Al Williamson Interview conducted by Steve Ringgenberg (Part Two of Two)

Posted by on June 21st, 2010 at 12:05 AM

Previously: Part One.

STEVE RINGGENBERG: When did you start working for Gold Key?

AL WILLIAMSON: Well, I did a story for them back in the late ’50s, and a couple of Westerns, Western fillers. And then I did some stuff around ’64…

RINGGENBERG: Why didn’t you do work for DC or Marvel in the ’60s?

WILLIAMSON: Oh, I did a lot for Marvel. That was in the ‘50s, though. In the ’60s I was busy doing the strips. I was doing a lot of ghosting: I was doing a lot of pencilling; I was pencilling Dan Flagg. So I was doing a lot of that. And I started doing X-9 in ’67. So I was busy as hell from about 1962. When I got back from Mexico, I was not only doing Rip Kirby, I was doing Ben Bolt and I was pencilling Dan Flagg. I was doing all kinds of work. I was doing more work then than I am now. No, really, it’s incredible: I don’t know how I did it. I wish I could do it again. I could retire.

RINGGENBERG: Have you ever drawn a superhero comic?

WILLIAMSON: Yeah. The Fly.

RINGGENBERG: For Harvey? Archie, I mean?

WILLIAMSON: I forget what company it was for. It was for Joe Simon.

RINGGENBERG: When was this?

WILLIAMSON: I did two. I did one for him he didn’t like, so he said he had to redraw it. I think I got about $30 for pencilling five or six pages. What he did was trace one of the Jack Kirby things for the splash. Anyway, he didn’t like what I did, so the next job he gave to Angelo [Torres] and he says, “Here Angelo, why don’t you do this, I tried Williamson and he’s really very bad, he’s not a good artist at all”—this is what Angelo’s telling me. So Angelo brought over the job and he said, “Hey, Joe just gave me this four-pager, and he says you can’t draw worth a damn, and he gave it to me, so would you do me a favor now, would you pencil it?”

[Laughter.] So, I said sure. I pencilled it, and it took me a day and a half. It came out kind of nice, considering. We sat down and bashed it out and it worked out real nice. Angelo took it in to Joe, gave it to Joe, and Joe said, “Ahhh! That’s what I want! See, you’re really great! You’re better than Williamson! This is what I want! Williamson can’t do anything! You know, you’re really good!” [Laughter.]

RINGGENBERG: Did Torres ever tell him?

WILLIAMSON: No, he didn’t say a word. [Laughter.]

RINGGENBERG: How did you come to be inking over Kirby’s pencils on that “Race to the Moon” story?

WILLIAMSON: Well, Joe Simon gave me the job. Here’s something interesting: when I brought the first two or three jobs in, he said, “Now that you’ve inked it, what do you think?” And I said, “Oh, he’s great.” And he said, “Oh, don’t you think he’s not as good as you thought?” And I said, “No, I think he’s better than what I thought.” He was looking for me to say, “No, Jack Kirby can’t draw.” Sheesh. I loved doing those ink jobs. They were a lot of fun. But, you know, I didn’t do them justice because I didn’t know how to ink other people’s work: so all I did was trace his pencil. I couldn’t embellish on it, because I didn’t know how. I remember I screwed up a face or something, and I had to draw it over again, and it stands out like a sore thumb. It was one of those things:  “AAARRRGGHH, I screwed it up!” I had to do a paste-up when I redrew it, and you can see it’s just not Kirby.

RINGGENBERG: Do you like to have a lot of research material around?

WILLIAMSON: That depends on what we’re doing. I figure, if you’re doing The Empire Strikes Back, you want to know what Bespin looks like, you want to know what Yoda looks like, you want to know what Boba Fett looks like, you want to know what all these characters look like, so you can draw them so that the reader can really identify with the film. I mean, I don’t want to do a Marvel adaptation and just draw it. Just draw it in the sense of the Marvel way of drawing it, because you lose the realism of what the film is.

RINGGENBERG: How many times have you seen the Star Wars films?

WILLIAMSON: About five or six times.

RINGGENBERG: Both of them?

WILLIAMSON: No, I haven’t seen Empire that much; I think I’ve only seen it three times. But I plan to see it again soon.

RINGGENBERG: What are some of your favorite science-fiction films?

WILLIAMSON: I liked Metropolis before it became the vogue, because Roy [Krenkel] told me about it. The first time I saw that was back in the late ’40s, somewhere. Things to Come, I liked very much. I like When Worlds Collide, although I feel that the books were better.

RINGGENBERG: You did read those books?

