Al Williamson

Al Williamson
Al Williamson is one of the unsung greats of comics art. Well, perhaps “undersung” is a better word (if it is a word), in that those aware of his contributions are usually great admirers, but his work is not as widely known among contemporary comics readers as it should be (not by a long shot).

Williamson occupies a unique place in the history of comics, acting as a kind of bridge between the dazzling full page newspaper adventure comics of the early 20th Century (and the traditions of the great 19th Century pen and ink illustrators that they embodied) and the modern comics upheaval and revolutions of the late 20th Century.

At the early stages of his career, Williamson fell smack in the middle, going to work for the notorious EC comics in 1952, where he was the youngster amid legendary comics greats like Frank Frazetta, Roy Krenkel, Wally Wood and others. His striking science fiction work graced the pages and covers of EC titles like Weird Science and Weird Fantasy, and influenced the generations of comic artists who were growing up at the time, goggle-eyed with flashlights under the covers, reading his lavishly illustrated tales of outer space adventures and outlandish monsters.

Prior to his work with EC, Williamson studied with Burne Hogarth, and assisted him on pages for his Tarzan Sunday newspaper strip. Newspaper adventure comics were dying at the time, however, under pressure from other forms of entertainment and economic squeezing from newspaper editors, and what would have seemed Williamson’s natural place became something of a dead end.

Though he worked within the increasingly restrictive format of small daily adventure news paper strips off and on for years, he also moved into comic books, where adventure comics went and morphed into something different in the middle of the century, and he followed them into the latter half of the century, working for the Warren comics magazines (image above, 2nd from top) and Marvel Comics in its heyday, where he was known in particular for his work on a series of Star Wars comics.

All the while he carried forward his love for the great adventure comics, and especially his admiration for the work of Alex Raymond, creator of Flash Gordon, and one of the all time greats of comics art (more on Alex Raymond in a future post).

Williamson had a chance to step into Raymond’s considerably large shoes on several occasions, taking over his spy adventure newspaper strip Secret Agent X-9, which became Secret Agent Corrigan and moved from film-noir to James Bond style adventures (image above, bottom and detail), ably scripted by Archie Goodwin. He also assisted John Prentice, who took the reins of Raymond’s Rip Kirby strip.

Williamson worked on several versions of Raymond’s star character Flash Gordon (image above, top), the strip that had obviously been such and influence on him, from the amazing King Comics version in the 1960’s to the Marvel Comics version in the ’90s (more on Williamson’s Flash Gordon work in a subsequent post).

Unfortunately, though there are scattered resources, I can’t find a major repository of Williamson’s work in the web, so it’s hard to convey the grace of his figures, the elegance of his pen lines, the chiaroscuro drama of his spotted blacks, the dynamics of his compositions or the ground breaking inventiveness of his storytelling and panel layouts. I also can’t lead you directly to great examples of his astonishingly rendered details, applied with a delicate finesse that never leaves the impression of gratuitous unnecessary fiddling, unlike so many lesser artists whose grasp of the use of pen and ink textures will never approach Williamson’s.

The only thing I can supply, apart from those resources I can list, is a hearty recommendation that those of you with any appreciation for great adventure comics art, or graphic stories told with superb draftsmanship and a subtle command of the visual language of the great pen and ink illustrators, who are not yet familiar with Williamson, treat yourself to one of the many printed collections available that feature his work.

There is a recent book collecting some of his short story work, titled Al Williamson Adventures, from Insight Studios (more here). The limited edition hardcover has apparently come and gone, and I’m unsure of the status of the softcover edition (if it’s out, Insight needs to promote it better, I couldn’t even find mention of it on their web site.)

Fortunately, there is a great new collection from Flesk Publications, Al Williamson’s Flash Gordon: A Lifelong Vision of the Heroic. This book is so terrific I’m going to make it the topic of a separate post.

Time Out’s 50 greatest animated films, with added commentary by Terry Gilliam

My Neighbor Totoro, directed by Hayao Miyazaki; Walt Disney's Fantasia, (multiple directors); Akira, directed by Katsuhiro Otomo; and The Iron Giant, directed by Brad Bird
“Greatest” and “best” lists always elicit responses of varying degrees of disagreement, as they are meant to do, from “Well, maybe…” to “You’ve got to be kidding!”, and this list, Time Out’s 50 greatest animated films, with added commentary by Terry Gilliam, is no exception.

