Home Culture Cartoonists Al Williamson: 1931-2010

Al Williamson: 1931-2010


Although there has been no official confirmation, close family friends have reported that EC artist Al Williamson has passed away.

The youngest of the EC artists, Williamson joined the legendary crew at the age of 20, finding kindred spirits in

Frank Frazetta, Roy Krenkel, and Angelo Torres

, the group known as the “Fleagle Gang.” All shared a love of classic illustration — influenced by Alex Raymond and Hal Foster — which found expression in a lush, romantic style based in classical drawing.

Although his EC work cemented his reputation for the ages, Williamson worked for almost every comics company in his long career, and has significant comic strip runs as well. As a youngster he was fascinated by Flash Gordon and ended up drawing several versions of that character. He also had significant runs on Secret Agent Corrigan and a long run with ARchie Goodwin on the Star Wars comic strip.

Following the cancellation of the Star Wars strip, Williamson switched to inking because the comics industry’s prevailing methods didn’t provide the time he wanted to pencil pages in the style he wanted to. As an inker, he won many of those awards mentioned above and adding his signature line to such artists as John Romita Jr., he brought a touch of class and history — as well as his own immense artistic gifts — to many runs of superhero comics.

Williamson was also a great character, big-hearted and charming, and was a familiar and much loved figure on the convention scene until health problems forced him to retire about a decade ago. Always generous with his time and advice, he helped many artists break in, including such similar talents as Mike Kaluta. Remembrances are already pouring in. A few of note:

§ Jeff Parker:

When you’ve blown up an artistic hero in your head, it’s always an experience to seem them sitting at a table near you, being real people. I got that bumped up yet another level as Al looked over my pages and chuckled at a panel where I’d drawn the alien lizard kid from his old EC story. These pages would be hard for me or anyone to look at now, but the important thing I’d done right without realizing it was to not be the 7000th kid to shove superhero pages under his nose. Most of it was attempts at the kind of adventure strips he’d read since being a kid himself growing up in Columbia (and thus pulling off better jungle vegetation and lizards in his environments than oh, anyone). But here’s where the experience went on to dominate my psychological landscape. After some nodding, he realized that the line was building for him to sign books. Instead of handing back my art he put it to the side and said “come back around and sit down.”

I don’t know if you ever had Chuck Yeager say “Come on, climb up in the Bell X-1″ or Louie Armstrong tell you to grab a horn and sit in with him, but that would have to be how it feels.

JImmy Palmiotti

We lost another comic great this weekend. After Frank Frazetta passing a few weeks ago, I had to open up my e -mail and read about Al. I cant tell you how much this news has upset me . Al was someone I looked up to…wanted to be like and best of all, I really, really, enjoyed his company. When I was inking full time years ago, I used to track down what conventions Al would be at and hang around him like a true fan boy. The first time I met him was up at Marvel Comics and really…I couldnt say much in his presence. At that point, he was a living legend in my eyes and it humbled me. Anyone who knows me , knows how impossible that is to do.

Next time we spoke was over the phone a few times…some stuff with work and then general questions on how he did certain aspects of his work and other inking questions about tools, speed and so on. I met al again at chicago con, I believe, and we actually had time together over a meal and I was able to sit next to him at the con and watch him sketch and talk to people. I learned a lot from him , how he treated everyone with respect, but always there was the kid in him making jokes as well. We had that in common…he was a funny guy with an abundance of history and respect to those who came before him in this field. He turned me on to a dozen of his influences in comics and film and I would watch him share knowing glances when he spoke about these giants in the industry when speaking to other people I admired like Mark Shultz, Geof Darrow and Gary Gianni.

During his long career, Williamson was the winner of three Eisner Awards, seven Harvey awards, an NCS award, two Alley Awards and was inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame in 2000.

I have always been a big Williamson fangirl. The clean, classic drawing style, handsome, wise-cracking heroes, beautiful, adventurous heroines, and general sense of romance and adventure in his best work were irresistible. Notably, Williamson was George Lucas’s own choice to draw STAR WARS, and his adaptation of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was a highlight. No one drew a better Han Solo than Al Williamson — when you needed someone to draw dashing, space-faring rogues, Al was the go-to guy. I doubt we’ll ever see his like again.

