The internet is rightfully rich with tributes to Al Williamson in recent days. When news of his passing got around, I decided to contact a variety of folks to find out their favorite Al Williamson work. Some were willing to single out certain works, others preferred to speak to his work as a whole. I loved the variety I was able to elicit from respondents, be it with replies to my request or directing me to previous statements they had made about Williamson since his passing. My thanks to the many folks who replied, as well as Dark Horse’s Jim Gibbons for gathering a couple of these perspectives for me (speaking of Dark Horse, be sure to read Dave Land’s Al Williamson recollection at the publisher’s new blog). In addition to these Williamson recollection/recommendations, it would be spectacular if you share your own favorite Williamson works in the comments section. Finally, please note that the Williamson family has suggested donations (in lieu of flowers) be made to:
Yesteryears Day Program (a program for frail, isolated, or impaired seniors)
2801 Wayne Street
Endwell, NY 13760
The Al Williamson Scholarship Fund
The Kubert School
37 Myrtle Avenue
Dover, NJ 07801
“Some of my favorite Al Williamson work was done during his days working on E.C. COMICS and on his Flash Gordon stories. Later in life, it was his incredible ink work over John Romita Junior on the Daredevil titles that stuck out. On a personal level, it was his professionalism and his charm that will stay with me longer than any of his work. he was a great man and will be missed.”
“News of Al Williamson’s passing hit me pretty hard. I want to say how sorry I am to his family for their terrible loss. Just a few months ago his lovely wife Cori told me that though very frail Al still had his beautiful smile.
Al’s gifts to me were immeasurable and I feel incredibly honored to have been his friend. There is nobody else who is anything like Al Williamson. There are people with extraordinary talent and there are people who are enormously generous souls and there are people who are a hell of a lot of fun to talk to and be around, but I’ve never known anybody who had all those traits, except Al. His best art is so dazzling to me that it is almost supernatural. His whole classy approach, his figure drawing, his sense of design and his line, his line is sheer poetry. He was a consummate connoisseur of what he used to call “the good stuff”. And that “good stuff” could include an obscure old illustrator no one else knew about or a young artist he’d just met. He loved art, particularly comic art and he would share that with anybody else who loved it and welcome them into his home just to enjoy his collection. All that plus he was a dashing handsome wise-cracker with a glint in his eye and a devilish smile. What a guy. I wish we had more of his art and more time with him but what a gift he was, and still is really, to this crazy world. He always wanted to do John Carter and he always wanted to do Flash Gordon meets Luke Skywalker. I hope he and Archie Goodwin and Roy Krenkel are working on the layouts now.”
Jamie S. Rich (who allowed me to excerpt from his larger Williamson must read tribute)
“The story was a four-page EC-style sci-fi adventure piece called “One Last Job.” It was written by Mark Schultz and dedicated to Wally Wood. It’s a simple tale about an intergalactic bounty hunter and treasure seeker traversing a dangerous landscape in search of the final score so he can fulfill his promise of retiring and return to his lady love. Of course, the punchline is that he can’t retire. The call comes through for more adventure, and he is off again for “one last job.”
In his way, it was a story about Al Williamson, too. There was always more adventure to find on the comic book page, new worlds to explore, new sights to see.”
“What I find most remarkable about Al Williamson is that in the early 50s he was one of the leading members of arguably the greatest stable of artists comics has ever seen, and over forty years later he helped define the look of one of Marvel’s most iconic characters with his work on DAREDEVIL. In between, he contributed one of the last classic runs in adventure comic strip history, handled an award-winning run on FLASH GORDON, and crafted the only graphic representation of STAR WARS that’s really withstood the test of time. And that doesn’t include his terrific work in CREEPY and EERIE in the seventies.
I’ll let the artists out there describe the influence of Williamson’s line, but I admire his career path as much as anyone’s in the history of comics. He kicked ass at everything he did, and he never just stood in place. Williamson elevated genre to new heights wherever he went.”
“Well, the first stuff I encountered waaaay back in my formative comics years, was the Star Wars adaptations. Funny enough, at the time (late 70/s / early 80s) I wasn’t so into his work. It was all Byrne and Perez. But as my tastes became more and more refined, and I started to grok on the older generation, my love for Al’s work blossomed. Love his Secret Agent X-9, love his EC work, and of course, the Star Wars material. He did a great job of capturing likenesses without it looking over photo-referenced.”
“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.”
“Trying to pick a favorite piece of work by Al is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. It just can’t be done…at least by me.
Al did everything so well…he was a true master of the comics medium.
His use of texture, light and shadow in his inking always inspired me. In fact, if you look at some issues of ‘Secret-Wars’ starting around issue 6, I believe, Mike Zeck was doing layouts, and I was trying my best to do a lot of “Williamson” like shadows, textures, and the lost edge, where the black shadows indicate the drawing and not a line.
