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Legendary illustrator Al Williamson passes away

"The Jungle," by Al Williamson

"The Jungle," by Al Williamson

Although there’s no official confirmation, reports are widely circulating online that renowned artist Al Williamson passed away on Sunday at age 79.

Born on March 21, 1931, in New York City, Williamson took art classes in the mid-’40s with legendary Tarzan artist Burne Hogarth and, later, at Hogarth’s Cartoonists and Illustrators School in New York City. He assisted Hogarth on some Tarzan Sunday pages and, at age 17, made his professional debut working on series like Eastern Color’s Famous Funnies and Standard Comics’ Wonder Comics.

In 1952, Williamson began working for EC Comics, where he was the youngest member, and “kid brother,” of the “EC Family.” He primarily contributed to the company’s science fiction titles like Weird Science and Weird Fantasy, often collaborating with Frank Frazetta, Roy Krenkel and Angelo Torres. In the mid- to late ’50s, he produced hundreds of pages of short stories — Westerns, mostly — for Atlas Comics. By the next decade, Williamson was assisting John Prentice on the Rip Kirby comic strip before helping Warren Publishing to launch its Creepy and Eerie horror magazines and contributing to Blazing Combat.

With writer Archie Goodwin, he also took over the Alex Raymond-created Secret Agent X-9 comic strip, which was renamed Secret Agent Corrigan. He remained on the strip from 1967 to 1980.

In the early to mid-1980s, Williamson illustrated high-profile movie adaptations like The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and Blade Runner for Marvel and Flash Gordon for Western Publishing, as well as the Star Wars newspaper strip. During the latter part of the decade, he became almost exclusively an inker, working with artists like Curt Swan, John Romita Jr., Rick Leonardi and Mike Mignola.

Williamson remained active throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, inking adaptations of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and A New Hope for Dark Horse, collaborating with Mark Schultz on a Flash Gordon miniseries for Marvel and, more recently, inking Spider-Girl and Spider-Man 2099 for Marvel.

Jimmy Palmiotti and Jeff Parker recount their memories of Williamson. I’m sure more creators will join in as the day progresses.

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13 Comments

A wonderful artist. Sad to see him pass away, but glad we can still enjoy his work for years to come.

When I was 19, I read The Art of Al Williamson. It quite literally changed my life. Reading that, learned that Al McWilliams was living in Connecticut and I looked up his number and chatted. I then sent him some sample stuff and he introduced me to John Prentice (by phone and mail), who thought I’d be a good apprentice/assistant on Rip Kirby, but he had no $$$ for it. He introduced me to Al Williamson who liked my stuff and said he’d hire me as his assistant if I lived near him. At the time, I was drawing for Pacific.

Not long afterward, Pacific Comics folded and my wife and I moved to Honesdale , PA and the timing was bad. The Star Wars strip was cancelled. Al was figuring out what he was going to do and he couldn’t hire me. He ended up inking for DC. But he took the time to talk and critique. I still have a little vellum drawing he did. And he gave me a hardback Flash Gordon volume of Raymond’s stuff in B&W. Beautiful. And inside, was a (folded!) original Corrigan daily. It has hung on my wall for 26 years. He introduced me to Archie and tried to get work for me at Epic, but I really wasn’t ready.

It was a magical, difficult time.

Steve Ringgenberg

June 14, 2010 at 11:24 am

I first met Al in 1981, interviewing him for the Comics Journal. It was like meeting someone who was already an old friend. Over the years, I interviewed Al several more times and visited him in his home a few times. He was a giant talent and one of the nicest guys I ever knew, a really thoughtful, considerate guy who was also a blast to hang out with since we had so many common interests. He was also really funny. As a professional, Al helped dozens of younger pros, like Kevin, Bo Hampton, Tom Yeates, Bill Stout, Dave Stevens, and many, many other guys, sometimes hiring them to assist on big jobs, other times just sharing his professional opinion, or helping the most talented ones get work. He was a national treasure.

We are deeply saddened to hear the news that Al Williamson has passed away. Our dear friend of 30 years, Al was not just one of the finest artists to have ever created sequential art, he was an inspiration to us as a man. There was integrity in his every brushstroke. In 1997, when Vanguard segued from the cutting-edge comics anthology Tales from the EDGE, to stand-alone books on individual artists, it was no accedent that we decided to launch the first-ever line of comicbook artist sketchbooks with The Al Williamson Sketchbook. We followed Al’s book with books on Neal Adams, Wally Wood, Jeffrey Jones, John Buscema, Carmine Infantino, John Romita, Michael Kaluta, Jim Steranko, Joe Kubert, Bill Sienkiewicz, Frank Frazetta and many more. It was my intent from the beginning to launch with Al’s book so that our tribute to him would increase in significance as the line continued to succeed. I have had the pleasure of working with so many of the best talents in comics and illustration history; our fondness and respect could never be higher for any than it has always been for the great Al Williamson. Our love and sympathies to Cori and the family–Mark and friends.