WILLIAMSON: The books were great. I love the books. Of course, War of the Worlds was a lot of fun, The Day the Earth Stood Still was a lot of fun—I liked all of those.

RINGGENBERG: 2001?

WILLIAMSON: Yeah, very much.

RINGGENBERG: Would you have liked the chance to do the movie adaptation of that?

WILLIAMSON: No. It wouldn’t adapt to a comic book. 1 don’t see how that could possibly-unless you do it in a Will Eisner or Milton Caniff dramatic style of telling a story.

RINGGENBERG: You mean as far as breaking down the continuity.

WILLIAMSON: Yeah. You’d have to do it very dramatically. Toth would be the man for it, because his conceptions, his layouts would be very, very, very different. I think he would be the perfect man for it, because you really don’t have any action going on. And when you don’t have action, you’ve got to make those pictures interesting. You’re talking about the movie now, adding or taking away, but doing the movie. Well, you need someone who can give you such interesting layouts without dazzling you, if you know what I mean. Alex Toth, as opposed to Neal Adams: Neal Adams would dazzle you, where Alex Toth would tell it like it is. He wouldn’t lie to you. He’d tell it,and this is the important thing, and I think Alex would do a better job on something like that. More controversy coming up! You’re going to get letters from the Neal Adams fans.

RINGGENBERG: Are there any science-fiction films you have a particular hankering to adapt, if you could?

WILLIAMSON: I’m doing Revenge [since retitled Return of the Jedi], and that’s a lot of fun. I’d love to do the Star Wars film over again.

RINGGENBERG: The first one?

WILLIAMSON: Yeah. But I probably never will. There wouldn’t be any call for it.

RINGGENBERG: Let’s talk about some more about your interests in films. What are some of your favorite films?

WILLIAMSON: Well, I guess my all-time favorites are Gunga Din and King Kong. And Scaramouche I guess is my favorite sword-fencing film.

RINGGENBERG: You’re a big Stewart Granger fan.

WILLIAMSON: Yes.

RINGGENBERG: Stewart has turned up in a few of your strips.

WILLIAMSON: He’s one of the inspirations. Right there with Foster and Raymond: you can be inspired by someone in films as well…

RINGGENBERG: Are you still a fan of Buster Crabbe?

WILLIAMSON: Sort of. Yes. He’s still Flash.

RINGGENBERG: Always will be.

WILLIAMSON: Always will be. I guess after a while you can only see so many Buster Crabbe films, because unfortunately, they weren’t that good. One of the best films he did was the first one, King of the Jungle. From there on, it was downhill, which was kind of a shame. He could have done better stuff.

RINGGENBERG: If they’d given it to him.

WILLIAMSON: I don’t know why. Maybe he didn’t have a good agent. He wasn’t that bad an actor.

RINGGENBERG: Are there any foreign directors you like?

WILLIAMSON: I like Fellini, of course. I guess my favorite director right now is Ridley Scott. I think three films I’ve seen him direct are just incredibly good. I think he’s unique. He’s one of the best, if not the best.

RINGGENBERG: What was your reaction to Alien?

WILLIAMSON: I loved it. I just couldn’t get over the rocket—what’s it called?

RINGGENBERG: The Nostromo.

WILLIAMSON: The Nostromo. That landing—that was a great film.

RINGGENBERG: Speaking of Alien, has Moebius influenced you at all?

WILLIAMSON: No.

RINGGENBERG: Do you like his work?

WILLIAMSON: Yes. Moebius was inspired recently—I don’t know if I’m correct on this. It seems to me that I heard someone tell me that he admires Daniel Vierge, who is an artist that I admire very much, and that I was inspired a lot.

RINGGENBERG: What period does his work date from?

WILLIAMSON: Turn of the century. And I think that Moebius used to do—and maybe still does—Lt. Blueberry. And if you see that, and see what he’s doing now, it’s like two different artists: and he was inspired by Vierge for the style he’s doing now.

RINGGENBERG: Was Vierge a book illustrator? Magazines?

WILLIAMSON: Book illustrator, a Spaniard, living in Paris. He illustrated things like Don Quixote, Segovia, stuff like that. Beautiful stuff. Gorgeous stuff.

RINGGENBERG: Did you look much at the work of illustrators like Gibson? Flagg?

WILLIAMSON: Sure. Gibson: definitely. Flagg was good, but I think he was a little overrated. I don’t think he was that good. I think Frank Godwin was a better artist, much, much better than James Montgomery Flagg. Personal opinion, from what I’ve seen.

RINGGENBERG: What did you think of J. Allen St. John’s work on the Burroughs stuff?

