“He (Al Williamson) was the inheritor of the Alex Raymond school, and he was the logical inheritor of the Flash Gordon comic strips, and he did not get them because people making decisions for those things were stupid. And remain stupid. But it doesn’t matter anymore because nobody cares about comic strips.”
When you work on comic character that’s known worldwide the door to scam artists suddenly gets thrown wide open. Take the following…
Years ago, when I was doing Flash Gordon, I received a request for some drawings from a guy who had a sick grandma who grew up reading (insert character’s name here) – it was one of her favorites! He wanted one Flash Gordon drawing for his Grandma, and if possible, another two for his kids. The weird part? He wanted it on uncirculated sheets of two dollar bills.
Sounds fishy I know…
Regardless, I rolled the dice and thought it was quirky enough that it might actually be true – drawings sent.
Months later I got a letter from Popeye cartoonist Hy Eisman (one of my teachers from the Kubert School) informing me I had just been scammed. Enclosed with the letter was an insert from a catalog with cartoon art for sale. The art was drawn on (wait for it)… uncirculated sheets of two dollar bills.
And how did Hy Eisman find out about it?
Suffice it to say, my days of giving people the benefit of the doubt was over.
Now some people argue that once you give away a piece of art to a fan, what they then do with it is out of your hands. Well… that’s true – but to intentionally misrepresent why you want the art (sick relative) in order to flip it for profit is where that line of reasoning goes off the rails.
Al Williamson once told me a story of his disillusionment when he gave away a drawing to a young fan at a convention – only to find out later that the kid was a plant that a comic art dealer was sending around to scam cartoonists out of as much free art as possible.
Now Al was known as one of the nicest guys in comics, so the kind of individual who would take advantage of his generosity can best be described with one word…
I’d also like to add that back in the day, it actually took some effort to scam artists as you had to resort to mass mailings, postage, etcetera. Today they can reach hundreds with just copy, paste, send.
And some of these scammers are just plain lazy.
When I was doing Flash Gordon sometimes I would get email from a “fan” asking for artwork that never mentioned my name or the strip I did, but it would clearly state that they read my strip every day (it only appeared on Sunday) and they thought it was “one of the funniest strips around!”
Because Flash Gordon is primarily remembered for it’s zany slapstick gags…
That said, I’m not in the spotlight like some of the hot artists currently out there, so I can only imagine the headaches they have to deal with – be it Adam Hughes having to put a halt on convention sketches or Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner announcing a 5 book free signing limit. You can only be jerked around so much before you have to start putting up fences to safeguard yourself.
Another headache for cartoonists are hacks blatantly stealing their work and selling it as their own. The poster child for this kind of plagiarism being Rob Granito.
And I haven’t even touched on all the fake comic art on ebay…
These kind of activities have been brought to light more and more of late due to vigilant fans and pros putting a spotlight on these hacks via posts on the internet. And as the number of comic cons grow more needs to be done on the part of convention organizers to weed out these crooks.
But I digress…
Back to drawing requests…
For the most part, time constraints prohibit me from fulfilling requests for sketches and donations for auctions. With the advent of e-mail, there are just too many requests and too little time.
And the thought of neglecting paying work so I can draw something for a “fan” who just wants something he can flip and put on ebay that he got from me for free..?
Commentary I’ve come across online since posting.
I am sorry that a few have ruined it for the rest of us.
Years ago I was a comic con and Paul Gulacy was a guest. He was working on Shang-Chi for Marvel. My brother, and two of my cousins along with my self stood in line to get him to sign a book for us. We were 14 at the most. Two large men told all of us that Mr Gulacy had only time to sign one book each and we were to ask no questions of him. A third man with them was talking to Paul as we were waiting. He was having Paul draw a Shang -Chi. I had Mr. Gulacy sign one of my books and as I asked him if he would ever work on a Shadow book? I was glared at by all three as Paul stopped to speak to me.
Years later at a comic store the same man was showing off his collections of art, he was so proud of the fact that he would go to cons and have his two friends block others from asking for a sketch, autograph or ask questions, so he could have more time with the artist. It takes all kind!!
Sometimes to get the right pose for a character you’re drawing you need to take some photo reference – and 10 times out of 10 the model who’s usually available and works the cheapest is yourself.
