’s all at Creature Features in Burbank: 2904 W. Magnolia Blvd., 91506.

See you there!