  1. Bruce Jones is the only one who came close to drawing boots as well as Williamson, and I’ll bet he free admits to swiping them from Al.

  2. There are only a handful of people that had the kind of impact that Al Williamson had. This really stings. Not only was Al an amazing illustrator and storyteller, but he had a great heart. He was one of the good guys. My thoughts and prayers go out to Cori and the rest of the family.

  3. My first exposure to Al’s work was as inker to JR Jr’s Daredevil series (the Typhoid Mary story IIRC). At the time the 12 year old me thought he was just inking a great penciller. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized what a great talent he was in his own right. There are fewer and fewer of these immense talents left at this point such a loss.

    My condolences to those close to him, and thanks Al for leaving a body of work that looks as beautiful now as it did when you first put pencil to paper.

  4. I have admired Al’s (hey, great first name!) work since I first saw it, maybe in Creepy magazines.

    I had the great fortune to say hi to him once at a Comicon in Toronto, where he signed one of my copies of SquaTront, i believe it was. They had printed some of his sketches to accompany an article, and he looked at me quizzically when I asked him to sign these quickie little roughs… that magazine was my only sample of his work that wasn’t stashed away in storage.

    A gentleman, with a terrific rendering style. Goodbye, Al.

  5. Seeing Al’s Flash Gordon strips (collected in book format) and his Star Wars work was the first time I really took notice, admired and became intimidated by an artis (it’s still intimidating). His work seemed too good, too perfect to be made with normal human abilities. I will truly miss seeing his work and I hope we can see his work collected soon.

  6. Wow, that’s so sad to hear. I didn’t realize Al was even that old. I guess the man, like his art, just seemed timeless to me. I grew up on his Star Wars comics (still have that gorgeous oversized adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back) and I had followed his inking work right up until a few years ago. He seemed like a fixture, someone who would always be around.

    We’re lucky he left so much work to remember him by, he was a true master of the art form.

  7. His women had the classic beauty of Grace Kelly, and the lines drawn so smooth as if they were sung by Marvin Gaye. Another true master of the medium. R.I.P.

  8. Birthdays in one hand, passings in the other….

    69 years just doesn’t seem long enough for a human lifespan anymore, but he created a lot during it. I am probably much more influenced by his work than I’m aware… Square-jawed, black-haired heroes, adventurous heroines, and the whole lot.

  9. I’m reading this and I can feel the eyes getting wet. Never met the man, but met his artistry in publication after publication.

    Mr. Williamson, I can honestly say that for many of us who love the adventure strips you were our dreamer.

  10. AL Williamson was my favorite of the group of artists mentioned above. His art was lush and beautiful and any situation became believable in his hands. Many artists become parodies of themselves as time passes, their style overtaking their draftsmanship. Al Williamson never fell prey to this. He maintained a level of consistency that may never be matched. I true giant has passed today.

  11. Al Williamson was one of a kind. His loss is felt, but as with Frank Frazetta, thank God he gave us so much wonderful work over the course of his lifetime. We are poorer for his presence, but richer for the gifts given, which live on in reprints and through the artists he inspired.

    Well done, Al. Well done indeed!

    Lance Roger Axt
    The AudioComics Company

  12. I learned more from four panels of Al Williamson’s work than I did from four years of art school. Thank you for your amazing and inspiring art.

    Cliff Galbraith
    Red Bank, NJ

  13. MARVEL Star Wars #39 – #44 were my introduction to Al Williamson’s work… and later, his FLASH GORDON was a revelation.

    THIS was how Space Opera should look— dashing heroes and damsels, detailed spaceships, and all those planets and stars crowding the vast reaches of Space!


  14. Goodbye, Al. Your inking was very distinctive and left a big impression on my mind. You’ve left a large and prolific body of work behind you for us. Thank you.

  15. Al Williamson was a true art hero of mine. I saw his art first in the Weird Science and Weird Fantasy reprints, and It stood out to me then, even before I learned to appreciate Wally Wood and Jack Kamen. even as my tastes changed, Al williamson still holds up. It’s a shame that latter-day comics didn’t have that much space for him as a penciller, and that he may be considered under the shadow of Alex Raymond. Any artist with that level of draftsmanship can stand on his own, despite influences.

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