My hero has died.
My artwork at the time was bad—truly awful—yet he took the time to go over it with me, spending far more time than was justified by the level of craft in the work.
I was introduced to Al’s art by way of his work, with Archie Goodwin, on the Star Wars daily strip. Lush settings with dynamic figure work—and those layouts! Look at the way the man composed a Sunday page…stunning, elegant storytelling at it’s best. His sense of action wasn’t Kirby dynamics; it felt more like a glorious action-movie punch. When an Al Williamson hero threw a punch, you FELT it.
I later gravitated to his E.C. work, particularly his collaborations with Roy Krenkel and Frank Frazetta.
However, it’s his work on Secret Agent Corrigan (again with Archie Goodwin) that became my eventual all-time favorite of his work. Al’s using more photo reference on this stuff, and it boasts a slicker line (you can really see the influence of John Prentice, who Al assisted on Rip Kirby, especially in the first few years of the strip), but it’s just so damn perfect. I’m eagerly awaiting IDW’s release of these books.
If you’re curious about Al’s work—possibly, you’re only familiar with his latter day inking for Marvel Comics, check out the following books:
Creepy Archives, volume 1. Dark Horse. The first issue of Creepycontained one of my favorite Williamson/Goodwin collaborations, The Success Story. Based on an actual guy…but you can judge for yourself which parts are fiction.
Al Williamson’s Flash Gordon: A Vision of the Heroic by Mark Schultz. Flesh Publishing knocked it out of the park with this collection. Buy this. Buy it now. Perfection.
X-9: Secret Agent Corrigan. IDW Publishing is adding Al and Archie’s seminal work to their Library of American Comics. The first volume releases in July.
Al Williamson Archives volume 1. Flesk Publications, the people who brought us the awesome Flash Gordon volume will be releasing the first of a series of Williamson sketchbooks in July. Buy this.
Star Wars deluxe hardcover slipcase edition, published by Russ Cochran. Beautiful b/w reproduction of Al and Archie’s strip work in gorgeous oversized volumes. (sadly, out-of-print)
The Art of Al Williamson by James van Hise. Some great stories about Al and the rest of the Fleagle Gang (the nickname of Al and his E.C. artist pals) and wonderful art and reference photos of Al and company. (also out-of-print)
Al Williamson Adventures. Published by Insight Studios, this features a bunch of Al’s Warren work, and some other lost gems. The frontispiece, a Star Wars illustration, is actually from the Game Designers’ Workshop RPG magazine Challenge—I commissioned it from Al in my days as an art director. (possibly out-of-print)
Volumes to be avoided: Anything by Pure Imagination (the had a few Al Williamson Reader volumes with AWFUL reproduction). Ditto for the Al Williamson Sketchbook from Vanguard from 10 years ago—weak reproduction and awful graphic design. Save your money for the good stuff from Flesk and IDW—and the Russ Cochran books, or the Van Hise book.
So long, Al. I hope you and the other Fleagle Gang members that preceded you (Roy, Wally and Frank) are banging out a story with lizards, swashbucklers, and forgotten cities as I type this.
Sorry I’ve been so quiet…work, work, work!
I just celebrated a birthday a couple of days ago and was reminded by a childhood friend that I share a birthday with a famous public figure!
Interesting Steve Birthday Trivia
When I was 1 or 2 years old, the cereal Cap’n Crunch ran a contest for kids to submit their birthdays. A select few with the Cap’n’s birthday would win a 5-speed bike. My folks submitted my brother and me. Guess who had a 5-speed bike before he could walk? Yes, I have the same birthday as Cap’n Crunch. True story.
Being born in the 60s, I can’t help but reimagine the pitch meeting of the ad agency and the General Mills executives through a Mad Men filter…
General Mills Executive: We’d like to tie in a contest with our new cereal, Cap’n Crunch. Maybe give a prize to the kid who shares the Cap’n’s birthday.
Pete Campbell: Kids love contests! A great prize would be a savings bond!
Peggy Olson: A toy…kids love toys.
Sal Romono: When I was a child, I always wanted a dollhouse, with lots of pretty dollies…
Don Draper: A bike. Throughout life, we’re always going somewhere…but the destination isn’t important. That’s what Cap’n Crunch is about…the voyage on the high seas of childhood, passing though the sugary milk of bloated sweetened corn cubes into adulthood.
Another shot from the 2005 Eisner Awards; this time, it’s Mike Heffron and me with author Michael Chabon. I had actually started reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay on the flight to San Diego that year. At the time, I regretted not having more to say to Mr. Chabon than “I really enjoy your work,” but, in retrospect, I assume he probably gets a lot of people who want to ask that one memorable question and end up looking like pretentious douchebags instead.
Mike and I didn’t talk to Mr. Chabon for very long (he had to catch a flight to San Francisco right after the awards), but he was very gracious and pleasant.
I was clearing some stuff off my desktop, looking for images I haven’t uploaded to this blog yet and came across this photo from the 2005 Eisner Awards.
From left: me, Dark Horse Comics publisher Mike Richardson and Jim (Territory 51) Heffron. Jim had been nominated for the Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer Award and I was nominated for Athena Voltairein the Best Digital Comic catagory. Neither of us won, but it was a blast, capped off by meeting the guy who publishes the best comics today.
I didn’t want my first post back to be something like this. I’ve been caught up in a lot of personal stuff (good stuff, but more on that tomorrow).
I never really met Dave Stevens. Oh, sure, I took stuff up to have him sign it at a bunch of San Diego Comicons. I gushed about how much I loved his work. He was always incredibly gracious and modest. However, I never had the guts to show him my work. I never felt it was good enough.
That’s a shame. Given what I know about Mr. Stevens (from accounts by his friends), he probably would have been very kind and generous looking at my awkward attempts to emulate his work. And by all accounts, he was always sincere in his compliments of other people’s work—even those less-talented than him (which is about 99% of the artists working in comics).
But I was a wuss. And I regret that.
Lately, I had been studying a lot of Stevens’ work. A lot. Trying to understand the expressive nature of his brush line. Trying to figure out how he so perfectly balanced juxtapositioning a slick, controlled line with loose, lush, rendering lines.
My mind still boggles at how perfectly he managed it.
I’d also been looking at his work in an attempt to do justice to a Rocketeer commission for my friend Matt. Pictured here are the pencils.
I’m really daunted to try and ink this.
Thanks for everything, Dave.
Usually, when I receive art books, I look at the pictures and read passages that interest me, eventually working my way through the whole book. With the Schultz book, I read it start to finish and devoured every image in the sequence of the book. It was such an enjoyable process that I decided to do the same with the Rude book.
Wow. This book is an artistic journey. Rude has long been one of my top 5 guys, but this book only increases my appreciation of the man and his work.
And it makes me want to draw. A lot.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough—whether you’re into comic art, illustration or the artistic process, you need to own this wonderful volume.