That’s the fun of it, of course, you’re prompted to fire up your own list, and run through your favorites with a mind to comparison and debate.

This one certainly gave me plenty of occasions to say “You’ve got to be kidding!”, but on the whole it was enjoyably thought provoking; and I have to say I was actually surprised at how often I agreed, even in the selection of the #1 animated film.

The interesting angle here, of course, is the added commentary by ex-Python and celebrated director of cinematic weirdness, Terry Gilliam, himself no stranger to animation, which livens up the proceedings (and produces it’s share of “Huh?” moments as well).

There aren’t a lot of images, but each film is illustrated with at least one image, and if your curiosity if piqued, you gan crank up Google Image Search to look for more.

At the very least, it’s a list to investigate for interesting and often terrific animated films you may not have seen.

(Images above: My Neighbor Totoro, directed by Hayao Miyazaki; Walt Disney’s Fantasia, (multiple directors); Akira, directed by Katsuhiro Otomo; and The Iron Giant, directed by Brad Bird.)

Frits Thaulow (update)

Frits Thaulow
Norwegian painter and engraver Frits Thaulow long ago became one of my favorite artists on the basis of a single painting in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Water Mill. I make a point of visiting it every time I’m at the museum.

This stunningly beautiful and dramatically large painting embodies Thaulow’s wonderful touch with the portrayal of small bodies of water. He captures again and again the mercurial effects of light as it dances over, under and through the rippled surfaces of small streams, canals, mill races and rivers.

Thaulow is often classed as a “Norwegian Impressionist”, and it’s interesting to compare his paintings to works by Sisley and Caillebotte; but like most painters outside the circle of original French Impressionism, he was actually a painter who learned when he liked from the French painters, but took it in his own direction, with a more naturalistic academic draftsmanship underlying the vibrant colors and painterly brushwork.

For that reason, and because of his command of light, color and tonal subtleties, I think of him in comparison to painters labeled “American Impressionists”, like William Merritt Chase, Childe Hassam, Edmund Tarbell, and Daniel Garber.

When I first wrote about Thaulow for Lines and Colors back in 2006, there were few resources available and most of them frustratingly repeated the same 6 or 8 images. Last year, I wrote specifically about Thaulow’s Water Mill, and resorted to posting my own photo.

Since then, I’m delighted to say, resources for viewing Thaulow’s work on the web have expanded considerably, and you can now get a sense of his overall range of subject matter and approach.

In particular, Allpaintings Art Portal has an extensive collection of Thaulow’s work; be sure to click through on the text link above the main image for the larger version (see my post on Allpaintings Art Portal). There are other new and expanded resources, and I’ve listed as many as I can find below.

It’s obvious that interest is growing in the work of this wonderful Norwegian painter. Maybe it will even convince a publisher to bring out a new English edition of Vidar Poulsson’s hard to find book on Frits Thaulow. (See Vidar Poulsson’s comments on my original post for more details about the book.)

I’m particularly delighted to report that Thaulow’s Water Mill, which had disappointingly been rotated out of view and into storage last year, has been returned to view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. (Thanks to Barbara Lesley for letting me know.)

It’s like having an old friend move back into town.

New Leonardo Discovered?

New Leonardo Discovered?
You will sometimes hear talk of the “Van Gogh in the attic”; the thought that somewhere are lost artistic gems, set aside, forgotten or misclassified for some reason, waiting for discovery in a dusty attic somewhere in the back streets of Paris or London, perhaps sitting on a shelf in an antique store waiting for you to pick it up for next to nothing.

You’ll just as often hear that “it simply doesn’t happen”; but, in fact, new works by the world’s great artists are occasionally uncovered, either by actual discovery of previously unknown works or by changes in attribution of known pieces, like the recent re-attribution of Portrait of a Man to Velázquez.

In another case of re-attribution that is unfolding at the moment, a portrait thought to have been by an unknown German artist from the 19th Century has been identified as a work by Leonardo da Vinci. If true, it is a rare find indeed, the first additional work to be assigned to Leonardo in over 100 years.

The rendering, which has been in the hands of private collectors, is in ink and colored chalks. Though some things can be determined about the work by it’s style, such as the left-handedness of the artist, it was not attributed to Da Vinci, or any of his contemporaries. Because of it’s more modern approach (and despite the Renaissance dress of the subject, a young girl shown in profile) it was thought to fit in with stylistic characteristics of a different time and place.