WILLIAMSON: Oh, that is great. Still great stuff. That hasn’t been touched. He’s still the greatest Burroughs illustrator. No offense, Frank!

RINGGENBERG: Do you have a sense right now of belonging to a particular style, or continuing a tradition in art?

WILLIAMSON: I guess so. I suppose I do the Alex Raymond type, although I don’t do it consciously now. I look at his work for ideas sometimes, to see how he handles something, but then I look at Wally Wood. I look at Caniff. Whoever…

RINGGENBERG: What do you think of the work of the whole generation of guys who grew up. being influenced by you, like [Mike] Kaluta and [Bernie] Wrightson, [Bruce] Jones. . .

WILLIAMSON: I think they’re very good. They’ve gone beyond comics. They’re very good.

RINGGENBERG: I think Dave Stevens is continuing the same tradition.

WILLIAMSON: Stevens seems to be more influenced by Reed Crandall, by the Quality comics group. I get that feeling.

RINGGENBERG: From his inks.

WILLIAMSON: Which is good. Fine.

RINGGENBERG: I think he’s a hell of an inker.

WILLIAMSON: He’s a hell of an artist. I like his stuff. It’s kind of nice—I remember when he sent me his first issue. I brought it over here, and Carlos and I went about out of our minds. I mean, we were just like…collecting comics. We hadn’t grown up! There’s nothing to collect, and here this breath of fresh air comes in, and there’s something to collect! But that’s the way comics used to be.

RINGGENBERG: That segues nicely into my next question. What do you think of the state of comics in general right now?

WILLIAMSON: [Slow raspberry, turns thumbs down.]

RINGGENBERG: I take it you are not a superhero fan.

WILLIAMSON: Not really: my favorite superhero was created by Bill Everett, called the Amazing Man.

RINGGENBERG: The Amazing Man. Never heard of him.

WILLIAMSON: 1939. Never heard of him, huh? Did you ever read a book called The Gladiator, by Wylie?

RINGGENBERG: Sure.

WILLIAMSON: That’s where it all came from. That’s where Superman came from. But also the Amazing Man, in a way, although Bill Everett did it completely different. And he did a very believable superhero. It’s a shame he didn’t continue it, because the guy who took over it did a nice job—Lou Glans—but the writer just changed it and made a regular superhero out of him again.

He was a great, believable superhero, brought up somewhere in the Himalayas, with these characters with the hoods on them. And one of them was the Great Question. And he was the villain he and the good guy—the good lama or whatever they hell they were—had an influence on the good and the bad, and once in a while the bad would take over. Our hero, Aman, would change his face. He would become evil, and it was great, because he had this personality clash, this dual personality, the good and the bad. And he had these stories going on, and he never had him in an outfit. He didn’t have him in underwear. He was dressed regularly. It was great. Naturally, it didn’t leave the ground. Such a shame. Well, maybe it did, because I think after that, Timely got him to do the Sub-Mariner on the popularity of that. And when he left the Amazing Man, he did the Sub-Mariner, and that became so popular that the Amazing Man stuff just petered out. If he’d continued with the Amazing Man, there’s a very good chance that would be very big today.

RINGGENBERG: Are there any science-fiction books you’d like to adapt?

WILLIAMSON: I’d like to do John Carter of Mars. I always wanted to do it, actually.

RINGGENBERG: Those illustrations you and Crandall did were of John Carter.

WILLIAMSON: Well, I wanted to do John Carter back in the ’40s and the ’50s. I did a lot of sketches of John Carter. Then it became the rage, so I lost interest. I was doing other stuff.

RINGGENBERG: What did you think of the DC and Marvel versions?

WILLIAMSON: I didn’t care for them.

RINGGENBERG: You didn’t like Murphy Anderson’s work, and you didn’t like—

WILLIAMSON: It’s not that I didn’t like Anderson’s work, it was that—I think Kaluta should have been given the job of doing John Carter, because he’s been on Mars. I think he visited Mars after I left. We missed one another there, somehow. I get the feeling from Mars the same way Kaluta gets the feeling from Mars. Maybe he gets it better. I haven’t done it in years. But I did some sketches in the ’50s. I wish I had them so I could show them to you, but you’d see what I mean when I say we’ve both been to Mars. So has Roy [Krenkel], by the way. Of course, he was there before we got there.

RINGGENBERG: You must have seen Kaluta’s work on “Carson of Venus.”

WILLIAMSON: Yeah. That was the best adaptation besides [Joe] Kubert’s Tarzan. I didn’t care for the Tarzans that Marvel did, or the John Carters. That became superhero stuff, and I didn’t care for it at all.

RINGGENBERG: Is there any kind of subject matter that offends you, in current comics?

