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.
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.
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.