The attribution is being made on the basis of a fingerprint, found in the upper left edge of the canvas (image above, top right), that has been analyzed and matched to another fingerprint in one of the master’s other works. (Leonardo, like many artists, got his hands into his work and left fingerprints in a number of paintings.)

Though the official jury is still out, art historians are falling into agreement that that work is indeed by Leonardo.

There seem to be many more stories covering the discovery in the UK and European press than here in the States (why am I not surprised?), and I’ll provide some links to some of them below. The first one, from TimesOnline, includes a video that has the best close-ups of the piece that I could find. Hopefully, we’ll see more of it in time.

Though most of the stories emphasize the monetary worth of the piece, like some museum level version of Antiques Road Show, the real value lies in what an additional work can tell us about one of the great masters of Western art.

Hey Oscar Wilde! It’s Clobberin’ Time!

Hey Oscar Wilde! It's Clobberin' Time!: Oscar Wilde by Stephen Silver, Alan Moore by Frazer Irving, Captain Nemo by Chris Sprouse, Jim Harrison by Tommy Lee Edwards, Alice in Wonderland by Steve Rude (in Gibson Girl style), Hayao Miyazaki by Kazu Kibuishi, Frankenstein's Monster by William Stout, Raymond Chandler by Adam Hughes and George Orwell by Kevin Nowlan.
It’s a common practice among contemporary comics artists to do commissioned sketches or even fully realized drawings for fans and collectors.

Often collectors will commission drawings by a number of artists on a single theme, and create over time a collection of themed works by an extensive and diverse list of creators.

Such is the case with the collection displayed on a site titled Hey Oscar Wilde! It’s Clobberin’ Time!, by a collector whose name I don’t know (email address suggests “sgettis”, presumably S. Gettis).

The collection is centered on the theme of asking each artist to portray a favorite literary figure, author or character. This collection has been in progress since 1998, and has been displayed on the web in several forms. I wrote about it in one of its previous incarnations back in 2005 as Artistic interpretations of Literary Figures.

Since then the collection has continued to grow and now includes an impressive list of artists and a fascinatingly diverse list of literary figures. You can browse the collection by either from lists in the right sidebar.

The collection includes a number of comics artists and illustrators I’ve featured previously on Lines and Colors. In the list below, the first link is to the original drawing on the Hey Oscar Wilde! site, second is to my post about the artist.

Images above: Oscar Wilde by Stephen Silver, Alan Moore by Frazer Irving, Captain Nemo by Chris Sprouse, Jim Harrison by Tommy Lee Edwards, Alice in Wonderland by Steve Rude (in Gibson Girl style), Hayao Miyazaki by Kazu Kibuishi (see my post on Hayao Miyazaki), Frankenstein’s Monster by William Stout, Raymond Chandler by Adam Hughes and George Orwell by Kevin Nowlan.

Addendum: the collector’s name is Steven Gettis. [Thanks to Dennis van Zwieten for the tip.]

Lorenz Stöer

Lorenz Stoer
Lorenz Stöer was a German printmaker and painter active in the late 16th Century. His wonderfully idiosyncratic visions of geometric forms in landscapes of imagined architecture have recently been brought to light for us by that master discoverer of the idiosyncratic and arcane, peacay, whose ever-fascinating blog BibliOdyssey is a treasure trove (and dangerously fascinating rabbit-hole) of the strange and wonderful. (See my previous posts on BibliOdyssey here and here.)

Stöer seems to be obscure except for a published folio of 11 woodcuts titled Geometria et Perspectiva, of which the image above is an example. But an unpublished portfolio of color drawings discovered at the Munich Library has in recent years been attributed to him.

Peacay has provided not only examples from both on the BibliOdyssey page, but a Flickr set which features the images in high resolution.

There is also a reproduction of the folio here, but peacay’s sets are much better quality. You may want to supplement your enjoyment of the woodcuts with some background about polyhedra here and here (for some reason, I just love this stuff).

Stöer’s fascination with geometric solids was apparently the inspiration for other artists, like the creator of the intricate marquetery on this Collector’s Cabinet from the same time.

I would also have to assume that his polyhedral fantasias, oddly arranged architectural facades and stacked stairways were a direct influence on the fantastic geometry and math inspired works of M.C. Escher.