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Year of the Artist, Day 269: Al Williamson, Part 3 – X-9: Secret Agent Corrigan

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Year of the Artist, Day 269: Al Williamson, Part 3 – <i>X-9: Secret Agent Corrigan</i>

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Al Williamson, and the series is Secret Agent Corrigan, which were published by King Features Syndicate in June to August 1969. These scans are from X-9: Secret Agent Corrigan by Al Williamson and Archie Goodwin volume 1: 1967-1969, which was published by IDW/The Library of American Comics in August 2010. Enjoy!

Williamson took over drawing Secret Agent Corrigan in 1967, insisted that Archie Goodwin script it, and ended up drawing it through the 1970s. I only own the first volume, but it has some very nice art, without anyone else (as far as I know) assisting Williamson, so let’s take a look at some of the work from June, July, and August 1969, which ends this volume!

Williamson’s line work is always excellent, but here, he really uses blacks well to create this tense, moody atmosphere. He shrouds the “leader’s” face, of course, as he’s wearing a hood, but he also uses shadows well on Amanda’s face and on Corrigan’s face in Panels 2 and 3. The inking is beautiful, of course – it’s Williamson! – as he uses short strokes to create a fuzzy collar on the leader’s coat and he gives Corrigan’s shirt some texture. In Panel 4, he’s ditching holding lines and using big chunks of black to create the figures, making the scene even moodier. In the final two panels, he does this very well – he uses no lines when Corrigan grabs the leader’s arm, relying simply on negative space to show the struggle, and while Mrs. Murkley in Panel 6 has lines on her cloak, Williamson still uses thick blacks to define her hand and head. Even her cigarette smoke is defined by absence, and it makes the entire scene darker, eerier, and tenser.

Corrigan, as usual, zips from one mission to the next, so we catch up with him a few weeks later trying to find a pirate on a submarine. One thing I like about Williamson (and a lot of other artists, to be sure) is that he knows when to use thin lines and when to use thick lines. It sounds simple, but as we often see, it’s really not. So we get some delicate line work on board the ship, as Williamson presents the upper crust enjoying their fancy balls and shit, and he uses blacks judiciously and his inks are a bit thicker but still soft and shiny – check out the woman’s hair in the foreground of Panel 4 and the sexy chick on the right side of the same panel. However, in Panel 2, he uses thicker lines to show the ultra-modern bed, which is probably not wood but some kind of space-age polymer (remember, kids: you can never use the word “polymer” without the preceding adjective “space-age”!). In Panel 3, he uses thicker lines for the smoke streaming from the ship, the choppy waves, and the periscope of the submarine. In Panel 5, he uses more blacks on the sub, but they’re still fairly sleek, while the churning water around the sub is inked a bit more heavily. This kind of thought, even on seemingly innocuous panels, is what makes a great artist, and Williamson certainly qualifies.

Williamson is always great at details, even if early in his career he had help from other artists, and here we get two wider panels that show his detailed work. In Panel 2, he spends a good deal of time making sure that the giant computers on board the submarine are drawn in, while in Panel 4, he once again shows us an exterior view of the submarine, with all the sea life swimming around it. He doesn’t really need to show the fish and the flora, and he especially doesn’t need to take the time to ink the fronds on the left side of the panel so nicely, but he does. Meanwhile, he once again uses blacks well, as we see in Panel 1, where Captain Bryne shoots the gun out of the bad guy’s hand. The black of the blade fades to thin hatching, which is very nice work. Of course, Raven in Panel 3 is gorgeous, as Williamson uses white ink to line her hair, while giving her those high cheekbones artists love to give women. He also does a nice job in Panel 5, as she cocks a knowing eyebrow at Corrigan, who is thoroughly confused (but not so confused that he didn’t take some time to light up a cigarette, because that’s just how he rolls!). There’s a lot of nice, subtle work in these two strips.

Once again, we get some really nice inking in these strips, beginning with Panel 1, as Williamson uses thick, curvy lines to show the tumultuous waters around the sub as it “speeds toward its secret base.” In both Panels 1 and 2, Williamson uses sleeker lines on the man-made ships, even when he hatches the shadows onto their surfaces. He still uses shorter and more ragged strokes on the waves that the ships cut through the water, which is a nice touch. In Panel 3, he gives us more shadowing to show that life inside the sub is a bit dark, but he still uses nice lines on Corrigan’s hair, for instance, to show that he’s taking it all in stride (not a hair out of place!). When we get to Panel 5, we see more thick lines as the water rushes into the lock, and Williamson uses nice thick blacks to create the rocks around the secret entrance, making it appear more fortress-like. As usual, he doesn’t take any panels off.