WILLIAMSON: Bad taste.

RINGGENBERG: How would you define bad taste?

WILLIAMSON: I don’t go for horror. There’s a lot of bad taste around, but it seems to be so accepted now that I don’t think people realize it’s bad taste. There’s a videogame that’s come out called “Communist Mutants From Outer Space.” I find that very, very bad. Do you know what I mean? Not that I’m a Communist, but to come out with something like that, a game that’s Communist mutants from outer space? It must be a gag. But it’s still kind of offensive. I don’t know the game, but it’s the first thing that hit me. Now everybody should demand equal rights, you know.

RINGGENBERG: There’s an underground comic out now called Commies From Mars.

WILLIAMSON: Oh, for God’s sakes.

RINGGENBERG: It’s got these multi-tentacled aliens—not unlike the ones Wally Wood used to draw—and they’re Communists. They come over and took over the Earth. Got everything organized into little Marxist cadres.

KIM THOMPSON: I think all that is is good-natured spoofing.

RINGGENBERG: Oh, yeah. It’s all in fun.

WILLIAMSON: Well, maybe, but you never know. I’m sure it is, but still, I think the kids today may take these things seriously.

RINGGENBERG: Do you think kids these days are too cynical?

WILLIAMSON: Possibly. Well, my son is going to be 14 in December. He’s very into videogames, but luckily, he’s still very interested in things that a kid is interested in. I don’t know. When I grew up, I was alone quite a bit, so I had my own interests, like comics. But in that day, in the ’30s and the ’40s, you didn’t have adult magazines and stuff like that that are so easy to get at, like you do today. Generally I don’t think it’s a good idea that kids get into that stuff right away. I think they should wait. I think kids should have time to be kids. I think comics have to be very careful—I’m not being a censor. I don’t believe in it. But I do believe that kids are people and that if they pick up a comic book, they should enjoy it. Not to read something they can’t make head or tail of, that some grown-up is thinking of. You have to entertain the kids. I bet you, if they did write for the kids—I don’t mean write with a 7-year-old mentality, write for the kids—because kids are intelligent. Kids are intelligent sometimes when they’re babies, depending on their level of intelligence. They’re not dumb. So, if you write an interesting story, an entertaining story, a kid is going to enjoy it, and a grown-up is going to enjoy it.

As I kid, I went to see a film called The Male Animal: a Henry Fonda film, a Warner Bros film. Came out in ’40 or ’41. I didn’t understand it, but I loved the film. I didn’t understand a damn thing about it, but the characters were great, it was fun, although I didn’t understand what the hubbub was about. I saw it later on, when I was grown-up. Henry Fonda was a professor and he was going to read a paper written by a Communist, and everybody in the college was up in arms because he was going to read this paper. Hp. was teaching something—writing, or something—and it was just a form, showing how not to or how to. They were having a football game. And the football game rallies were like the Bund rallies. “Go out there and kill,” you know.

And it was great! It was this political thing, which unfortunately I can’t remember, but it was just gorgeous. It was a great film. And as a kid, I didn’t know the hell what it was about, but it was just great, and that’s what I mean. You can write something a kid does not even understand, but if there’s something there for him to enjoy, he’ll find it. And maybe, as he gets older, if he finds that story again, he’ll read it again and it’ll be like a new story for him.

RINGGENBERG: There’s one question I didn’t ask you that I wanted to. Do you think comics can be considered an art-form? Up there with painting

WILLIAMSON: Oh, sure. Well, it’s an art-form. I don’t know if it’s a great art-form, but it’s an art-form. It’s more respected in some countries in Europe than it is here in the states, the way American jazz is respected a lot.

RINGGENBERG: That’s a shame.

WILLIAMSON: It is. What really is a shame is, the guys who really started doing comic books who don’t get the recognition they should. Guys like Bob Powell, and Bill Everett, Reed Crandall, Lou Fine. A lot of artists that worked in the ’40s that gave so much to comics, and kids today don’t even know who the hell they are, and they’re the fathers of comics. To this day, nobody’s touched them.

RINGGENBERG: I think a lot if comics fans these days are fairly ignorant of past history. They’re fans of the medium.

WILLIAMSON: But you get the feeling that they’re fans because it’s the thing to do, not because it’s something that’s giving them enjoyment. I came across at the Boston convention a couple of weeks ago a whole bunch of Sunday pages, complete, intact Sunday pages from the ’30s and the ’40s. And there was just something so gorgeous about that. It was so beautiful to look at. I got a few of them.

RINGGENBERG: The colors are so rich.

