Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Al Williamson, and the issues are Classic Star Wars #2 and Return of the Jedi #2, the first of which was published by Dark Horse and is cover dated September 1992 (but reprints strips from 1981), and the second of which was published by Marvel and is cover dated November 1983. Enjoy!
In my quest to find Al Williamson’s pencil art and not just his inking (believe me, I can find plenty of his inking!), I scoured the cheap bins of my comics shoppe and discovered Classic Star Wars and Return of the Jedi, as well as a bonus that you’ll find at the end of this post. There are problems with both of these examples – Classic Star Wars reprints two stories from 1981, which is fine, but Dark Horse had Steve Buccellato color them, which they obviously weren’t originally. Buccellato is a fine colorist, and the scans look good, but I wonder what the originals look like. Meanwhile, on Return of the Jedi, Williamson is credited with Carlos Garzon, and it appears that his old insecurity about buildings is coming back to him, as the final examples I’ll show came with commentary, in which it was noted that Garzon tended to work on backgrounds while Williamson did the figure work. That’s not a hard and fast rule, apparently, so the lines are a bit blurry. Still, I figured it was fine to check these examples out, even with those “issues.”
Williamson is still using very nice lines, as we see on Leia in Panel 1, where her cheekbones are nicely defined even though Williamson didn’t need to do too much. He uses nice brush work on her eyelashes and a nice bit of shading under her nose, while he throws Luke and Han into shadow in both Panels 1 and 3, while using nice inks on Chewbacca in Panel 3. The line work in Panel 2 is typical wonderful Williamson work, as the moon looks rough and pitted, the Millennium Falcon is sleek but still a bit derelict, and we get rugged rocks and a weird flying creature down in the lower left. I’ll write more about Williamson’s use of photo reference tomorrow, but we’ll see some of it in this post, beginning with the likenesses of the actors from the movie, which isn’t perfect, but still remains consistent with the way the characters look on screen.
Williamson, as always, does great detailed work, as he uses thicker inks to roughen up the rocks and create deep crevices in the canyon. He also uses lighter inks to show the path of the Falcon, with some brush work right by the Falcon to show the speed at which it’s traveling. Once again, the inking on the characters is really nicely done, making them look like rugged space warriors, which fits well into the Western themes of the movie’s universe.
There’s a lot of good inking here, too, as Williamson uses the models from the movies pretty clearly here, but he still has to make Luke’s fighter look like a “real” one, so he makes sure to ink in all the lines, giving it a solid look. The little things on the page – the blacks on the surface of the planet, the way Williamson makes the atmosphere fade a bit in Panel 2 as it reaches space – are again ways for Williamson to show his attention to detail. We’re focused on the X-fighter, but Williamson remembers to think about what the planet might look like. It’s neat.
In 1983, Williamson was tapped to draw Marvel’s adaptation of Return of the Jedi, which he drew with Carlos Garzon, as I noted above. But let’s still see what we can see!
Yes, I picked this page because of Leia in the golden bikini. I AM WEAK!!!! But it’s also a good page, innit? Williamson probably did the figure work, and he does a nice job with Leia as she kills Jabba. He again uses spot blacks to show that Jabba’s yacht is dark inside, which is heightened by the lack of holding lines and thick blacks on Jabba himself. Garzon might have drawn the backgrounds, but the Sarlacc appears to be inked in Williamson’s style, as we get delicate line work on the sand, thicker lines on the Sarlacc’s tentacles, and nice thick blacks deep inside its maw. Williamson lays out the page well, moving us across the page really well, as everything pushes us to the right. His Leia looks much more like Carrie Fisher than Leia in the Star Wars strip above, too. I wonder why.
More nice work from Williamson and Garzon, as Luke jumps into action. I like how Luke’s lightsaber is drawn with simple parallel lines that Christie Scheele and/or Bob Sharen (both are credited) color in, and it creates a nice after-image effect. Panel 3 is tremendous as Luke tears into the bad guys and scatters them – Williamson uses thicker lines to make everyone look fairly scruffy, but his lines are so precise we can see every single creature on the page, including the dead Jabba in the background. The drawing of Luke is excellent, too. He flows from left to right, and we can see how much effort he’s putting into the fight even though we don’t see his face – Williamson’s pose and the way he inks Luke’s back to show strain is enough, which is pretty neat.
As usual, I’m not sure what Williamson did and what Garzon did, but I love this page because it looks like it could come right out of a science fiction story Williamson drew in the 1950s. The thick inks in the foreground of Panel 1 turn the vegetation into moldy and viscous lumps, while we get the few parallel lines spaced widely apart to give the impression of fog as we move closer to Yoda’s home. The hut itself is created simply by thick blacks and some indeterminate shaping, which blends it into the background very effectively. The rest of the page is quite nice, too, but the first panel shows that Williamson hasn’t lost his ability to make places very moody. Unless, of course, all of that is Garzon’s work. Man, I wish the division of labor was more closely delineated!
Williamson and Garzon also did Marvel’s adaptation of Blade Runner, and while I don’t own those issues, I do own Epic Illustrated #13 from August 1982, which has a sneak preview of the comic. So let’s take a look at a couple of panels from that comic, in glorious black and white (Marie Severin colored the final product, but these are, naturally, from before she got the pages).
If it’s true that Williamson lays out the page, and then Garzon concentrates on backgrounds while Williamson works on the figures (which, as I noted above, isn’t set in stone), then they work in tandem really well here. The backgrounds are stunning, capturing the feel of the future without being too insane. Meanwhile, Williamson’s Deckard doesn’t exactly look like Harrison Ford, although he does in other drawings in this magazine, so I’m not too worried about that. Williamson uses pools of black to show Deckard’s worry at his predicament, which means he doesn’t need to hatch his face too much. Meanwhile, Roy’s skin gets a bit more hatching, which reflects the dim light from the city shining on him. The inking on the girder is lovely, as is the roughness of the building’s edge and the thick blacks on Roy’s shoes. As usual with some artists, I don’t know how color could improve this!
Of course, the floor is what strikes us in this panel, even though the figure work, with Deckard looking world-weary even though we see him from behind and Tyrell looking confident, is very nice. The floor is amazing, though. Williamson and Garzon use only lines – thin ones for the “tiles” and thicker ones for the reflections – to create the mirrored look, and it gleams just as much as it would if today’s artists used some kind of digital sheen on it. The contrast between the white and the black makes it shine, and it’s pretty amazing when you sit and look at it for a few moments. They didn’t use anything but ink!
I don’t own Williamson’s last major work, which is his Flash Gordon comic from 1995, so tomorrow, for his last day, we’ll only go a few years later than this. Sorry about that, but tomorrow’s post features some amazing art as well, so I don’t think you’ll mind! You can always find amazing art in the archives!
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