Unsurprisingly, we get more nice figure work and inking here, as Corrigan and Raven talk about her scheme. We get beautiful blacks on Corrigan’s face in Panel 1, while Raven’s hair throughout remains lush and shiny. Williamson moves her eyebrows around to show her responding to Corrigan’s entreaties, as she ends with her coy blackmail justification. Unlike a lot of artists (like Kirby, God bless him), Williamson uses short and subtle line work to create Raven’s high cheekbones, so they make her face look a bit softer. Of course, we still get the marvelous details, as we see the set-up in Panel 2, with Williamson’s wonderful hatching that makes the rocks look solid and rugged while the missile is still sleek. We don’t get to see too much of Raven’s lips in close-up in this story, but Williamson does a wonderful job in Panel 6 making them look quite sexy as she holds that cigarette in her mouth. Paging Dr. Freud!

Obviously, in a newspaper strip you can’t do too many big, expansive action scenes (especially in a daily), but Williamson manages to fit some nice work in here. His work isn’t too fluid, but it’s solid, and he does manage to move Corrigan around the facility well. He does well giving the place depth and width and scale – in Panel 1, we get to see the missile and the superstructure around it; in Panels 2-4, we see Corrigan move across platforms and from one level to another; and in Panel 6 we see Captian Bryne moving up the ladder, which again adds depth and scale to the secret base. With such restrictions on space, it’s neat how Williamson is able to make the base look gigantic even while still focusing on the characters.

Raven’s hair looks a little longer than it did earlier in the story, but she’s just so darned cute I can’t stay mad at her! I like the entire sequence – the nice second panel, where Raven shoots the gun out of Bryne’s hand, which echoes the earlier panel where he shot the knife out of the other dude’s hand (and dang, these people are sharpshooters!); the nice final panel, where we get good blacks on Corrigan and Raven’s face is full of worry – but man, Panel 3 is awesome. Captain Bryne is shadowed so well, as his eye patch disappears into the blackness on the left side of his face, while Williamson still makes his beard rough and scratchy. Behind him, Raven stands with the smoking gun, and Williamson uses wonderful thick lines to define her, while using very few holding lines for her figure, which makes her fade into the hatched background. Much like Mrs. Murkley’s cigarette smoke above, Williamson erases the holding lines around the smoke coming from the gun, making it more hazy. Despite the use of blacks, we can see the scornful look on her face as she decides to throw in her lot with Corrigan. Williamson draws her in a sexy pose, too, just for the hell of it.

If you told me Steve Epting read a lot of X-9 when he was but a lad and he’s now channeling it for Velvet, I certainly wouldn’t disbelieve you, but there are certainly lesser artists you could be influenced by! Williamson continued to work with Goodwin, because Goodwin was awesome, and tomorrow we’ll check out some of his work on a fairly big licensed comic from a galaxy far, far away. I’m sure you can’t figure out what it might be! You can find some other familiar comics in the archives!

[Edit: As has been pointed out in the comments, most of this is almost certainly not Al Williamson, as he took a break yet still signed the furshlugginer work. It was ghosted by someone else, which I know happens in newspaper strips, but what really pisses me off is that IDW and Mark Schultz don’t mention this in the introduction, which is a bit of a dropped ball, in my opinion. Looking at it, you can see differences, but as we’ve seen a lot during this year, artists tend to be versatile, so I thought maybe that Williamson was trying something different, as it doesn’t look too unlike his work. Anyway, this does vex me, but I don’t feel like going back and rewriting this entire post. I just thought I’d show some examples from earlier in the strip, which I’m fairly certain are drawn by Williamson. I’m not going to write about them, but I thought you might like to see them. These are from late 1968 and earlier in 1969 than the examples I show above, just for reference.

That’s some fine hair!

Beautiful women and finely lined backgrounds? Yeah, that seems like Williamson.

This scan isn’t the best, but man, that’s nice work.

Lots of nice blacks here.

I apologize for screwing up; I try to write as knowingly as possible, and whoever ghosted that work above for Williamson – whether it’s Russ Heath or someone else – did some nice work, and that Panel 3 in the last example is still stunning. I just wish IDW had mentioned it. That would have been nice.]

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