WILLIAMSON: Oh, God, they were just so nice. Mickey Mouse pages, you know, Barney Google pages, Prince Valiant pages, Flash Gordon pages. It’s just so gorgeous to look at this stuff. And there’s a feeling that you can’t describe when you see the stuff. It’s so pleasant to look at their stuff. If they did comics like that today, Sunday pages like that, I think there would be a big interest. I think people would say hey, look at this.

RINGGENBERG: Do you think syndicated strips are eventually going to die out?

WILLIAMSON: Eventually, yes. The syndicates are a bunch of morons, most of them, because they don’t know what they’ve got. They don’t give a damn: they just sell stuff. I’ll give you an instance: Flash Gordon by Alex Raymond. Alex did it for 10 years, from 1934 to 1944. Ten years and four months of it. And that stuff has kept King Features going for the last 50 years. First, when Raymond was doing it, and then the movies, and then the reprints in Europe. And the reprints in Europe with Raymond’s stuff is that every two or three years they come out with a new reprint of the same stuff, and you know King Features is making money off that. But they don’t give a shit. When we were doing the Nostalgia Flash Gordon book, do you know what they gave us to do? They gave us to reproduce from Xeroxes, bad ones. Not Xeroxes—Photostats. They were blown up from microfilm. That’s what we had, that they gave us. Luckily, I had a set in black and white, and we got the missing stuff from Mrs. Raymond.

RINGGENBERG: You helped assemble the volumes?

WILLIAMSON: Yes.

RINGGENBERG: What did you think of the color volumes they came out with?

WILLIAMSON: They were awful. Let me tell you something. We just got a letter from a publisher in Yugoslavia, who just bought the rights to print Star Wars in Europe. They’re going to do it in magazine form, with super color. Do you know what that miserable syndicate sent them?

RINGGENBERG: What?

WILLIAMSON: Bad Xeroxes to shoot from. And they’re paying top dollar.

RINGGENBERG: Why are they so stupid?

WILLIAMSON: They don’t give a shit, that’s why. They’re a bunch of morons. I’d like to kick them around the block two or three times each one of those people who run the place, who have anything to do with it, because they don’t give a damn.

RINGGENBERG: Do they treat you badly?

WILLIAMSON: They’ve gone over my artwork. You know what they do? They do such lousy reproductions on the proofs that sometimes they figure, oh, his lines are too light, let’s go over it. Luckily, they haven’t touched the original. I don’t know why they touch reproductions—they shoot from reproductions—instead of sending the originals back to the engraver and saying do it right.

RINGGENBERG: So you haven’t been happy with the reproduction?

WILLIAMSON: No. No I am very unhappy with the reproduction the goddamn syndicates are doing. They’re not working. They’re taking advantage. And King Features is terrible also, because they don’t give a damn. The only reason that you can reproduce fairly decent stuff from Raymond’s stuff is because we did the Nostalgia book, and that’s in nice black and white. They can reshoot from that. They’re practically proofs, some of those pages. But a lot of the publishers in Europe are looking for anything they can’t print. Good black-and-white reproductions. And they’re paying top dollar to get them.

RINGGENBERG: It wouldn’t kill the syndicates to send better stats.

WILLIAMSON: No, it wouldn’t, but they don’t give a damn. I walked into King Features 20 years ago and I went into the place where they keep the proofs and all that, and there was a big barrel of paper. And there was a whole stack of Prince Valiants thrown into there, about this much. I dragged them out, and the Prince Valiant proofs are so big. What they were, they were pasted onto newsprint, and some of the panels had been cut out very neatly, like this. And those were the proofs they used for the Hasting House books of Prince Valiant that were published in the ’50s. They didn’t print all the illustrations, all the panels. They just took some—of course, it was all text—and they just took some of the illustrations. So that’s how they did it. So there was about this many stills, about three years of stuff, in the garbage. And I said, “Hey, what are you doing with this?” They said, “We’re throwing it out.” I said, “Why.” They said, “Take a look: see why we’re throwing them out.” So I dragged the whole bunch out, and they had been cut out. So I said, “Can I have them?” and they said, “Sure, take them.”

I brought them home, and at the bottom of the stack was four-and-a-half years’ of proofs, perfect condition. Perfect condition. They were throwing out four-and-a-half years. Besides the three years that had been cut out for the book. And a lot of those were complete, because they didn’t use all the stories. They jumped certain sequences, and there would be five or six in sequence, completely beautiful proofs, untouched. Thrown out. I have to deal with these troglodytes. I mean, all these guys are running around scratching their head with a club. Shit, man. Christ.

