Robot 6

Remembering Al Williamson (1931-2010)

"Flash Gordon" record album art by Al Williamson

"Flash Gordon" record album art by Al Williamson

The family of Al Williamson has confirmed yesterday’s report that the legendary artist passed away on June 12 at age 79. According to a statement from the family, he had suffered in recent years from Alzheimer’s disease.

Tom Spurgeon has a detailed obituary for Williamson, whose long career and massive and varied output allowed several generations of fans and creators to be exposed to, and influenced by, his work. Some of those creators have been sharing their memories of Williamson, both personal and professional. Here’s a selection of those remembrances:

Michael Kaluta: “It was Al’s combination of draughtsmanship; composition; drama; and ability to add a sense of reality to an obviously fantastic setting, presented with profound elegance, that nailed my attention and devotion. His storytelling used apt gestures and body language as well as his native drawing ability to reinforce the world he was portraying. Along with the best artists, Al also had the ability to ‘make it look easy,’ to make even the student artist get caught up in reading the story instead of dissecting the art.”

Rick Veitch: “I’m sitting here feeling a lot of different emotions. Loss, of course, because I’ll never get to see Al again. But also amazement at his long and productive life; the kind of wonderful person he was, the astounding talent he had and the generous way he encouraged young artists like myself to pursue our dreams of doing comics.”

Flash Gordon #3

Flash Gordon #3

Jeff Parker: “When you’ve blown up an artistic hero in your head, it’s always an experience to seem them sitting at a table near you, being real people. I got that bumped up yet another level as Al looked over my pages and chuckled at a panel where I’d drawn the alien lizard kid from his old EC story. These pages would be hard for me or anyone to look at now, but the important thing I’d done right without realizing it was to not be the 7000th kid to shove superhero pages under his nose. Most of it was attempts at the kind of adventure strips he’d read since being a kid himself growing up in Colombia (and thus pulling off better jungle vegetation and lizards in his environments than oh, anyone). But here’s where the experience went on to dominate my psychological landscape. After some nodding, he realized that the line was building for him to sign books. Instead of handing back my art he put it to the side and said ‘come back around and sit down.’”

Mark Evanier: “Al was a great talent and a great guy. I can’t think of anyone who saw his comics and didn’t love the way he drew and I’m darn sure I don’t know of anyone who ever met the man and didn’t enjoy his company.”

Mike Richardson: “I was a fan of Al Williamson from my earliest days reading comics. His Flash Gordon comics were memorable, as was virtually all of his work. I was lucky enough to get to know Al and share some good times  with him. He was caring and always available when you needed him, not always the case with others of his stature. The comics industry will miss his talent, as he was one of the greats, but more importantly, he was a truly good man. He will be sorely missed.”

Ty Templeton: “I met Al Williamson a couple of times, at conventions and at those dinners afterwards, all about twenty years ago.  He left quite an impression on me. First impression:  He was a delightful guy, full of stories, a good joke, or a quick sketch that he could pop out onto a napkin.  I remember him as an authentic, likable human being, and his family was equally so. And, that quick beautiful sketch I mentioned — it wasn’t simply good – it was phenomenal, and he did it in a minute, with a ballpoint pen, or a pentel marker (no rough work, the jerk!), and it came out of him just perfect [...] That’s inspiring to see when you’re just starting out in the biz.  And so, at the age of twenty –six, I decided that I wanted to be Al Williamson when I grew up. I’m still working on it.”

Stan Sakai: “I met him just once, at a San Diego Con. He came over to my table, and we talked for awhile. I was actually surprised he knew who I was, but he said he was a fan of my work. Anyway, we talked for a few minutes, and then he came back with a big stack of original art, and said he wanted me to have something of his. I felt like the proverbial kid in the candy store as I went through all that beautiful art. I finally chose a daily strip. His pen and brush work, especially the way he handled the water and mist in the last panel is nothing short of amazing. He did not want anything in return, not even an art trade.”

Dark Horse Presents #120

Dark Horse Presents #120

Jamie S. Rich: “In 1997, Bob Schreck left Dark Horse and ended up forming Oni Press with Joe Nozemack. I stayed behind and took over some of the titles I had assisted Bob with, including the anthology Dark Horse Presents. [...] Much of my run with Bob was considered uncommercial, and there was pressure on me not to feature so many of the weird ‘indie’ stories on the cover. [...] I hadn’t yet gotten a cover for #120 because I hadn’t yet commissioned my last feature for the issue. There was a hole in the roster. I had to think fast, get something no one could argue with. So, I called Al. It was a long shot, but I thought maybe he’d have something I could use. A new story, an old story, whatever. Turns out, he had a short comic that had been intended for publication elsewhere, but had not been finished. Maybe he could polish that up for me, would that work? Hell, yeah, it would work. I was able to walk around the office crowing that I had gotten new Al Williamson comics. I was greeted with much disbelief. How had I done it? ‘I just asked him,’ I said. ‘He likes me.’ Not bad for a little gal from the typing pool. In one fell swoop, Al Williamson had saved my issue and also made it look like I had game.”