I thought my eyeballs would explode when I found the King Comics Flash Gordon number 4. I had no idea who Al Williamson was but it was an all Al issue . His artwork was a revelation. I copied his panels in clunky pencil and those drawings hung on my grandmother’s walls for decades. I never would have guessed I’d have the chance get to meet and spend time with him. He was as charming and sophisticated as his work and still had the fan-boy enthusiasm when he spoke of Flash Gordon, Captain Easy, or Tarzan. I hope I’m not insulting him by saying he was one of my inspirations and I owed him alot. He was a real ARTIST and I’m saddened for myself and the world of comics at his passing and our collective loss.

With the passing of Al Williamson there will be many outpourings of sympathy, and tributary notices more grandiose than mine. I will leave the long eulogies to others. But as one who knew Al intimately, and had the good fortune to work with and assist him, I will simply share with all heartfelt honestly that he was a talent among talent, a man among men, generous and helpful.

Al took immense pleasure in introducing you to the work of artists of the past he deemed notable, (Daniel Vierge, Fortunio Matania, Dan Smith quickly come to mind). In giving back and sharing this knowledge, Al passed the torch the way it had been done for him by Roy Krenkel and others.

This same introductory philosophy Al applied to old movies and old actors too. If you were not familiar with Charles Starrett, Al would fervently share the merits of Charles Starrett starring as The Durango Kid. When he was finished, you too were excited and wanted to seek out these films for yourself.

He was never heavy handed when giving artistic guidance, simply saying, “I think I would do it this way,” but there was never any question his solution was superior. Al never made you feel inferior by your inexperience, but was supportive and encouraging both on the drawing board, and in getting in touch with editorial contacts.

I will miss his laugh, his wit with the turn of a phrase, his movie references and love of Buster Crabbe, the way he would cock an eye at you and shake his head over your youthful stupidity, and his fun-loving way to castigate you over your artistic faux paux so that you learned from your mistake when drawing.

It is a great pity there was not more like Al.

al was easily the nicest guy in the comics industry – and that’s really saying something.
even though his resume was arguably more impressive than a vast number of “big time” artists, he was always humble, affable, encouraging and honest.
he was the very definition of a “comic book professional.”
the sheer number of people who have stories to tell about his guidance, friendship, humor, gentleness, etc is a real testament to the character of this man.
he never saw himself as anything more than a guy who drew for a living, fortunate to earn a living at what he enjoyed most.
he was a true giant among men, and will be sorely, sorely missed.
sincerest condolences to his wife, kids and friends.
so long, pal.
:’-(

Legendary EC Comics, ‘Flash Gordon,’ ‘Secret Agent Corrigan’ and ‘Star Wars’ artist Al Williamson died yesterday @ age 79. Click here for the Mr. Media interview with his friend and artist Mark Schultz, in which he discusses the book Al Williamson’s Flash Gordon: A Lifelong Vision of the Heroic.

I am saddened to hear this. I have many of the Al Williamson art books, and have followed his career, since I was a kid. I was at a Chicago Con, a few years ago, and spotted him standing alone. I was nervous, but thought that I should take my chance. I walked up to him, introduced myself, and told him how much I had enjoyed all of his work, over the years. He gave me a bid smile, a hearty handshake, and said thanks. I am glad that I did it. I don’t think that the majority of people there even knew who he was. He seemed like a genuine kind of guy. I believe that he was wearing a Hawaiian shirt, Khakis, and sandals. He always reminded me of the “cool” big brother everyone wanted. The guy that everyone wanted to be like, or be friends with. Rest in peace.

Es dificil hablar de personas irrepetibles, la tristeza , la admiracion, el recuerdo de tantos favores recibidos;
apenas nos dejan pensar con claridad
pero hay algo que no muere nunca, el trabajo bien hecho, la comprension hacia los demas profesionales
y el inmenso amor a tu profesion.
Querido amigo. no has muerto, solo estas mas lejos, y en silencio, espero que tus sueños sigan acompañandote, como tus maravillosos dibujos lo hacen con nosotros
Desde esta realidad hasta donde estes GRACIAS POR HABER VIVIDO EN MI TIEMPO
Esteban Maroto

It is difficult to speak of people irrepetibles, the sadness, the admiration, the memory of so many received favors;
it hardly allows us to think with clarity
but there is something that doesn’t die never, the work very fact, the understanding toward the other professionals
and the immense love to your profession.
Dear friend. you have not died, alone these but far, and in silence, I hope your dreams continue accompanying, as your wonderful drawings they make it with us
From this reality up to where you are THANK YOU to HAVE LIVED IN MY TIME
Esteban Maroto

All Williamson was master of pencil,and great penciller, even inking master,and the great man.Besides a fantastic STARWARS an a FLASH GORDON ; he left a live pictures in us reading comics in our youth.
I read alot of his comics.
In my heart that man and his comics lives forever.
Thank you.
Julije Jelaska
the comics artist

Bio je to čovjek za pamćenje genijalan autor koji je bio čitan u puno zemalja.Njegovi stripovi ostali su mi za pamćenje.Bio je majstor OLOVKE i majstor TUŠA, nevjerovatno dobri stripovi STAR WARS i FLASH GORDON i dan danas žive kao žive slike u mom srcu i mojoj mladosti.
Zauvijek živi u našim srcima čitateljke publike.
Hvala ti što si postojao!

Julije Jelaska
strip crtač

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