And in the movie business it’s the same thing. When they find a film, a lost film: who has it? A collector. God bless the collectors. If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t have any history left, because these bastards, these businessmen, these fucking businessmen—they don’t care for anything. They probably know some collector has it, but they can’t print it because we have the say-so and they’ll give us the money. It’s basically that. Nobody gives a shit.

RINGGENBERG: People with cash registers for hearts.

WILLIAMSON: Did you make that up?

RINGGENBERG: Yes.

WILLIAMSON: I don’t know. It’s really disgusting. They have no heart. They’re rapists. And in spite of all that, these strips are making money for them, because the collectors, the aficionados, are looking for them, the publisher in Europe is looking for them. He loves the stuff, he wants to publish it, so he tries to get the best. So he gets newspaper reproductions, from the newspapers. He gets the actual newspaper. And he shoots from that, which is better than nothing, but I mean, it’s ridiculous that the syndicates don’t have a morgue for this stuff. Why don’t they? They could sell this stuff over and over again! All they have to do is make a good reproduction, a photograph reproduction, when they have the negative—they have a couple of negatives—and when somebody wants it, you make a print of it and shoot it out.

RINGGENBERG: A lot of these things are going to be lost forever.

WILLIAMSON: Forever, if it weren’t for collectors. I’d like to publish a book on that stuff. Really great stuff. Anyway, I hope that Lucasfilms raises hell, holy hell with these people. I hope they come down on them so goddamn hard, because I think they’re taking advantage. They’re not fulfilling their end of the bargain. I’m busting my hump; they don’t give a shit. I don’t know.

RINGGENBERG: Have you taken it up with Lucasfilm?

WILLIAMSON: I’ve gotten on the horn quite a few times on this.

RINGGENBERG: How receptive are they?

WILLIAMSON: They understand it, but they’re so involved in the film right now, you know. I’m sure if George Lucas wasn’t involved with the film right now he’d raise hell—just on GP. I mean, they’re taking advantage. They’re not doing a good job. They’ve got stuff they can resell and resell and resell to Europe, because they reprint that stuff every few years in different volumes: different ways, different companies. It’s a constancy. You can never get the original publications. Once they print something, it’s gone, because people buy them up.

RINGGENBERG: Are there any plans to reprint the Star Wars strips in volumes in English?

WILLIAMSON: Yeah, I think Marvel is going to do it.

RINGGENBERG: In color or black and white?

WILLIAMSON: I think they’re going to color it.

RINGGENBERG: How do you feel about that?

WILLIAMSON: I’m not too happy about that.

RINGGENBERG: Because your work wasn’t drawn for color, except for the Sundays…

WILLIAMSON: Well, if they put the right color in, I won’t mind.

RINGGENBERG: Who would you like to color it? Marie Severin?

WILLIAMSON: Yeah, she could do a good job. I’d like to color it myself, but I haven’t got time. I do a minimum of color, you know.

RINGGENBERG: Do you do it fairly subtly?

WILLIAMSON: Yeah. Well, I don’t know. We’ll see what happens. But they’re going to shoot from the originals, because the proofs are lousy. There were two stories that they didn’t redraw, but they went over. Of course, it was stupid. Whoever did it didn’t know what he was doing, had no sense of art. And then they said, “Oh, we don’t know who did it.” They didn’t own up that they had done it. I told them, the next time you do it, you’re going to hear from my lawyer, personally, because you cannot retouch somebody else’s artwork.

RINGGENBERG: Do they give you your originals back?

WILLIAMSON: Oh, yes, that’s the thing: I get my originals back. If I don’t get my originals back, then I don’t work for that person.

RINGGENBERG: So there’s a hope of reprinting those from the originals.

WILLIAMSON: Well, the whole thing now is for these people in Europe who are paying very high dollars for this stuff—I think we’re going to shoot from the originals, of which I have them all, over at the house. Did you guys want to come over and take a look at some of that stuff?

RINGGENBERG: Sure.

THOMPSON: Love to.

WILLIAMSON: Well, come on, and I’ll show you some stuff. You can bring that if you want to tape some more.

In early 1984, the syndicated Star Wars strip was cancelled, leaving Williamson without a regular comic strip for the first time in many years. Since the original interview with Williamson was conducted in late 1982, Kim Thompson conducted this brief follow-up in May of 1984, covering these most recent developments.

KIM THOMPSON: With the cancellation of the Star Wars strip you’re back into comic books full-time for the first time in—what is it, 20 years?

AL WILLIAMSON: Oh yeah, more than that. I think 1959 was the last time I worked in comics full time.

THOMPSON: That’s 25 years.

