It’s a fairly common practice among comics artists to publish “sketchbooks”, sometimes literally that, sometimes collections of more finished drawings. In them we can often see the artist at play, doing preliminary sketches for art from stories with which we’re familiar, indulging in imaginative flights of fancy, doodling, practicing and learning.
Rarely do we get to see this kind of work from comic art masters like Al Williamson.
Flesk Publications has come through again with a beautiful first volume in what I hope will be an extended series of books, Al Williamson Archives Volume 1. Flesk sent me a review copy, and I’m really impressed with the book.
Williamson’s approach was often very finished, with his beautiful drawing and elegant ink lines brought to a state of delicate balance between informal fluidity and refined polish; but here we get to see his drawings more as drawings, both in pencil and in ink, in various states of finish.
We get to see Williamson as draftsman, as playful inventor, as restless craftsman and as dedicated student of the art of graphic storytelling.
There are sketches and drawings from all phases of his career — science fiction heroes, dinosaurs and spooky swamps from the EC Comics days, ERB Tharks, studies of Rip Kirby, Secret Agent Corrigan and of course Flash Gordon. There are also projects I wasn’t aware of, like an unfinished page for an 8 page Xenozoic Tales story on which he and Mark Schultz were collaborating.
Sketchbooks like these are a bonanza for students of the art form, in that you get to see a master of the art as he works and learns and refines his craft. Here we see Williamson learning from Alex Raymond, who he admired greatly, and the influences from his friends and associates, Roy Krenkel, Wally Wood and Frank Frazetta, as well as sketches, both playful and businesslike, in which he works out solutions to challenges of composition, anatomy and rendering.
The book, as with all of Flesk’s books, is beautifully produced, but Flesk has gone beyond that, with an archivist’s eye and a fan’s enthusiasm, in the accurate presentation of the sketches and drawings on the original paper on which they were drawn.
Whether yellowed with age, wrinkled, cracked or touched up with white-out, Flesk has resisted the temptation to adjust levels, “clean up” the drawings and print them monochromatically on a white background; presenting them instead as full color images of the originals. It’s as if you were lovingly picking them up out of Williamson’s flat file drawer, discovering one long lost treasure after another.