Working With Al Williamson On Star Wars

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.

  1. Paul Chadwick June 21st, 2010 9:12 am

    How I envy you this experience.

    Particularly how nice it must’ve felt to have Al’s gratitude for solving the Snow-walker problem.

    If that were me, I would’ve glowed for days.

    Great artist, wonderful man.

  2. Stuart Moores June 21st, 2010 9:29 am

    I had no idea you’d worked on that book. Nice story!

  3. […] the second part of Steve Ringgenberg's 1984 interview with the legendary artist, and Rick Veitch recalls working with Williamson on Marvel's adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back. [The New York […]

  4. Zack Blackstone June 22nd, 2010 1:04 am

    Thanks for doing this, Rick. A while back I ordered a big box of back issues of The Comics Journal. A week or so ago I feel like reading the issue with Al Williamson’s interview – and do so..the very next time I come to your site I get the news.

  5. simontm June 22nd, 2010 9:13 am

    Fascinatin and oops I may have to edit my blogpost on the sad passing-away of Al.

    In it I said that despite the many great artists that have drawn Star Wars, for people like me in the UK, he always be THE Star Wars artist.

    Over here we would have to wait for months for film releases so it was through comic adaptations that we wetted our appetites before release dates – and that is where I first came across Al!

  6. Sean Price June 22nd, 2010 10:06 am

    My first introduction to Al’s work was through this book as an 11 year old boy. Being a huge Star Wars fan – I had low expectations of how Marvel would adapt this. How wrong I was. Still to this day my fav comic book film adaption. Al will be missed.

  7. Grant June 24th, 2010 10:52 am

    Thanks for showing me so much with this Blog. Im just a young one and I find so much inspiration here. I never knew who Al was before i saw he had passed on your Blog, but now Im in love with his work.