And Then I Read: AL WILLIAMSON’S FLASH GORDON

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Images © Flesk Publications and King Features Syndicate, Inc.

The latest deluxe art book from Flesk Publications collects all the Flash Gordon art from artist Al Williamson, who fell in love with the characters when he saw the Flash Gordon movie serial in his youth, the one with Buster Crabbe as Flash. Flash Gordon began in 1933 as a newspaper strip by the legendary Alex Raymond, another “artist’s artist,” just like Williamson, and the latter obviously studied the former closely in his work on the character. Oddly, Williamson never got to headline the newspaper strip, though he did guest-illustrate a few late in his career. All his Flash work was for the comics. In 1965, King Features decided to try publishing their own FLASH GORDON comic, and hired Williamson to draw it. Unable to pass up his favorite characters, Williamson fought his way through low page rates and impossible deadlines to produce several outstanding issues of the book before it was cancelled. I once owned one of them, and even with lousy paper and printing, it was impressive. Happily, all those stories and lots more are collected here with nearly every page excellently reproduced from Williamson’s original art, still in his possession.

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Here’s a sample detail to give you an idea of what it looks like. Every line is there, and the ink is scanned in grayscale, so all the color variations in the blacks are preserved.Williamson loved these artful cityscapes, something he picked up from friend and fellow artist Roy Krenkel.

In addition to the King Features issues there’s a massive adaptation of the poorly-received Flash Gordon movie from 1980, and the art from this includes previously unseen areas around the edges that were trimmed off for the printed comic. Here’s a sample:

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It’s the same page I clipped the detail above from. Most of the art beyond the panel edges is newly shown here. Finally, there’s another long epic from 1994 when Marvel licensed the rights to Flash, and asked Williamson to have another go at him. Williamson’s drawing skills might have faded a bit, but he rose to the occasion and did another fine job on it.

The art is wonderful throughout this volume, and includes a number of unfinished pencilled pages, development sketches and layouts, and other rarities. As for the stories…well, they’re okay. I never thought much of Flash as a character, and these stories do little to improve that opinion. I mean, his main selling points are his strength, quickness, and piloting ability, but in every story he crashes something, and gets caught by monsters or villainous characters of some sort. Even a few stories written by Archie Goodwin don’t really raise the bar much, though Goodwin knew how to give Williamson things he wanted to draw. The Marvel books have the best story, scripted by Mark Schultz, which actually explores Flash’s origins, but it’s still not compelling reading.

What this book is all about is the art, and for that, it’s hard to beat. If you like well-drawn comics with action, adventure, beautiful maidens, heroic heroes, villainous villains (Ming the Merciless!), dinosaurs, jungles, cool spaceships, ancient cities, flying vikings, merpeople, and lots more great fun, this is the place for it. And, as with all Flesk Publications, the production values are top notch. Highly recommended.

One thought on “And Then I Read: AL WILLIAMSON’S FLASH GORDON

  1. SD

    Hey Todd,

    I went to College with Al’s son. I got to spend one really fun Thanksgiving there having dinner with the family, going to Al’s office and looking through all his pages and the boxes of comps he got. He gave us all free copies of The Man Without Fear. He is one of the nicest guys ever.

    Seeing this work triggered that memory and it made me smile. It also made me miss Al and wish that there was still a call for talent like him. Although I don’t know if he’d be interested anymore, all the better you’re calling attention to this often unsung hero of early comics. Thanks for that.

    -SD

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