More Al Williamson Memories

So, I became an on-again off-again jack-of-all-trades assistant to Al Williamson. Sometimes I lettered, sometimes I colored, sometimes I did breakdowns, sometimes I penciled backgrounds and other times Cindy and I just visited and I brought my own stuff to work on. Early on, Al and Cori would put me up in the spare bedroom downstairs where I found complete collections of Hal Foster’s PRINCE VALIANT and TARZAN and Alex Raymond’s FLASH GORDAN clipped from newspapers and bound in spiral notebooks. Over my many working visits, I got to read them all. Talk about an education!

Al had a regular group of local creative types who met with for lunch at the local diner. The tone of these gatherings was often hilarious with everyone razzing everyone else in a good natured way. Al’s ongoing banter with the waitresses, who gave as good as they got, was most memorable. Everyone knew that if Al was razzing you it meant he loved you.

But the best part of working with Al was watching him ink. His hands moved in the most incredible way; rotating the pen or brush from the wrist which is how he got those elegant swooping lines. By the 1980’s, when I was lucky enough to work with him, he’d become so much more than an Alex Raymond clone; having absorbed every great inking style of the last 100 years and made it his own.

I was penciling the ABRAXAS piece above when Al walked by my desk and said “Tell you what, sport– when you finish with that, why don’t you let me ink it?.” Although my figure work wasn’t up to his standards, Al seemed naturally attracted to the organic shapes I used in my pencils. He would ink them in a very relaxed manner; just for the damn fun of it. And the gorgeous textures that flowed from his pen are the indelible record of an authentic master’s performance art. Click on the image to see a larger version and check out what I mean.

  1. Oscar Solis June 26th, 2010 10:55 am

    I’m enjoying reading the posts about Al Williamson. Great stuff.

    A question (actually, a couple): While a lot of artists tend to work in a solitary manner, Al Williamson seemed to have a group around him. Did it charge him creatively to work this way?

    My second question what would be his tools: As a guy who draws (favorite pen: esterbrook 048 falcon), I’m always curious to know what an artist kiles to use when it comes to paper, pen and brush choices:

    By the way, Abraxus and the Earthman was, and still is, a beautiful piece of work.

  2. Jimmy June 26th, 2010 11:21 am

    Thank you so much for sharing (all of) this !

    It’s ver moving.


  3. Rick June 26th, 2010 4:14 pm

    Al liked to have people around because it helped him get started. He tended to fret a lot, especially first thing in the morning; expressing doubt in his own abilities (this from one of the greatest pen and ink men the world has ever produced!)

    Anyone who knew Al, understood what was going on and learned to respond with a humorous zinger, which usually knocked him out of his mood and got him going. If that failed, I’d just sit down and get started on something, and that would bring him around. Once he was in the chair (which had once been Alex Raymond’s) he was as contented as a clam.

    About his inking tools; in the early 1980’s he relied a lot on croquilles, both stiff and loose and in various stages of newness. If a pen gave him trouble he immediately pitched it. He also relied on a the Hunt 100, 101 and 502. There was a larger Hunt nib too, which I can’t remember the number of but we used to call a “Schooltip” he liked for certain heavier effects. He had a supply of European brushes which might have been early Raphael’s. Later in his career, when he was mostly inking Marvel comics, he relied more and more on the croquilles. I never saw him use a technical pen.

  4. Paul O'Keefe June 29th, 2010 7:58 pm

    Man I miss Al’s inking. I really enjoyed his inking over John Romita JR on Daredevil and anything done by Rick Leonardi.

    I had no idea you guys worked together. Al Williamson will be sorely missed.

  5. Valerie Williamosn Lalor June 6th, 2011 6:09 pm

    Hi Rick! Thank you for sharing your memories of Dad. He really did enjoy your company and your work – “what a great guy”, was a good sign he liked you 😉 As a kid, I always looked forward to your visits – it was a great excuse to eat at the big table and see a movie… and you were great about letting this nosy kid peer over your shoulder while you worked. Thank you!!! – Val