WILLIAMSON: [Slightly boggled at the thought]. Yeah. Since I’ve given up the strip, all I’ve been doing is comic-book work. I’ve been doing comic books since last year. I’ve been doing “Cliff Hanger” for Pacific [which appears in Somerset Holmes], and I did a couple of science-fiction things here and there.

THOMPSON: Do you miss the comic-strip format?

WILLIAMSON: Uhhhh… Yeah! I enjoy both, as I said before, but you get used to it after all these years, and…yeah, I think I do miss it. But I enjoy the comic-book page equally.

THOMPSON: Have you got any inquiries from syndicates about picking up one of their continuity strips?

WILLIAMSON: No. I don’t think I’d be interested anyhow: syndicates don’t really care for adventure strips; they don’t push them. The papers don’t seem to want adventure strips, or at least, that’s what the syndicate tells me. They just want the funny stuff.

THOMPSON: Well, if Star Wars, which made George Lucas 10 jillion dollars, can’t make it as a strip, what can?

WILLIAMSON: That’s the way it looks to me. Unless we did something wrong, but we tried our very best. I really think that the syndicate could have been a little better, though. The proofs they sent out were just atrocious. We did it for a little over three years, and I’d say that 50 percent of the proofs were good, the rest were crappy, and that’s no way to send the strip, especially with all the intricate drawing in it. I think if syndicates and newspapers printed strips a little larger like they used to do before World War II adventure strips, I think there might be an audience out there; if people could see the pictures better, they’d get more enjoyment of reading them.

THOMPSON: Do you know how many papers the Star Wars strip was in when it folded?

WILLIAMSON: You know I have no idea. I suspect we had at least 300. That’s just a wild guess. But I never really asked. I really didn’t want to know [laughter].

THOMPSON: Do you read any adventure strips these days?

WILLIAMSON: Not really. Steve Canyon whenever I get a chance to, but I don’t go out and buy the paper for it. But I read it in the reprints. No, there isn’t really anything in newspaper strips that I particularly care for. I don’t care for the gag-a-day strips, although I do enjoy Blondie: I think that’s still a funny strip. I enjoy Popeye: [Bud] Sagendorf does a good job on that. But I don’t have the interest I used to have, because there’s nothing around to catch your imagination. There really isn’t that much in comic books either, except for guys like Dave Stevens, who’ve got it.

THOMPSON: So what are you working on these days?

WILLIAMSON: Well, let’s see: I’m winding up Chapter 6 of “Cliff Hanger,” I did an eight-page Superman story for DC; I did a science-fiction story for Alien Worlds; I’m doing a seven-page science fiction story for Epic Illustrated (I’m trying to finish this one up now); and I’ll be doing something for Tom Yeates for his book Time Spirits. I’m doing an eight-page story for him which I’ve half-ass laid out, I’ll be jumping on that in about a month or so… [So I work on] whatever comes up. I have nothing planned. But I know there’s work out there, so I want to finish up this work and then think of something new, or just go back to do the seven, eight page stories which in a way are kind of a relief, having something different every couple of weeks or so.

THOMPSON: Do you think you’ll do any more Star Wars material for Marvel?

WILLIAMSON: I might, yeah. I kind of would like to. I’m so used to doing it, it would be fun to do a comic book on it. And they didn’t say no [laughter], so there’s a chance of my doing one for them: maybe a graphic novel.

THOMPSON: We did the first part of this interview a year and a half ago. How do you think the comics industry has developed since then?

WILLIAMSON: Well, I haven’t seen that much. It seems to be doing well. I hear some bad news, a couple of places seem to have folded, which is sad to see, but on the other hand there seems to be more interest in these direct-sales shops: a lot of stuff there that’s kind of interesting.

THOMPSON: The field still seems to be more superhero-oriented than not.

WILLIAMSON: Yeah. I’m not into the superhero stuff too much myself. But the Superman job I did was different: Superman was hardly in it, so it was more like a science-fiction story than anything else, so it was kind of fun to do. But I don’t know if I’d like to tackle a “real” Superman job [laughter]. I don’t think I’m into that.

THOMPSON: Muscles and capes.

WILLIAMSON: Well, yeah…I used to like to draw figures. Well, I still do, but not so much the superhero type.

THOMPSON: Do you think you could manage to do a whole comic book on a regular basis?

WILLIAMSON: You know: That scares me. I was able to do a daily strip, daily and Sunday, and we made the deadlines; I had an assistant most of the time, but for the last 16, 17 weeks of the strip I did it all myself, and got it in on time. And I also did at least one and a half “Cliff Hanger” jobs too, which I did all myself. And yet as soon as I finished the strip, I suddenly slowed up to a crawl doing comics. So I’m having a hell of a time trying to get three pages a week—it’s like pulling teeth. That’s slow. Maybe I’ll pick up speed again.

