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Volume 3154

Al Williamson
(March 21, 1931 - June 13, 2010)

Al WilliamsonAl WilliamsonAl WilliamsonAl Williamson
From our ERBzine ERB Artist Encyclopedia in the W Section

The Burroughs / Williamson Connection

From Caz's ERB-dom Fanzine 
Issue No. 11
Edgar Rice Burroughs by Al Williamson and Reed Crandall ~ Courtesy Richard Lupoff
Edgar Rice Burroughs 
by Al Williamson and Reed Crandall
I can't remember when I didn't know about Tarzan. In Bogota, Colombia where I spent the first twelve years of my life I followed Tarzan's adventures in the newspaper comics and saw the early Tarzan movies. I was first introduced to John Carter in 1941 when a school chum gave me the John Carter of Mars big little book (Dell edition). I was fascinated by John Carter and to this day he is my favorite of all the Burroughs' characters.

After reading the big little book I was very anxious for more John Carter adventures. But it wasn't until 1948 when Burroughs Inc. reprinted all the John Carter and most of the Tarzan books that I was able to satisfy this craving. I enjoyed reading all the Tarzan and Venus stories but in my opinion, the John Carter of Mars books were the best. I started drawing "my hero" in every conceivable fencing, fighting and jumping position. For years I've doodled little John Carter figures and it became a form of relaxation whenever I had a pen in  hand to dash off a few figures in the margins of whatever paper I had before me.

My first job was penciling several Tarzan Sunday pages for Burne Hogarth in 1948. About the same time I met Roy G. Krenkel and was delighted to find a fellow artist who shared the same interests with me. Roy introduced me to the work of Fortunio Matania, J. Allen St. John and J.C. Coll. When I started doing science fiction comics I asked Roy to work with me. Then, as now, I consider him to be one of the best fantasy and science fiction artists around. He has a marvelous imagination and the talent to bring to his drawings a sense of wonder. Personally, I think Roy is a very talented and creative artist, even though he may not think he is. One of my prize possessions is an original Christmas card by R.G.K. It's a distant shot of Barsoom with red men mounted on thoats in the foreground In the sky are flying ships and the two moons of Mars. I wouldn't part with this little gem for a St. John original.

I was taking evening classes of figure drawing at Pratt Institute while Arlene was going to day classes. We met in a nearby coffee shop in the fall of 1959 and were married the following spring. I had just started working with John Prentice on the newspaper strip Rip Kirby and a year later we went to Mexico City with John and his family to work on the strip from there. It was quite an experience.

Mexico City is full of old book shops and I had the good fortune to find a few hard cover French editions of Tarzan (Hachette) which I once had as a kid in Colombia -- for a good deal of my childhood collections were lost in customs when we came to the States in 1943. While in Mexico City I noticed that Tarzan movies were very popular. A real treat for me was seeing a triple feature including Tarzan's Desert Mystery with Johnny Weissmuller, Tarzan's Revenge with Glenn Morris, and my favorite, Tarzan and the Green Goddess with Herman Brix. In my opinion, Brix is the best of all the screen tarzans. Unfortunately, Arlene couldn't enjoy the triple feature as much as I did since she was suffering with a toothache at the time.

Upon our return from Mexico I was happy to see the revived interest in Edgar Rice Burroughs ' books and I think the publishers couldn't have picked two better artists than Roy G. Krenkel and Frank Frazetta to illustrate the new editions.

The books that were given to Reed Crandall and me to illustrate have been done completely by Reed as I have been so busy with close deadline work. I've been assigned Warlord of Mars and am rereading the book now. I'm going to try to do more than the scheduled six illustrations for the book. According to Dick Lupoff, Canaveral will be publishing the complete set of John carter books. Reed and I will illustrate them, together or individually, depending upon the deadlines.

I would like to mention that it was Larry Ivie who showed my work to Dick Lupoff and he also showed my work to John Prentice which resulted in my working on Rip Kirby for the past four years. Probably the best art training I have had, has been working with John. Arlene got the job of doing maps and charts for Tales of Three Planets as a direct result of a sketch showing Pat and Dick Lupoff the routes and turns to our home in the mountains from N.Y. city. Arlene has read only a few Burroughs books, and her favourite so far is The Land That Time Forgot.

Unlike ol' Roy G I have to work in rather quiet and orderly surroundings. I usually start each day with everything in order, but by late afternoon the studio looks like a tornado has struck. It takes me about 20 minutes each evening to straighten out the mess so I can face it the next morning. I always like to have music playing when I work, whether it's the radio or the hi-fi. I have an extra desk in the studio for fellow artists, namely Roy, who bring their work when they come to visit us. Arlene sometimes works with me whenever there's lettering to be done. She is also my personal secretary who writes letters, helps with the research and keeps my collections in order.

I guess my main weakness is collecting. I've been very lucky to get a couple of Foster Tarzan originals, #257 and #283 in 1936 and one from the Egyptian sequence. I have about a six month run of the early Tarzan Sunday comic pages by Hal Foster. Alex Raymond is really my favorite artist. I have a few of his original Flash Gordon Sunday pages framed and hanging in my studio. Of interest to Burroughs fans would be the many movie stills I have from Tarzan the Ape Man with Johnny Weissmuller, Tarzan the Fearless with Buster Crabbe, New Adventures of Tarzan and Tarzan and the Green Goddess with Herman Brix.

