Al Williamson R.I.P.

Darn it all.  I hear Al Williamson has passed away.

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.

So did this splash page from Incredible Science-Fiction #32. Pencils by AL Williamson, inks by Roy Krenkel. Click to enlarge, trust me, you want to.

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, probably looking something like this:

This drawing was done while parachuting out of a crashing airplane, with his left hand. Al was that good.

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.

You need to know this about Al:

Al drew like this when he was a teenager:

When other boys were thinking about girls, Al was thinking about drawing 'em.

And if you think that’s not fair, and you hope to God Al got these skills by having no social life, just sitting in his basement day after day, drawing all the time, an ugly, nerdy kid who never got kissed ….you need to know this:

Al Williamson looked like this when he was in his twenties.

Look away if you feel you're about to swoon.

And if you think THAT’s not fair, and you hope to God Al was addicted to heroin or Malaysian asphyxiation films or the dog track (he wasn’t) or he was one of those Golden Age artists of the fifties who never got a break, and had his creations taken away from him…you need to know this:

Al spent the lion’s share of his career as a very well compensated comic strip artist continuing the creations of his personal hero, Alex Raymond, drawing Flash Gordon,  Secret Agent Corrigan, and Rip Kirby.

Okay.  But didn’t George Lucas once say that some of the look of Star Wars was based on the old EC Comics work of Al Williamson?  Didn’t Al get ripped off by Star Wars?

Check out the very Han Solo-like outfit on the fellow on the left

Well, it’s not like Lucas stole it all from Al.  (He stole a bit from Buster Crabbe, and other bits from The Hidden Fortress, and some Moebius comics as well) And it’s not like Al didn’t get to see any Star Wars money.  Al drew the Star Wars comic strip for years in the Eighties, and it was my favorite thing in the newspaper.

If the force is strong in ANYONE, it's strong in Al Williamson. Kick Ass Karma all around!

Along the way, Al won pretty well every industry award possible, gave us some of the best comics ever created, and oh, just in case you’re not already sick with envy that YOU weren’t Al Williamson, his lifetime circle of close buddies and pals included  Wally Wood, Reed Crandall, Roy Krenkel, Angelo Torres, George Woodbridge, Archie Goodwin, and Frank Frazetta, most of the biggest names in the Who’s Who of comics.

Sometimes we get one of these guys that turns out perfect in every conceivable way.

Al Williamson pencil samples. Early work to get the job at E.C. Not bad for a rookie, huh?

Today I shall rifle-laser blast a dragon and make out with a woman/alien hybrid, clad only in shimmering gossamer in your honour, Al.


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17 responses to “Al Williamson R.I.P.

  1. Williamson is one of my faves.

    But wait a minute, why are you clad in shimmering gossamer? Shouldn’t the alien woman be wearing that?

  2. How the elephant got into my shimmering gossamer, I’ll never know! My name is Captain Spaulding!

  3. Then who was wearing the pajamas?

  4. Mr. Williamson had moved up the ladder to becoming mostly an editor by the time I was reading comics. I first saw his name attached to “Legends of the Dark Knight” when it launched. Later, I was very appreciative when Dark Horse Comics published his “Star Wars” strip work in comic form, allowing me to better appreciate his talents. By all accounts, he was a class act and a friend to the industry. I’m sorry to hear he’s left us.

    • It’s a pity, but in the sea of great cartoonists, you can’t keep up with everyone, especially the ones from yesteryear. If you’re not familiar with most of Williamson’s early stuff, check out his EC Science Fiction comics (amazing) or his ATLAS/MARVEL Western comics (fantastic) or his Warren Black and White comics work of the Sixties/Seventies (Genius). I discovered Williamson mostly through the Warren stuff and the EC reprints and he was one of my pedestal heroes for most of my life.

  5. Learn more about legendary comics artist Al Williamson in this 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.

  6. Pingback: Remembering Al Williamson (1931-2010) | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment

  7. When I saw this picture from his Wikipedia entry:

    … it made me want to break both my thumbs and burn every ham-fisted inking attempt I’ve ever done in a fire. Actually, I suppose I’d have to do the burning first, because I couldn’t work a lighter without thumbs. Hmmm.