Along these lines, one of the artists I’ve always looked up to is Al Williamson.
Williamson took reference shots of himself constantly to nail down a drawing. The following pic is from the book The Art of Al Williamson with the corresponding drawing from his adaption of the 1980 Flash Gordon Movie.
For the EC comic books from the 1950s,
Al’s friends would lend a hand as well…
Suffice it to say, Williamson had the build to pull off
the heroic shots he wanted to capture.
And following in this grand tradition, the following is the photo reference I used to capture the shot I needed for Ted for the January 24th Sally Forth strip.
And the finished strip…
Maybe someday I’ll post the photo reference I took when I was doing Flash Gordon – suffice it to say I wore pants on my head a lot less…
One of the highlights of doing Flash Gordon was the opportunity to work with Al Williamson (1931-2010).
Al worked on two Sunday pages during my tenure. This first page ran on November 7, 1999. The layout and partial pencils are by Al, the finished inks are by me.
This next page is dated July 8, 2001 and is all Al. It’s also the last Flash Gordon piece he did that saw print.
Backstory on the November 7th strip:
During the summer of 1998 I was working on staff as a colorist at King Features Syndicate. King was gearing up to move from the building it had occupied for decades and I got a tip that a number of old files were being thrown out. I was told by my editor that if I was up for it I could go through the dumpsters and keep whatever I wanted. The files that were being trashed mostly consisted of decades old paperwork and proof sheets from a myriad of projects/collections that spanned back for years and years.
Rooting through the dumpster I eventually came upon a a lost treasure – proof sheets of Al Williamson’s work on Flash Gordon from the old 1960’s King Comics. I could not believe my luck. Now this was around the time that Marvel was withholding artwork from Jack Kirby. That being the case I got Williamson’s contact info from our Comics Editor Tom Daning (who had worked with Al two years prior) and after making copies for myself I sent off the proof sheets.
About a week later, much to my surprise, I got a call from Al. He thanked me, then told me how all the artwork from that first issue of Flash Gordon he had drawn had been stolen years ago. He had sent it in to the publisher and after it saw print all the artwork went “missing” and was never returned to him. He greatly appreciated receiving the package of proof sheets from out of the blue – so much so in fact that he invited me out to his studio.
I am still in awe of the original artwork I saw that day. His own and also of great pen and ink masters he admired from his personal collection; Alex Raymond, Hal Foster and much, much more…
Since I was the hired hand on Flash Gordon at the time, I inquired whether or not he would be interested in doing artwork for a Flash Sunday page. Granted, I knew he hadn’t had the best working conditions/relations with King in the past, so I was unsure if he’d be up for it. As he was under deadline inking a Star Wars movie adaptation at the time he politely declined and I left it at that.
Skip ahead a year…
Al would call me from time to time just to check in on how work was going and how the family was doing. By the fall of 1999 I decided to inquire again if he would be interested in doing a Flash page. At this time he said he’d be up for it, but he had two conditions.
1: That he’d have plenty of lead time. 2: Under no circumstance would he accept payment.
He wasn’t able to finish the page due to other deadline commitments, but he did provide a beautiful layout. What follows is the inking study he worked up on tracing paper.
Williamson’s method of working up a page starts with an inked rough (to size). First laid out in pencil, Williamson then goes over it with ink to start tightening it up. He explained that comic pages he does the whole job on (pencils and inks) he literally ends up inking the page twice.
I believe he later changed the figure of Dale because it was derivative of a drawing he had done shortly before this for another project.
Al blocked in partial pencils onto Bristol, then sent me the tracing paper so I could see what he intended. Due to time constraints he wasn’t able to pencil the inset characters.
And here’s my inks.
I can’t say enough about how great a guy Al Williamson was, not just as an artist but as a mentor and friend.
For more on Al Williamson’s work on Flash (including these pages) I highly recommend Flesk publications’ Al Williamson’s Flash Gordon. The book includes an essay by Mark Schultz, and the art is beautifully shot from the originals whenever possible.
If Flash Gordon isn’t in your local paper, you can check it out online at…
A yearlong subscription to all of King Features’ comics (new and vintage) plus two years worth of archives for every single strip is a pittance at $19.99 a year.