This influence, along with Frazetta, continued into my work on the “Punisher Mini-Series” where I was really trying to do illustrative inking in the vein of Al and Frank!
I met Al once. At a New York City Comic Con, sometime in the mid-1980s. He didn’t know me from “jack” but when I was introduced to him and needed a seat, he was grateful to have me pull up a chair next to him. Needless to say, I was sitting next to one of my comic heroes and was pretty nervous. Al was a kind man, and put me at ease. He even let me look thru his portfolio of original art which had some really stunning pieces in it! Some Flash Gordon, I remember well…I’m not sure if he had any Star Wars pages or strips, but a few things stood out: the size of them…huge art from back in the day when things were drawn bigger, and the amount of work and the confidence that it was put on paper with!
Al kept telling me how horrible they were, and he couldn’t draw…he was not being modest, he really believed this. I was pretty stunned, by his comments.
Then the unthinkable happened…after I had looked thru it for over an hour, maybe longer, Al went to show someone else the work…he reached behind him, were I swore I put the portfolio back, and it was missing.
Feeling the lump in my throat, I saw Al panic and I felt terrible, as I just knew I had put it back behind him. We looked high and low behind that table…trying to find it. I felt like I needed to throw up. What if it had been picked up by someone and they left. Al was pretty protective of it, and I was honored to get to look thru it, and amazed at the imagery that it held inside!
Suddenly, Al remembered that he put it against the table leg to hide it and to keep it safe.
Whew, what a relief!
You may not see a definitive influence of Al’s work in my inking…but let me assure you, it’s there. I’ve poured over many pages of his work since I can remember, trying to pick up things that would help me.
I think I just got the new “Flash Gordon” book a few months back and spent a few days going thru it, just marveling at it. The beauty of the work is really something to behold!
R.I.P. Al Williamson.”
“Al Williamson’s work never faltered, unlike some artists as they grew older. My first exposure was in his Warren comics and the Blazing Combat he did with Archie Goodwin. His Empire Strikes Back adaptation was stellar. Williamson was one of the greats of his generation. A true master of his craft and a worthy heir to Alex Raymond.”
“It’s hard for me to choose my favorite Al Williamson work. There’s so much amazing stuff and all of it is significant to me for one reason or another. The energy of the EC work? The Flash Gordon work, which over 30 years, showcased wish fulfillment, incredible draftsmanship and confident economy of line? The Star Wars work, which managed to feature the archetypal Williamson hero (Han) and never deviated from the feel of Lucas’s universe–set against a backdrop of amazing Williamson environments?
For me, it remains the Secret Agent Corrigan material, which somehow manages to combine all of the above. Over a 13-year period, we see Al’s artistic progression from the slick techniques he learned assisting John Prentice to the confident illustrator that later tackled Star Wars. Working with his frequent collaborator, the equally-legendary Archie Goodwin, Al tackled every conceivable sort of story on Corrigan, from espionage and jungle adventure to homages of Flash Gordon, The Prisoner of Zenda, The Lost World and more!
Secret Agent Corrigan is my favorite, because it encompasses the longest run of his career and showcased much of what made Al’s work so special.”
“When you look at the huge legacy of artwork that Al Williamson left behind, it’s hard to find one story or image that’s your favorite. 13 years of Secret Agent Corrigan, the Star Wars strips, all the Flash Gordon work, the EC stories that just flowed with a dancer’s grace–unbridled talent there on the page, often accompanied by the helping hand of Frank Frazetta’s brushwork or Roy Krenkel’s beautiful cityscapes. But for me, the story, “Relic” which appeared in Epic Illustrated 27 would take the prize for a few reasons. One, because I watched him draw part of it. I was there to see those beautiful over-sized pages. And also because this was the work of a mature artist; a master doing what he loved and excelled at. He wasn’t constrained by the comic strip format. He had no likenesses to worry about, no marketing people concerned that he wasn’t showing a character in a way that would help sell toys. It was just him and Archie Goodwin telling a fun little story. Rich in detail and a tribute to his friend Roy Krenkel, who had passed on not long before, “Relic” hits all the notes for me–the spaceship and outer space itself, the alien world and ancient city, the heroic stances of the characters and even a beautiful statue of a half-nude young lady–based on a Jeff Jones’ IDOL sculpture that sat behind Al at his drawing board. Amazing stuff. I look at the detail of this story in wonder to this day and I remember why this man and his work changed my life.”
“The quick answer is anything Williamson ever did. How do you narrow it down? Some of the stuff that most blew me away was his fairly recent Flash Gordon stuff, after the movie. But I loved his EC, WARREN, ATLAS and DC stuff fairly equally. It’s like picking a favorite Beatles song.”
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