Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Al Williamson RIP

Al Williamson, Illustrator of Comic Books, Dies at 79

June 20, 2010

Flash Gordon fires his ray gun to blast a path toward Ming the Merciless, tyrant of the doomed planet Mongo.

Secret Agent Corrigan crosses swords with his Carpathian nemesis as he rescues the shapely Russian spy Karla Kopak.

Luke Skywalker straddles a winged serpent to swoop down the Great Well of the distant planet Kabal.

Those are among the thousands of images Al Williamson sketched as one of America’s pre-eminent artists of comic books and newspaper comic strips.

Mr. Williamson died on June 12 in upstate New York, his wife, Cori, said. He was 79.

In a career that lasted more than 50 years, Mr. Williamson worked for nearly every major comics publisher, including EC, Marvel, King, Classics Illustrated, Dark Horse and Dell.

“He was one of the more sublimely talented artists to work in mainstream comics,” said Tom Spurgeon, editor of the online magazine Comics Reporter. “His men were handsome, his women were beautiful, and the landscapes he drew — alien or westerns or battlefields — always seemed lushly authentic. He made panels you could lose yourself in.”

Mark Schultz, author of “Al Williamson’s Flash Gordon: A Lifelong Vision of the Heroic” (Flesk Publications, 2009), a collection of Mr. Williamson’s Flash Gordon images, offered a similar assessment.

“What made his work unique is that he incorporated the fluid motion of cinema into his drawings,” Mr. Schultz said. “No other illustrator or cartoonist has approached his ability to create an illusion of action.”
Mr. Williamson is probably best known for his interpretations of Flash Gordon, the interstellar adventurer created by Alex Raymond in the mid-1930s. Mr. Williamson illustrated Flash Gordon comic books in the 1960s and returned to the character in 1980, drawing an adaptation of the Flash Gordon motion picture released that year. In the 1990s, he produced a Flash Gordon series for Marvel and later contributed to the Sunday strip.

Mr. Williamson first made his professional mark at 17 as the youngest contributor to EC, the publisher of somewhat notorious horror tales, as well as combat stories and science fiction. He specialized in illustrations for EC’s Weird Science and Weird Fantasy titles.

For 13 years, starting in 1967, Mr. Williamson drew the newspaper strip “Secret Agent Corrigan,” another adaptation of a character originated by Raymond in the 1930s, first known only as Secret Agent X-9.
When George Lucas, producer of the “Star Wars” movies, was asked who should draw the comics version, he turned to the man whose Flash Gordon images he greatly admired. With “The Empire Strikes Back” due for release in 1980, Mr. Williamson began working on Marvel’s comic book versions of “Star Wars,” as well as a newspaper strip.

Alfonso Williamson was born in Manhattan on March 21, 1931, one of two children of Sally and Alfonso Williamson. His father, of Scottish descent, was a citizen of Colombia, and soon after his son was born the family moved to Bogotá.

When the boy was 9, his mother took him to the movies. He saw a chapter in the “Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe” serial, was enraptured, and started sketching scenes from memory.
The family returned to New York when Alfonso was 13. He took classes at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School in Manhattan (now the School of Visual Arts), and was later hired by EC.

Mr. Williamson’s first wife, the former Arlene Sattler, died in 1977. In addition to his wife of 32 years, the former Cori Pasquier, he is survived by his sister, Liliana Gonzalez Williamson; a daughter, Valerie Lalor; and a son, Victor.

The last Flash Gordon images drawn by Mr. Williamson show the hero leading rebels in an attack on Ming’s mountain fortress, then dueling with Ming until the tyrant leaps into a volcanic crater to avoid being captured.

“Which, of course, allows him to return another day,” Mr. Schultz said. “You never want to show the reader the body.”

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