1983: The Art of Al Williamson

The Complete Pacific Comics Re-Reading Blog Series presents:

The Art of Al Williamson

by James van Hise

The Art of Al Williamson (1983) #1

This is Pacific’s only book about comics…

… or should I say, Blue Dolphin Enterprises, inc. For some reason or other the Schanes brothers set up this separate entity to publish a few of the books they did. I think looking at the list they published, they’re all… older comics or about older comics? But the Frank Thorne book isn’t very old, so it’s all a bit confusing.

Anyway, I’m covering the Blue Dolphin books in this blog, too.

So this book is about Al Williamson, the artist most famous for his EC science fiction comics of the 50s, and later for his Agent Corrigan and Star Wars newspaper strips.

The book is in “album” size, on nice white thick paper, and runs on for 144 pages, which was quite a lot back in those days. The bulk of the book consists of interviews: The longest by far is with Williamson himself, but there’s also a bunch of interviews with people he worked with.

In addition, there’s a couple of text pieces that are kinda… uhm… William Stout insists that (as opposed to Raymond), Williamson is just a kid. But I think he means that in a positive way.

The historical overview by Robert Strauss exemplifies the oblivious manner in which “comics scholarship” happened back in those days. For instance, here he’s retelling the absolutely weird plot of the “50 Girls 50” story published by EC Comics. It’s about a psychopath planning to rape and kill fifty women.

It has an O Henry ending, of course, but Strauss main comment on the horrifying story is “His two frost-free females are perhaps the most desirable ever reproduced on four-color newsprint. And yes, despite the title, you only get a good glimpse of those two in the story. Should you still slaver for a peek at some of the other forty-eight, you’ll have to content yourself with the ones Wood shows on the cover.”

I mean… I can’t even. My level of can’t even is beyond.

But once the Strauss bits are over, the book improves. We get, for instance, some of the pictures Williamson takes of himself as models for his artwork, and I’ve totally seen all those poses before in Williamson’s artwork, so I find that fascinating.

I also find these bits where Williamson details who did what in the comics attributed to him interesting, but… Hise doesn’t print the stories or panels anywhere, so we can’t really see what Williamson is talking about. It’s a huge missed opportunity.

About a quarter of the book is reprints of Williamson-illustrated comics, mostly from the late 50s. The artwork’s great, of course, but I didn’t really find the stories enthralling.

Among the many people who are interviewed, Bill Gaines is er one.

That’s the art sample Williamson did to land the EC Comics gig. Nice. But not very well reproduced: Back in 1983, reproducing un-inked art wasn’t something that was well-handled.

Some of the interviews are pretty minuscule.

And then we get 30 pages of Agent Corrigan, which I think is a weird choice… mainly because it’s so available everywhere. Or perhaps it wasn’t back in the early 80s? I’m pretty sure I have all the Corrigan strips in multiple editions by now, though.

And then we round out the book by an exhausting index of everything Williamson has done.

I have to say that I think this book is surprisingly well-made. The focus on interviewing primary sources makes this a lot more interesting than somebody bloviating about the subject of the book, which is the standard way of doing it. And the artwork selected is very nice.

I’ve been unable to find any reviews of the book except this one on Amazon:

The other interviews are all well done, and there is an excellent essay by William Stout as well. This is a great book to start with if you are an Al Williamson fan, or someone who is just now discovering the work of this wonderful artist.