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Year of the Artist, Day 268: Al Williamson, Part 2 – Crime SuspenStories #17 and Vault of Horror #37

by  in Comic News Comment
Year of the Artist, Day 268: Al Williamson, Part 2 – <i>Crime SuspenStories</i> #17 and <i>Vault of Horror</i> #37

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Al Williamson, and the stories are “Fired!” from Crime SuspenStories #17 and “Take Care” from Vault of Horror #37, which were published by EC and are cover dated June-July 1953 and July 1954, respectively. These scans are from 50 Girls 50, which was published by Fantagraphics in March 2013. Enjoy!

Only a few years, if not months, after the story I showed yesterday, Williamson was working for EC and working with not only Roy Krenkel, but Frank Frazetta and, a bit later, Angelo Torres. Williamson was notoriously down on his own work early in his career, and he thought his architecture, notably, was lousy, so he often relied on these artists to help him out in that regard. 50 Girls 50 does a nice job breaking down where the others chipped in, and I chose these two stories because they show some of the influence of other artists. In the first one, Frazetta is credited with some of the art, while in the second one, Williamson is credited all by himself (although on the Grand Comics Database, Torres is credited with some inking, so I’m not positive which is correct). As I’ve mentioned throughout this year, I try to get the comics as close to the published version as possible, and according to the GCD, these stories were originally in color, with Marie Severin taking care of the work. I’m actually kind of glad they’re in black and white here, as while Severin is a good colorist, the primitive techniques of the 1950s often, in my humble opinion, don’t do the line art any favors. So let’s take a look!

On a lot of stories, Williamson just signed his name, but notice here that Frazetta gets a mention (as “Fritz”), and according to the introduction, Williamson got a “big contribution” from the other artist. But what did Frazetta contribute? The introduction doesn’t say, and while there’s some architecture in the story, it’s not like some of Williamson’s science fiction stories, where it’s clear that Krenkel, Frazetta, or Torres added fantastic buildings in the background. So I’m not sure if Frazetta did, say, the backgrounds in this panel and Williamson stuck to figure work, or something else. But look at that panel – it’s the first one in the story, and it sure is sweet. Williamson’s delicate line work is stunning, as he gives Patricia a gorgeous hair style and face, while the inking of Roy’s hair and on his face makes him a bit more manly. The checks on his shirt are amazing, and it makes me wonder what the colored version of this looks like – it can’t be nicer than that amazing pattern. The clean lines of the ranch house make it ultra-modern, which is an interesting contrast to the more rough-hewn Roy. And that sure is a dynamite hourglass figure on Patricia, I’ll tell you what! [Hey, what do you know? I found the panel in color, right here! Okay, that looks pretty good. I still think it looks better in black and white, though.]

More amazing line work here, as we’ve already (in less than two pages) moved past the torrid romance part of the story to the part where Roy is bored with Patricia’s considerable charms (he’s already hustled a foremanship out of her, which she gave him in exchange for sex). The inking is stunning here, as we get beautiful brushwork on Patricia’s hair in every panel, while her face is shaded in sadness in Panels 1 and 2. Roy’s turn to douchebaggery is well done in Panel 2, as we get the hatching on her face and the thicker blacks shading his eyes. In Panel 3, it appears we get duo-shade on Patricia’s shirt, which gives it nice folds and, of course, highlights her breasts. You’ll be missing these tonight, Roy! they seem to say. Roy cares not! He craves something spicier!

Roy heads into town where he meets “Amy Ryan” (yeah, right), who is, I kid you not, described as “painted and cheap-looking … the type that could relieve boredom …” in the panel before this one. Sheesh.

