Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Al Williamson, and the story is “The Lost Lives of Laura Hastings” from Adventures into the Unknown #27, which was published by American Comics Group and is cover dated January 1952. These scans are from Al Williamson: Hidden Lands, which was published by Dark Horse in 2004. Enjoy!
This is not the earliest Al Williamson story, but it’s pretty close – it’s about a year into his career. He was probably 20 when he drew this (he was born in March 1931 and this probably came out in the autumn of 1951), and even though it’s not his first work, it shows how good he was as such an early age. He would only get better!
So Laura Hastings is in a car accident and sustains an injury to her frontal lobe, which is “always fatal.” The surgeon, however, tries an experimental surgery because Laura is beautiful and he can’t stand to see her die. Thank goodness she wasn’t ugly, or he’d be playing golf in a heartbeat! Before the doctor can do that, though, Laura is carried away into darkness, and when she wakes, we get this page. Williamson, as we can see, is already quite adept at figure work, as both Laura and “Ner-var” are nicely drawn, and Williamson has a good handle on the way bodies move, so the action scene is nicely done. This early in his career, Williamson was a bit rougher than he would later be (of course, very often he was co-penciling with others, so maybe that’s the reason), but it works well in this story. In Panel 2, he use negative space to create a black, gaping maw behind “Ner-var,” which is just an open space while the white area are the trees of the jungle, and down in the final panel, he show Dr. Travers from the back, so the sun shining on Laura doesn’t illuminate his back, and we get a roughly inked, shadowed side of the good doctor (Roy Krenkel inked this). We get thick inks on Laura’s “dress” and Ner-var’s loin cloth, showing that it’s probably furs wrapped around them, conforming to the “caveman” stereotype but at least looking nice. The first two rows a nicely inked in the surroundings, too, making the grass obvious but not overwhelming. Williamson uses a bit of duo-shade in the first panel, too, which is something he would enjoy doing later in his career. In Panel 6, he draws a lovely portrait of Laura as she’s taken back to her present, and he or Krenkel uses nice white ink to make the cosmos sparkly but still somewhat rough.
I don’t know if this story was originally in color, as the Grand Comics Database has a place for “colorist” but has a question mark there, so I don’t know if that means it was in color and no one knows who colored it or if they don’t even know if it was or not (there’s no writer listed for this story, either, in case you’re wondering). I only mention it because I wonder if these are the original pencils and inks or if this is after the artwork has been stripped of its coloring – I imagine finding the original, pre-colored art might be a bit difficult, so I’m unsure. Beats me.
Anyway, I bring it up because the lines in this example don’t look as strong as in some of the other stories by Williamson of this time and even less than some other panels in this story, which makes me wonder if the pages were stripped of color and some didn’t fare as well as others. It’s not like the line work is bad, of course, but some of it looks like the colorist might have filled in some blanks. Still, this is nice work, with Williamson and Krenkel giving us nice, lush work as Laura becomes “the most beautiful woman in all Egypt” (bit full of yourself there, aren’t you, Laura?) and she summons her “chief necromancer” (how many necromancers do you really need?) and gets the gist of the entire story explained to her. The beautiful hatching on “Sakkara’s” dress in Panel 2 gives her legs nice definition, while the line work in Panels 3 and 4 create a gleaming marble floor. At this early stage, Williamson didn’t like inking (ironic considering how great he became at it), so I’m not sure how much of this is him and how much is Krenkel, but it’s nice work.
This is the next page, as the necromancer explains more of the plot, and we get the really nice blacks showing the darkest part of the story. Even with the blackness, we still get Egyptian designs in Panel 2 – either Williamson or Krenkel was paying attention to details – and the nice working on the urn in Panel 3 and the column in Panel 5. The blacks are wonderful, though. The necromancer and Sakkara are in silhouette in Panel 1 as he explains what the liquid is, and then when he offers it to her, we get the looming shadows on the wall. In Panel 4, once again we get the sparkly sky behind them, with both the figures heavily inked and the nice use of whites to throw into stark relief. It’s a very serious moment, and the artwork reflects that well.
Laura tries to convince Dr. Travers that she’s being reincarnated, but in a panel above this sequence, he says that “as a scientist,” he can’t believe it. Yet being “destined” for each other isn’t nonsense, mainly because their respective hotness. Hot people belong together, people! Are you listening, Geoffrey Arend?
So once again, we get the very nice inking – the cross-hatching in Panel 3 shows the vortices of time sweeping Laura away again, while the thick blacks in Panel 2 help show off the attractiveness of Laura and Neil. Panel 4 is tremendous, as one could say that Steve Ditko based his entire run on Dr. Strange on that one panel!!!! There’s nice work with duo-shade and spot blacks in that panel, while Williamson’s loose line work helps make it more ethereal.
Laura ends up as a pirate’s captive, and Neil is the ship’s captain who kept her alive, and we get this sequence where the ship is blown to pieces before Laura wakes up in the present and Neil is still pooh-poohing her (but, you know, he wants to get in her pants, so he indulges her silly fantasies, and if you ask me, when they find the treasure, she should have dumped his disbelieving ass!). I love Panel 3, which is all short, rough strokes, creating a chaotic scene as the two figures are caught in an explosion. But again, the use of blacks is really nice, as they add nuances to the scenes, with the darkness shadowing the figures in Panel 2 and showing the transition of Laura back to the present in Panel 5. The black background in Panel 7 also helps the faces stand out, and Williamson/Krenkel do a nice job with the pain on Laura’s face because Neil still doesn’t believe her and the scorn on his face as he decides to humor her a bit longer. Man, Neil is a douchebag, isn’t he? Good thing she marries him!
Williamson and Krenkel would work together often during the Fifties (joined by Frank Frazette and later, Angelo Torres), but Williamson also did some inking, as well. I haven’t figured out what stories I’m going to show over the next few days, but I’m pretty sure the art will be beautiful! Check out some more beautiful artwork in the archives!
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