THOMPSON: Has anyone contacted you yet about doing a regular book?

WILLIAMSON: Yes, but nothing substantial. I tell you, I’m scared to get hooked to something that’ll take forever. Before doing Star Wars I was doing X-9 and I just don’t want to get hooked with something that’ll be, “Oh God, I gotta do this for a whole year.” That’s why I’d kind of like to stick with these short stories.

THOMPSON: Take a breather. I think after 25 years of syndicate work you deserve it.

WILLIAMSON: Well, I’ve got to keep making money, too. I’ve got a family to feed. I might be able to tackle a whole book, a 23-, 24-page book. A one-shot, though [laughter]. I don’t know if I could do it every month.

SIDEBAR: MUSICAL INTERLUDE

RINGGENBERG: Al, how do you integrate the influences of your favorite films into your work?

WILLIAMSON: I don’t know. Why do you ask me? I don’t know. I just integrate them, I don’t know. Do you want to listen to more music?

RINGGENBERG: What do you got?

WILLIAMSON: I don’t know.

RINGGENBERG: Anything jazzy, like what you were playing?

WILLIAMSON: I have nothing but jazzy stuff.

RINGGENBERG: Maybe Art Pepper, or something?

WILLIAMSON: No, I don’t know if I have that. How about Frank Sinister?

RINGGENBERG: Who’s he? I hate to sound ignorant.

WILLIAMSON: Frank Sinatra. [Thompson laughs.]

RINGGENBERG: Oh. Excuse me.

WILLIAMSON: Don’t tell me I’ve got it on wrong.

RINGGENBERG: The Chairman of the Board.

WILLIAMSON: Old Blue Eyes.

RINGGENBERG: He’s still great.

WILLIAMSON: Oh, he is. Of course he is.

FRANK SINATRA: “When you’re near to me…”

WILLIAMSON: I like music very much. I like swing music, I like jazz. I like classical. But I can never get into the singers. Never. As a kid, on. I met Frank [Frazetta], and he is a Frank Sinatra buff: I mean, he is gaga. The way everybody is gaga over Frank Frazetta, that’s the way he is about Frank Sinatra. I mean, Frank Sinatra is [whistles]. And he’d say, Al, listen to this. I knew Frank was good—Sinatra, in this case—but I couldn’t get into the singing part of it too much, because I liked Duke Ellington, the bands.

RINGGENBERG: You never got into Billie Holliday?

WILLIAMSON: Billie Holliday, oh yeah. But the Billie Holliday between 1935 and 1940, when she recorded with a great bunch of guys—oh, what the heck’s his name. Gah, I forget names now! Anyway, she recorded some great stuff in the 1930s for Columbia, with different bands. The Count Basie band, the Teddy Wilson band, and so forth. That is the Billie Holliday I like: right in that section, ’36 to about ’40. That is the greatest stuff she ever did, for my money. Personal opinion. I love it. Great stuff. Anyway, little by little I started listening to Sinatra, because he would force me, Frazetta’s got more muscles.

RINGGENBERG: Would he hold you down?

WILLIAMSON: He would forcibly make me listen to these records. And then, when Sinatra started recording for Capitol, he started making some records that I really dug. He did some great albums! Come Fly With Me.

RINGGENBERG: This is ’50s stuff.

WILLIAMSON: Yeah, ’50s stuff. That’s when I got hooked on Sinatra. Hey, good stuff. I guess I discovered a different Sinatra. Then I went back to the ’40s Sinatra and I realized how good he was. But it was all due to Frank [Frazetta]. He says I influenced him on classical music, but I don’t know about that. The funny thing is, when I went to see him a couple of months ago, he still had the old Sinatra records lying around. He still has the old 78s, the original recordings. Which one of these days I’ll have to record, because those were the best recordings. When they reissued them on 33, they were the second-takes, and third-takes, or whatever takes, because they always did it two or three times, and the best take is the one they released. Unfortunately, when they rereleased them on the Columbia’s LPs, they didn’t release the first take, just the second or third take. It was kind of a drag. You kind of wished they wouldn’t do that.

Be Sociable, Share!

Tags: , , , , , , ,

One Response to “Al Williamson Interview conducted by Steve Ringgenberg (Part Two of Two)”

  1. […] who passed away on June 12 at age 79. Meanwhile, The Comics Journal reruns the second part of Steve Ringgenberg's 1984 interview with the legendary artist, and Rick Veitch recalls working with Williamson on Marvel's adaptation […]