But wow, “Amy Ryan” can season my salsa any day, amirite? We get the lovely line work in Panel 1, and then Williamson pulls back to show the two flirting with each other, and I can’t imagine that the checkered shirt and the cross pattern on Amy’s stockings is a coincidence – these two cads are made for each other! The detail in that panel is tremendous, as we get the nice pattern on the table cloth, the thick folds in Roy’s work pants, and nice facial expressions on both characters even though we’re far away from them. In Panel 3, we get nice thick blacks on Patricia, showing that she’s standing in the shadows and also reflecting her emotional state. I love Panel 4, in which Patricia’s shirt is black except for her breasts, which stand out somewhat weirdly, reminding me of this. But look at how Williamson lays out the two panels. Patricia is on the left, and Roy is moving away from her, with his hat and coat on. He steps into the next panel, and he’s once again wearing that shirt because he’s inside, in Amy’s warm embrace, and she’s on the right. Patricia looks scornful, and we get that beautiful work with her eyebrows, eyes, nose, and mouth, while Amy is enraptured by Roy, much like Patricia once was, and notice that we get a bit of inking on her eyes and face, because she’s, remember, “painted and cheap-looking.” Roy, meanwhile, looks darker when he’s with Amy – his face is duo-shaded much more, creating an almost monstrous appearance. Even his shirt is darker than it was back in the first panel, as we get the lines on the “white” squares of the shirt. This is a really nice sequence, even though it looks “simple.”

Roy gets his, fret not, and Williamson moved on. A year later “Take Care” was published, although he dated the splash page “1953,” so who knows when he actually drew it. As I noted above, I don’t know if Torres helped with the inking on this story, but I’m going to assume the Fantagraphics book is right and he didn’t. If he did, I apologize!

Williamson creates a great mood here, as he draws a fantastic mansion, places the gnarled tree so that appears to be clutching the house, and uses minimal horizontal lines to create the fog around the house. The hatching on the tree is very nice, as it makes the tree even uglier, turning it into something more malevolent. Considering that the story is about a hanging, the way Williamson curves the tree over the house has to be deliberate, and it’s very well done. In the inset panel, we get a lot of thick blacks, even in the background to show the wooden planks. One reason I think Fantagraphics is right and Williamson did this all on his own is because it looks a bit rougher than the work he did with Krenkel, Frazetta, and Torres. I could be wrong, as maybe Williamson did this just to fit the tone of the story, but there it is.

Jefferson Bates is telling the story of the previous occupant, Avery Ballusk, to the new caretaker. The first panel is the end of the story, in which Avery is found hanging from the bell rope (because someone built a bell tower in the mansion for no good reason except the story needed a convenient noose). Instead of getting rid of the damned rope, they left it there, and poor Mr. Dench (Dame Judi’s father, I assume) has to sleep in the very room where Avery was found. But the story is irrelevant, because the art is why we’re here! In Panel 1, Williamson gives us a – dare I say it? – exquisite corpse, with rough blacks creating a body and the hint of the rope (we don’t see the rope attach to the body, which I wonder is due to squeamishness by the editors or to Williamson’s discretion), and Williamson places candles prominently in the foreground, as Avery was always bitching that his companion was using too many candles. The inking continues to be wonderful when we’re back in the present – Williamson uses a lot of thick lines to create the figures in Panel 2, showing how they’re in darkness as the light shines into the room, and in Panel 4, we get more fog and devastated flora, and Williamson throws in a bat just for the hell of it. He places the house in silhouette so that it sits like a giant mausoleum in the middle of a wasteland, which simply adds to the mood of the story.

Dench, of course, doesn’t dig getting locked up in a spooky old mansion all night, and he freaks out a bit. In Panel 2, we get beautiful delicate lines of the spider webs, while Dench himself is a bit roughly inked, although it may be because he’s so “far away” from the reader. Then, in Panel 3, Williamson creates a figure on the stairs just by using rough blacks, contrasting it with the lighter lines that score the wall of the stairway. Williamson uses the light of the candle really well in Panel 4, as the small glow of the candle creates rough blacks where it doesn’t reach, making Dench look even more terrified and also making the skin of his hand, for instance, look more gnarled and twisted. Williamson uses a halo of thick lines around the candle to show that its light really isn’t that great, which again helps with the mood of the story.

The next panel in the story is this one, and I love it. Once again, Williamson uses shadows tremendously, but unlike the previous page, where the flame was drawn in, here he just uses a spatter of white ink to show the candle sputtering. The way Dench is lit is great, too – he looks even more terrified than before. Williamson also uses the black to create a mess of wax dripping down over the candle, which is very neat, too. Like most of these scans, I can’t imagine what they look like in color. They’re just so cool in black and white!

Williamson continued to work through the 1950s, of course, and beyond. So tomorrow I’ll check out some of his work from the 1960s, when he was a bit more accomplished. That should be fun, shouldn’t it, considering how good he was in his early 20s? Check out some more groovy stuff in the archives!

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