Marvel Remembers Al Williamson

Looking back on the momentous and prolific career of a comic book legend

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By Jim Beard

Marvel Comics sadly notes the death of comic book and comic strip legend Al Williamson, a consummate professional and a true friend of the House of Ideas. Creator, teacher and mentor, he leaves behind an incredible breadth of work as his legacy.

Williamson, born in 1931 in New York City, saw his first forays into the comic field in the late 1940's with such companies as American, Avon and Fawcett and by 1952 fell into the orbit of the infamous EC Comics. There he found good fortune working alongside professional artists the likes of Wally Wood, Joe Orlando and Frank Frazetta. By the mid-1950's, Williamson went to work for Marvel's predecessor, Atlas Comics, where he

TWO-GUN KID
excelled on many adventurous titles but most prominently Westerns such as KID COLT OUTLAW and RAWHIDE KID.

By 1957, the artist perfected the then-standard three-to-five page story format at Atlas, impacting books like MARVEL TALES, ASTONISHING, BATTLE, WORLD OF FANTASY, and the early, seminal versions of STRANGE TALES and JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY. The 1950's would prove to be an incredibly prolific time for Williamson, as a penciler whose work would later be held up as an example of professionalism and polish.

As comic books hit a temporary downturn, the 1960's brought comic strip work for Williamson, most notably "Rip Kirby," created by one of his major artistic inspirations, the legendary Alex Raymond, and "Secret Agent Corrigan." The decade also saw the artist come into contact with the character he'd become famously associated with for the rest of his life: Flash Gordon, another brain-child of his idol Raymond's. In 1964 and 1965, he helped launch Warren Magazine's "CREEPY" and "EERIE," and through those publications continued to foster his ties with Frazetta and fellow artist Gray Morrow, as well as future Marvel editor Archie Goodwin.

Recognition of his work and its impact on the industry took root as early as the 1970's and Williamson found himself the focus of a book collecting his art in 1971 as well as seeing his early Atlas stories reprinted by Marvel beginning in 1970. Then, in 1980, he was hand-picked by Archie Goodwin and George Lucas himself, both longtime admirers of Williamson, to illustrate MARVEL SUPER SPECIAL #16, the official comics adaptation of

MARVEL SUPER SPECIAL #16
"The Empire Strikes Back." This kicked off a long association for Williamson with "Star Wars," which brought him work on both the Marvel comic series and the "Star Wars" comic strip, with Goodwin writing the latter.

Williamson's great standing in the comic book community as one of its greatest inkers began in the 1980's, as he laid down ink over a multitude of artists.

Perhaps the Marvel series he's best known for would be DAREDEVIL. From 1986 to 1991, Williamson embellished almost 50 issues of the series over the pencils of such luminaries as Sal Buscema, Lee Weeks and John Romita Jr. Longtime Marvel editor Ralph Macchio fondly remembers his days with Williamson on the Man Without Fear's series.

"I was privileged to know Al when I edited the DAREDEVIL title at a time John Romita Jr. was penciling it," he says. "Al was the inker and, in terms of quality and timeliness, he was untouchable. His fine lines brought a new dimension of excitement to JR's superb pencils and helped give that book a truly distinctive look. And boy was he fast! John would hardly be done penciling a batch of pages and Al would already be done inking them!"

This mastery in inking later brought Williamson to more Marvel projects as the 1990's dawned, including SPIDER-MAN 2099, FANTASTIC FOUR 2099, NEW MUTANTS, PUNISHER and over 60 issues of SPIDER-GIRL with artist Patrick Oliffe and later Ron Frenz. As the new century arrived, he slowly

DAREDEVIL: THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR by John Romita Jr. & Al Williamson
acclimated to the idea of retirement but also became a worthy recipient of the industry's top awards and more than a few volumes of retrospectives on his weighty career.

In a moving public statement, the artist's family said that Williamson "took inspiration from a legion of cartoonists, illustrators and motion pictures from the first half of the Twentieth Century and created works of timeless appeal-and then he passed that inspiration on to new generations of comic creators."

"I remember when Al would come down occasionally to the Marvel offices to chat with Archie Goodwin and I would hang on every word spoken between them because I knew I was in the presence of two giants," notes Macchio. "Al was a gregarious fellow and a great kidder. It was a real pleasure to be in his company. There wasn't any aspect of the graphic arts he hadn't mastered and yet he was quite humble about his favored place in this industry. I cherish the time I was able to work with Al and just shoot the breeze with him. He was one of the greats and we won't see his like again."

Marvel Comics proudly salutes Al Williamson, artist extraordinaire.

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2 comments
Huw-J-
Huw-J-

I was saddened to hear of Als departure, he was a true Gent a great talent and on the occassions I met him He made me laugh. our thoughts and best wishes go out to his loved ones from Huw-J- and all at Markosia.

Tim_Id
Tim_Id

Well said. What an extraordinary talent Al Williamson was. I remember his Star Wars strips when they were first published. Dark Horse collected several volumes of it. His inks over JR, Jr on Dareveil made for top notch visuals every issue, and for many beautiful individual panel images. His art had an uncommon elegance and grace in it. I hope somewhere out there are pages of Conan drwn by John Buscema and inked by Al Williamson. I seem to remember seeing them, but it may only be wishful thinking that they exist. They did work together on the original Wolverine feature in Marvel Comics Presents. Some of the greatest are passing into legend this year. Despite how glamorous that may sound, it's stll sad to see them go.