Christopher Mills: “I loved his detailed, lush art style, his noble-but-human heroes, his stunning women, his imaginative and utterly convincing alien worlds. He was as much a master of real-world adventure (Secret Agent Corrigan) as he was interplanetary adventure (Flash Gordon, Star Wars), and he was equally adept at atmospheric horror (Creepy), gritty Westerns and exotic jungle thrills (Jann of the Jungle).”

"Star Wars" Sunday newspaper strip

"Star Wars" Sunday newspaper strip

Chris Ryall: “The great thing about someone like Al, who made such masterful contributions to the comics industry over more than a half-century, is that multiple generations have their favorite Al works. For me, it was always his adaptations of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, which I read pretty much every day for a year as a kid. His work there took a more cinematic approach to comic art than I’d ever seen at the time.”

Craig Yoe: “Was there any nicer guy in comics? I think not. And talented? Breath taking! Man, his work evoked in me a sense of wonder when as a teenager I first saw his work in the pages of Creepy and Eerie and then finally found an old EC with his ‘Food For Thought’ story in it at a book store for a quarter. All the beautiful detail certainly was food for thought and I studied that story over and over again.”

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3 Comments

I have Al Williamson to thank for my first writing jobs in the comic business, and he didn’t even remember it.

His was just a random act of kindness, I suppose. In late 1982, I’d moved from Wheeling, West VIrginia to take a job in North Attleboro, Massachusetts as writer for an in-house ad agency. Attending a Con in Boston that first weekend, two days before my first day at my new job, I met Al Williamson and chatted with him a couple of times throughout the day. That evening, I bought him a drink at the bar and told him about a short story I was writing to shop around, an homage to Ray Bradbury. “I like that,” he said. “Ever consider writing for comics?” I admitted that I’d tried back in high school to write and sell some comics stories but had no luck.

“I’m working with a new company called Pacific with an editor named David Scroggy,” he said, jotting down a phone number for me. “Wait till the middle of next week, call him, tell him the story you told me. I will tell him I’m interested in drawing it.” True to his word, he did. When I phoned David Scroggy, he was prepped for my call, had me mail in the 10-page script, and it became the first comic book story I ever sold. (Al’s then-assistant/protege` Tom Yeates ended up drawing it when Al got too busy on Bruce Jones’s stories.)

It led to several more sales to Pacific, and my comics-writing career was finally in motion. I left Massachusetts in 1986, returned to Wheeling, and have worked in comics pretty much full-time ever since — as a writer, a packager, a publisher and, for the past 17 years, an agent who has had the joy of discovering art talent all over the world to bring into the biz. Ed Benes, Joe Bennett, Roger Cruz, Mike Deodato, Fabio Laguna, Al Rio, Luke Ross, Stephen Segovia, Harvey Tolibao, Wilson Tortosa, and a couple of hundred others got their start in the American comic book market in part because of the opportunity that Al gave to me.

Fast-forward a dozen or so years later: I ran into Al at another Con and thanked him again for the kindness he showed me that day, telling him about all the wonderful things I’ve gotten to do, thanks to that first opportunity he gave me — from writing Superman and being an editor and a publisher, to opening multiple comics art agency offices in Brazil and the Philippines. He shook my hand, appreciated the thanks, but didn’t recall the incident. I guess it was just one of many, in a life of kindnesses.

Today I heard the news of Al’s passing. How could this happen? Talents like Al Williamson are supposed to live forever. For me, he will.

Thank you again, Al. I’m passing it forward as fast as I can.

– David Campiti, CEO
Glass House Graphics

Learn more about legendary comics artist Al Williamson in this Mr. Media interview with his friend and artist Mark Schultz: http://www.mrmedia.com/2009/10/mark-schultz-al-williamsons-flash.html, in which he discusses the book Al Williamson’s Flash Gordon: A Lifelong Vision of the Heroic.

Chris Broderick

June 15, 2010 at 10:49 pm

I first saw Al Williamson’s art in discovering EC comics in the 1970s, when Russ Cochran was publishing his hardback oversized reprint books. I was not born when those comics were first published. In the reprints, his talent stood out with his fine line drawing, dynamic action and precise craftsmanship. I still have WSF #25 with the classic “Sound of Thunder” Williamson cover and inside art of the great Bradbury story. And also have Valor #2 with the gladiator in the arena Williamson cover that jumps off the page even now, 55 years later. There is a lot going on inside his panels.
No matter what the assignment over the years, he seemed to throw all of his skill into the job, even for some of the schlocky stories and the forgettable characters. Al was a giant whose work spanned five decades. I never met him, but from all accounts, he was a gentleman and a pro’s pro who always made time for the fans and was obviously a lifelong fan himself. Interesting that he dies within weeks of Frazetta, his old EC bullpen friend. Together, their passing represents an exceptional era of comic book history.

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