Lines and Colors art blog

Al Williamson Archives

Al Williamson Archives
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.

You can see a preview of some of the drawings on the Flesk website, where you can also order the book directly from the new Flesk Publications online store, or by old fashioned snail mail.


10 responses to “Al Williamson Archives

  1. John Fleskes has meticulous taste especially when it comes to the classics of illustration. His impressive list continues to grow and everything is interesting. John was also recently appointed to the board of Spectrum where I know his unique voice will be appreciated.

  2. Nuts… another great art book…. sigh…

    “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.”

    There is a Huge amount of training dvds, sketchbooks, internet classes, blogs, and forums, and live training sessions.

    How do you balance making your art, practicing art, learning art from people who inspire you, and being frugal so you can change your career to be an artist all within the confines of limited time?

    My question may seem a little off topic, but it really isn’t when most artist/student artists probably have limited time and budgets.

    Mike – Part Time Dabbling Artist.
    IMC 2010 student – Frost Titan assignment

    1. mike, I can’t tell you how to balance your time between learning and practicing your art. I will say that when you’re in the earlier stages, devote more time to learning. Something I’ve learned that has been of great value to me is that when practicing your art in the early stages, put more emphasis on quantity than quality. That may seem contradictory, but better to do 20 1-hour studies than one 20 hour painting (or comic art page). You learn more quickly.
      As for budget, avail yourself of the free resources available on the web (and in libraries). Find worthwhile older texts and look them up on Google Books and read them online. Look for instructional videoson YouTube, look for tips an techniques in artist’s blogs. An astonishing amount of free information is available. You just have to dig a bit. Don’t spend a lot of time reading about techniques without putting them to use and practicing. If you’re into illustration, look through the auctions on Heritage Auctions, sign up for a free account, and look at the high resolution reproductions of works by Golden Age illustrators.

  3. so much for being frugal. I just order the book…

    The Flesk – Harvey Dunn Pioneer West book looks really good to…

    Back to the day job…

    Mike – PTDA

  4. Nice use of inks. I enjoy color more but a take note when there are shadow and shading. That’s hard work to get just right.

  5. Thanks Charley… I appreciate the response and advice.

    Mike – PTDA

  6. Cool! You can never get enough Al Williamson. I remember as a kid seeing his work in Creepy and later Epic. Stopped me in my tracks.

  7. Scott Conner Avatar
    Scott Conner

    Fantastic book!

    And to think before the Internet, your best source of information was Roy Krenkel 😉

  8. Hi Charlie,
    Thank for a wonderful post. I am in awe of Al Williamson’s draftsmanship, though I am not a huge fan of adventure comic strips. I am looking to study his art, the way he andles ink, his thought process, etc. With that said, would you say getting both a copy of the archives and the Flash Gordon book by Flesk is a must? (even if I’d get the letter with the art, rather than the stories, in mind)? Or would the archives be good enough for that purpose?

    1. Tough one. The Archives have more about his process, with preliminary drawings, studies and pencils and inks in various stages (including half-inked pages). It is an amazing resource for WIlliamson’s process in the fidelity with which the drawings are reproduced, right down to the color and translucent nature of aging tracing paper (which Flesk has emphasized by overlapping sheets).

      The Flash Gordon volume, on the other hand, has more examples of his work, some of them at the peak of his skill.

      If I were to choose only one, I would go with the Flash Gordon book. It also has some examples of pencils and sketches, though not nearly as many or in the same variety as the archives. It also prints his finished strips very close to the true appearance of the original art. The black areas show the mottled grays of original art shot with fidelity, as opposed to the exaggerated contrast usually imposed for commercial printing of comics art.

      Also, though both are a bargain (like all Flesk books, I don’t know how he does it), the Flash Gordon book is a steal at over 250 pages of art (with a dozen in color) for only $30.

      Hard for me to say if both are “necessary”, but I have a number of books on Williamson’s art I’ve collected over the years, and these two are the best. You really can’t go wrong with either.