    The point is, it’s a shame to lose an artist of this caliber. If they haven’t already, I’m sure this is precisely the kind of person critics will toss in your face when arguing against your “Talent is Bulls**t” lecture.

  8. You and I react differently to things. When I see lovely work like this, it tends to make me want to work harder, to bring up my game . Self destruction in the face of beautiful things is something ya might want to curb as an impulse.

    I say that, not to be snarky. I had the same impulses when I was a teenager. When I was eighteen or so, the guy that I knew I would never draw as well as was Neal Adams, and that led to many broken-wrist fantasies.

    But that’s the STANDARD FEELING that all artists have. Including Neal Adams and Al Williamson, and you and me…when we’re young.
    We all have it. Pro artists or amateurs, we all hate our work, and compare it to someone we admire as a kid, and it sticks throughout our lives. Al Williamson spent his life studying Alex Raymond’s poses, and inking style, and drapery, and anatomy, like it was a holy book, and considered himself second rate to Raymond his whole career (you can hear it in every interview). Wally Wood used to think he did second rate Will Eisner crap when he was young. I broke into the biz doing third rate Wally Wood riffs.
    Best line I ever heard about it came from Wally Wood, who said, “your style is the inability to be perfect in trying to do someone else’s style.”

    Of course, there’s Phil Jimenez, or Rich Buckler, and a few others, who are so adept at other people’s style that it never wears off them. But in general, every artist goes through a stage of false comparison, and then unshackling themselves from the wrong direction and becoming themselves. GURU LECTURE OVER.

    Besides choosing to singularly focus on the work of old masters at a fairly young age (Williamson often spoke of copying and studying Alex Raymond and Hal Foster artwork from the age of ten), Al didn’t just go to art school…Al went to the Burne Hogarth school, which was THE best illustrator’s school in the world at the time he was there.
    When you consider the very high level of craft that is common amongst graduates of FAMOUS ARTISTS, BURNE HOGARTH and later JOE KUBERT (in it’s earlier years) schools, you’ll see a pattern of “genius” and “talent” clustering around certain teachers.


    Ty the Guy

    • Wise words and good advice, as always. You’ll be happy to know that my thumb-breaking hopelessness is only my initial gut reaction these days, as opposed to anything more ultimately defeatist. Once I’m over the shock of someone else’s genius, I grumble quietly to myself and keep working.

      I try to remind myself as often as possible that the whole reason there is a gaping 15 year gap in my obsession with doing comics in the first place is because I felt I wasn’t good enough. It keeps me from repeating that lapse in judgment.

      I actually agree with you when it comes to the talent debate. I just think that when people see someone who was so good, so soon, their knee-jerk reaction is to assume that they were born gifted. The fact that he probably put in more work before the age of 20 than most of us do in twice that time gets forgotten.

  9. Pingback: What Was Your Favorite Al Williamson Work? | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment

  10. I remember Al Williamson’s work the best as being his Star Wars comic strip work in the 1980s. It really helped round out the whole Star Wars universe, better then any of the novels of the time.


    Steven G. Willis

  11. Pingback: Rest in Peace: Al Williamson » Ragged Claws Network

  12. Al was one of the best. That splash with Krenkel was actually pencilled and inked by Krenkel with only the insert being done by Williamson. Krenkel!

  13. Are you sure? That little dragon goofing around in the foliage looks strikingly Al Williamson-y. I know Krenkel went nuts on the line-work, but the basic layout would be Williamson on principle…it was probably very light, but I don’t know why Al wouldn’t have laid it out if the story was his job.

  14. Very interesting. I have read a lot of Williamson’s Corrigan stories, just not knowing that he was the pencil creator of the stories. Just recently I bought Al Williamson’s Flash Gordon. The stories are good, but not great, however the art work is fantastic, I’m enjoying every drawing. I also heard of his Star Wars work, I will definately going to buy the “Complete Saga”, but I’m also interested in the newspaper strip box set, but it is rare and expensive. Is it possible getting the stories in other comics e.g. on Amazon, if yes which do I have to buy for getting the same as in the box set ?

    Buy the way you mentioned Lucas “stole” from some authors, but you forgot one of the very famous Frech comics, “Valérian and Laureline”, just check this website and see for your self:

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