Mark Evanier On The Life Of Al Williamson

Earlier, Mark Evanier confirmed the sad news of the death of Al Williamson fantasy and comic book artist. Mark writes;

Mark Evanier On The Life Of Al WilliamsonWell, sadly, it's true. Al Williamson was 79 years old and while we haven't heard a cause of death, we'd all heard how he'd been suffering from Alzheimer's for the last few years.

Al was a great talent and a great guy. I can't think of anyone who saw his comics and didn't love the way he drew and I'm darn sure I don't know of anyone who ever met the man and didn't enjoy his company. Al Williamson was born in New York on March 21, 1931 but spent much of his childhood in Bogota, Columbia. He fell in love with comics at an early age, especially Flash Gordon in both the Alex Raymond newspaper strip and the Buster Crabbe serials. Al used to joke that all the heroic males he drew either looked like him or like Mr. Crabbe.

He studied at Burne Hogarth's Cartoonists and Illustrators School and struck up friendships with many artists around his age, most notably Wally Wood, Angelo Torres, Frank Frazetta, Roy G. Krenkel and MAD editor-to-be Nick Meglin. Most of his friends wound up working for EC Comics and it was there that Al did the work that gave him his reputation. He was an amazing illustrator, especially in the line's science-fiction titles where his work had a pageantry and beauty.

Al was the perfect example of the Second Generation of comic book artists — the kids who got into the business because they grew up on comics drawn by the guys who started the business. He was an enormous fan of almost everyone. The first time I met him was in 1970 at a New York convention where he pumped me for information on Jack Kirby. The last time I saw him was (I think) at the '97 Comic-Con in San Diego. One of the other guests that year was George Tuska, and Williamson had as a child been inspired by Tuska's work. When I went off to do a panel interviewing George, Al asked if he could sit in on it, ask a few questions himself, and tell the audience how much he admired Mr. Tuska.

Mark Evanier On The Life Of Al WilliamsonWilliamson was passionate about his work. Even back when he knew the art would not get decent reproduction and the originals would not be returned to him, he'd spend hours on a panel, adding detail that would never survive the printing process. It mattered to Al that the work be as good as possible when it left him. After that, he had no control over it.

He worked for most publishers in the fifties and sixties, including Atlas (Marvel), ACG, Charlton and Harvey. No matter what they paid, he gave them the best work possible within the deadline…and was known to miss deadlines in order to get the work the way he wanted it. In the sixties, he especially distinguished himself with his work for Warren on Creepy and Eerie, and with a short run on a new comic book version of Flash Gordon in which he astounded readers with his ability to capture that world as drawn by Alex Raymond. That work brought him an offer, which he grabbed, to carry on another Raymond character. He and writer Archie Goodwin produced the newspaper strip for Secret Agent X-9 (now retitled Secret Agent Corrigan) from 1967 until 1980. He and Archie later handled the Star Wars newspaper strip for a time, following Al's acclaimed work on the graphic novel adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back. In the late eighties and through the nineties, his comic art jobs were mostly as an inker for DC and Marvel.

Mark Evanier On The Life Of Al Williamson

Al won the National Cartoonist Society award for Best Comic Book Artist in 1966 and later won two Will Eisner Awards (and four other nominations), plus he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000. He also won seven Harvey Awards and numerous other accolades. He was also, as I mentioned, a really, really great guy to be around. As much as we'll all miss his art, I think we'll miss the guy who did it even more.

About Rich Johnston

Head writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world. Living in London, father of two. Political cartoonist.

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