At the present time I am working on three newspaper strips.  Besides Rip Kirby, I do one or two weeks a month of Big Ben Bolt dailies for John Cullen Murphy, and I pencil the daily Dan Flagg strip for Dan Flagg strip for Don Sherwood. One thing I would love to do is a full size, full page, Prince Valiant type Sunday page of John Carter of Mars, following the stories exactly as Burroughs wrote them.

Now that I've been doing "civilian type" artwork for the past few years, I find it difficult to return to my first love; that of drawing John Carter-Flash Gordon type figures and scenes. I find that as I get older things aren't as easy as they once seemed to be. You have to keep studying to improve your drawing. There is no point at which an artist can stop and say I now know how to draw. Also each artist develops his talent for drawing in a different direction. For instance, I could never do the intricately detailed and beautiful work that Roy does. And yet the work I do does not come easily to me. The time I spend in my studio drawing is work for me just as it is for Frank Frazetta, Reed Crandall and Roy Krenkel. And I know that everyone else in the art field who does a conscientious job works at it. Nothing comes easy!

I hope the Burroughs fans like my work, if they ever get to see any besides in ERB-dom. Arlene and I than you very much for asking us to contribute this article and hope that you find it of interest.

A Brief Autobiography from Al Williamson

I grew up in Bogota, Columbia... inspired by Carlos Clemen - Argentine artist... began to write and draw my own comic strip at age nine... discovery of Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon Sunday page really decided me to be a cartoonist... returned to New York in teens... attended Burne Hogarth's cartooning classes...

First job penciling several "Tarzan" Sunday page for Hogarth... next ten years drew science fiction and Western comic books... assisted John Prentice on "Rip Kirby" for three years... drew several "Flash Gordon" comic books for King Features Syndicate... received National Cartoonist Society award for comics in 1967... some years ago took over "X-9" daily strip from writer friend Archie Goodwin for King Features Syndicate... strip now called "Secret Agent Corrigan"... I collect newspaper strips... original comic art, records... 16 MM movies and art books.

An ERB-Related Excerpt from an Interview by S.C. Ringgenberg
in which reference is made to John Carter's influence on Flash Gordon

Ringgenberg: I always thought Flash Gordon was more like John Carter than Buck Rogers - it wasn’t so much the technology…

Williamson: That’s right. Alex Raymond, as a young kid, read the John Carter books. A friend of mine is doing a book on Alex. He’s working with the family and he’s got an interview where Alex talks about reading John Carter of Mars and Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs. So he did read Burroughs and was a fan. That’s kind of nice.

From the ERB and Space Heroes Portfolio      ::   From the Ray Cuthbert Collection

ERB Artist David Burton Remembers. . .
I first met Al when he attended the San Diego Comic Con in 2001, to receive his lifetime achievement award for his work in comics. I met him through Gary Gianni and Mark Schultz who were with me while we were there working for Wandering Star, who was publishing limited edition, illustrated hardcover books by Robert E. Howard. 

Al had come over to our booth and pretty much stayed there . He was in the same hotel as we were, so meeting him and his son Victor for breakfast and dinner was an everyday thing. When pushed by Gary to show Al my art for ERB's Mars, I did so and got one of the greatest compliments of my life. He told me: “It's about damn time somebody got it right!”. 

He had a very warm and friendly personality and we became fast friends. He loved telling me about the old days at EC and his work in comics. He had endless tales of  Roy Krenkel whom Al loved talking about. He taught me how to draw cities the way that Roy had taught him to, and he made me an Honorary member of the Feagle Gang (the exclusive artist group, not the bank robbers). He had formed this 'gang' back in 1952, along with Roy Krenkel, Angelo Torres and Frank Frazetta. The only other people who have been made members are Gary Gianni, William Stout and Mark Schultz. 

He gave me his phone number and I was honored, but didn't think I'd have the nerve to call him. It turns out I only ever had to call him a couple of times. He called me on average about 2-3 times a week. We'd talk for hours -- about the old days at EC, Roy and Frazetta, and his love for old Blues singers, his favorite being Billie Holiday. Al had been coming down with Alzheimer's, and would often repeat himself a lot. Our conversations became less and less and within a few months he wasn't calling any longer. I was told my Mark Schultz that Al couldn't remember anyone anymore. 

Something a lot of people don't know is that Al was a funny guy. The morning after he had accepted his Lifetime Achievement award at San Diego, as I was kneeling at our table filling out the form for next year's booth (long and different story) Geof Darrow started going on about how we all had to bow as that the Great One had entered.  I just started raising my hands and doing the ol' bow on knees to the ruler thing and Geof joined in and even Olivia, who had the booth across from us joined in. Al stopped, made a face and told us that we were all so full of sh*t that if we got a cut we wouldn't bleed, we'd fart. We were all laughing so hard, we were all in tears. 

I loved his art and his stories and I loved the man like a brother and will miss him. He's free of Alzheimer's and can be with his first son and can hang with Roy again.

Much of David's ERB art is featured in ERBzine starting at:
ERBzine 0535


Featured in ERB-dom

From ERB-dom 13

Sketches from ERB-dom No. 10

From ERB-dom 23

From ERB-dom No. 22

Flash Gordon Art Gallery


Click for full-size promo collage posters

Al Williamson Obituary
Flash Gordon Gallery
Al Williamson Comics Library


ERB / Williamson Connection
Obituary (1931-2010)
Flash Gordon Gallery
Comics Library

ERBzine ERB Artist Encyclopedia in the  W Section
Al Williamson's Flash Gordon by Ray Cuthbert
Wikipedia Entry
Many of the above scans are courtesy: Golden Age Comic Book Stories
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