Al Williamson was a people person. He loved having them around and his studio often had multiple assistants and visiting friends beavering away on comics pages. I got a seat because I knew how to letter. Al had taken on the comics adaption of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and was finding the Marvel method of shipping the pencils to the letterer taking too much time considering the tight deadlines. He needed someone who could stay at his house and spend a week or so lettering each issue. He’d seen my lettering, so he knew I was not exactly in the same league with Ben Oda, but he asked me to come up to Honesdale and pitch in. He and Carlos Garzon were starting the second issue.
Carlos was a master at getting the tech details of the Millennium Falcon and Star Destroyers to perfection. But both he and Al were having trouble envisioning the Imperial Walkers that showed up in the script. Lucas Film had only sent two grainy polaroids of the model used to create the scenes in the movie. Al was fretting so I offered to try and make sense of it with some sketches. I’d worked as a mechanic in my early years and had a reasonable familiarity with how machinery worked. I spent an hour or two figuring out how the thing would have to function and what the parts we couldn’t see in the photos might look like. Al was so delighted he put me to work penciling the Walkers throughout the whole sequence. When the film came out we were delighted to see we’d somehow caught the whole flavor of the Walker attack as staged by director, Irving Kirshner.
In terms of the lettering, this was my first hands-on work with Archie Goodwin’s scripts. Al had a highly evolved sense of how he wanted the lettering to integrate with the graphics which was more elegant than standard Marvel Comics fare and Archie knew exactly how to write for it. I began to absorb Archie’s style like I had Bob Kanigher’s while working on Sgt. Rock backup stories at Kubert School. I very much wanted to write my own stuff and Archie (who I’d read as a kid in CREEPY) became even more of an influence as I scratched out his words and phrasing with an FB-6.
As the EMPIRE STRIKES BACK adaption moved relentlessly forward, Al had me doing other background bits, like the trash dumping out of the Star Destroyer, the rocks in the asteroid belt and the tech in that final laser swordfight between Luke and Vader. Al seemed to like how I imagined and penciled organic shapes. His pen flew over them like magic leaving the most incredible ink lines and textures. More about that in the next installment.