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Monday, June 14, 2010

R.I.P. Al Williamson--Another Illustration Great Passes... my thoughts.

When I was fresh out of college with a degree in English and Journalism, my first full time job was doing the public relations, photography and artist relations for a now past and much lamented convention called "The Dallas Fantasy Faire." Being very young and oh-so-green, it was a platform through which I was able to get my footing not only in the world of convention organization, and long hours in a darkroom wrist deep in chemicals, but ultimately in publishing, as my connections from that show led to my first job in New York City at DC Comics.

It was also a venue that introduced me to several of my life-long friends like Jim Salicrup, Art Adams, Mike Kaluta, David Spurlock, the late Dave Stevens, Bob Burden, Keith Wilson, John Romita, Jr., and many many more!

It was also the place where I met many of the greats in comics for the first time, and ultimately instilled in me a love for the medium that would become my work for the next twenty + years-- people like Stan Lee, and... Al Williamson.

I can't claim to have known Al well at all. Although, I can claim to have met this marvelous and inventive illustrator via the DFF, and thoroughly enjoyed every occasion. In the years that passed, after those days in the late 80's, I would see him at the Marvel Offices from time to time when I was an editor there, and he always was genuine and nice and funny. It was always a bright day when Al stepped into the office. And everyone felt that way. The Editor-in-chief would even beam at having Al in the building, and that was always well...kinda cute to see the boss being a fan and all. :-)

I wasn't surprised that Al instilled that in folks really. When I first met him all those years ago, working with the talent at the DFF, he was just that-- a gentleman and a professional. Al was certainly not one of those guys we had to hound to get to panels on time, or wonder if he was going to get on the plane to begin with. He just did. If he said he was going to do something. There was no doubt that he would. It's something called 'honor' right?

From my first meeting with Mr. Williamson and as my knowledge of comics grew, I became aware of his place in the industry as well, and the fact that he has influenced so many generations that followed. That's no surprise either.

Williamson was a superb storyteller.

I remember, as one of my fondest memories, sitting in my friends studio on 6th Street (also an artist), at 2 a.m., in a dimly lit room surrounded by comics by Frazetta and such, flipping through the original "Flash Gordon" comic books-- all dog-eared and worn with numerous perusals from his childhood on, and listening to him explain to me with unabashed boy-ish glee-- though in his 50's--just WHY Williamson was SOO damn good! Something I already knew of course. :-) But the endearing enthusiasm he had for Al's work, as with many other illustration professionals is certainly not an uncommon thread.

I think it's the norm.

In fact, if you don't know who Al Williamson is, then go and "google'" or something and find out right now. You are missing out, my friend!! And it's a shame.

After Frank Frazetta died a few weeks ago, myself as well as some of my friends were kinda shocked to find out that some folks didn't know of Frank and/or his influence in not only comics, but film etc. Some of them were even other artists! Younger generations, but still!! Please! Learn about who has come before, people. It shows you your roots. This industry just didn't spring up yesterday. Alot of people have paved the way in fantasy art and illustration, including getting us to where we are now with artist's rights.

I was even more dismayed, and disappointed, while in Europe last month to have an art history teacher tell me to my face that the study of Fantasy art was not considered a "legitimate" study. I tried to set him straight. Rest assured.

If something inspires, influences, generates an emotion, creates a response, then it is art of the highest form to me. I don't need any more art exhibitions with ladders draped in Christmas lights....

We need more Frazetta's and more Williamson's in this world.

Years after meeting Al, later in my publishing career with my company Eva Ink Publishing, one of the properties I REALLY wanted was to be able to reprint the "Flash Gordon" comics. I tried. And tried. Via King Features and numerous negotiations... It didn't come to be... But, I'm happy to say that in recent years the books have been published in retrospectives regardless.

Anything that honors a great creator such as Al Williamson is alright by me.

As a final aside, folks, I know in Al's case, he had been out of the public eye due to illness for some time... But in the case of our creators from all generations, that have influenced countless artists to follow, and progressed the medium that we love-- let them know that their work meant something to you. I'm talking about guys like Nick Cardy, Joe Sinnott, Russ Heath, Neal Adams, Michael Kaluta! You know the ones!

And although they were/are just doing a job, as M. Golden always likes to say-- i.e. putting food on the table, paying the rent, making deadlines, or making sure the kids shoes don't have holes--I for one want to let those creators know that we notice that they also BOTHERED to instill in their work something else-- something unique, something genuine...certainly something that had the potential to stay in a little kid's imagination like a germinating seed, long after reading a simple newsprint comic--in same cases inspiring careers, in others dreams-- in short, creating something magical.

I'm ALL for more magic in the world. Thanks Al, for leaving us with an abundance...



With that in mind, my friend David Spurlock of Vanguard Productions knew Al as a friend, and also published some of Al's work... he can say it better than I... and below a few remarks from David to share.


J David Spurlock More on AL WILLIAMSON
I met Al Williamson in Dallas, where I was working as an illustrator, in the early 80s as Al visited regularly for the Dallas Fantasy Fair. In 1984, I made my first trip to New York--all that way, by car, to see Cream founder, Jack Bruce perform (Jack hadn't played Dallas since the 1973 West Bruce... & Laing tour). The schedule was tight as my second daughter, Jessica, was due to be born soon. But I thought I had just enough time to visit one visual artist--who would it be? Out of so many in and near New York, I chose to go out of our way to visit Al Williamson up in the Pocono mountain town of Honesdale PA. Al was still penciling regularly at the time and doing the STAR WARS strip.

At the time, he was working on both, a sequence of Thomas Yeates' TIMESPIRITS and the story RELIC for EPIC magazine. I said, "Al, you know, now that Roy (Krenkel) is gone, you are the king of the other-worldly Franklin Boothian cities." Al said, "Oh, Roy is the king." I repeated myself "Now that Roy is gone..." He thanked me for the complement and said "I've been thinking about Roy a lot on this one (the comics story RELIC)." He showed me all kinds of things. This was when he had the guest-house studio before moving to the studio he rented from HIGHLIGHTS magazine in town. We had a great long visit (the first of many, many visits and lunches, lots of Birch Beer--a specialty rootbeer).

Before long I was home for Jessica's birth. Ten years later I moved to the New York area and I would get to occasionally take Jessica with me to visit Al. They were very fond of each other. He even joked about the idea of Jessica and his youngest son Victor becoming a couple. After our talk that first visit of Roy Krenkel's influence on Al's architecture etc., Al added a dedication to Roy on the last page of the story RELIC.

Attached is a piece Al did for me of my character THE SPACE COWBOY. I did the digital color -- great honor working with the master. I created THE SPACE COWBOY very much as an homage to Al and his "Fleagle Gang" of friends including Krenkel, Wood and Frazetta. All SPACE COWBOY material is dedicated to them but this issue was also dedicated to my Space Babies, Sunshine & Jessica. I think this is actually Al's last comic book cover ever. He did the Al Williamson Adventures around the same time but that was a book--not a comicbook (so this is perhaps his last comic book cover. --R.)



  1. J David Spurlock A message from
    Mrs. Al (Cori) Williamson: The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, a donation in Al's memory be made to either:
    The Joe Kubert School
    37 Myrtle Avenue Dover, NJ 07801
    Attn: Al Williamson Scholarship Fund
    Yesteryears Day Program
    2801 Wayne Street Endwell, NY 13760

  2. Learn more about legendary comics artist Al Williamson in this Mr. Media interview with his friend and artist Mark Schultz, in which he discusses the book Al Williamson’s Flash Gordon: A Lifelong Vision of the Heroic.