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The Wolverton Bible - Foreword: "A Shot in the Liver, A Shot to the Soul" by Grant Geissman Print
Written by Grant Geissman   
Article Index
The Wolverton Bible - Foreword: "A Shot in the Liver, A Shot to the Soul" by Grant Geissman
Page 2

Other Wolverton material in the early MAD also caused a fuss. For the cover of MAD no. 11 (May 1954), Kurtzman asked Wolverton to create “the Beautiful Girl of the Month” for a Life magazine cover parody. The resulting cover so horrified the powers that be at Life that they threatened legal action. To placate them, Bill Gaines had to send life a letter promising not to do it again (one of many such similar promises to various offendees that he broke in later years with subsequent articles in MAD). Apparently throwing caution to the wind, editor Al Feldstein also used stats of this art in several issues of Panic (MAD’s sister publication), most notably on the cover of issue no. 4 (August–September 1954).

MAD cover by Basil WolvertonPanic cover by Basil Wolverton

Wolverton continued to make infrequent appearances in MAD over the years. Wolverton said in Graphic Story Magazine that “having material published in MAD has always been like getting a shot in the liver.”

Writing and illustrating the stories of the Bible, then, must have seemed to Wolverton like getting a shot to the soul. Wolverton was not a serious illustrator who dabbled in comics, he was essentially a comic artist who took on the serious responsibility of illustrating the Bible. This proved to be quite a challenge. Of this work, Wolverton said “There is a definite story thread in the Bible, though to some readers it seems frayed and broken. I try to tie it solidly together, at the same time making events easier to understand, especially to youngsters.” Comparing this effort to working in the comics, Wolverton said “This is more difficult to do than humor. it requires research and study. The illustrations are not easy for me because of the struggle to prevent them from being too cartoony.” Easy or not, Wolverton’s meticulously-crafted images for The Bible story represent some of the most powerfully visceral Apocalyptic art — sacred or otherwise — ever put down on paper.

Herbert Armstrong circa 1952.
Herbert Armstrong circa 1952.

Herbert W. Armstrong, the charismatic founder of the Radio Church of God, wrote in the introduction to volume one of The Bible Story of his vision for the books, and of the inherent difficulty in getting it done properly. “In His own time,” Armstrong wrote, “God supplied the man for the job — a man equipped by natural talent, training, experience, and profession for this all-important mission. Basil Wolverton is a nationally known artist. Mr. Wolverton also is a trained writer, experienced through long years in writing for children.” He doesn’t mention that the work was done for the comic books. But Armstrong clearly had the right man for the job, because it’s difficult to gaze for very long upon Wolverton’s horrific end-of-the-world visions and not wonder if you really shouldn’t get right with Jesus.

Plop! cover by Basil Wolverton

Wolverton’s comic-book work had quite a profound effect on such underground cartoonists as Robert Crumb and Robert Williams, as well as on latter-day “alternative” artists like Charles Burns, Drew Friedman, and Peter Bagge. Macabre humorist/cartoonist Gahan Wilson once said in admiration that “no small child exposed to his drawings could ever be expected to walk in a straight line again, or vote a party ticket.” Such can be the power of art.

Wolverton never felt that he was slumming in the world of comics, and in fact was quite proud of his achievements in that genre, but he considered the work represented in this volume to be his most important. “In the overall body of material published,” Wolverton told Voll, “I prefer to be best remembered for The Story of Man. I feel that the [sacred] kind of work I’ve been doing in recent years is of greater value to others.”

In almost perfect summation, MAD creator/editor Harvey Kurtzman had this to say about Basil Wolverton: “For me, Wolverton always had an integrity of style and effort. Though never aesthetic, his style was always consistent, always pure Wolverton. He never borrowed, never hacked, and he never shortchanged the public. This is a good deal of the reason why he was what few of his contemporaries could claim: Wolverton was an original.”

Just how many of us can say that?

—G.G.

Basil Wolverton circa 1943.
Basil Wolverton circa 1943.

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